Quimper

On Mulberry Street in Nolita, a sign in the window of a narrow boutique proclaimed goods from Quimper.

Up swam the image of the road sign on the outskirts of my home city: “Welcome to Limerick, Twinned with Quimper, France.” A name pronounced with a Breton bang, not a whimper: Kam-pare.

Looking at the striped shirts in the window, I realized that it was 25 years since I’d spent a summer as a jeune fille au pair in Quimper. The two strawberry-blonde girls I’d looked after, Amelie and Sophie, were now matrons of 30 and 32, the same ages their mother and father were then. It was possible they were singing “Gentil Coquelicot” to children of their own. It was possible they would hire Limerick teenagers to babysit this summer.

That July was the bicentenary of the French Revolution. I don’t remember much of the commemoration, beyond a few fireworks and trying to follow Gerard Depardieu in the Danton repeats on Canal Plus. Mine are the pre-internet memories of a lonely 17-year-old, keeping watch for the postman who brought letters from the boyfriend back home, and sneaking slabs of chocolate up to my room to eat at night in torn baguettes. Chocolate sandwiches; more evidence of French genius. Those were a better salve for my misery than then the vinegar that was supposed to repel mosquitos. I splashed it on my skin and placed saucers of it around my bed to trip over, but the Quimper mosquitos took it as a condiment, and were as ravenous as drunks outside a chipper.

The family had a Minitel terminal in the living room, and Jacques, the dad, showed me how it worked. I have hazy grayscale memories of television program listings, and some of way of paying local council bills. I didn’t see a future of Spotify and eBay. It seemed a bit like having the Motor Tax Bureau in your house—handy, but hardly desirable.

I spent the days watching the French Smurfs, who, it turned out, were Belgian, vaguely racist, and called Les Schtroumpfs. The nuns in the convent three doors down gave me cherry brandy, and I decided that they fancied the refined Irish Jesuit who had arranged my stay. In the evenings I slouched in the town square with a book and my Walkman, turning over the Van Morrison cassette my boyfriend had given me for my birthday. I wished I had someone to invite me to the creperies and bars.

The loneliness was worth it. I ate new things, wrote letters and learned French. And then I went home, and the Berlin Wall fell, and Ireland qualified for the World Cup, and I forgot all about Quimper, beyond a private nod every few years at that sign on the way into Limerick.

I was the only visitor in that Mulberry Street store on that rainy Thursday afternoon a few weeks back. I wasn’t a customer—I didn’t want to buy a striped fisherman’s shirt for $125. (I have a suspicion that they’re so 2012, but I live in Seattle, so I can’t be sure.) I just wanted to say, “Quimper?

An open-faced Swede was minding the store. He looked famous, and though I couldn’t put a name to his famous twin, I seemed to have pre-warmed feelings to transfer. My Quimper-Swede had grown up on a farm four hours north of Stockholm, himself and a brother, out in all weathers and running free in hard-wearing clothes. He showed me the nubby woolen undershirts and long johns that are Swedish army issue, and told me how well they retain heat when they’re soaked. It was May. I didn’t want woolen long johns either. I wheeled around and patted some hemp t-shirts to keep him chatting about the clothes of northern Europe, and their superpowers.

I recognized the Stutterheim raincoats that appeared in one of Seattle’s hipster boutiques this winter, tagged with an elaborate story about the power of Melancholy and Creativity—yes, capitalized—in the Swedish artistic tradition, within which these raincoats have situated themselves. They are based on the traditional raincoats that were worn by “generations of Swedish fishermen,” as well as various Swedish geniuses. Bergman was mentioned. The taped seams “quoted” the original coats, according to the tags and brochures—much as Tarantino might, you assume. The hood had a special shape that made it easy to look to sideways crossing the street, should you still care about life over death. The racing green version was a tribute to the designer’s grandfather’s 60’s Jaguar, but also to the forests of the Island Arholma. Each coat was signed by the seamstress who had sewn it.

These auteurist raincoats had made me laugh in Seattle in February, and in itself that was worth a good half-minute’s consideration about buying a four-hundred dollar cycling poncho. I resisted.

Those Quimper shirts that were the stars of the window display had their own biography, too. They were designed by a Breton fisherman and adopted by the French Navy, who between them seem to draw more glamorous following than their Swedish counterparts. These are the very shirts we’ve seen on Chanel and Picasso, on Seberg and Bardot, on lovable Jean-Paul Gaultier, on Alexa Chung and Cara Delevigne. They are still made on the same knitting machines in the factory that produced the originals in 1938, woven tightly enough to make the shirts slightly stiff and boxy. Now there’s an organic, fair trade cotton version, and children’s sizes, and yellow stripes as well as blue. Do not think the stripes are frivolous: they are intended to make men overboard visible on the waves, and the 21 stripes, it is said, represent each of Napoleon’s victories.

Write a story on that copybook shirt, and charge five bucks a line. Lend me a Swedish grandad to go with the long johns and a French granny for the sheepskin slippers. Tear up an H&M halter top, and replace it with an instant heirloom. Trace me a heritage, weave me a lineage, and tell me, oh please tell me, who I am.

My affable Swede knew exactly what ministry he was in.

He had trained as a physicist, and once worked at a particle collider lab in Switzerland. Not that one: a smaller collider, bigger particles. He discovered that he liked what textiles can do. There’s a fabric now, he says, that uses carbon nanotubes to bounce bullets. It’s not stiff like Kevlar, which tries to spread the force. It’s as soft as waxed cotton, but when hit, it rebounds ballistic force. We agreed that it can only be a matter of time before the Swedish Army and the French Navy place their orders. I looked at him and saw the same globe-bouncing resilience. Who wouldn’t want to be a Scandinavian Millennial?

People are tired of disposable, he says. They want craft, they want stuff that works and lasts. It’s a good business to wake up the old heritage brands—or make them up—and make people feel interesting for discovering them. That’s what he and his partners do, though he didn’t put it in those words. The Americans are at it too, re-making Filson and Pendleton, inventing Shinola. You learn that this is the last raincoat you will ever need, assuming that your need for a raincoat is based on repelling raindrops. When the rain soaks your ankles, you have the only long johns you’ll ever need, assuming that you bought them to conserve your latent heat and not your latent identity.

