Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound.

Aloha from Palm Springs, where it's currently 108 and I'm chillin' in a little Tittibhasana. At left, that's a quick pic I snapped on looking skyward toward sunset last night. The palms here are out of control.

The asana pictured below is one of, oh, 70 or so that we worked on today. Along with the other 5 hours' worth of heaving and bending and lifting and pulling. (And sweating. Don't forget the sweating.)

So much to report, I'm a little stuck for knowing where to start. You're going to get some stream-of-consciousness action, because while I'm taking pretty copious notes in my trusty notebook, I'm not really feeling the "big conclusions" thing yet. Blame exhaustion, or bliss; take yer pick.

So far? The bod's holding up, though two days in a row I've come the closest I've ever felt to thinking I was going to a) die, b) vomit, or c) pass out in a sweaty jumble of limbs during both Bikram's and Rajashree's classes. The humidity in the studio here feels more intense, and combined with the desert heat, it makes hydration the perpetual driving concern all day, every day. I'm living on fruit. Literally. Just hoovered a whole cantaloupe. In one sitting. (Godblesscantaloupe.)

Bikram's classes yesterday kicked all of our asses. (I'm sure that was kind of his intent.) In spite of the fact that I usually practice in long pants and long sleeves to make the class more challenging, and the contrast that I'm practically naked here in my booty shorts and sports bra, the 5-hour stretch seems tough for all of us, which is a bit of a rude awakening considering that we're a group of teachers and teacher's pets, the yoga dorks of our respective studios who are used to being the top dogs. And now we just feel like dead, wet dogs. Wearing bikinis.

But it's getting better already. We blew through much of the Advanced series yesterday, and this morning I found Rajashree's calm, graceful spirit a tonic to Bikram's fiery, confident, over-the-top bombast. She's lovely. I hope she teaches tomorrow morning, too. (I've always hated Dandayamana Janushirasana, but when you're forced to hold it an extra 2 minutes in 115 heat and a man in a headband barks at you when you fall out, you kind of want to die.)

I'm practicing all kinds of pretzel-y tricks. Super bendy. That's such a benefit of the thick humidity: mad flexibility. The days are settling into a good routine: coffee and breakfast early, yoga 8:30-1:30, a quick lunch, laps in the pool (and, er, sunning, and reading, and sleeping), and generally drinking as many liquids as is humanly possible. It's pretty much my ideal vacation: yoga, fresh food (there's a Ralph's across the drive that's sent from Shakti), sunshine, swimming, and time to catch up on so much writing and reading and work.

Honestly, the whole thing reminds me a lot of cheerleading camp. Lots of hot athletic people, a fair measure of checking-one-another out, that sort of veiled competitive vibe (I'm more "yoga" than you!), constant sweating, minimal clothing, hotel life, motivational speeches. There's thankfully not a lot of Enforced Mingling, which is a blessed relief for this one; nothing's worse than awkward mandatory social functions when you really just wanna learn the shit and do yer thing. Nice balance of practice and retreat.

The attendees are what you'd expect: lots of hardcore buff bodies, serious badasses with crazy muscles and no makeup, hippie clothes, some dreads, you know the drill. Super-diverse, too; I'm one of the few attendees from California that I've run into so far; there are folks from Ireland and Australia and all over the country. I dig it.

Bikram's yoga is notoriously light on philosophy, heavy on physicality. And a lot of people really discount it for that. But I've been so pleasantly surprised thus far by the way Bikram and Rajashree have built the philosophy into the practice without having to state it heavy-handedly; Bikram's introductory spiel Sunday evening was as rich with yogic theory as it was with ball jokes, and Rajashree in particular really brought out some good points about prana and breath and holistic health and mental stillness this morning.

The desert vibe - pastels, tropical shirts, cheesy hotel decor, golf - feels so far from my San Francisco reality. No one walks here. There's a steady trickle of us Bikram-ites who walk back and forth to Ralph's; we're the only ones on the deserted sidewalks. What a different world from my biped existence in the cool, foggy city. It's a shift I'd never want forever, but for a week, it'll do.

