READ: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

I have a membership to the San Diego Zoo that I bought when my niece and nephew were in town last summer. The zoo is in Balboa Park, one of my favorite spots in town, and it is an incredible space with lush greenery, beautiful flowers and plants, and a wide variety of awesome animals.

In spite of all the positives I listed – I’m done with zoos. For good.

Every time I leave I feel horrible and haunted by all the sentient beings that are in their enclosures being stared at by an ever-changing group of visitors. I’ve tried to talk myself into liking the zoo, after all, the animals may have a better chance of surviving at the zoo than they would in their natural habitats that are being decimated by our destruction of the environment. But I am done trying to fool myself. Whenever I look at the animals I see all the similarities between them and me. They feel pain, pleasure, hunger, excitement, fear, compassion, and yes, they  share the most important quality that humans have – love. Check out the love in this video that was just released by the San Diego Zoo of a momma gorilla being reunited with her baby.

My sincere hope is that this momma gorilla and her baby are never separated because the San Diego Zoo decides to sell one of them to another zoo or park. When watching videos like this it is important to remember that zoos are breeding grounds where families are often separated.

I am familiar with the argument that zoos are good for animals and that they educate people. But in reality, they reinforce humans dominance over animals and we talk ourselves into thinking that zoos are good for animals. Much like we reassure ourselves that it is acceptable to eat some animals and not others.

The hardest part for me at zoos has always been the gorillas and chimpanzees because it is like I am looking in the mirror. Chimps are the closest relative to humans – Karen Joy Fowler’s spectacular novel “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” explores our similarity. I read this book awhile ago, but I didn’t know how to write about it without giving away the “surprise.” Who wants to be the spoiler? Barbara Kingsolver (my favorite author!) wrote an amazing review of this book in the NY Times, and in it she gives the “surprise” away because  it does not detract from the power and message of the book.

For the first 100 pages it is not obvious that a chimp is in the novel, because she is referred to over and over again as the long-lost sister of the narrator, Rosemary. The sister of Rosemary is a trouble-making, antic-loving chimpanzee named Fern.

Rosemary and Fern are a part of an experiment where they are raised together to see what characteristics they share, etc. Fern is raised in a human family and treated like the other two children, Rosemary and Lowell Cooke. Tight familial bonds are created – of course those bonds include love, friendship, sibling rivalry, and misunderstandings. Since Rosemary is raised side by side with Fern, she develops “ape” like tendencies such as standing close to people, touching others a lot, and acting a little out of control. Rosemary and Fern mirror each other in many ways.

Fern leaves the Cooke family when she is 5 years old. Her departure creates a huge hole in the family that tears them apart. This novel explores family dynamics, while at the same time it scrutinizes the relationship between humans and animals.  At one point Lowell says about the way that we treat animals: “The world runs…on the fuel of this endless, fathomless misery. People know it, but they don’t mind what they don’t see. Make them look and they mind, but you’re the one they hate, because you’re the one who made them look.” Of course this statement is so, so true – we like to shoot the messenger instead of thinking about the message.

Fowler does not lecture or preach in this novel – she is way too much of an expert novelist to do that. Instead she weaves a subtle, powerful story with well-developed characters and an intense plot that involves the way our memories can play tricks on us. It is well-researched and is loosely based on a true story. I love that she challenges her reader to think about so many things that we try to not think about. At one point Rosemary says: “You might be shown the photos of the space chimps in their helmets, grinning from ear to ear, and you might feel an urge to tell the rest of your class that chimps grin like that only when they’re frightened, that no amount of time with humans will change it. Those happy-looking space chimps in those pictures are frankly terrified and maybe you just barely stop yourself from saying so.” We fool ourselves into thinking the chimp is having fun, just like we tell ourselves that animals like being in a zoo.

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I have been obsessed with podcasts lately. I think people around me on the freeway think I am crazy because I am always laughing or crying in my car. If you get a chance, listen to two of my favorites:

Animal Sacrifice|This American Life – The story about dogs during WWII surprises and bewilders.