These are northern clothes for hard work in dank weather, but the real graft goes into the myths, not the seams. It’s done by the artisans, laboring over concepts deep into the night. The curators, crossing the seas to select, reject and juxtapose. The founders, forging origin myths and riveting features onto canvas. They are tireless and bright-eyed, and they will always find more for you to need.

Miles and years have collapsed. Everything has joined us in the endless cycling present, and I can’t tell any more if that’s middle age talking or internet age, but I am streaming Nouvelle Vague’s deadpan Frenchy cover of Road to Nowhere as I write this, and it’s so soothing that they were three verses in before I heard David Byrne’s warnings.

Amelie and Sophie, those little Breton girls who once stayed put in 1989, appear in seconds when I search for a name and a place. They are both still in Quimper, but they’re also on a screen in Seattle. There’s Amelie, grown now but still round-faced and strawberry blonde and—bizarrely—cuddling a huge white rabbit. The French version of LinkedIn says she does logistics for a maritime import-export company, which could mean that she sends striped shirts to New York City to be sold to the likes of me. And Sophie, it seems, is in a similar line, with sadder results. She is serving a suspended sentence for helping a coke dealer to rent cars and move money.

I wish I had left her safely back in 1989 watching the Belgian Smurfs, but Google itches like a Quimper mosquito bite, and I’m compelled know more than is wise.

Life Beyond Screens

In 1985, more than half of Americans said there was someone they could confide in. By 2005, fewer than 1 in 4 said this was true for them.

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
—Henry David Thoreau

Strangers confide in Johnny. They come through the drive through of the Starbucks store he manages in West Virginia. “How’re ya doing?” he says, and instead of following the script they say, Terrible.

“On a beautiful morning like this? What could possibly be so terrible?”

“I just left my husband,” the customer might say, and then the story starts to bubble up until she stops and asks, “Are you slammed? Could I maybe come in and visit?” And Johnny says, “Give me four minutes to get this line here dispatched, and I’ll be right with you. We’ll have a cup of coffee.”

She pulls around to the parking lot, pushes the store door open with a shaking arm and sits down in the corner, a hand covering half her face. Johnny sets his team up to take over for a while and then he brews a French press. When he sits down and pours the coffee, the rest of her story spills out. She looks upward to stop the tears from leaking, but from time to time she glances at Johnny. Is she pathetic, crazy, going to survive? His eyes steady her. She wipes her face with recycled napkins: left tears, right tears, and snotty nose. After a while a smile might twist upward, and maybe even a laugh to go with a shake of the head. Life, huh?

“I say nothing but uh huh and yeah,” he says. “Amazing, what people will tell you. I don’t give advice, but they seem to feel better.”
Johnny talks about the rhythm of his customers’ days. They come in in the morning looking for a bright spot before the day’s work. At lunchtime they might say, “I swear, Johnny, you gotta get me through the rest of this day.”

“Imagine that,” he says, “it’s my job to make them happy. A few minutes in Starbucks is the one good thing in their day.”

He gets their drinks out, and when he has a free moment he heads to the regulars’ tables to drop off a few new jokes while he picks up cups. He stores up the jokes—it’s hard to collect ones that don’t offend anyone and are still funny.

Only after five o’clock are the customers cheerful, as they visit on their way home. He doesn’t know how people stand jobs they hate and can’t understand how they could sit a desk without moving their bodies. Once he joined his brother, a marketer, for the day, and the chairs and the meeting talk drove him crazy inside two hours.

He tells me about West Virginia. There’s nowhere to walk, he says, and people get so used to being in cars that they’ll come into his Starbucks store to use the bathroom and then get back in the car to give their orders at the drive through. On two legs, they must feel as vulnerable as soft-shell crabs after molting.

It’s easy to live simply there, Johnny says, if you don’t let yourself get caught up. He built a little house, just 800 square feet, for about the same as I pay for a year’s rent on the same amount of space in San Francisco. Most nights after work he sits down in his favorite chair and draws a breath in peace. ”It’s MY time,” he says, “after taking care of people all day, running around, talking and listening.” He reads thrillers or listens to jazz. His TV is small and old, and he doesn’t have cable. That makes his friends think he’s crazy, and they invite him over to watch Pay-Per-View on their domesticated Jumbotrons.

“But why would I want to spend my money on a bigger TV every year when there’s nothing on but crap? Why would I want to pay a big fat mortgage for rooms I don’t even sit in? I’d rather save it up to see the world. Three weeks vacation, seven Federal holidays, paid sick time—that’s a lot if you know how to use it.”

He went to Hawaii, the Big Island, and while his brother and friends drank and gambled at the resort, he sat in a park with some old men, playing checkers. The next day, when the boys were hungover, one of the old men took him out to his horse ranch. The man had lived 80 years on the island and was able to show Johnny the places you’d never see on a paid tour. When they got hungry for lunch they picked fruit off the trees.

In Ireland, ten years ago, a couple he met in a pub invited him home for dinner. “Americans might be friendly in a bar,” he says, “but we don’t trust strangers. I was blown away when they invited me in—and I wondered if I’d ever be heard from again. They could have been ax murderers. I could’ve been an ax-murderer. But it was exactly what I want when I’m traveling, just hang out and talk to the people. I don’t want get on a bus with 60 other people to kiss the Blarney Stone. Americans are always too busy getting stuff seen.”

The week after Hurricane Katrina, he went down to New Orleans to see how he could help out. They were still underwater and weren’t even ready to start work, but people kept telling him through tears how grateful they were that he showed up to put a bit of money into the economy. In an empty restaurant, the owner sat down with him and poured out his troubles. Johnny had worked in the business, so eventually the man even opened his books to ask advice on how to cut costs and survive, now that head above water was no longer a metaphor.

The advice must have worked. He went back to that same restaurant in October, and the owner welcomed him like a brother.

