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I Heart Barn Assemblages

I am a barn-admirer from way back. I admire most things barnyard, as a matter of fact, but that is another topic altogether. For now, I will stick to the topic of the arrangement of buildings around a farmhouse.

Barns and other farm outbuildings (chicken coops, corn cribs, tool sheds, etc) usually arrive piecemeal, as they can be afforded instead of all at once up front, so they are often not arranged Grand Plan-style but rather loosely concatenated as need demands. It’s hard to begrudge a farmer for throwing a structure up where it will fit in order to house this or that new stock or piece of equipment, but the lack of sense can be maddeningly unbeautiful.

I suppose that’s what makes a collection of outbuildings arranged sensically so precious, for lack of a better word. A milieu (pardon my french) of farm buildings of mixed sizes arranged around one another around a central open space is an image that reads safe and familiar while at the same time allowing for entry from without sand exit from within. It’s a portal between the unknown of the larger world and the known of the domestic. Not so much a walled garden, which is all secrets, but a courtyard: protected, but a passageway as well.

Compound is a word that often comes to mind to describe these assemblages, but that may have too much of a martial connotation, like Colonel Kurtz’s, from Apocalypse Now. Then again, now that I look it up, that may be a misguided interpretation of the word. War/prison is the second of the “collection of buildings” definition, but the word comes from kampong, the Malay word for village.

I love these especially much because they trigger a primal image of a scene of a courtyard in The Good Earth, a book I loved very much when I was young.

Now, to disconnect entirely from any association with that book, I would like to mention here that compounds, or courtyards, and being able to create them, are exactly why it is so important to be disgustingly wealthy.

Below are a couple of sub-par photos of a great bunch of barns from this morning’s country drive.

This Is What Cold Cellars Are For

In case you were wondering, Gob made cold cellars so you can pull a bag of beets out in February like you plucked them from soil just yesterday, slice them, dice them, dry them, and paste them to windows (and anything else they’ll stick to – especially bodies). And then take pictures.

Someone gave us a mandolin last christmas, and it has gathered dust in the satellite cupboards until it occurred to me the other day that we could officially donate it off without guilt. But at exactly the same time, Henry was developing a fondness for all things sliced thinly. So when he requested apples sliced thin the other night I started slicing out onion-skin apple slices until it occurred to me to bust out the mandolin. (Which I subsequently did).

Long story short it’s pretty fun to slice things really thin and before long I had everything that would allow for thin slicing out on the counter. As you might have suspected, the nice crisp blood-red beets took rather well to the format, and I was so in awe of their colors and patterns that I kept at it until I had sliced them all.

I pasted them (with their own juice) to the window because it was a nice canvas. They dried overnight into these crustacean-y waves and whorls and plates and I conceded to them that they were quite fetching and had rather stolen my heart.

The Steve is Dead. Long Live the Steve!

the ostrich mongerIt is with a certain sadness that I announce the passing of Steve Warrington the ostrich monger.

For rather than feeling like I had gained a certain bit more universal traction with one less namesake to share the world with, I felt a certain kinship with this particularly strange Steve Warrington, and so feel his absence now like a piece (albeit small) of myself that is now gone.

But some good has come of this gloom: the ostrich monger owned, and having contacted his estate to inquire about the possibility of the purchase of his domain, was able to work out a handsome deal with the executor to make the domain mine. Now, for all negative one of my type-in visitors, you now have two less letters to poke: is now

So update your bookmarks and reprogram your navigators, boys blink your browsers and girls flush your caches. This e-ournal is about to get buck. wild.

Pumpkin Porn

Courtney and I stepped outside for a moment to enjoy one of the last warm nights of the year, and stood looking down at the pumpkins we had painted instead of carved for Halloween this year. Which is your favorite? she said. I was quiet a long time considering it. You don’t have to be nice, she said. I wasn’t going to be, I said, I was just having a hard time deciding. Then I pointed to one of mine. I really like this one, and another, and this one, and another, and this one... She laughed.

I like the way yours look, I said, but I just want to touch mine. She was quiet. I elaborated: I’m quite fond of yours, and I pointed at one with beautiful dots, but this one, indicating a small one of mine with green and blue swirls, I kinda want to sleep with this one.

Pumpkin porn, she said. Exactly, I said.