Space|Radio Lab – I’ve listened to this podcast at least 3x over the last 2 years. Anne Druyan gives a beautiful interview about her love for Carl Sagan. If, like me, you are obsessed with the TV show COSMOS this is a MUST listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIFE: Urban Gardening

I have failed at my multiple attempts at gardening in a rental near a canyon that is full of skunks, foxes, coyotes, and gophers. However, I won’t give up, and one of these days I’ll have a garden again. For now, I get to enjoy the wonderful garden that my friends, Megan and Jon, have cultivated in their front yard. I posted about the garden, and a yummy dinner that we made on one of my most favorite blogs…Vegenista.

Click here to read the guest post.

Kale

 

The pictures above and all the pictures in the post are by the ultra-talented Megan Morello. Check out her work at laluzphoto.net 

READ: Literary City Guide San Diego, California

Just a quick post to share something I am excited about. Eat this Poem is one of my favorite blogs because it involves two of my favorite things: poetry and food. Nicole blogs about these two items that have brought me lots of comfort and joy over the years, so of course, I am a fan. I also think the literary city guides that she posts are spectacular!

I contacted her a few weeks ago with my ideas for San Diego, and it came together yesterday. I am excited to join all the fantastic literary city guides that are on her blog. San Diego is a great city and I love sharing things that I’ve discovered. Please check out my Literary Guide to San Diego here.  I hope it makes you want to come visit.

Coronado Beach

LIFE: Jimbo’s Grocery Store

I think a lot about what I want to be when I grow up. I am nearing forty and I still have no idea what I want my career to be. I talk to other people about this all the time, and I have found that most people feel the same way.

Let me tell you what I THINK my dream job is: professional grocery shopper and meal planner. Is it possible to make a living doing it?

Most people dread going to the grocery store each week and planning what they’ll eat. I am a good grocery shopper and it is a chore that I don’t get sick of. In fact, I look forward to it. I modify weekly menus at the store when I see what is on special and what produce looks the best. Buying groceries is one of the most important things I do each week because what I buy leads to my overall health and well-being.

Jimbo's San Diego

Most of the time I go to multiple places to get everything we need for a week. In San Diego I shop at Trader’s Joe’s (stocking up on organic frozen fruit for smoothies), Whole Foods (one of the only places I’ve been able to find Field Roast sausages), Farmer’s Markets (for kale, bitchin’ sauce and Indian food), Penzey’s Spices (for all spices, especially curry, cinnamon and mulling spices), Ripe (our neighborhood produce spot), and Sprouts (this is our go-to store).

Organic Greens at Jimbo's San Diego
Organic Greens at Jimbo’s San Diego

We lived in downtown San Diego for over three years and we always said it needed a good grocery store. Now that we’ve moved they have finally opened one. Jimbo’s, a So Cal grocery chain, opened at Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego a few weeks ago. I have wanted to go since it opened, especially because I read that almost everything is organic and the prices are pretty reasonable.

When we were at the San Francisco Farmer’s Market last weekend we tried Hodo Soy. It is the best soy product I have ever had (Chipotle uses them for their AMAZING Sofritas, which are rolling out across the country after being tested on the West Coast). We wanted to buy all of it and take it back to San Diego with us, but the logistics of that didn’t work so great. The good news was that they told us they were sold at one location in So Cal – Jimbo’s grocery stores! As soon as I got home guess where I went?!

Hodo Soy

Jimbo’s is a little inconvenient for me because it is in downtown San Diego, but I’ll still be shopping there almost every week because it has everything I need in one space. They have free parking on the fourth floor at Horton Plaza, and the new Tender Greens (if you go, get the Happy Vegan Plate!!) and Chipotle are near for pre-grocery dining. Almost everything is organic and food is labeled so you can be sure what you are eating is GMO-free.

JImbo's San Diego

When you are checking out you get five cents off for each bag that you bring, or you get wooden nickels that are deposited into a bin for different charities. Of course, I picked the animal rescue.