Johnny was in New Orleans for a conference for 10,000 Starbucks store managers from all over the US and Canada. My company had helped Starbucks put on the event, and when I ended up next to him on a flight home I asked him about his favorite part of the four days. He told me he’d spent a long time at a photo exhibit on human connection in an age of screens. I’d stayed up late over the Labor Day weekend working on that piece, and I was proud that it had touched him. It was my favorite part too.

Windshields, computer screens, phone and iPod screens, TVs: we are primates behind glass, and it has made us lonely and warped our reality.

“My son is 16,” says Johnny, “and I can see how TV has affected him. He wants to date some beautiful girl who looks like the ones on TV. I say, son, those women you see on those shows? They don’t exist.” His voice rises. “It’s not reality. There’s maybe five of them in the whole world who look like that, and they don’t live here. And all that stuff that looks so good now? Gravity’s going to take care of it. It’ll all be sagging and drooping and wrinkled and you’re going to have to like her enough to be looking at each other then. What you want is to find some girl who will love you and be faithful to you and maybe you can make each other laugh. You don’t want someone who’s with you because of what you make or how you look.”

(This makes Johnny sound like an old fella, but he’s only 34.)

“My son wants $200 jeans. He wants bling. Dad, why don’t you have bling, he says, and I tell him, because I know how many hours of work that diamond stud would cost me, and I’m not interested. I’d rather spend that money traveling and meeting people. And he gets it, but you know, he keeps asking, too. No one can keep up with that stuff.”

That morning I’d had the privilege of showing Norman Lear around the conference galleries in New Orleans. He had stopped at that same exhibit on human connection and talked about how worried he felt about the state of this country. (This was the week before the election.)

I grew up with one state-owned TV channel (later two), and I’d missed all the 1970s shows that Lear created—All In the Family, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, Maude—but they are wedged so deeply in our shared culture that I somehow know them anyway. They allowed America to talk to itself about race, gender, money, and politics, without scaring the pants off those whom change was leaving behind.

No one ever coveted Archie Bunker’s bling, his MILF wife, or his Queens crib. That all came later, when Aaron Spelling’s shows broadcast how the other 0.1% lives, and we learned to be discontented with anonymous underwear and unbleached teeth. We worked so hard to keep up with our new television neighbors that we lost the run of ourselves. My god, we got suckered.

A few years back, Norman Lear bought an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. He toured it around the country so that Americans could see their birth certificate. He hoped to trigger some buried memories of what this country was for—and I think those memories have started to stir.

On election night I walked around San Francisco, joining in the street parties that emerged like spores in rain. At 19th and Valencia, strangers danced together in the middle of the road to music from a driver who embraced being stuck. We bounced and cheered, and every stranger who joined in looked around for the focal point—the band, the host, the stage, the organizer—until each one realized that we were what we were looking for. And I thought of Johnny, who had told me he felt West Virginia just might go for Obama, judging from the uncertainty and discontent he was hearing in his store. (As it turned out, the majority of West Virginia voters went for the old white guy.)

There isn’t a Starbucks in my hipster neighborhood. At the weekends I go to Four Barrel on 15th and Valencia, where Jeremy-the-national-barista-champion makes a latte that forces even my distracted self to put down the book and taste it. I don’t ride a fixed-gear bike and my skin isn’t perforated, but I still like the little community that’s coming together in Four Barrel, with a soundtrack of David Bowie and an Obama campaign phone bank in the back.

But we are spoiled here in San Francisco, and in my beloved New York City, where we have real neighborhoods and sidewalks, decent coffee is always just a walk away, and loneliness doesn’t rule. And I’ve come to believe that Starbucks may be the largest private mental health organization in the country, a place where anyone with two bucks for a drip coffee can get smiled at and can sit safely next to other human beings for a while. In San Francisco circles and in the media I hear a lot of Starbucks-bashing, for all kinds of reasons from snobbery to fear to glee. And yet fifty million customers in fifty-something countries go there every week to drink an ancient beverage, side by side, in peace. Isn’t that something? Johnny knows what it is that he provides in his store, and it isn’t just caffeine.

Every week more of my friends and neighbors get laid off. When I talk to my mother about the economy in Ireland, she tells me that people have decided that Australia is the one escape hatch left, unless you count Dubai. We’re all screwed, and we know it, and yet beneath the anxiety I detect a few particles of relief. This crisis is bigger than us. It’s so big that it’s no longer our fault if we fail, if we become poor. We get to—have to—change our minds about what matters. And for the first time in a while, small moments shared with friends and strangers are in the running for significance.

[Disclosure: I consult for Starbucks, but the views here are mine alone and have nothing to do with the opinions of either Starbucks or the company I work for.]

Anaheim, California

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”—Samuel Beckett, Murphy

“Welcome to John Wayne International Airport. The current Homeland Security threat level is Orange. To enhance your safety, and to avoid transporting dangerous goods, please do not leave baggage unattended. Please report suspicious or unattended packages to law enforcement personnel.”

“We have a high degree of need to protect structure.”—San Diego County Fire Chief, on NBC News

Anaheim, California should be paved over, if it weren’t already. We’ve been going there weekly for six months, yet my friend J. and I still get confused between the 57 North and the 55 as we leave the airport. Our plasticky rental cars get no respect on these freeways, which crawl with wide-arsed vehicles that are probably bought with the profits from p*n*s enl*rgement spam. We cut them off through incompetence, and get cut off in our turn. Who cares? It’s not as if they’re human.

With names like “Hotel Drive,” “Convention Drive,” and “Airport Way,” the streets round here don’t even try. We can’t get a purchase on the geography, so we learn to swerve into U-turns. We drive past Christian superstores, Disneyland hotels, and PetCo chains. Cell towers and bulldozers and parking lots. We look forward to our few landmarks: Fritz That’s Too, our favorite strip-joint, or Mr. Stox, an early 1980s power restaurant straight out of Caddyshack. The memory of dinner there makes us laugh every time.