(I discovered this weirdly hilarious show on TLC the other night when I got home. "Cake Boss." Have you seen it? Reality show about an Italian family bakery near NYC. Enraptured; laughed out loud. How weird to have a TV, and a king bed, and bad reality programming, at the same time. I see how people get addicted.)

(Also, Bikram swears like a sailor. Which I love.)

Plenty more to come; lots of thoughts on commodification and the Eight Limbs and Pizza Hut and laughter and American culture; but for now, I'm browning nicely, hydrating constantly and happy to be here. And not minding the sore muscles much when the mind-blowing benefits are so clear.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

Hopping a quick flight to Palm Springs in the morning for a week of intensive training with Bikram and Rajashree. At left you can see the miserable destination where I'll be sweating, stretching and bending for the next seven days. Poor, poor me. (Current temp: 110 degrees.)

Today has been a frantic melee of packing and laundry and yoga-training and list-making and putting the finishing touches on the draft of an article due Monday. Much to discuss, more to learn in the days to come. I'll be blogging poolside from the Desert Springs JW Marriott, while hopefully blowing through a few new tomes, drafting a few new articles, and sculpting out a few new muscles as I study the 84-asana Advanced Series with Bikram and his wife. The 1940s Esther Williams bathing beauty swimsuit is packed, the yoga booty shorts are stocked up, and I'm planning to budge from my deck chair as little as possible each afternoon, following the 5 or 6-hour yoga training in the mornings. Got a whole travel bag chock full of raw foods, right next to the sunblock, which should hopefully prevent too much raw skin over the course of the week; raw muscles, however, are completely and totally to be expected.

Look for updates throughout the week. You'll hopefully get a few long-overdue bundt updates, as well, as I catch up on life in the evening hours. (There is hot news on that front, as well. Get excited.)

I'll see you in the desert.

Om shanti, kids.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

If you haven't yet been up to the SFMoMA's Rooftop Garden since it opened last month, one of the many treats you'll discover on alighting on the fifth floor is the little Blue Bottle Coffee Co. cafe tucked into the back wall of the garden. And if you take the time to grab a cup, you'll find yourself chuckling on discovering the sweet little pastries they've developed to complement the art and the java buzz out there in the sun and the wind.

This morning's Chron has a little piece about the pastry chef, Caitlin Williams Freeman, who took her sketchpad throughout the museum and drafted ideas for pastries that might echo the works on display. The results? Charming little Mondrian-inspired ganaches, Thiebaud-cakes, and more.

You can't help but love the combo: art, sunshine, pastries, prana, coffee. Seriously all of my favorite things in one place. Read the article; it's twee in the most un-irritating kind of ways. After seeing Freeman's pastries, I'm inspired to make every creation an homage to my favorite modern artists.

Freeman Makes Artistic Desserts at SFMoMA (SFGate)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Every Sunday morning the Chron's Style section features a running blurb called "On the Couch." Usually it showcases a snapshot of a couple sitting - obviously - on their couch at home, and tells their story in little anecdotes: how they got together, why it works, why it doesn't, tough odds, etc.

You'd think this'd be cheesy as hell, but since they started doing this a few years ago, I've come to look forward to reading each week's profile. This being the Bay Area, the couples are generally interesting, traveled and non-traditional; no Ozzie-and-Harriet backstories to be found here. Lots of interracial and same-sex and childless and several-times-married couples, etc. And usually the pieces carry enough of a healthy dose of cynicism to counter their potential sappiness.

So last week's was once again a nice down-to-earth snapshot, and there was a throwaway line from one of the partners that has since stayed with me; it struck me as such a good, well-adjusted, realistic way of looking at relationships, sans unrealistic expectations or future projections or any of the kind of crap that usually dooms a love affair.

Early on, Jim told Sara: "I like being in the world with you."