Despite getting a ton of visits to my vegetable porn post from people who  – I’m guessing! – were looking for something a bit less wholesome than an affectionate close-up of a gorgeous watermelon rind, it is only appropriate to refer to the whole-body experience these pumpkins produced in me when naming this post. For all you visitors looking to see the hardcore stuff, you will be far happier here.

thanks Susan G Komen, for ruining pink for the rest of us

susan g komen is ruining pink for the rest of the world.I don’t mind that liking the color pink makes strangers wonder if I’m gay, or if I support breast cancer, but I am proud of the fact that my ability to compartmentalize politics and aesthetics leaves me free to love the color in a vacuum, devoid of the BS the rest of the world brings to such a nice, (effeminate, breasty) shade of my favorite color red, and that that ability sets me apart as one of a few, a proud, a aesthetes.

And I might even go so far as to call myself an early adopter of this particular round of pink in-ness. Waaay back in aught-two I was preaching the merits of the handsome j crew pink khakis, etc, while all you philistines was still taking cargo pants to the next level.

But when the susan b komen marketing machine begins to take over my world, putting pink towels on the belts of quarterbacks and pink pistol-grips on glocks, i.e. when pink becomes so ubiquitous that I am unable to compartmentalize my appreciation of it from the rest of the world’s clamoring, then I begin to feel a bit put upon.

Because it is nowhere near as much fun to love something that every other soul on this planet loves as it is to alone love something.

What Bad Management Looks Like to a Customer

There is a signature look that one gets from the employees of a certain establishments where morale is low. The first part of that look is that it is a look at all. In general, as a customer, I am grateful to to be acknowledged and left alone. In this dynamic, I’m one of a faceless blur. A healthy company’s employees treat me as if I were special, but they do this as a rule, to every customer. It’s when I sense that I’m being looked at by an employee as an individual that I get uncomfortable.

Despite everything corporations say about treating every customer as if he/she were the only one, endowing a customer with the kind of individuality that I’m talking about, that is, treating a customer as a human, belies an imbalance in the viewer. There is something lacking in an employee who sees a customer not as a customer but as a person that makes them bigger than they ought to be. They are discontent, and it manifests itself in various ways: resentment and lust being the two popular ones.

That I am seen at all is disquieting. Then there is the matter of the sentiment of the gaze.

It is not so much what is in the look, but what is lacking from it. There is no sense that we are sharing in a symbiotic relationship of consumer and provider. Rather, it is a look from across a divide, it is an “us vs.  them” look. It is a look that leaks wariness.  I saw that look tonight at Frita Batidos when we walked in. Again as we left and two employees trained their eyes on the mess our children had made underneath our table.

And then there was the employee who rolled her eyes at the customer in front of me as he walked away. As a rule, eye-rolling at customers is not good for business. If I see you roll eyes at another customer, I can only assume you’ll roll your eyes at me when I turn my back.

This look, it is the result of bad management. There is only ever one explanation for discontented employees, and that is a management style that alienates and demoralizes.

There are two other examples that come to mind of local businesses suffering from poor management: Plum Market, which I have always understood to be a place where unhappy people with disposable income go to shop. The now-defunct Merchant of Vino is another one from a few years ago. Merchant was coincidentally run then by the same founders as Plum. I shudder still when I remember the frequency of the tensely surreptitious looks from the produce stockers when you walked in the door. The Beckettian I can’t look, I must look conflict of a person at odds with their own discontent. They were horribly ashamed to be so pathetically bored.

It is offputting to be made aware that you have that power as a customer. I tend not to want to go back.

I can’t go back. I must go back (because I always convince myself that this time… this time it’ll be different).

Frita Batidos: Fruit Flies, Terminal Hair, Bad Attitudes, and a Mean Streak

I am not in the habit of writing reviews of restaurants as I rarely feel compelled to force my bitchiness judgments of a particular establishments merits on another’s subjective experience, but tonight’s dinner at Frita Batidos was so piss-poor that I feel obliged to warn others for their own protection.