Here was my haul for the week: kale*, bananas, 10 lemons*, butternut squash*, sugar pumpkin*, pink lady apples*, radishes*, cucumbers*, cabbage*, potatoes*, almond milk, cereal, Hodo Soy*, Curry Seitan*, Tempeh, Frozen Hilary’s Veggie Burgers, Meiomi Pinot Noir*, Pad Thai Noodles, whole wheat penne, 1 lb raw cashews, pizza sauce, follow your heart mozzarella, Sukhi Indian seasoning mixes (this will get a full blog post at some point)*, bitchin sauce*, salsa*, sprouted curry hummus*, corn tortillas*, garbanzo beans, kombucha*, tamari, mint tea, and quinoa. Everything with the * was made in California. Delicious dinners coming this week.

I don’t think there is such a thing as a professional grocery shopper. Maybe for really rich people, but it is the people who don’t have a lot of money (or time!) that need it the most. I wonder if I was paid to grocery shop if the fun would be taken out of it.

How many people really have their dream job? And is work even supposed to be fun?

 

WATCH: The Last Goodbye


From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents̓ strife.

“Romeo and Juliet”, William Shakespeare

My introduction to Shakespeare came at eight or nine years old when I was flipping through TV channels and found the Franco Zeffirelli movie version of “Romeo and Juliet.”  It is a pretty fantastic way to fall in love with the Bard. Over the next few years I read the play in middle school, watched Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and went to see “West Side Story” at the theater. My senior year of college I studied at Oxford for three weeks and was able to  watch Shakespeare plays every night for three weeks. During that time I watched at least two adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” (and four of “Hamlet”!). I never get tired of new versions of Shakespeare, especially “Romeo and Juliet.” It is an enduring tale of young love, tragedy and innocence lost and it speaks to me in a different way each time that I see it.

Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet
Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet

Yesterday I went with a group of friends to see “The Last Goodbye,” the latest incarnation of “Romeo and Juliet,” at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. The play is set to the music of Jeff Buckley and involves a combination of verse, song, and guitar riffs. Going to the theater always makes me feel like a full-blown adult – it is probably the cost of the tickets and the fact that the majority of theater audiences are over fifty years old. This version of “Romeo and Juliet” really made me feel old because I found myself shocked at the graphic, oh-la-la, parts of the performance. Especially the marriage consummation scene.

I’ve never been a fan of Romeo because he is humorless, impulsive, childish, and fickle. What did Juliet (who is one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare characters, probably because she gets all the best lines in the play) see in the immature, brooding boy? “The Last Goodbye” changed my mind about him. Romeo just needed to belt out some music, and it didn’t hurt that the actor in this version looked like Ryan Phillipe.

Photo Courtesy of the Old Globe. Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo and Talisa Friedman as Juliet in The Last Goodbye, a new musical fusing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the songs of rock icon Jeff Buckley, Sept. 22 - Nov. 3, 2013 at The Old Globe. The Last Goodbye is conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, with music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley, orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul, choreography by Sonya Tayeh and direction by Alex Timbers. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Photo Courtesy of the Old Globe. Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo and Talisa Friedman as Juliet in The Last Goodbye, a new musical fusing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the songs of rock icon Jeff Buckley, Sept. 22 – Nov. 3, 2013 at The Old Globe. The Last Goodbye is conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, with music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley, orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul, choreography by Sonya Tayeh and direction by Alex Timbers. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

“The Last Goodbye” is not set in a specific time period which highlights the timelessness of the story. The costumes are a mixture of leather jackets, hoodies, and renaissance-inspired dresses. Mercutio, always a scene-stealer in productions of this play, wears a glamorous, over-the-top fur coat (I hope it is a fake) in the party scene and it attracts the attention of the viewer over and over. The scenery is like a medieval castle, and my vertigo kicked in a few times as I watched the actors gracefully maneuver the towers and higher portions of the walls. Many times I thought they would fall off of the stage and it made me nervous. I also worried that someone was going to get hurt in the sword-fighting scenes – they are spectacular and a highlight of the production. The lighting is key in contributing to the mood of the music in the scenes. At certain points it feels like a rock concert, and at other points it feels like you are in a church.