Isn't that lovely? A present-tense, very Buddhist, very yogic kind of observation, this emphasis on the here-and-now "being" nature of being with someone, none of this crap about what might be or whether it'll still be in 5 years or whether their landed gentry families' estates run parallel to one another's or whether their genes are good for reproducing or whether their decorating tastes might work well together. Just a being in the world together. What a nice vision for a healthy relationship of any kind: friend, family, lover, etc.

I like it.

The time was right, like in the movies (SFGate)

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

New favorite thing!

Stumbled across this Vegan Parmesan "Cheese" while loading up my basket at Whole Foods yesterday. Dig it. Ingredients: Raw organic walnuts, Red Star nutritional yeast, Celtic Sea Salt, and (naturally), LOVE.


Raw, delicious, good on salads and much, much more. Check out the Chipotle Cayenne flavor for some spicier action. (After seeing "Food, Inc." the other day, I'm searching for every possible non-dairy substitute I can find. You'll do the same thing after witnessing the horror show that is the industrialized food system. Get in there.)

Eat in the Raw - Vegan Parmesan

Monday, June 15, 2009

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

How cute is Paul McCartney? Have you read about the new "Meat-Free Monday" campaign that he and his equally cute daughters Mary and Stella are launching today?

Click on over to their website and read up on how this newest clever campaign aims to cut carbon emissions and improve your health by encouraging people to go veg one day a week (if not more). I always respected Linda McCartney's outspoken vegetarian activism and her passion for animal rights, and it's touching to see how Paul & Co. have carried her work on long after her death.

I try so hard to be a gentle vegetarian, not hostile, not proselytizing, not judgmental, and I usually manage, on the outside, at least; but at my heart, and even though after 13 years of this no-meat action I've learned not to say it out loud, I really do believe it's foolish and socially irresponsible to eat meat anymore, given ALL the vast evidence against it: ethically, health-wise, environmentally, socio-politically, etc. Anyone who says he wants to save the rainforests or solve world hunger or fight cancer or be healthy and then continues to financially support the meat industry and in so doing silently endorse the environmental and human/animal violence it perpetrates is just, well, full of it...period. There's too much research out there showing the direct connections to pretend you're ignorant of this one easy step you could take 3 times a day, every time you put food in your mouth. The personal is indeed political, my friends.

So practice what you preach. Like Sir Paul says, cutting out meat is one of the easiest ways to actually make a difference in climate change and your own health. Seriously. It won't kill you. And even better, it won't kill anything else, either.

(End of rant. Back to gentle veg. Eat a carrot. Then please read Carol J. Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat or John Robbins' Diet For a New America. You'll get it then.)

Meat Free Monday

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Picked this up the other day after having heard decent reviews last spring when it came out in hardcover. Gessen's the editor of the literary magazine, n+1, and it seemed like a quick read, a good dive into fiction again after some heavy time with theory and philosophy and whatnot.

It didn't disappoint. I finished the last few pages Friday morning, and my heart felt hollow for the rest of the day. That heart-echo is always a reliable marker for a good read, my mainstay barometer of authentic writing.

Mark, Sam and Keith - the three main characters, Ivy-educated, too smart for their own good, living on the East Coast, working, living, loving (?) and attempting to navigate their late twenties and early thirties - are certainly the sad young literary men I've known and continue to know, in real life, that is.

Zip through it for a quick and melancholy glimpse at the more interior lives of the dudes you see kicking it with a PBR at that dive bar around the corner. And then feel the echo in your heart when the tumbleweeds blow by at the end. Disappointment, hope, resignation, fear, fondness, indifference, ambition, defeat; it's all there. I think I need a drink.

Sunday Times Book Review: All the Sad Young Literary Men (NYT)

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

"Food, Inc." opened here over the weekend, and oh man, am I excited to see this one.

If you've read any Michael Pollan or Eric Schlosser, or are at all familiar with Alice Waters-style food ideologies, none of the material they cover will be a revelation. But the media is comparing this new film version of these food progressives' ideas to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and I can really see why. Now if only this docu will hit the masses the way that one did.

