The Jena Six

June 29, 2007 § 2 Comments

Background: “In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a “whites only” shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn’t sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn’t care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree….

Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder. To his word, the D.A. pushed for maximum charges, which carry sentences of eighty years. Four of the six are being tried as adults (ages 17 & 18) and two are juveniles.

Mychal Bell, the first of the Jena Six to face trial, was found guilty of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit the same on June 28th.”

From the accused’s own defense counsel: “This is a trial of Mychal Bell,” [Bell’s attorney Blane Williams said in closing arguments], raising his voice. “It ain’t a trial of LaSalle Parish. It ain’t a trial of Jena. It ain’t a trial of anything else on people’s mind. … Things have a tendency to get blown out of proportion. Step outside of the courtroom, and you’ll see blown out of proportion.”

Sorry, no.

From Tom Mangold at The New Zealand Weekend Herald: “Today it will be the focus for a race trial that shows how lightly sleep the demons of racial prejudice in the Deep South…. The town’s mind seems to be made up. But with the world media watching, when the accused shuffle into court today, Jena will also be on trial.”

This is a trial of LaSalle Parish, Jena, and Louisiana, and the Deep South generally. This is what I never understand when racism is brought to light in courtrooms all across the South. The ‘this trial is completely divorced from the community’ justification. The ‘this action was perpetrated in a vacuum’ argument. Bullshit.

After creating a toxic atmosphere of racial tension (in which a white guy! pulled a loaded shotgun on three black teenagers! who were coming out of a convenience store! and wasn’t charged with anything!) and ignoring several instances of white-on-black violence of the preceding weekend, the DA chose to charge six black teens as adults in the light* beating of a white student. This a few months after threatening to ruin the lives of any Black students engaged in peaceful protest on school grounds. On that occasion, he said, “[I will] end their life with the stroke of a pen.”

*Please don’t think I’m minimizing the violence the white student endured. Being jumped at in a school, or anywhere, is always unacceptable. But the law was not applied equally in Jena. And the white majority there is just fine with that.

On-hundred-fifty years ago blacks were property in Louisiana. Fifty years ago they were lynched from trying to exercise their civil rights. Less than one year ago, white students strung up nooses on school grounds as a clear threat to their black peers who chose to sit under their Jim Crow tree. It’s not hard to connect the dots.

Do read BBC commentary and Listen to Me for a Minute for more in-depth coverage. And if you’ve got a couple minutes, The Town Talk (a local news site from Alexandria, LA) features comments at the bottom of every story on the Jena Six displaying that awesome racist attitude I described above. An excerpt: “Getting mad at the media because they shined the light on the cockroaches (read criminals) doesn’t make sense. Reporting the particulars of the six gangsta thugs doesn’t diminish/embellish their CRIMINAL act either.”

Cockroaches, eh? Nice.

I’ve gotta think if we’d let them secede, the Confederacy would have imploded in thirty years and this shit would be over by now.

via kottke.

Recipe for that Bouillabaisse-y Fish & Pasta Thing I Make Sometimes

June 28, 2007 § Leave a comment

As with most dishes in my repertoire, this is flexible. It’s roughly based on a sublime lunch I once had at Deco, but it has completely morphed now into something more suited to the way I cook. Please feel free to adjust on your own. Use all or none of the optional ingredients, and if you’re having a nice Chardonnay, Viognier, or Riesling with your supper, add that with the tomatoes as well. If using butter, reduce olive oil to two tablespoons.

Ingredients
4-5 garlic cloves (or use 8-10 of the smaller fiddly cloves from the middle of the head) papery skin removed, but unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into ¼ inch slices, then quartered
½ teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1-2 teaspoons fresh thyme (optional)
1 pinch saffron threads (optional)
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
2 heaping fistfuls spinach
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley (minced) or basil (torn in a frenzy when the food is already on the table, as at my house)

4 fillets of firm, white fish (sole, haddock, tilapia)

to serve:
1 lb linguine or other flat, skinny noodle

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the garlic cloves and a drizzle of water (about 1½ tablespoons), cover, and let steam for five minutes or so. This is a modified pan-roasting technique; very convenient for quick, summer pastas.