We drive by strip malls and theme malls and self-styled anti-malls, where the women have padded lips, new breasts, and pale hair. It’s the opposite of camouflage—without them, you disappear at thirty. Their daughters wear skirts that my friend G. describes as “two inches from the good stuff.” Surrounded by modifications, I’m struck by how human beings are hard-wired for facial pattern recognition. I catch myself staring at people in Starbucks queues, searching for symmetries and flaws, trying to tell what’s been altered. Cosmetic surgery is unsettling, in the way that shaved eyebrows are unsettling, and I fantasize that some Hallowe’en the whole population of Orange County will wear t-shirts printed with their first driver’s licence photos, for easy comparison.

Our usual hotel is full, and we call this one the Willy Loman Memorial Marriott. Instead of room service, there’s a communal mini-bar at front desk—a fridge with a tray of tiny liquor bottles, Lean Cuisines, and frozen burritos. At 10 pm, J. knocks on my door and holds up a miniature Dewar’s scotch and a Snickers bar. “Dinner,” she says, my organic, vegetarian friend. “I just wanted someone to witness it.” We make up German words to describe the feeling of opening the door to a lousy hotel room: Hiltonschmerz. Scheissekarpetzgeist.

At breakfast, men eat pallid eggs and make notes on their PowerPoint decks with cheap hotel pens. They’re already in meetings, and it’s just past dawn. Soon they’ll waltz to the ballroom to show the numbers at the All-Hands, while their colleagues doodle. Their company name is pegged up on one of those old-fashioned event boards. They sell drug testing solutions.

John Wayne swaggers at the entrance to his own airport—cast in bronze, bow-legged, a life-sized 12 feet tall. Those security announcements loop on the intercom, full of robotic warmth, while we line up to be searched and have our hummus confiscated. At the departure level, two fat cops on Segways roll past a wall of windows that frames a dark orange sky. The Santa Ana bellows is still blowing on the wildfires to the south, and we can smell the smoke even in the sealed terminal. The air is itchy and thick.

“Keep your hands up! Don’t touch anything. “ A woman sprays Purell on every surface near her son, murdering bacteria, while he asks where I’m going. He’s five, and his name is Miles. He holds his hands up patiently and kicks his light-up sneakers. “M-I-L-E-S, Miles,” he says, mumbling the last letters as she swabs his mouth.

J. and I soothe ourselves with trashy magazines for the plane ride home. The sales clerk at the airport newsstand is a friend by now, and every week we discuss Britney Spears. While J. counts out the dollars for People she asks her a question. Something innocuous; about weekend plans, maybe. However it comes up, the woman answers that, well, at the moment, she’s homeless. She lives in her car, sometimes sleeps on friends’ couches. She’s hopeful that something will turn up soon.

Behind us, there’s a line of tired people waiting, without much interest, to find out if Brad really has walked out on Angelina this time. Or was it the other way round? Everyone wants to escape.

The Real World

Chicks at the store

Rural Supply Store, Los Gatos (all photos by Tim Vetter)

Drearier than the prospect of fourteen hours at the mercy of America’s worst airline is knowing that Atlanta, and not home, is at the end of it.

Atlanta has given the world Delta Airlines, soda-pop, and 24-hour televised war, and perhaps this business vigor is why it has the busiest airport in the country. That means 45 minutes of kick-shuffling a laptop bag through the lines at Immigration, then sighing through more queues at baggage claim and Customs. And that doesn’t mean you’re free to go. Atlanta takes its Homeland Security hospitality seriously. If you arrive on an international flight, you and your bags must be rescreened after Customs, even if you’re connecting only to the taxi rank. They take your luggage, brusquely, and wave you to another Tensabarrier maze.

We passengers have just arrived from Tokyo, Delhi, or Madrid, and we don’t understand who has our bags now and where we are going. The minimum-wage security staff at the end of the maze can’t fathom why we are so stupid.

“Four more lines. Four more lines! Keep moving. Keep moving down. Keep MOVING,” shouts a guard, dragging people out of the main queue to the empty security lines nearby. We are bleary, our bodies still belong to tomorrow, or this morning, and strangers have taken our stuff. We look bewildered and pissed off. We have the money to go to Tokyo. No wonder she hates us.

The suitcases have been sent to another carousel, a jolting train ride away. One-footed, we strip off shoes, belts, and jackets, scrabble to get laptops into gray trays, and watch as our little bottles of airline Evian or mouthwash get confiscated. In the strip-lighting, after hours breathing recycled air, we’re as gray as the trays. There’s nowhere to get dressed and repack. We hop in half-laced shoes and clutch our bits and pieces, as the trays back up because we’re in the way.

“The current homeland security alert level is Orange,” blare the announcements, demanding that we keep an eye on Unattended Packages. Baby soldiers sit against the wall, tethered by the too-short cords of the public phones. There are always soldiers milling around this airport. They stick together and don’t say much, a class apart from this air-conditioned bubble world as they wait for their flights to German bases. Most, of course, look far too young and small. Everyone says that. But many more look too old; bone-tired and wobble-bellied. A gray-haired soldier leans against a camouflage backpack embroidered with his last name, and reads Fiasco. I am too ashamed to smile at them and wish them safe return and recovery, though I do it silently.

Beside the second baggage carousel, a tiny girl skips and sings.

“Too-morra, too-morra,
I love ya, too-morra,
Betcha bodda dodda
You’re ownee a day a-way…Mommy, what’s next?”

I hope she’s right.

It takes another hour for my bag to arrive, on the wrong carousel. Hours later, I call Ranger Tim from The Four Seasons, greasy-haired from massage oil, with room service on its way and a laptop downloading a week’s worth of emails cheeping for attention. It’s been ten days since we talked, and I miss him. He was out at the chicken coop.

A year ago, Tim rescued a young rooster wandering at the side of the highway near Los Gatos. Now the rooster lives in a fine house at the ranch, safe from the coyotes and the mountain lions. He’s sleek, and he crows proudly, but we’ve worried about his enforced celibacy. (Maybe it’s easier to feel sympathy for a rooster than a road warrior.) We enquired into girlfriends for him. You can order chickens over the internet, and once in a while people put them up for sale or adoption on Craigslist And the Santa Cruz mountains are home to little farms that supply some of the best restaurants in the world, so surely someone would sell us chickens. You can even rescue worn-out battery hens, so that they don’t end a miserable life as dinner on Delta.

