Book Party

A wonderful, friend-filled party thrown by my friend Marguerite on Saturday afternoon. Old friends, going back to our first years in San Francisco and a carpool up and down the city’s steep hills) and new (Marguerite’s neighbours, Tian, the poet-breadmaker and her husband)—really it was such a pleasure, though also nervous-making because I never look forward to reading, to being the centre of attention. But afterwards, how glad I am it happened, and how kind of Marguerite to propose to hold it, not once now, but twice.

Sunday a baby-Q in Golden Gate Park with crowds of my son and daughter-in-law’s family and friends, and tents, and burgers and dim sum, and children’s games, then over to Berkeley for the poetry group, a small gathering, with three participants off eastwards—New York, Italy.

Sunny afternoon

cool breeze, the leaves are turning red and bronze, there are clouds across the blue sky. Rain? It seems not yet.

I could take my book to the Brazilian hammock ordered from Amazon and strung across the porch above the building parking ‘pad’, but no—because Chuck is on the ‘pad’ unloading 2 x 4s from Greg’s pickup, tying them to two ropes, which Greg pulls up to the roof and drops with a loud crash on the roof above my head. Hey Chuck, I say, ask Greg if he can set the wood down gently, I feel like the ceiling is coming down. No problem. Thumb’s up. The wood gets set down more gently and further away. Later, leaving in the pickup, they will have a laugh.

So I’m inside reading, because it would really seem rude to be lounging in a hammock (Brazilian red and orange) when they are working. And the sun will still be there, when they call it a day.

I am again reminded of when I was a young woman teaching in a Ghanaian school and went to Kumasi, the nearest city, on Saturday on a mammy wagon. There was no schedule: the drivers waited for the wagon to my village to fill up; when it was full it left. So I always had a book, but the other women looked at me curiously, wondering why I spent my time reading a printed packet of paper when there were so many other more exciting things to do. Like buying bananas off the huge hand of bananas a seller was carrying around on his head…

The Roof over my Head

Two workmen are doing some work on the roof over my head. On and off for a year now they have been reroofing. Last summer there were workmen (all men) up there every day doing stuff, usually a couple or three or more Spanish-speaking folks with large straw hats, like strawberry pickers wear, and a radio set to Latin American music. If the radio bothered me when I was working they’d move it to the other side of the roof, over my neighbors, who weren’t there, who worked all day, one at Facebook, one at Google. Until I got tired of the boards slamming down over my head, I’d take them supermarket pies for lunch. Sometimes. My nextdoor neighbor took them soft drinks.

The workmen today are Greg and Chuck, and they are replacing boards in the eaves. They hang over the side, attached by ropes to a beam, like climbers on El Cap. I prefer not to think about that part. And I’m trying not to mind the noise.


Reading a book by Dominique Rolin (1913-2012) called La Rénovation (The Renovation) about her apartment building on the Rue de Verneuil in Paris being renovated, gutted basically. She lived through it, She was a tenant, but because of her age (80 +) because of a postwar French law known famously as the Loi de ‘48, they couldn’t evict her. So they tried to kill her instead. She held on, and even wrote a few more books.

It seems

I have lost a library book. You can’t imagine how guilty I feel. For x years I have been going to this or that public or university library, and returning my books on time, terrified of the tiny fines and the losing of a book. I swear I returned it, to one of the bins outside the library, on three sides, or to a slot at the check-in desk. But if I did it didn’t get recorded. I have searched my shelves—just in case I shelved it with my own books—and my husband’s—occasionally he doesn’t put a book back where he found it! He didn’t grow up in a country with excellent public libraries the way I did, where my library card was my first card for anything. I still think that a house or apartment near a library will probably be as expensive as waterfront property (though I understand that, given rising sea levels, that is no longer quite as desirable as it once was.

