Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Odyssey

My friend Tom and I flew back to Ithaca last weekend for a surprise reunion of all the alumni of L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge, aka The Piglets. The chef, Etienne Merle, mentored a slew of restaurant folk who have scattered around the globe, and we returned my case.....31 years to pay homage to his leadership, his genius.... and his probably misplaced faith in us.

L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge opened in 1971 in the farmhouse I used to live in, and ran successfully until the late 1990's....a remarkable run for any restaurant. I worked from the opening moment and then on for a year or so, and returned for stays from time to time. Jane and I were married under a tree in front of the place in 1976.....the last time I saw Auberge or Ithaca.

Tom and I barely made it in to town from Philly and San Fran: ground fog at midnight on Thursday night kept us circling above in the moonlight for an hour. We finally landed and discovered.....there are different kinds of fog.

In Homer....the guy, not the town in Upstate...... in the Odyssey, when Odysseus finally returns to his home in Ithaca he doesn't recognize it.....because his patroness Athena has shrouded the place in fog to protect him from his enemies. When he wakes up on the beach, he at first thinks he is on some strange island.

No shit, Odysseus. I spent six years living in Ithaca......but this was forty years ago. For me this homecoming involved serious fog, and I only wish Athena had my back. Each step I took throughout the weekend, each glimpse I had of .....the lush woods, the funky old farmhouses and townie Victorians, the Lake....not to mention the fucking campus.....spooked me.

I felt like I was shedding some skin and stepping back into the persona of that kid that I was when I lived here. Odysseus came back for Penelope: I came back to pay homage to Etienne, but wound up re-introducing me to myself.

One of our regular, loyal patrons at L'Auberge back in the day was Carl Sagan, the.....scientist? (If you don't know who Carl Sagan is, I really can't help you....go back to MySpace and good luck to you and go fuck yourself while you are at it). Carl once told me that our human brain has easily enough storage capacity to remember every moment of our color, 3-D, with sound, smell, and tactile sensation all intact. Whether we store this stuff to begin with, and/or whether and/or how we access it is the real question.

In my case it took just a glimpse of the landscape....a house, a road....and it all came flooding back: the Armory where the soccer coach dragged me to register for the draft and get a haircut on my 18th birthday; the farmhouse I painted with spar varnish and lead paint....and where I first met Jane; the movie theatre where we had our first date, and the sorority where we hid in the basement from the cops after the ensuing high-speed motorcycle chase; the misty steps of Cascadilla Gorge near our downtown apartment....yes, I guess I really did ride my dirtbike up the steps to class every morning; the downtown building where we lived; the rooftop my Irish Setter used to escape with the Thanksgiving Turkey; the fire escape where Jane and I had a sabre fight drunk on tequila for the first time that ended in us crashing through someone else's window; the State Diner, where Jane worked graveyard for 25 cent tips and walked home in the snow at dawn; the ancient un-insulated farmhouse where nearly actually froze to death in the winter of '75.

Normal stuff.

And Merle..... and L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge. He finally closed the weekend we opened the Cachagua Store, which is why the legal name of The Store is The Red Pig Roadhouse.......Cachagua talk for "L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge".

Laurent and Kaethe Bessou sponsored the reunion for everyone. Laurent used to be my busboy....well, he was a three point waiter when I was a four. Kaethe's dad Wally was my landlord in the farmhouse, and the landlord of L'Auberge. The family built a resort and spa on the site of my old farm garden next to L'Auberge, and put all of us up for the weekend for the reunion. They also have a cabin next door where the next generation was actually generated..... and now lives. And.... by some strange coincidence.....the farmhouse that Mr. and Mrs. Etienne Merle now inhabit is right next door.

The fiction for the gathering that covered the surprise was the 30th anniversary of Laurent and Kaethe's wedding.....also at L'Auberge. They own Pearl Resorts in Tahiti, and the 30 is the Pearl it was perfect.

We did the anniversary on the Friday night. Etienne, food-oriented semi-prick that he is.....had planned a dinner for the next night for a select few. At first: six. When Tom showed up, he was reluctantly added. Then I showed up. Well, OK, after 31 can help out, and we have a '75 Yquem. Then our buddy Steve and his wife. Well, OK...but don't tell anyone.

On Saturday, we managed to coax Merle over to the Spa (where everyone had gathered) for a "cup of coffee" around noon. When he arrived, the ever-beautiful Leslie Dingle and I grabbed him by either side and walked him towards the garden.

Etienne had his menu for the dinner all worked out. As we walked he showed it to me, and gave me my marching orders: "You can handle the lamb course, right? Right? And the potatoes, you fucking Irishman......" He was in the middle of the party before it dawned on him that he WAS the party.