Still, we never got around to it. The rooster got no honey, and we got no eggs. Today, tooling around Los Gatos on my green motorbike, Tim noticed a box of chicks set outside the Rural Supply Store. Easter chicks, set out for children to pet. They were three dollars apiece, and he bought three.

“I brought them home strapped to the Puddingmobile, like a Vietnamese farmer,” says Tim. That’s what he calls my old green Yamaha Seca motorbike, which he spends hours fixing up. “They were terrified, but it was good preparation for their next challenge—surviving life with the rooster.”

At first the rooster paid no attention to the three chicks. He stuttered around his cage, indignant at Tim’s invasion. The chicks huddled in a corner, cheeping in terror.

“Then eventually one of them just said ‘Fuck it, I’m getting on with life.’ And she started to explore a little, peck around her. The other two stayed huddled. It’s amazing, these animals don’t know anything, and yet their personalities are distinct.”

The rooster got over his annoyance. He noticed the chicks. He watched them. Then began to show what might pass for paternal behavior.

“He started to peck in small circles, like he was showing them what to do. And eventually they got it, though they’d never seen an adult before. They relaxed. They even started pecking his beak in some kind of feeding behavior, and he let them. He was looking out for them.”

Until his mood turned and he grabbed a chick in his beak and shook it.

“I thought, here we go, the blood bath has begun. The chick was screaming, and the other two were freaked. But then he let her go, and she wasn’t hurt. It looked something like a cat shaking her kittens.” Still, the chicks were chastened, and retreated to their corner. Life beyond the shell is violent and unpredictable, no matter how cute your yellow fluff.

I ask if the rooster realized that these useless, invading bundles represented his shot at passing on his genes. “Depends,” says Tim. “In a couple of months, they’ll be mature. But who knows if he has the foresight to see them for the bodacious pullets they could turn into if he leaves them alone?”

He watched as social equilibrium was slowly restored, at least for now. “It’s like some kind of reality show,” he says, “where three babies get dumped on some single guy, and he’s clueless, and he grumbles, but in his own way he looks after them.”

I haven’t been to the ranch in months. My life is air-conditioned now. The weekends I used to spend there, I now spend working on PowerPoint in Atlanta or Tokyo, or the airports in between. I didn’t miss the mountains in the rainy season, but now that spring is here I crave news from the real world, where the coyotes don’t wait for room service, and the morning is beautiful if you survive the night.

UPDATE: The chicks survived the night. From Tim:

The rooster didn’t harm them, but he didn’t brood them either (I thought, very wishfully he might have a bit of gay motherliness in him). It was turning cold when we got back from dinner at Lupin, and checking in on the birds, I found the rooster up on his roost, nonplussed at the flashlight beam, and chicks huddled in the corner of the coop shivering. Didn’t take me long to decide they weren’t going to survive the night under those conditions. They’re living now in a cardboard box next to the woodstove cheerfully pecking at a random selection of grains from my larder, run through the coffee grinder. They seem to like white grits and rolled barley best; turn their noses up at all forms of daal. I’ll let them try Irish pinhead oats tonight.My plan is to keep them inside for the rest of this week then starting the weekend have them spend days in the chicken house with rooster. In two weeks supposedly they’ll be able to stand the cold on their own.

Chicks at the store

The Yamaha Seca

Chicks at the store

Chicks getting ready for new adventures

Chicks at the store

Chicks get introduced to the rooster

Chicks at the store

Chicks rescued from the rooster and the cold

Chicken Sashimi

My year of chicken bus travel didn’t fully prepare me for chicken sashimi.

I’m still a rube at international business travel, which makes up in interest what it lacks in opportunities for sloth. The locals have to talk to me, for one thing, instead of politely looking past me like the grubby backpacker I still am at heart. Better yet, they get to choose my menu. Instead of noodle stands and Mr. Donut, there are yakitori business dinners, in which a whole, dismembered chicken is served to each guest over a ten courses, starting with chicken sashimi and working through skin, gizzards, liver, and lights to the feet. These were well-bred Japanese chickens, which probably had their own electric backside-washers, just like the Westin. Not one of the skewers tasted bad, but the squeamies made it gruelling. Was it guts or culture that revolted against chicken sashimi? No matter: when a Wonderbread dinner guest loudly Ewwwwwed each skewer, I felt obliged to make a good show. My host was a delightful Japanese man, who had learned English many years ago when a packaged-goods company brought him to suburban California for remodelling as an American marketer. He was a good guide to the equally exotic worlds of Tokyo business culture and giant multinationals, and for him I would stare down chicken faces. It reminded me of Alexandra Fuller’sta struggle to explain in Mozambique that she is vegetarian “…in a part of the world where the opportunity to eat a whole rat is a rare treat for millions of people.” As I dipped a skewer of chicken ovaries into the plump, raw yolk that might have been their last project, my colleague S. quietly passed me her undrunk beer to get it down. That’s teamwork.

The next morning, my hotel room smelled like chicken. S., K., and I swapped slightly hysterical emails about a lunchtime trip to Hermes to check out the new ChickenBirkin bag.

Brandistan

For days, the rain had lashed Tokyo so hard we took to calling it Ty-soon Yamashita, a weather system that warped umbrellas, soaked trouser-legs, and dissolved taxis. But the sun came out on Sunday morning, and after a week of sky-high meeting rooms, corporate sushi, and Heavenly Beds,(TM) I escaped my hotel for several hours before the evening flight back to San Francisco. I didn’t have a map, a guidebook, a watch, or a phone: all burdens lift on foreign strolls.

I’ve heard that “gaijin,” the Japanese term for Caucasian, translates as “pale ghost.” True or not, I take it as an invitation rather than a slur. My ghost floats above obligations, buoyed up by the kindness of strangers. My ghost is curious, fuddled, and peaceful. My ghost is illiterate, and has nothing to say.

Traveling ghosts don’t need temple tours, when the mundane has already become the stuff of exotic little victories: choosing a breakfast, washing a t-shirt, getting lost, or getting home. You can voyage on a subway as well as a cruise ship.