This was my fourth meal there. The first two were fine, a little shaky, but charming enough to warrant further inspection. The vibe was a bit much: the staff seemed to be high on the fresh start (according to an unimpeachable source, Frita’s owner, Eve Aranoff, stiffed investors and staff alike as her last venture crumbled), and sold the concept of every item in booming uber-enthusiastic voices that made it hard to taste the food for yourself, and I had a hard time hearing my companion(s) because of the canyonesque acoustics of the room, but the sandwiches were good (can you go wrong with chorizo and french fries?) and, despite inconsistency and items that failed to live up to the hype (conch fritters), most of the ingredients and combinations were thrilling and novel, so I was willing to go back for more.

The second time we casually commented to an employee about the noise. “We’ve heard that, yeah.” the server said. “The Roadhouse had that problem,” I said, “they put up some baffles in the dining room and that was that.” I half expected to find baffles the next time I went in.

The third time was not-so-charming. The fruit flies arrived at Frita Batidos in late summer (big, juicy, jungular ones – they must have ridden in on a carton of mangos), and were a nuisance while we ate. It was also disquieting to have a half dozen buzzing around with me in the cramped bathroom. And to my surprise, after a lapse of more than six months, nothing had yet been done about the cacophony.

All of this prelude to tonight’s dénouement. Shall we begin? How about with the flies.

Apparently, they loved it so much this summer they moved in permanently. We (Courtney, Henry and I, and our friend and her two children) decided to try the furthest-back table, hoping to keep our kids’ high chair legs out of the crowd by the order counter and also hoping that it would be beyond the canyon of noise. It worked for the former. We couldn’t gauge the latter. More on that later.

Behind our table, against the wall, was a trash can. Above and around this can, clinging to the wall and the pile of napkins and the bottles of condiments on the shelf at the end of our table, were somewhere between fifty and a hundred fruit flies. It took us a few minutes to notice them (they were mostly still, and small enough to blend in to the dark nooks and crannies of the whitewashed brick) but by meal’s end they were restless or hungry enough that they had come off the wall and into our circle and we were vigorously shooing them from our faces and food.

At one point, after noticing them early on, I joked with an employee that had sent them flying when he moved some decorative bamboo stalks near the trash: “Mind those flies now,” I said, and he chuckled. “A shop vac will really do the trick.” I tried again when he missed the subtle call for help. He walked off with the bamboo and I did not see him again. It would appear that that early booming enthusiasm has been replaced by chuckles and apathy.

Our food came moments later. I liked my chorizo sandwich. But then I found a hair in it, nice and dark and curly, facial or pubic I couldn’t decide without my gag reflex activating. I set it aside and finished my sandwich – I compartmentalize well. I understand that this happens. Still, it can’t help but be added to the negative impression I was cumulating.

I will venture that it did indeed seem quieter in the back with the flies and the pubic hair, at first. But then the music coming out of the speakers directly behind and above our table was turned either on or up. Whichever, it was so loud that we all paused in our conversation, waiting for order to be restored. When it was not I turned and got the attention of the employee behind the counter and motioned a request for him to turn it down. He did not understand my gestures for a long moment. Someone out of view turned it down at last.

Twenty minutes later we were finishing our food. Henry asked for another of the pretty umbrellas that came with a drink. The music volume had also crept back up to an unbearable level. “I’ll ask,” I said, and got up with Henry. There was a man ordering at the counter. I did not notice anything remarkable about his manner. He finished and turned away, and I looked at the clusters of customers milling abjectly near the counter, waiting for, I presume, to-go orders, to make sure that I wasn’t cutting in line. Satisfied, I stepped forward and looked up at the woman, who had just completed an eye roll to her (bearded! off-duty or non-employee) companion (about, I presume, the man who had just ordered). She was nice to Henry and I, took time to offer him his choice of pretty umbrellas colors, and made small talk. I thanked her and asked her if she could turn the music down. She said she would. I am not certain she did.

We left soon after so that we could hear ourselves finish a conversation. I considered warning the couple I saw eyeing our table about the flies as we prepared to go, but decided against it. I could not gauge them and wasn’t confident that they would appreciate my input. We walked out, through that abject crowd, and as we hit the air outside I felt noticeably relieved. I turned around as we waited for our friend, and looking back in it was clear. It was written all over all of their faces: “I can’t come back to this place anymore,” I said after a moment. “There is something really off in there.”

Frita Batidos In summary:
Flies: Really, really, really gross. Reported, observed, ignored.
The Hair: Ick.
Inordinate Volume: Requested. Ignored.
Atmosphere: Stifling.