Interviews with filmmaker Robert Kenner abound right now, but I've read two good ones that should give you an introductory glimpse into all the issues going on here: industrial power, the invisible costs of cheap, unhealthy food, the politics of eating local, the potential power of consumer choice, the frightening future implications for the environment, jaw-dropping health problems to come unless things change quickly, and so much more. This is some rich, meaty stuff. No pun intended.

I love how Kenner emphasizes that this is not a Republican/Democrat kind of wedge issue. It's a general human well-being issue, a matter of whether you want to live, and if so, if you want to live well in the doing. Period. One in three Americans born after 2000 developing early-onset diabetes doesn't look like that. It's a quality-of-life issue. As Kenner says in his Salon.com interview, "You don't have to be a Democrat or a Republican to not want to eat meat with fecal matter on it." Zing. Exactly.

Check out the Salon and Chronicle articles linked below; watch the trailer, and keep your eyes open for a screening near you. "Food" opened this weekend in the coastal cities, and should be expanding to wider release soon. I'm seeing it tomorrow - can't wait.

(And is it me, or does Eric Schlosser remind you eerily of Ed Harris? Just sayin'.)

Behind the Food Industry's Iron Curtain (Salon.com)
'Food, Inc.': Documentary on Your Dinner (SFGate)
Official Site - Hungry for Change?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Very little blogging of late because life has been a whirlwind of art and music and opera and dance and cafes and books and sunshine and so on and so forth. Making an effort to catch up. It's nice to see you again.

Tuesday night I had the distinct pleasure of sitting about ten rows back from the orchestra with a bunch of rich aging socialite-types for the opening night of the SF Opera's summer season offering, Porgy and Bess. And dear god, was it worth every extra dollar I shouldn't have spent on those tickets.

Porgy is Gershwin, of course, so I was destined to love it before the curtain went up, but nonetheless: the singing soared, the staging engaged, the sets enthralled, the orchestra sailed, and the standing ovation went on and on. This jewel isn't so often staged, but opera director David Gockley apparently has a soft spot for it, so here we find it, sold out already for its limited June run.

Check out the Chron's review, and try to score a ticket anyway you know how. (Prostitution?? Might be your only bet with this one.)

Opera Review: Powerful 'Porgy and Bess' (SFGate)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Last night I went to a modern dance show down in a performance space South of Market, and while the dancing was fantastic, the space itself was stifling and airless. I waited until the last possible minute to come inside from the briskly windy June twilight, and rushed outside as soon as possible when the show was through to catch a deep breath of fresh air again. Inside, the still, hot, stagnant air must have been misery for the dancers onstage, let alone those of us sitting in the audience.

It reminded me how important fresh air is - pranayama, circulation, breath, all of those ideas so central to the yogic project - and it reaffirmed my commitment to spending as much time outside as possible (hello, geography of prana), and it made me think of this quotation from Indian philosopher Krishnamurti, which I read the other day in passing and thrust into my bag, knowing I'd be glad I'd kept it:
"It is essential sometimes to go into retreat, to stop everything that you have been doing, to stop your experiences completely and look at them anew, not keep on repeating them like machines. You would then let fresh air into your mind. Wouldn't you?"
I like this idea of letting fresh air not just into your body, into your breath, into your living room, but into your mind. We could all use a dose of that mental fresh air from time to time. (And aren't the arts a good gateway to that?)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Garrison Keillor has another heart-stopper over at Salon today.

Somehow Keillor manages in his usual melancholy, no-bullshit, Upper Midwestern kind of way to draw plane crashes and rhubarb pie and urbanity and aging and regret into some lovely knot called Chopin, and in so doing, to reflect on the potential of the arts to stop us in our tracks and make us feel alive in bodies that otherwise get so easily distracted by economics and sorrow and summertime parties in the backyard.


The Heart of Saturday Night (Salon)

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data

Interesting article over at the NYT on the potentially redeeming social implications of blushing. Who knew?