Because I liked the name, I caught the metro to Yoyogi Station, studying the passengers for clues. The streets were hushed, and for want of a plan, I drifted into the conbinis to look at candy and condoms and left-to-right magazines. These 7-11s and FamilyMarts are three or four to a block, and inside strip-lighting burns off the fog of Sunday hangovers. The familiar-strange packages are pretty, but they are lined up with no extra art. It could be Jersey, with smaller beverages and fishier snacks. Outside, the spaces between convenience stores are studded with vending machines selling more of the same: Georgia Coffee, Pocari Sweat, and the medicinal Healthia. In a gaming arcade across the street, a schoolgirl waited her turn as her friend mimicked a melody by pounding fat buttons with two fists. Cartoon-decorated facemasks hid their expressions. The girls were silent, but the dancing game characters were pink and hysterical.

A nice man directed me to Yoyogi Park, the quiet end, where I got my bearings by eavesdropping as an English teacher told his guests that Harajuku was at the far side, down a gravel path lined with trees. I dawdled, filling up on green, birdsong, and crunch after a fortnight of planes, glass, and carpet. At a temple grove, an old man in a grey suit sang loudly at a tree while three companions clasped their hands and looked on. A bridal party tottered out in kimonos, and didn’t look at him.

At the far end of the park, crowds poured out of Harajuku Station, where the gothic lolitas and cosplay tribes show themselves. Think of a Tim Burton version of Rome’s passeggiata. I’d wanted to see them—my office is filled with Tokyophile design colleagues who come here to reload inspiration—but Harajuku seemed to be running on habit and hawkers, like Carnaby Street in 1970. This is the place where kids in elaborate homemade outfits (used to?) gather in hope of being spotted by coolhunters. Now a stout American woman in shorts took a picture of two girls grinning in front of a McDonald’s sign: Jon-Benet Ramseys with pink hair, bought corsets, and bad teeth. Gaggles of them roam the narrow street, their looks as carefully matched within each group as a hit-factory girl band. At first glance, I thought they were all about fifteen, but behind the kawaisa some were almost as elderly as me.

It’s Hallowe’en as I write this, and I’m thinking of the five-year-old friend who insisted on going out tonight as a Dead Cheerleader, with persnickety requirements for each detail of her outfit. Harajuku is like that, with its fruit-fly trends, unfelt punk, and cheerful goth-in-a-box parading. It’s still fun.

In the KDDI Design Studio—a concept gallery for a mobile phone carrier—they bundled me into a Formula One racing car and took my picture. Upstairs, cameras taped two girls dancing to lights that flashed on the floor of a closet-sized room. When the music stopped, they stood awkwardly for a few minutes while the footage was mashed into a personal “Promo Video” that was beamed to their phones. They peered at the screen together to see their transformation into instant J-Pop idols. I half-expected them to shake the phone dry like a strip of passport photos.

In another booth, a medical-looking camera scanned my face to choose a pre-made phone avatar. I hoped to be assigned “Happy Artist,” from a catalogue of lively hairdressers and attentive hostesses, but instead my face was morphed into “Charismatic Shopgirl,” with big manga eyes and red hair. The boys’ catalogue offered a more exciting range of possibilities. On the street, though, things looked different. The girls ran the show, preening and giggling as they flicked through clothing racks in packs, while the boys looked on, in twos and threes, ignored by the Charismatic Shopgirls in spite of their lizard shoes and skinny pants. They looked good, but not as good as the construction workers, with their balloon pants and split-toed shoes.

Nearby Omotesando, the newest of several shopping districts, looks like a fat Fall issue of Vogue turned into a streetscape. You flip past Armani, Christian Louboutin, Dries van Noten, Zac Posen, Paul Smith, and Hermes—names big and small, hot and cool are there, their stores gorgeously staged and hoping to catch the eye in a parade of gloss. In the Omotesando Hills Shopping Center, Escher escalators deliver people up, down, and sideways into luxury. They sell French chocolates, sexy stationery, buttery boots, and slithery dresses. No babywear, homewares, or bookstores break the parasitu spell. We were droplets in the current flowing through the stores.

The parasitu are my Japanese counterparts; single, childless women of marriageable age, for whom living for the moment means carrying their own volume in shopping bags back to bedrooms in their parents’ homes as often as they can. They throng Omotesando, a fuck-me-booted army with cedar-colored hair (though the most stylish among them, instructed by the Korean hair magazines, seem to have gone back to glossy black—and not before time.)

“Watch step,” said a young guard in a beige uniform and gloves, whose only task was to warn people about a two-inch drop as they joined a queue to inspect the latest Sony mobile phones. Hundreds lined up, studying with friends the Sony Style posters that showed a hundred new cover designs—limited editions by musicians, designers, and animators. Watch step. Watch step. Watch step. If they looped around the Tensaguard barriers long enough, they’d get a moment at the display wall where the real phones hung in clear packages, ready to be grabbed. Another guard—a young woman—posted at the other end of the two-inch step, prepared them for the ascent to the cash register, in case the excitement caused a stumble.

No one does this stuff better than Louis Vuitton, the firm that taught Japan about luxury retail. Louis Vuitton started as a maker of gentlemen’s traveling trunks, and to me that brown monogram canvas still looks like it smells of Old Spice and Imperial Leather, like the aftershave kits I sold in Cassidy’s Chemist the Christmas I was 16—but this seems to be a minority view. 94% of Tokyo women in their twenties owns some item by Louis Vuitton, according to the Saito Research Institute. A few years ago, the CEO claimed that 46% of all Japanese women owned a Louis Vuitton product.

What non-essential branded product is owned by 94% of San Francisco women? A Gap t-shirt? An iPod? A tub of Haagen-Dazs? Nowhere close, I’d guess. Though I’d never want a Vuitton bag, my business crush led me to spend a few hours studying their stunning stores (though, characteristically, it wasn’t the clothes or bags, but rather the oversized illustrated company history on the top floor of the Ginza store that kept me the longest, browsing from the era of carriage travel to the NetJets age.) What does it mean when Charismatic Shopgirls and Lively Hairdressers and even Elegant Gothic Lolita are willing to find the money for a $3,000 purse, or ten—and join a quarter of a mile queue for the privilege of paying for them, as they did when the latest store opened?