When they’re softening, scoop out the cloves and set aside. Add two tablespoons olive oil and the tomatoes, salt, thyme, fennel, and saffron (if using). Let them sit and cook a few minutes before stirring.

Put a pot of salted water on for the pasta. By the time it boils and your pasta is cooked, the fish and sauce should be ready, too, or close. Remember to use lots of salt in the pasta water.

Now the garlic should be cool enough to handle, so peel the cloves, cut off the rooty bits on the ends and toss them back into the sauté pan with the tomato mixture. Gently stir (flip, really) the tomatoes, to help them along, then let sit four or five minutes, till it’s simmering and reducing. Clean your fish in the meantime, if you haven’t already.

Add the fish fillets and remaining olive oil (or butter if you’re using that instead) to the sauce, scooping some of the tomatoes over the top. If some of your fillets are thicker than others, put them in first for two minutes before adding the rest; you may want to (gently!) flip them when you add the others.

COVER* and let it bubble away for 4-5 minutes, until fish is getting opaque, then add spinach and cover again, for another 1-2 minutes. It should be quite soupy, but if you think it’s too wet, remove the cover and let it reduce a little while the spinach cooks down. Taste for salt! Last chance!

Hey, grind in some pepper, too!
Now, plate your pasta, ladle out some sauce on each portion (be liberal), then add the fish and spinach on top. Sprinkle over the parsley or basil, and you’re done. Pretty, isn’t it?

*A note on covers. I don’t have one that fit on top of my biggest sauté pan, but that doesn’t stop me and it shouldn’t stop you. Just gather what you need to cover (as much as you can) under the biggest cover you’ve got and call it tickety-boo.

Review of The Salt Shaker Deli

June 27, 2007 § 1 Comment

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Could it get any better in Lunenburg?

Just months after Trattoria della Nonna opened its doors to local acclaim, the Salt Shaker Deli quietly slipped into town, and it’s just what this World Heritage Site needed: an inexpensive alternative to the Magnolia Grill.

The Salt Shaker is co-owned by Sylvie MacDonald and Martin Ruiz Salvador, the proprietors of upscale Fleur de Sel, just a few dozen steps down Montague Street. Together with Carolyn Ramsey, a Fleur de Sel veteran, they opened Salt Shaker Deli in May, and although they’re still finding their feet, I have great expectations.

The space is below the Spinnaker Inn, and has a breezy back patio with a waterfront view. The room is pale green and feels modern, but the old building’s traditional look is respected, too. Plants are scattered here and there and Art Deco liquor posters decorate one wall. There are about a dozen tables, and it feels lively and noisy.

The ‘deli’ bit comes in to play as soon as you step inside. Just through the front door is the deli counter, stocked with French and Italian cheese, local charcuterie from Ketch Harbour House, and other treats. On the facing wall sits a cooler with imported soft drinks and mineral waters. Breads from Boulangerie Vendanne and specialty pasta perch on a nearby rack. If you’re planning a day trip to the South Shore, this is the ultimate picnic stop.

But if you stay for your meal, try to get a table in the front vestibule. There are only two high tables, but summer people-watching is a prime Lunenburg pastime. The menu is trendy and surprisingly broad, with unexpected dishes like escargots, bean salad, and a Thai noodle bowl, as well as the more predictable mussels (available four ways for take-out, more in-house) smoked salmon and lasagne. Another menu feature are their platters— Mediterranean, Seafood, and Charcuterie.

We’ve enjoyed several successful appetizers. Margie’s Chicken Stew, served like a soup, is rich and hearty, full of veggies, chicken, and an unexpected kick. Perfect warming food for cool autumn days. And the Panzanella — a traditional Tuscan salad made with stale bread — was brilliant and beautiful, drizzled with an unctuous, vanillin balsamic dressing. A man at a table near us was equally effusive about the mussels Provençale, lifting the bowl to drink the broth when he thought no one was looking.

Main courses are good, although a few have been uneven. The spicy, fresh Pad Thai wasn’t traditional North American-style, but it was full of chicken and vegetables, and we’d gladly order it again. The lasagne is filling and comforting, and an amazing value, but I’d prefer to pay more for a few surprises; perhaps a layer of mushroom béchamel, or even sliced hard-boiled eggs. Most customers will like it fine just as it is.