For those of us prone to blushing, it's hard to imagine there's anything good about this annoying tendency. As for me, a quickness to flush remains the last relic of the shyness of my youth; over the years, I've learned well how to be a professional extrovert, having grown up in theater and music, and I harbor no fear of public speaking or teaching. But in spite of all that, I can blush the hell out of myself when it's most inconvenient, e.g. when a hot dude walks into my bar. (Sigh. I have no game. Seriously.)

I even blush vicariously for other people, when I feel their embarrassment; it's ridiculous, and I'm the butt of jokes for it (ask anyone what "Paleta Payaso" means, and they'll tell you it's my red-faced nickname), but I can't do anything about it. So how lovely to read this little pop-sociology article that argues that blushing might be in fact not be such a bad thing, that it might, in fact, lead to fondness and camaraderie and social cohesion.

Charming little piece. Check it out.

Hold Your Head Up. A Blush Just Shows You Care. (NYT)

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Meet my newest babies!

We've had classic summertime fog this week, a thick morning blanket perfect for getting up early and baking in the hush before the clouds burn off. And I've been experimenting with my baby bundt pan.

I call these little guys "Black & Blues," because they're a black/blueberry cream cake recipe. You've seen this recipe in various shades here before; this time I just had some fresh fruit dying in the fridge, so I decided to throw both types of berries in. I frosted the little guys with a basic cream cheese frosting and added fresh berries on top.

Finally, I pulled the arrangement of wild thistle and statice from the coffee table and finished the baby bundts off with lavender, deep purple and mauve blossoms, and a few little sprigs of bear grass.

I'm totally smitten.

Can't wait to share them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

I'm a little bit in love with this new book, and probably its author, as well, although a good fifteen minutes spent with an excerpt from last week's NYT Magazine will have to suffice until I can get my grubby paws on the tome itself.

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, by Matthew B. Crawford, combines all of the best aspects of the sociology of work with embodiment theory and some economics, too, to create a beautiful little treatise on labor and bodies and work and nourishment and meaning in contemporary America. I've kept the NYT excerpt open in my browser window here all week, reminding me of these themes every time I turn to my laptop, which has meant that all this dishy stuff about the sociology of labor has been swimming around in my consciousness ever since. When I've come home in the wee hours after shaking martinis all night, body sore and tired and spent and covered in vodka (and maybe a little bit glowing and alive?), it's been utterly affirming, thought-provoking and inspirational.

Crawford's work brings to light all of those rich Marxian ideas of alienation and sensuous labor, the hope that it's indeed possible to find work that engages the mind and the spirit and the body all at once, that nourishing kind of labor that feeds the soul and fires the imagination while actually employing the body in its service. Whew. Dreamy. Crawford's got mad intellectual street cred, a Ph.D. in various heady theory and whatnot, lots of teaching and policy experience, but the man now runs a vintage motorcycle repair shop in Richmond, VA, and his book addresses the cultural tangles we find wrapped up with work and manual labor: class and status and education and prestige and capital and skill and freedom, oh my.

When Crawford writes about the physicality of motorcycle repair, the careful subtlety and stealth intellect involved in solving mechanical mysteries, it's hard not to see the poetry, the elegant back-and-forth dance, of this kind of work. And then when he goes on to describe the powerful community ties and relationships inherent to his line of work, you'll see what a great richness might lie in revaluing this kind of denigrated labor.

Read the excerpt - "The Case for Working With Your Hands" - for a good starting point. Enjoy his edgy honesty, his authentic sensibility, his seemingly-subversive call for a revaluing of manual labor in the light of changing economic and technological atmospheres. (Crawford cites Marge Piercy's "To Be of Use," which I've posted below, because it's just so damn good.) Pick up the book itself. Question whether your paper-pushing might feed you the way a little dirt and grime and soreness might otherwise. Dig into these big questions of labor and meaning and life and fulfillment. It's soooo dishy. Mmm.

The Case for Working With Your Hands (NYT Mag)

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

To be of use
~ Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

(And that's Diego Rivera's "The Flower Carrier," 1935, of course.)