All week I’d groused that my little team of colleagues and I hadn’t come to Japan; we came to Brandistan, where every experience was mediated and labeled, from the time we rolled out of those Heavenly Beds to the the turn-down service. We trooped around the Apple Store and the Sony Store; and ran through a downpour from Hermes to Louis Vuitton. We drank Coca-Cola beverages and ate dinners conceived by international chefs. In my hotel room, I caught snatches of CNN. Brandistan is an independent world beyond international borders, with its own language made entirely of proper nouns, and its own tribal customs and loyalties. By the end of a five-hour walk, I suspected we weren’t the only ones who lived there.

Can Cam Week

I’m off to Tokyo on bidness tomorrow. Woo! Thanks to fellows like Marxy, I’ll feel like I’ve been there, even if I never get to leave the Roppongi Hills Mori Sky Studio conference rooms.

Strangers in a Play

1. Why Is Everybody Going to Cambodia?
“Foreign visitors are flooding in – 690,987 paid entrance fees last year, up from 451,046 in 2004. And while there are no official figures as to how much each spends in Siem Reap, the town’s dizzying array of luxury hotels – at least 10 by my count, ranging from the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor to quirky boutiques like Hôtel de la Paix – testifies to the emergence of a new generation of high-end travelers, who not only demand round-the-clock Khmer massage but are also willing to pay $400 a day to hire a BMW L7 or $1,375 an hour for a helicopter tour.

Cambodia is not alone in its luxury revolution. Since the mid-1990’s, the former French colonies of Southeast Asia have made enormous leaps in catering to tourists who prefer plunge pools to bucket showers. From the forests of Laos to the beaches of Vietnam to the ruins of Cambodia, you can find well-conceived, well-outfitted, well-run hotels that will sleep you in style for hundreds of dollars a night.

Change has come at an amazing pace. Take Luang Prabang, in Laos. This tidy hill town feels like a Hollywood set, with painted lamps glowing in French restaurants and brick walkways brightened by a yellow glow emanating from knee-high terra-cotta pots. Even the bare fluorescent tubes draped over lonely late-night streets do their part to make visitors feel as if they’ve arrived at the end of the world.

But it’s not mere atmospherics they’ve found: Luang Prabang has high-end hotels to house a legion of W-worshipers, with enough bistros and boutiques to keep their credit cards on the verge of meltdown. There are spa treatments to succumb to, and Veuve Clicquot to toast with. This town of just 60,000 people is, almost all of a sudden, a luxury getaway.”
New York Times

2. How To Write About Africa
Some tips: sunsets and starvation are good

“Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.”
—Binyavanga Wainaina, Granta (via RileyDog

3. From “Questions of Travel”

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
what childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?
—Elizabeth Bishop

Visitacion Valley

“Somewhat scary residential area. Don’t come here at night unless the 49ers have a game at 3Com”
NFT Not For Tourists™ Guide to SAN FRANCISCO

Let the Nobs stay up on their hill and the hipsters stick to Hayes: Visitacion Valley is the most evocative name in the city, and as a neighborhood, it’s preserved, for now, by those nose-wrinkling write-ups. It’s the last stop before you leave San Francisco for the cubicles of Silicon Valley. Perched above it, on the San Bruno Expressway, a cocked martini glass invites commuters to stop for one for the road at a Russian cocktail lounge.

Some neighborhood history is written in the streets: the Mexican names, the boarded-up restaurants that used to sell Louisiana chitlins, the Indian Baptist Church, the Chinese and Vietnamese-language dailies in the newspaper vending boxes. It’s half Asian now, and most of the residents were born in another country.

On Leland Avenue—storefront churches, nail salons, and lunch shacks—I dithered over what to eat. Fried chicken or beef pho? It turned out that the Sunflower Blues Cafe, with its improbable indoor picket fences and yellow gingham table cloths, wasn’t opening until next week, though Marcus, the owner, was proud to show off how good it looked already. Everything made from scratch, he said, and healthy ingredients, salads and grilled stuff, though of course they’d do fried chicken, too; no sense being extreme. He’d started his family young and brought them over to Vis Valley from Bayview. They were grown now, though he didn’t look more than forty. He owned a few properties in the neighborhood, and his wife ran the beauty salon up the street. Julia here used to work for her, he said, and Julia was the best. Could I figure out how to get her to come on board with him?

Julia shrugged and giggled, not yet convinced.

At the Vietnamese place next door, my beef pho came with tripe and tendon, and a bush of basil leaves. The fish sauce was given out without asking. I ordered ca phe sua da and thanked the waiter in dredged-up Vietnamese. I was proud, but he was baffled until I gave in and pointed to the number on the menu. The broth was as good as Hanoi, and the decor very nearly worse.

A gnarled Chinese lady, bent low, haggled in the 99 Cent Store. I paid full price for a bottle of Elmer’s Glue, some Chinese birthday cards, hair clips, and a flashing bike reflector.

Up the road, in Portola, there’s an old cinema that’s a Baptist church now. I’m a lapsed-Catholic-aetheist-Buddhist, but even I’d go to a church with a drum kit behind the Hammond organ. A nearby diner looks untouched since the 1920s, apart from the laminated waffle menus in the window. But in keeping with the neighborhood changes, those red vinyl booths and swivel stools are now wiped down by owners who got here from Seoul four years ago. It was closed, on a Sunday morning, and on the store window next door, a poster warned residents to be wary after several recent attacks.

In the supermarket, frogs squatted in their tank, eyelids heavy. Sunday must be frog night, because they were stacked halfway up each other’s backs like toppled dominos. Three aisles over, you could choose from six brands of canned quail eggs, five kinds of canned rambutan, and a fridge full of sticky drinks. In the checkout queue, with an armful of mangosteen jellies and Vietnamese espresso, I almost wept at the sight of a box of durian fruit inside the front door. In deodorized America, it’s stinky, oozy, primal, pheromonal durian I’d like to offer instead of Altoids.

