The refuge of quiet

First, I started writing to my siblings. Then I started writing to one friend, and then another friend, and then a colleague with whom I am friendly and a few friends who are also my colleagues. And each time I found myself writing a version of the same sentiment again and again:

It’s only day 1, and I’m already exhausted!

Like many schools, colleges, and universities around the country, our semester officially kicked off today. It was a day that I was dreading — not because there was necessarily anything new to anticipate (as one of my siblings noted, this would be my ##th first day of school — actual number not necessary), but precisely because I knew what the day’s activities would entail: talking, talking, and more talking.

Susan Cain, in her 2012 book Quiet: The Power of Introverts, offers an elegant yet dramatic overhaul of colloquial understandings of introverts. Long has conventional wisdom implied that introverts share certain characteristics — e.g., shyness, quiet, and even being submissive or demurring in social settings. In her book, Cain argues against this overly simplistic classification and suggests instead that introverts, too, possess qualities and abilities often associated with extroversion — e.g., out-going personalities, ability to engage in public speaking, penchant for collaboration — however the impact on them is quiet different. Whereas extroverts may thrive on and draw energy from these (hyper)social interactions, introverts, Cain proposes, actually have energy drained from them in these same activities. Thus, the performance is the same; the effect varies significantly.

When I first read them, Cain’s words and propositions comforted me. She provided language I didn’t have when students or family members would comment on how comfortable I seemed in a highly social setting, while teaching, or giving a presentation and my reaction would include some version of how little I remembered about the event. I have gotten used to the looks of horror when I freely admit that as soon as I begin giving an academic presentation, for example, I slip into a form of auto-pilot/blackout and have to trust that whatever is coming out of my mouth is at least remotely related to what the audience was promised. (So far this has worked most of the time…)

And when I read her recent blog post — Ten Tips for Parenting an Introverted Child — I instantly wished for a time machine so I could place the piece in the hands of my well-meaning parents for whom the notion that public performance was a terrifying concept was hard to comprehend. For them, like many parents, I suspect the desire was to share with friends and family the fruits of the labor they supported in the form of musical lessons, purchases of instruments, and more; for the introverted child, however, the meaning lay in the practice and not the performance. Cain’s reframing also explains why, when the situation calls for it — as in the desire to succeed in a profession that is saturated with many forms of teaching and publication, or reciting poetry in a high school french language competition — it is possible for the introvert to perform. (Only after many years, did I myself come to appreciate this disjuncture in a productive way such that now, more than 25 years after my first lesson, I have begun to re-learn the piano. Just for myself.)

Cain’s thesis also gave credence to the routine I have developed of returning to my apartment after a day like today — eleven nonstop hours devoted to meeting new students, answering questions, greeting faculty colleagues, meeting with current students, attending to administrative issues… — and feeling utterly helpless to do much more than come home, throw together dinner from whatever is lying in my fridge, and sit quietly on my sofa eating, listening to music, or watching something inane on my laptop.

Anything… Just as long as I don’t have to talk.

Happy new year!
(To all my dear friends and family who are endlessly tethered to the academic calendar.)

first days of school

Each August, before the start of the coming school year, while my parents were busy reminding my siblings and me about the importance of doing well in school and making sure each of us was equipped with the necessary accoutrements to face the coming onslaught of new subjects and homework and a surefire method for covering books with brown paper shopping bags, my mind was fixated on notebooks. It must be that the organization of one’s class notes is drilled into children’s minds from an early age because it was the decision that caused me the most anxiety. One multi-subject notebook? Several single-subject notebooks? Loose leaf paper that could be inserted into a neatly organized binder, ready with tabs for each subject? Different colors or the same? Spiral or composition style? I remained unsettled in this annual mental juggernaut for as long as I was allowed, ultimately making the decision at various points throughout my life to try out all of the above configurations. The only decision that has remained consistent for most of my post-pre-teen years is the commitment to college-ruled rather than wide-ruled paper; all bets are off, of course, on the occasions when I choose no rule at all.