Well, maybe I lost it. Or maybe the library has misplaced it, in their huge cataloguing system. It actually was vanned over from the East Bay where there is a warehouse for books that hardly anyone ever checks out. They are searching: four times they will search. They will inform me of the result after the first search (done) and the last…and then I will have to pay for it. That will be $75: the price of the book and the cost of a new one, re-bound, re-entered in The System.

She lost a library book.


Lots of women out biking today. Around 3 pm I headed out, after going up on the roof to see who was stomping around over my head and what they were doing. It was Greg and a helper, replacing the rotten wood around the eaves. We said hello, goodbye, have a good afternoon, and I betook myself to the garage, my bike, my helmet, my lights—now you look like an ambulance, said my husband, adding yet another flashing red light to the back of the bike seat. So be it. 45 minutes, steadily uphill to where Alpine crosses Portola Valley Road. Stop to catch my breath, let my heart rate calm down, drink. On up to the top of Alpine, another slow half hour on a winding uphill road, narrow, little traffic, more bikes than cars, and once there are no more houses, at least visible, a gorge with a stream chuckling along over and around large, smooth stones, woods, sunlight through leaves. I stopped at the wood fence, I stopped again just before the intersection with another, steeper road, then I got to the top. Oof! A young woman came along, we chatted, she was wearing a Mont Ventoux shirt, had been up ‘the easy side.’ She sped off. I waited a minute or two, and then sped after her. Was home around six. Read Milosz, Dominique Rolin, downloaded the Woodward book. Should keep it for the airplane but can’t wait.

I’ve started. It’s true, he’s a very dull writer.

What keeps me reading?

What keeps me reading when I pick up a new work of literature by a writer whose work I don't know, or whose work I don't know well?


I've been asking myself this question this week, in part because I was discovering the French writer Dominique Rolin. A friend mentioned her, I put her name and some call numbers on an envelope I keep in my backpack with the names and call numbers of books I want to read, so that when I go to the library I can find them. 

Rolin was born in 1913 and died in 2012. She had an interesting life (after I'd read the first chapter, and become intrigued, I wanted to know more about her life, as one does)--see the internet. She is not well known outside France and Belgium, but my guess is that she will endure. Her writing is beautiful--deconstructed, essaylike meditations, without a plot. This one, Lettre a Lise (Letter to Lise) was published by Gallimard in 2003. It might be her last book. It is addressed to her granddaughter, but mostly it talks about her thoughts, her daily activities, life and death (she wrote it in her 90s) and the comings and goings of her lover, a much younger man with whom she has had a 50-year relationship, himself a famous French writer. 

Rolin has a rich inner life, but it is also something anyone can relate to: love, writing, relationships with her granddaughter and her great granddaughters, bodies, the pleasures of the flesh, of watching people, out her window or in her street near the Musee d'Orsay. Taking a shower, waiting for a friend, wondering when and how death will come, starting the day with hot coffee. 

I guess I read it, for the beauty of the writing and because, in the absence of a 'plot,' I still want to know more about this woman, the life of her body and the life of her mind.

The Means of Transportion

Our apartment overlooks a street that runs along the edge of a creek (dry in summer) that is the boundary between two towns. Our street is a bike boulevard with two bike bridges across the creek about a half a mile apart. Therefore it is also a commuter route from various places, including the university and lots of Silicon Valley startups, to housing in the next town. The creek is lined with leftover woods, which is also nice, and there are crickets at night. And train whistles from the train to the city--I mean San Francisco--or St Jose to the south.

There is very little automobile traffic along our street, but a lot of other kinds of traffic from the obvious, bikes (road bikes, dirt bikes, city bikes, bikes towing babies in side-cars that are behind-cars, bikes where people pedal with their feet up...) to scooters, motorized or non-motorized; skateboards, ditto, those things with two wheels that people stand on, motorized, etc. It occurs to me that I could assess the state of private, personal transportation just by sitting looking off our deck for an hour each morning or evening. Not forgetting motorized wheelchairs, of course, pedestrians and