The other day someone asked me if I still had the travel bug. Truth is, I never did, even—and especially—when I wore a backpack for a year. I’m a homebody; at most a reluctant daytripper, and sniffing a durian on San Bruno Avenue is all I need before heading back to my rocking chair to look down over the city.

“Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
what childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?”

—Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel”

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Hmong have a phrase, hais cuaj txub kaum txub, which means “to speak of all kinds of things.” It is often used at the beginning of an oral narrative as a way of reminding the listeners that the world is full of things that may not seem to be connected but actually are, that no event occurs in isolation, that you can miss a lot by sticking to the point, and that the storyteller is likely to be rather longwinded.

“In New York, freedom looks like too many choices,” Bono sings. When I moved there I was shy about ordering the plainest deli sandwiches and confused by the flashing Don’t Walk signs that made people run. I had no visa, and it took a month or two to find work at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, a proud literary publishing house I’d never heard of. I filled Jiffy bags with reviewer’s copies, and cut out the assessments that were sometimes granted in response. I filed the reviews in moldering folders—Kincaid, Jamaica; Nadas, Peter; O’Brien, Edna—along a corridor where Mike Hammer might have rented an office. I was paid in hardbacks, which I rarely read. It’s a rule of mine: never read anything bigger than your head.

Eight years later, I arrived for my last shift at another volunteer job on a freezing New York night. Between calls I flicked through People and US Weekly and worried about Brad and Jen. My shift partner, whom I didn’t know, read for a while too, and then slung his feet up on the desk and fell asleep. Because he was handsome, and wore yellow socks, I sneaked a look at his book to see if he was worth waking up.

It was The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. At Farrar, Straus & Giroux I’d packed a carton full of review copies and sent them around the country, but I’d decided it was too worthy to bother taking home (and I lacked the enterprise to sell it). Who wanted to read an epic about a Hmong toddler’s epilepsy, and the clash between her refugee community and the doctors at a Californian county hospital? I wasn’t sure what a Hmong was, even, and in any case I was preoccupied with Princess Diana’s funeral.

Since then I’ve visited a Hmong village in Laos, a day’s walk from the nearest dirt road. At sundown, when the villagers went to the river to bathe decorously under sodden sarongs, I slipped on the muddy bank and fell in, and cried. For dinner they killed a rooster—a precious rooster—and fed me the boiled head. I eyeballed this baleful Pez dispenser and made a show of fake humility in handing it to the teenaged monk who was my guide. Pon lit up. It was the end of Buddhist lent, and for over a month he’d eaten nothing after midday, and no protein at all. He sucked the rooster’s tongue like a lover, and then crunched through to the brain. I swallowed gritty gizzards. The villagers gathered in the doorway to watch the feast in silence, though they didn’t eat. Afterwards, someone made coffee, pouring the whole packs of Nescafe and sugar I’d brought into a kettle of river water and boiling it to syrup. I sipped mine, until Pon pantomimed that there were only two plastic tumblers and no one else could drink until we finished. We unrolled mats on the earthen floor, feet pointing towards the door to keep bad spirits out. I lay awake in a coffee buzz while underneath the stilted house the men hammered a coffin for somebody dead, and got raucously drunk on laú-laú moonshine.

I was an ungracious guest, frustrated that I knew so little and hung up on details. How much money should I offer the head man? Which one was he, anyway? How would I tell them I needed to go to the toilet? Why were the children scared of me? Why wouldn’t these people build better shacks? Were the men opium junkies? Were they really this dour? Oh Jesus, was that a leech?

I didn’t know how to begin.

Nor did the people in Anne Fadiman’s wonderful book, which my new friend hand-delivered to San Francisco last month. Both Hmong immigrants and locals were baffled and helpless. The Hmong didn’t want to be on welfare in Merced, California. They wanted to be back in their villages in Laos, where ‘pig-feeding time’ marked sunset and sunrise. The local taxpayers wanted them back home, too. Kissinger’s adventures in Laos had been kept so quiet that most Americans neither knew nor cared that Hmong tribes had been recruited to fight a private war for the CIA, and had been kicked out or slaughtered when the Americans lost 1975. Their path to America was traumatic, involuntary, and took a great deal longer than the Orderly Departure planes that left them stranded as homegrown traitors. “It was a kind of hell they landed into, “ said Eugene Douglas, Reagan’s ambassador-at-large for refugee affairs. “Really, it couldn’t have been done much worse.” Both sides expected gratitude, and got resentment. The Hmong had little left but their culture, and no interest in giving it up to become American.

That’s not an immigrant approach that America is prepared for. Think of the graffiti in Rio: “Yanqui go home—and take me with you.” America defines us so thoroughly that I could arrive in New York as a full-grown adult and feel at home except at the deli counter. But the Hmong had stayed apart so successfully that they were confused by toilets, and canned food, and electricity, and money, and hospitals. American doctors were known to steal body parts, without which souls couldn’t rest. (For their part, the doctors saw their Hmong patients as ungrateful and “non-compliant”.) It would be hard to imagine the scale of their bewilderment, except I remember it first-hand, stumbling in that river and wanting desperately to go home.

Fadiman begins with a description Fish Soup, as told by a Hmong student at Merced High School:

To prepare fish soup, he said, you must have a fish, and in order to have a fish, you have to go fishing. In order to go fishing, you need a hook, and in order to choose the right hook you need to know whether the fish you are fishing for lives in fresh or salt water, how big it is, and what shape its mouth is. Continuing in this vein for forty-five minutes, the student filled the blackboard with a complexly branching tree of factors and options, a sort of piscatory flowchart, written in French with an overlay of Hmong. anecdotes about his own fishing experiences. He ended with a description of how to clean various kinds of fish, how to cut them up, and, finally, how to cook them in broths flavored with various herbs.”

To tell Lia Lee’s story, Fadiman makes a fish soup of her own, winding through Hmong history and culture, the American War, immigration policy, western medical training, anthropology, welfare reform, a changing community, and a family. Like Tracy Kidder, or a Hmong fisherman, she watches and waits, and unfolds her tale with startling delicacy. In puzzling out a catastrophic clash of cultures, she looks for answers rather than blame. Along the way, she changed medical culture and won the National Book Award. It’s beautiful. Read it if you can.