This past week, many children in the northeast and many other parts of the country returned to school. They joined their counterparts in warmer climates who were entering their second month of the new year. Following my anxiety-ridden post earlier this week, I was launched into a schedule that unwittingly became a repetitive chorus of 12-14 hour days. Meetings blended into more meetings — in offices, the hallway, impromptu caucusing on the way into and out of the bathroom; and students with whom I hadn’t spoken in a long while aired their welcomes peppered with grievances, while incoming students wove anxiety and confusion into their enthusiasm. Orientation was a blur and I’m not entirely sure what I said or did, other than that I forgot to include more than a few pieces of crucial information. But what is really crucial? What are these men and women doing in a graduate program? How is it that they find themselves here, or there, that is, in that not-too-warm room while the air conditioning unit hanging out of the window high above the room whirred and occasionally grunted as my colleagues and I performed our annual ritual of autobiographical storytelling.

Suddenly, it was my turn. And my only thought, as the fifty new faces focused on me, was that exactly one year ago I had been on my way from Tasmania to Sydney. No, that wouldn’t do. I am [insert my name here], I started to say. And I teach [these courses] and my research is [about this]. And then, as I had done in the beginning of the hourlong program orientation, I welcomed them, and reassured them about their decision to enroll in our program. It was the latter that they needed to hear.

This week was also marked by the news coverage of the Democratic National Convention, as nearly everyone is jabbering about Bill Clinton’s stemwinder. I say that word now with a false ease; until the surplus of speech-related commentaries that saturated every media space following his DNC moment, I really had never heard it before. Or perhaps it’s fair to say that I had never taken notice of the word. (Who can really say for sure that they have never heard of a word, for we hear much of which we take little notice.) Is it really surprising that our former president lingered on the stage, in his inimitable way of captivating a crowd while explaining policy tedium, for near fifty minutes?

A report claims that Clinton admitted to Sandra Fluke, after he congratulated her for her speech, that he was nervous before taking the stage for his. “Sir. Please.” she is quoted as saying in response. But I can believe it.

This strange phase of reentry is overwhelmingly marked by what it is not and what it is missing: slowness, stillness, solitude, silence. These are not my words. That is to say that while I had felt a renewed kinship to these words throughout the past year, I had not said them out loud, all together, to anyone. They were shared with me by a colleague who I saw in the hallway after we had each finished teaching our first class. Both of us had also just finished a year of sabbatical. In the screaming mess of details and minutiae that was swirling around us, particularly at the beginning of the academic year, those twenty minutes in the hallway felt like what I imagine the experience of floating to be: time suspended, an unfettered sensation, yet not all together away from this earth, but temporarily free from the leaden feet we wear to keep ourselves tethered.

She said it out loud: nervous. She was nervous. I was nervous. About expectations, about holding on to what felt so natural for the past year, about finding a way to fit in without becoming the versions of ourselves that were so of this world… in which, somehow, the details not only mattered, but became all consuming, or worse: character defining. To live and work without giving in to the quotidian urgencies that insist on churning out products — forms, email responses, and more. [deleted: some thoughts that bordered too much on whining. That is a definite don’t for this space.]

Much was made of the fact that Clinton ad-libbed many parts of the address delivered to the convention delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina — speaking nearly 5200 words while his prepared remarks were only around 2900 words. He fulfilled his role, his obligations, his expectations… his way. Of course he was experiencing some nerves beforehand. He has the tricky role — or is it fortunate irony? unfortunate challenge? — of being seen as both establishment and maverick.

Slippage into the expected is all too easy.

This year, prepared with a stock of 6×8 lined notebooks and the soliloquy of a stemwinder I’ve been narrating for myself as a form of accidental therapy to treat the previous years of academic pathology, I’m going to remind myself to go off-prompter more than occasionally. I suspect it’s the only way I’ll survive.

Denouement — sabbatical as pilgrimage, part 2

Denouement. In dramatic terms, the denouement follows a narrative climax and signals the conclusion, which is sometimes marked by resolution although not necessarily. In flight terms, we might think of this as the moment the wheels touch down on the runway. In lasagna terms, it’s the point at which you remove the foil to initiate the browning process for the top layer of cheese a few minutes from the end of cooking. It is sunset, the after dinner drink, the autumn of a calendar year. Everything in life, it seems, has a penultimate stage, a moment that is both of and also precedes the ending. Occasionally there are surprises, but more often than not this stage is characterized by affirmation and conviction. And so, with less than three weeks remaining before the start of the new school year, my sabbatical denouement is well underway.