The sandwiches are imaginative in conception. The curried egg salad is delicious, and the veggie sandwich is tasty, but it would be even better with toasted bread. Mediterranean Tuna with yogurt and dill and the Chicken Club with sun-dried tomato and provolone also look promising.

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Then there’s Greasy Marty’s Gourmet Pizzas, twelve in all. All the standards are here, although they’ve had dramatic facelifts. The Works, for example, features salami and provolone, and the Vegetarian pizzas wear ‘black olive pesto’, among other adornments. Specialty pizzas also find favor, including pies made with Anchovy, Italian Meats, and Thai Chicken. Our favorite so far is the Vegetarian, although it didn’t come with every listed ingredient. A recent Margharita — topped with domestic bocconcini and basil — was fragrant and delicious.

Service at the Salt Shaker Deli has been patchy, but that shouldn’t surprise. Lunenburg is a small town, and with five terrific restaurants nearby, it takes time to attract and train good staff. Several new recruits are quite young— some just out of high school— and they’re still learning. But they couldn’t have a better teacher. MacDonald is a master of the demanding and precise art of Front-of-the-House. Her service sparkles at Fleur de Sel, and when she waited on us at The Salt Shaker, the place was hopping but she didn’t miss a beat.

These are still early days for The Salt Shaker Deli. They’re still working the kinks out and tweaking the details, but I’m sure these things will be ironed out before long. If you include the nearby Old Blackforest Restaurant, Lunenburg has five fine restaurants. The Salt Shaker Deli is most certainly worth a visit— and may be the perfect excuse to stretch your day in Lunenburg to a full weekend.

—for Infomonkey

Dear Diary,

June 26, 2007 § Leave a comment

Yesterday we were up early and into the city for a doctor’s appointment, then the day was ours. We had second breakfast at Local Jo’s, which was relaxing to begin with, but culminated in me gulping down too-hot tea so we could escape the X-acto-sharp screeches from the urchins below. If you’re local and haven’t tried it, do . The scones are heavenly and they blend their own tisanes. But Richard says to warn you that the guy who works there doesn’t make the lattés hot enough.

Then to the library, then to Cotton Ginny for some shorts (why do I never remember to shop end-of-season sales?), then to Pete’s Frootique in Bedford for a smoothie and sushi. Again, if you’re local and haven’t tried it, the Amazon Something-Something Smoothie is highly-recommended. By me.

Then home again, where— wondrous, spectacular, I can’t believe my eyes— there were cheques(!) from our clients(!!) in our mailbox. Let this be a lesson to anyone considering freelancing or web design as a career: people HATE paying you, however much they like your work. And they’ll make you wait as long as they possibly can. If they know you can’t afford small claims court, buckle up for months of living rough. Even if they’re friends. Even if they’re family in some cases.

+++

Today was hot and frustrating for both of us, but we just got back from a short, decompressing walk over Second Peninsula Beach, which is pebbly and sharp, but in one of the most beautiful areas of the mainland. The lupines are blooming, polka-dotting the roadside and meadows.

I discovered it four or five years ago when Richard came to interview an artist and gave me the car for the afternoon. I wasn’t used to driving anymore (I don’t mind a chauffeur), and I kept narrowly missing dumping myself and the Mazda into the drink as I wound along Second Peninsula’s main road. It’s calm, pastoral, breath-taking; and at twilight the sky takes on such a mellow, dusky yellow-pink, I can’t imagine a better place to live. And forty-four acres of the peninsula is on the market and slated for condo development. Fourteen of them. Although the proposal is described as ‘green development’, if we won the lottery, this would be the first property we’d buy. Not to build on, of course. To keep them just as they are for as long as we can.

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+++

I know I’m two years late, but Bleak House is truly wonderful. Krook just spontaneously combusted. What more can I say? Awesome just doesn’t cover it.

Sweet, sweet summer

June 24, 2007 § Leave a comment

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A lovely weekend here. We did a bit more geocaching, but we’ve largely run out of those fun, easy-to-find, we-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-GPS caches. There was a small meltdown (mine) on a rocky beach in Blandford yesterday, but we did find three more. Right now Richard is scouring eBay for cheap, four-year-old GPS units, and keeping one eye on our chequing account, hoping that leprechaun gold will finally show up.