For all is my toast:

On October 1, 1971 I was an innocent, confused, lost EE student at Cornell….too dumb to realize that if you hated what you were studying you could change it. My friends and I were the tenants that got evicted from Wally’s farmhouse when Auberge was created. That afternoon I was quietly picking corn in my garden about where you all are sitting. Etienne had fired his entire kitchen staff on the morning of the opening. I had no restaurant experience to speak of……the two of us did 150 dinners that night, and I washed dishes until dawn. I had never seen anything like it: the intensity, the creativity, the skills, the insanity…..mostly the intensity. Well, the insanity, too......

My life changed the way Patty Hearst’s changed when she met the SLA. And for the same reasons......

Etienne is a charismatic leader and a great teacher. Lessons I learned from Merle run through my head every day….even 36 years later.

Things I learned from Merle:

4 yolks to a half pound of butter for hollandaise. Three eggs to a pint of cream for quiche. One egg to a half cup each of flour, water and milk for crepes.

There is a difference between “flambée” and “flambeaux”.

Five Dollar Tricks were actually worth the five dollars….even when the five dollars meant 2.75 hours worked. Wanna retrieve that sunken cork, do ya?

Pas de pitier pour le canard bouteux. No pity for limping ducks.

Incompetence must be punished. Instantly. Possibly with cold steel.

Beaujolais Villages goes well with truffle omelettes at dawn at the close of an18 hour shift.

After working a 23 hour shift in New York City, a really cool thing to do at 7am is to go over to the Precinct on 52nd Street and watch the hookers being released from jail. Remember to bring the Beaujolais. Prep starts in an hour.

Diving in your competition’s dumpster will tell you a whole lot more about the place than walking in the front door and eating off the menu.

When the chef says: “Put sherry in the consommé!” he does not mean the entire case.

Always tip everyone in sight.

Deguellasse is a term of endearment. Deguellasse means: “So disgusting it is as if it were dragged from the throat of an animal….probably a camel.” This was my nickname, bestowed upon me by Pierre Merle. I would rather this after my name than a degree from Cornell. Michael Jones, DG.

Veterinary laxatives are a more effective Mickey Finn than chloral hydrate. The client runs to the bathroom where you can jump him, rather than having him pass out right there in the dining room.

If romancing a daughter with the mother present, do not hit on the mother after the daughter has spurned your advances. This leads to the following: When serving broiled grapefruit with sherry….the grapefruit should be cut in half, not served whole.

If there are two of you…..doing all the courses and washing the dishes for 100 people in a tiny restaurant, and you accidentally cut The Chef while replacing his freshly washed knife in the knife rack……he will instinctively hurl a pot of boiling oil at your head. Nothing personal. You will probably duck in time.

If Etienne is driving to meet you at a bar or restaurant, and you are broke, order pastis. It is more difficult for passers-by to tell that you have ordered only one drink in the past five hours. Hope that the bartender is Etienne’s illegitimate step-cousin.

A two day wedding in the country for 40 to 50, featuring a multi-course sit-down meal on Saturday night with the restaurant closed, and featuring a case of Nuits St. Georges ’45, plus a Sunday Brunch with a couple of cases of Moncontour and a big croque-en-bouche…..should cost about $1700 total, payable in installments over years.

Do not attempt to make the caramel for a croque-en-bouche for a wedding in the country for 40-50 while bitterly hungover.

If you deduct the employee meal from the minimum wage BEFORE you calculate FICA, you can save about $19.31 over five years….if the minimum wage is $1.80 per hour.

If you are stealing the silver sugar bowls from Four Seasons after spending $1500 on lunch for two in 1972, make sure that the pockets of your blazer…..and the lining of the blazer….do not allow the sugar to pour a snail trail all the way to the maitre d’ station.

Naiveté must be punished…..punished gently, but punished nonetheless.

Every new employee is a potential partner and savior…..if he is not a miserable prick that will stab himself and sue you after stealing all the silver and cognac.

Be particular.

A choking customer can be saved by stabbing them in the voice box with a fork.....or is it a knife?

Even if you love and respect someone who calls you for a recipe for escargot butter at 2am….it must include a full tablespoon of every herb and spice you can think of…..including cardamom.

White pepper stops bleeding. Sort of.

The whole secret of fine dining is to make something using flour and water, and sell it.

Desserts should really cost about 13 cents!

If you pick up something that is very hot with a damp rag and are burning your hand….to stop the pain…… just squeeze harder.

Never do anything in the air: “Pick it up! No! Put it down. PICK IT UP! PUT IT DOWN!”

The word Femurs does not refer to the largest bone in the human body. "This dish needs a little femur before it goes out......"

The those extra desserts are always for The Gentleman Upstairs. And WE are The Gentleman Upstairs.....

In fifty years.....none of this will matter.

The Main Lessons:

I am really good at dealing with chaotic situations. Especially if I helped create the chaotic situations.

During Service you pour your whole heart, soul and body into the work. You do it right, and right now, whether the guests deserve it or not. Personal feelings don’t matter. Injuries don’t matter. You can sort it out later at Table 10….where all things are forgiven. Well, almost all things.

Friendships: those cured in the fire of Service, are for life. Thirty-six years are as ten minutes. This gathering is testament to that.