Thoreau understood that “This world is but a canvas for our imagination.” When colleagues and friends ask me, as they no doubt will (some more perfunctorily than others), to describe this past year, I have decided to simply say, “I worked on my imagination.” To kindred spirits, this response will more than suffice, will be the germ of future dialogue about how one cultivates the self, not merely for selfish or hedonistic purposes but to be better able to live as a person in the world who can work with others in service of larger, collective goals (perhaps). To cynics who are overly concerned — as they are wont to be — with “the point,” who, I think it is safe to say, may be the type to use “found time” such as sabbatical to keep dotting “i”s and crossing “t”s to the exclusion of the many other letters in the alphabet, not to mention the many other alphabets and sign systems with which to make meaning…. well, to them, the simple answer may annoy, confound, or give further reason to dismiss. And that’s ok with me.

Almost exactly thirteen and a half months ago, I started this blog. Its primary purpose was to keep friends and family informed of the goings-on as the year-plus of “time off” took me to strange, distant, occasionally familiar, and always educative places. In the course of blogging, and perhaps because of the commitment I made to this handful of people to whom I had originally given this url, I have read more widely, written more consistently, engaged robustly in the practice of noticing and attending, and played – with language, with photography, with art making, with food, with ideas… — more than I can remember doing in a very long time.

And during that same period, owing to the great stumbling-upon characteristic of the internet, I have had the great pleasure of hearing from and learning about the blogging adventures of others who also hock their discursive wares online. So ensconced have I been in the bosom of perpetual inspiration, is it any wonder that I have grown quite fond of this space – one in which I feel “free to be?” (Cue: Marlo Thomas and friends)

In her collection of essays entitled “Letter to my daughter,” Maya Angelou writes with her usual unapologetic frankness – a manner of poignancy that is less and less common today – on qualities of being human; she writes, among other things, of home and belonging (these are two words that are currently on my mind, in part because they are at the heart of a manuscript I have been shaping for what seems like forever). In an early chapter, she offers the following observation about what others have insisted is a gap between childhood and adulthood:

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.”

Have we, in the pursuit of growing up, allowed ourselves to suppress any remembrances of the selves we inhabited as youth? The consideration of the absurd or the releasing of long held beliefs-turned-grudges can seem anathema in environments where everyone is attempting to be taken more seriously than the person to his or her left or right. (Perhaps this is never truer than during elections, as evidenced in the media circus currently going on in the States.) Can we grow up and also remain playful? Or are these contrasted ways of being?

In Angelou’s words can be found a sort of vindication for the time taken — these past several months but also at other times – to grow while also attending to the shy magnolia within. Hers are words I hope to hold close as the proverbial garlic to ward off the blood-sucking forces that threaten to dominate academic life.

Ivan Illich wrote the following about public schooling, although I think it applies to higher education (and many forms of corporatized institutions) as well: “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.”

My always-wise, never shy, highly observant, quick-witted spouse, who has been the recipient of such idle musings for the better part of two decades, recently posed a question that I have found hard to ignore: did I think that societal “norms,” which have formed largely at a glacial pace, would somehow change or be repealed overnight? Perhaps not, wise one. But it is also true that change is both catalytic and glacial. Illich, often viewed with skepticism or disdain, can be read as proffering an invitation to slow down, to resist a perfunctory mode of living and to adopt a more subjunctive stance.

To thwart Illich’s all-too-prophetic claim, to attend to the homes we never leave while also allowing new homes to blossom, to resist the pull of the de facto and status quo, to dwell in the space of the “might be,” it seems we might do well to internalize a few lessons.

An incomplete list (in no particular order; modified and extended from a post-vipassana post):

  • Look closely, look again, and resist the immediate impulse to judge.
  • Mistakes happen. Make them.
  • Don’t lament “that” when you’re doing “this” (and vice versa). In other words: Now, you, this.
  • Wonder.
  • Contentment is not complacency.
  • “I don’t know” can be freeing.
  • Be willing to leave the cave.

I know what you’re thinking… and I, too, fear for my students this year…

The remainder of this month will be devoted to the completion of unfinished blog post drafts, a few wrap-up posts, and a consideration of how to use this space once the Seine is once again a dream…

“…under every deep a lower deep opens”

An editorial note: The title for this post was originally going to be “…but every end is a beginning,” which WordPress informed me was already the name of a previous post made almost exactly one year ago, near the beginning of my sabbatical. Thus, the revised title, also from Emerson’s essay “Circles,” follows shortly thereafter the original; the titular coincidence merely reinforces the prescience his words hold.


Jottings made on a subway ride from uptown to midtown.