Today we tried to go bird-watching in Shelburne County, and managed to find a well-groomed woodland path managed by Bowater Mersey, but I didn’t wear proper hiking footwear, and I had to pee*, so we aborted the hike about 350 yards into the forest. Richard is always too kind to me when I do things like this (pretty much once a week), so I was kind in turn, and didn’t laugh very much when he threw both hands in up and jumped six inches in the air when a pencil-thin garter snake darted across the path.

Although we didn’t go very far, the path was lush, Arcadian, but utterly devoid of birds. There were ferns and glacial boulders, though, and many bouquets-worth of lady slippers. We used to have a very productive patch next to our house in Maine, but they were gradually trampled and picked by the neighborhood savages. I got just one shot off before the camera’s batteries died.

Afterwards we had lunper (lunner? linner?) at Seaside Seafood Home of the the World’s Best Clams™ where the batter was crunchy and the fish was flaky, but the chips were pre-frozen (the only cardinal sin in Nova Scotia cuisine) and soggy.

We tried a new route home through West LaHave, and hey, Bridgewater! You’re protesting the wrong ‘waterfront eyesore’. The honor of that title belongs to the hideous Bridgewater Mall, which thoughtfully paved over your potential waterfront. Those retired naval ships add character. And I can’t be the first to point out that character is something your town sorely lacks. Also, dude who put that sign out? Your house isn’t very pretty, either.

But I digress.

I love these summer drives. When Richard and I were stuck in Halifax looking after his mother, I longed for the two or three days each summer when we could patch together semi-regular care for her and take off for a day trip to the Valley or Lunenburg. And now that we have them almost every weekend, it’s just gotten better. Last Sunday was our second anniversary, and truly, it’s better every day.

We got married simply for immigration reasons— neither of us minded the institution, but we didn’t think it was for us. Richard was doing me a favor. I planned the “ceremony” in a week, just eleven days after his mother’s death. We were married in our living room, by Richard’s cousin who was a justice of the peace. I wore the black skirt I bought for the funeral and a badly-fitting striped summer shirt. I had only planned on two guests, after which we’d eat minestrone and flatbread pizza (the witnesses’ contribution), then the tropical carrot cupcakes I baked earlier in the day. The whole thing cost about $32.

We hadn’t told anyone but my family and our witnesses, but just hours before the, uh, event, we broke down and informed the rest of Richard’s family via email. They all blew in— more than 20 of them— just before the wedding, utterly shell-shocked, and some of them positive we were making a big mistake. There was wine, music, and chatter— no room to dance.

The next morning, Richard’s four sisters arrived at 8 to clean out their mother’s closet.

It wasn’t an Auspicious Beginning, but every single day since then has been better than I could have imagined. Through the illness, the recovery, the poverty, I couldn’t ask for a better partner, or a better friend. Thank you for that, Roo. I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow. xo

*Which turned into a bladder infection when we got home. Yes! I am sooo lucky!

New Book Reviews

June 23, 2007 § Leave a comment

Right here. Little, Big, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and Moominpappa’s Memoirs.

X marks the spot. The spot that means a lot.

June 17, 2007 § Leave a comment

The last two weekends Richard and I have been Geocaching— with a twist! We, uh, don’t have the one piece of equipment the sport requires: a GPS. But either we’re geniuses or the cache-placers know there are wannabes like us, because in lots of the descriptions— along the South Shore, anyway— it’s pretty easy to find the caches without the electronics.

I was just investigating caches in the UK and they look 5 orders of magnitude more difficult. Hmmm.

It taps into my (only-just) buried childlike enthusiasm for buried treasure— though the treasure itself isn’t always terrific (not that we can complain— all we’re leaving are the dozens of SpongeBob sponges we get out of a vending machine at the grocery store, thanks to my ongoing quest to own a plastic Squidward figurine), but, as our fellow cachers know, it’s the finding that’s the thrill. And I’m quite looking forward to taking my parents out when they visit, not to mention my former charges who think a jaunt across the back lawn qualifies as a nature walk.

Here are some photos from our adventures.

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