I was waiting for the Buckley classic “Hallelujah,” and it does not disappoint when the song arrives in the final scene. It is a powerful way to end the play, and I noticed quite a few people around me wiping tears. Throughout the play I discovered poetic, soulful songs by Buckley that I had never heard before like “All Flowers in Time” and “The Last Goodbye.” Buckley had a pure voice, and the actors in this production honor his memory and voice beautifully.

Back to the Zeffirelli film….apparently the actors playing Romeo and Juliet dated in real life. Check out this youtube video of them doing an interview. It’s adorable and disturbing at the same time — kind of like “Romeo and Juliet.”

FIRST POST: San Diego Central Library

San Diego Central Library
San Diego Central Library

It is so fitting that my first blog post is about a library. I have loved libraries for as long as I can remember. I remember exact details and locations of books in my elementary school library, the book mobile, every public library I have ever visited and all of the university libraries I have spent time in. As a kid, librarians were my heroes.

When I came to San Diego six years ago I was so disappointed in the Central Downtown library. The book selection was fantastic, but it was not a place that anyone would want to spend any more time in than necessary.  It smelled like mildew and always felt dirty. I’d run in, grab my books from the reserve section, and then clean the books with disinfectant wipes when I got home. I lived in the East Village part of downtown San Diego for over three years and a new library was always a rumor, but it never felt like it was going to actually going happen, especially with the recession of 2009. I moved from East Village about two years ago and I’ve tracked the progress of the new library – it has been exciting to watch the San Diego skyline change with the addition of the unique steel dome that can be viewed on the Coronado bridge, flying into Lindbergh Field, and at the end of my street.

San Diego Public Library Lobby
San Diego Public Library Lobby

People, this building was worth the wait. The new library is a museum, school, park, community center, viewing area,  event space, and reading room. It made me so happy. Around every corner and at every level there are new surprises and architectural features. The building is concrete and steel that have been warmed up with innovative design and beautiful light. It is full of sunny nooks to read in, a Seuss-filled children’s section, a teen reading area, an astounding rare books room, a store, a cafe, and spaces for weddings and other events (!!!). My favorite part of the library is the Helen Price Reading Room. It highlights a San Diego bay-view that people would pay millions for. Unfortunately, I only had my iphone and I couldn’t get a shot of the room because there was so much reflection from the ginormous windows. The views from all areas in the library are spectacular and make San Diego, in particular the continually up-and-coming East Village area, shine.

photo 1

Since this is downtown San Diego, it is inevitable that this space will have quite a few homeless people visiting it…unfortunately, I know some people will care a lot about that and refuse to go. I also know that it cost a lot of money (200 million!) and I am fully aware that a large majority of people think that libraries are going the way of the dinosaurs, but libraries are one of our most important resources. The United States public library system is quite extraordinary. It offers free reading, internet access, and education to millions. It is our tax dollars making a positive difference. I would be broke if I didn’t have library access. I take full advantage of free reading and I always have a reserve list that has about twenty books on it. If you are a reader, I recommend that you do the same.

There were three long lines of people waiting to get library cards when I was walking out. I’ve never seen anything like that at a library.  Hopefully people stay excited and keep visiting.  I plan on coming at least once or twice a month.

We read to know we are not alone

This library seemed to take forever to come to fruition, and I feel like this blog has been the same. I have been talking about starting a blog for the last five years. I am not sure what my problem is and why it took me so long. I’m here now, and as this blog gets rolling, I look forward to sharing information on what I am reading and watching and doing and eating. I have a lot of work to do as I figure out how to do everything that I want to on this site. Thanks for hanging around as I begin this long-delayed project.  I hope that, like the new library, this blog will be worth the wait!