The hot car. A clear sign that my senses are dulled. Sparsely populated, people fanning themselves, riders sitting still and trying to not move unless necessary — I would have noticed in an earlier time. But I’m not too bothered. My body temperature starts to cool soon enough. And I am in a fairly good mood after a day spent in the company of friends and colleagues with whom laughter is the first language. In between was a meeting with new colleagues that left me feeling as if I could imagine returning, not just to New York and not merely “to campus” but to the actual institution, to the minutia that signifies the elements of the institutional apparatus that I most loathe: arbitrary and seemingly intractable procedures and policies that people — some people — adhere to seemingly without thinking, without bothering to ask why and assessing their relevance in service of some warped sense of justice or equity or efficacy.

Transfer at 96th Street to the express 2 train. Cool car — as it should be, my internal monologue asserts, chiding me for thinking anything else would be acceptable. Still, I am thankful the underground heat is not saturated with the humidity of the days preceding. My thoughts quickly return to the events of the day, to conversation that meandered from art exhibitions about dust to video art and essays, from home improvement projects to projects of self-improvement, that included the sharing of texts of… well let’s just say texts of all sorts… Suffice it to say, my earlier post about a place and its people rang true again and again today.

I think, too, of this time of transition “back” — about the moments of anxiety that arise each time I realize August is looking me in the face, those moments that I was desperately trying to wish into abeyance. The anxiety is the manifestation of a fear that has been building since that day in late June, while walking back to my hotel from an effecting visit to the Anne Frank Museum, when the image of a way of living untethered to a university first surfaced. That is to say I could imagine a life in which the elements that too often are relegated to the margins, in order to accommodate the aforementioned minutia that swells and multiples with little provocation, are brought into the center — fear, of course, is conjured out of anticipation that the minutiae will overpower all else.

So I set my subconscious loose to formulate a plan to form a writerly commune somewhere in the south of France… or in the north of France… or perhaps in that little town in the middle of France… Well, you get the picture — while the plan simmers and coalesces, the mission at hand will be the practice of mindfulness — not back or forward, but here, now. Tolstoy’s story, “Three Questions,” introduces the idea in this way:

It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid, and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

In short, Tolstoy, via the king and his quest through the land over which he rules, wonders:

  • What is the right time for every action?
  • Who are the most necessary people? (Another interpretation: Who are the most important people?)
  • What is the most important thing to do?

The answers, we might venture, are, respectively: Now, you, this.

And for the panda lovers, here is a frame from John Muth’s picture book take on Tolstoy’s philosophical offering:











… and few more words from near the end of “Circles”

“The one thing which we seek with insatiable desire is to forget ourselves, to be surprised out of our propriety, to lose our sempiternal memory, and to do something without knowing how or why; in short, to draw a new circle. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. The way of life is wonderful: it is by abandonment.”

when in rome…

Lines from “An Englishman in New York” swirl about my mind and the Geertzian invitation to “make the familiar strange” beckons with every “pardon” and “look left” written in yellow paint at pedestrian crossings. And with each passing minute in this lovely city I am struck by how much like “home” it feels. It was nearly six years before I began to view New York as a home, and while I’ve spent collectively less then two months in this town over the past 20 years, there’s always been a sense of comfort here — a form of comfort that is different than the sense of general adaptability I pride myself on being able to conjure up while visiting various lands. This is comfort of the long-term variety.

Thanks to Kate’s blog, I’ve learned about George Mikes, a Jewish reporter who came to London for a short visit but stayed for a lifetime — and I have been enjoying immensely his musings on English life chronicled in part in How to be an alien. I’m practically British according to Mikes’ assertions about the Brits’ penchant for consuming the hot stuff all day and night long, although I’m a walking stick and one pair of purple shoes short of fully fitting into his image of the Bloomsbury intellectual. But I’m here for several more weeks so there’s hope yet!

Today marks the second part of this overseas adventure. Yesterday I rode the tube to Heathrow to bid farewell to my trusty travel companion, and on the way back snapped a few pics with my ipad of the snow-covered suburbs.

I got off the tube a few stops early and traipsing home via a few streets that were new to me. Thus begins two months of keeping myself entertained. On the docket: meandering walks, visits to youth theater programs, tucked away afternoon teas, and seminars based on the book that will hopefully be more underway than its current state. To wit, I am re-instituting my Nanowrimo schedule of writing many words every day and heeding my own writing advice. Because the days, they wait for no one.

big ben ticks and tocks
this one's for my sister.
a little piece of home
antique book store.

good tidings and good intentions

woody guthrie‘s new year’s resolutions (via @boingboing)

woody guthrie's 1942 new year's resolutions

i especially love the sketches made to emphasize the resolutions — see for example next to #31, the outstretched hug and kiss (Smack!) to the world on the bottom right.  and #15 — “Learn People Better” — couldn’t we all use a lesson in that?


Montreal, la version longue

I am counting the 12-hour train journey as part of this Montreal chronicle, which began when the train I boarded before daybreak left Philadelphia at 5:52a and arrived in Montreal after sunset, at 7:33p. The sky was beginning to lighten slowly as the train pulled away from 30th Street Station, but we were nearly halfway to Trenton before the day was broken into by streaks in the sky that looked like a very large animal had torn into the atmosphere revealing a blood orange color with lava-like brilliance. Truly day break.

My sister came on the journey with me and, as she pointed out more than a few times, this may be the longest amount of time we have spent with each other as adults without other family members present. She was right. We are also each enjoying a break from our respective fields of work at present – me, on sabbatical, and she having just resigned from her position in an administrative wing of a local department of education. Whereas I embrace, with great joy, meeting-free days and a schedule-free existence, she is less prone to feelings of joy about the same. And while her resignation was self-initiated and motivated by a desire to find and pursue work that better stimulates and inspires her, she only now, after more than a month away from the routine, has resigned herself to the reality that the journey may be the “there” and that one person’s “there” is another person’s “nowhere.” So it was only natural that she, without anything keeping her from accompanying me, should come along and see what a bunch of anthropologists do when they get together. Her own emergent ethnography found the following:

  • They speak in their own jargon as equally self-referential as any talk of “rubrics, deliverables, and outcomes” (although, in my *completely unbiased* opinion, talk of “positionalities, spaces, and being” is far superior to the latter!);
  • They socialize. A lot. Over drinks, breakfast, lunch, and shared love of chocolate.
  • They like to celebrate one another, pay homage, give respect, and illustrate connections and lasting legacies through stories and other practices of situatedness.
  • Some of them are not very self aware.
  • Yes, some really do wear ponchos and socks with Birkenstocks. (I had already prepared her for this; the anthro dress code is one of the main reasons I hang a part of my proverbial hat there.)
  • They, at least the ones in the sub-section I’m associated with and with whose members she had several chances to interact, are quite friendly, welcoming, and at the ready with advice and ideas.
  • Some of the new and first-time presenters lack the finesse and depth of more practiced anthropologists. Apparently in a few sessions she attended, presenters felt no need to connect to other work (e.g. lit review) and meandered as they talked without any sense of purpose or timing (I witnessed one such paper with her – oh my…).
  •  Anthropologists are not saints and also have their share of hypocrisy, lack of judgment, questionable decisions and ethics, and plays of power and authority.

As a member of the afore-not-mentioned organization, it was both a treat and source of nerves to have my sister along for the ride. A true boon of this experience was the opportunity to truly engage in that ethnographic practice of making strange something that is by now so familiar. As was the opportunity to spend time together talking through ideas, and doing so (on my part) without frustration that various concepts were not obvious. For this, I had to view dear sister as a nascent and interested interloper and not a judgmental family member; the shift in orientation does wonders for assuming a dialogic stance rather than a similarly judgmental one. I willingly offered examples when she asked for them rather than changing the subject as I might have done in a move characteristic of a self-protective, “my family doesn’t get what I do” attitude leftover from the past. (Stunning, isn’t it, how quickly we retreat to these familiar corners and postures, and how truly challenging it is to dislodge oneself from these habit patterns.)

We also took in this fine city whose citizens entertained my inclinations to speak French, which of course thrilled me endlessly. We walked up rue Saint Laurent through the Quartier Latin, traipsed through McGill University and its surroundings, made our way to the Mile End neighborhood, and back down for some delicious mushroom tacos and tequila at the aptly named Tequila Taco House.

And I can definitively say that the café Olive et Gourmando is one of my absolute favorite spots for eating and communing in the world. During our short stay, I visited this eatery no less than four separate times and everything I consumed was prepared on site and simply delicious — food, atmosphere, and friendliness. Allow me to demonstrate with a vignette.

Two women, sisters perhaps, sit opposite one another enjoying their lunch. One has ordered a grilled cheese. But this is no ordinary fromage grille; this is goat cheese with the brie-like rind still attached, smothered in between two slices of le pain magnifique, topped with carmelized onions and accompanied with a veritable vat of slightly thinned ketchup for dipping that boasts and delivers the flavors of autumn harvest: apple, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Across from her is the sister’s order: truffle macaroni and cheese; that is, a mélange of mushrooms delicately tossed and presumably sautéed in truffle oil before joining spiral macaroni cooked to al dente perfection and bound together with a generous (but not overwhelming) amount of gruyere cheese, all served in a square cast-iron skillet in which the dish was clearly prepared and broiled as the browned edges of the cheese on top indicate. The mac ‘n cheese skillet was accompanied by a simple green salad with the complex flavors of tarragon, citrus, and an as-yet-undiscovered flavor running through a mixture or arugula, dandelion greens, fennel greens, and toasted almond slices.

But this is not the best part. No, that happened when the man sitting next to the sister with the grilled cheese asked the other sister what she was eating, and expressed interest when she replied “truffle macaroni and cheese.” He, with his perfectly round, thick, black-rimmed glasses and red knit hat and scarf tossed casually over his left shoulder, had already caught the sisters’ collective attention. The rest of the exchange went something like this:

Red hat: Is it any good? (nose wrinkles with anticipation)

Truffle Sister: Oh yes, so good. (nodding, fork in hand ready for another bite)

Red hat: Well (nodding) I’ll have to look for it next time. (momentary pause, while he continues to smile and look at the artfully designed wooden board on which the dish was served) Ok, class is over! You can go back to eating in peace now. (another smile, a bit more devilish this time)

Truffle sister: Thanks (a smile, presumably related to the joy that comes from someone else validating one’s food selection)

The sisters continued to eat their meal as Red Hat and his companion – another man with thick rimmed spectacles that are more rectangular in shape and whose manner is less animated than his friend’s – consume their meals and move on to dessert. Truffle Sister spots Red Hat’s dessert: some kind of chocolatey, bready item served in an oval basket with a perfectly-sized (not too big, but more than an espresso) cappuccino on the side. Another exchange ensues:

Truffle Sister: Ok, now I must ask you, what is that? It looks delicious. (not even trying to hide her covetous eyes)

Red Hat: Ooh, I’m in school now! (laughs – infectious was a word designed for this man’s exhortation of delight) This is the chocolate brioche. They make wonderful desserts here, but you can’t go wrong with Valrhona (referring to the brand of chocolate that decorates the inside, outside, every-side of the magical item in front of him)

Red Hat’s English reveals a lilt of something else when he pronounces Valrhona and it is only then that Truffle Sister realizes that they are talking with Quebec natives – later she learns they are Montreal natives, partners (in business and in life) for over two decades. Food, as it turns out (yet again), is the true uniter and for the next twenty-five minutes, the New Yorkers and Montrealites exchange stories, with the latter giving the former restaurant recommendations and an invitation to their food shop in a local indoor market. In this conversation, the New Yorkers learn that Rene (Red Hat) and Glenn have just bought a new home, are in the throes of home renovation and repair craziness (which Truffle Sister, aka yours truly can empathize with), have traveled the world and have made friends with great characters along the way, and that they think the sisters are the friendliest New Yorkers they have ever met.

Merci, Rene et Glenn! We think you’re fantastic, and merci aussi for the tres yummy fleur de sel chocolates you treated us to during our visit to your store, Les Douceurs du Marche, that I highly recommend to all who visit Montreal. We had the great pleasure of participating in a few tastings (olive oil, olives, and something heavenly called pistachio crème that puts nutella to shame!) before departing Montreal and returning to the States. Meeting this duo was certainly the highlight of a trip that was also filled with good conversation, meeting new colleagues, and some quality time spent with my never-former, always-current mentor – I wonder when she’ll tire of giving counsel. I hope and suspect the answer is never. – and intellectual fuel for my ongoing inquiry into questions of belonging, being, and becoming and how the combination of travel, food, and laughter inspires new learning and openness in seemingly magical ways. (hmmm… I suspect I may have stumbled onto the subject of my next post. But much nanowrimo-ing must come first! Especially as I received the very welcome news that a chapter originally due at the end of the month can now be submitted in early 2012. Joy!)