Possessions: the value of anything you own is only determined at the moment when you give it away, or share it with friends. What is the value of something you keep for yourself? Zero.

In any reunion like this, there is the inevitable comparing of who looks good, who is doing well, and maybe who is doing not so well. Clothes, shoes, surgeries, whatever. Luckily we are all driving rental cars….so that part of it is out.

A couple of people have said something along the lines of: “I wish Etienne had gotten more for all his hard work and talent.” Like, where is his Lexus?

I am stunned by this.

Etienne has Marcia. Etienne has Ithaca… Laurent pointed out……this particular beautiful corner of Ithaca. And, for what it is worth he has all of us….

Well, and more. There is another generation out there. Frank Larson’s son works for me….a great worker who came to me already Merle trained from UC Santa Cruz: stress, chaos, worries. Tom Emery’s daughter works for me…..she came to me Merle trained at age 15.

One of the greatest pleasures in my life has been working next to my son in the kitchen since he was three…..just as Etienne worked in Pierre’s kitchen since he was three…..standing on milk cartons to get to the sink...a tip from Pierre that I remembered. Brendan worked with Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin when he was eight, shucking oysters after Eric spotted him in the dining room. He works at Mugaritz in Spain and owns a bar in Prague and is one of the best young chefs in America. And every time I see him pick up a knife and lean over his cutting table, I see Merle’s legacy.

Far from feeling sad for Etienne…..I am jealous. We should all be so lucky.

A nos femmes, nos chevaux, et ce qui les monte!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Odyssey, Part One

Tom Emery and I went back to Ithaca last weekend for a reunion of the Old Piglets of "L'Auberge du Cochon Rouge".

I thought it would be an easy post.....but it is not working out that way. Meanwhile, one of the salient discoveries of the weekend:

We arrived at 1am, in the fog. We rented our car from Nice Roger at Avis. We got our NoTell motel room from Bitter Phil. We went to Wegman's (who make Whole Foods look like 7-11....more on that....) and bought crazy French cheeses and baguettes at 2am from Larry and Ken....and tried to buy wine from them by claiming it was before 1am in California. We went to the State Diner and talked old times and had hamburgers and shakes delivered by Nancy and Maureen, and made by Bitter Dave, while Fat Mike swept up and washed dishes. Some gang guys came in and we all talked about the morality of the State raising prices after midnight.

In the morning I went to K-Mart and bought a cell phone charger from Jim the Dumbfuck, and paid for it at Alice's register. We later came back and bought an ice chest from Maree, who was under a hundred and cute as hell until she smiled. Dana and Ann helped me find ice and bottled water at the Top Shop, where Dumbfuck Jim's dumber cousin Al checked me out.

Over to Northside Liquor. A long talk with Paul about sparkling wines.....finally settling on a Natur Cava.....though I bought some Doc Frank, a Herman Weimer and some Gruet just for old times sake....and insurance. Another old Mary took my credit card. Young Angus (!!!) carried my stuff out to the rental.

Check out of the motel....leaving a tip for Amy and Jane, the maids.....and dodged past Jake and Jarvis (!!) the maintenance dudes on the way out. Fat Jenny helped me figure out the waffle machine at breakfast, while Vicki got coffee and fresh OJ.

Up to LaTourelle. Hot and cold running bitter 30-somethings in suits...but a great room for $99 a night....with a jacuzzi and a balcony. Met Eileen, Jeff, Chef Jack and Doris from the catering staff and apologized in advance for being an asshole.

Jeff and I shucked oysters for hours and made fandangos at the cabin reception...then meandered over to the new Auberge: John Thomas Steakhouse. Elaine greeted me, maitre d' Clark showed me where to sit. Busboy Adam brought me water all night. Another Fat Eileen seemed to be the cook....I hesitate to say ''chef''. Jim washed up the dishes.

The next morning....I got up early to help Etienne do brunch at the fraternity where he now works. Jeff made me a quick omelette, that LeeAnne brought me. On the way back to my room I shared the elevator with Kevin, the porter. He helps the maids (Anne, Lisa and Jenneen) with the heavy lifting.

"How have you enjoyed your stay? I've seen you around a lot...."

"Great, thanks....It is a very nice hotel."

"What was your favorite part?"

"Well....I really like Jeff the sous chef. He is a good kid. But I really like the jacuzzi in the room....I am recovering from a whole summer of standing on my feet eighteen hours a day."

"Cool....I maintain them....Glad you liked them. They aren't like a hot tub, but they are nice in their own way. There is a big hot tub in the Spa with a big motor if you want. Bye now!"

At the fraternity, the place was trashed from the inevitable party. Not long after we got organized in the kitchen, Todd showed up to sweep up and wash the floors and dishes. Todd also helped us with directions to my old farmhouse on Ellis Hollow Road.

So....the salient observation of the trip: every working person I met was a legal American. Young, old, male, female, white, black, whatever. So much for the myth that only illegals will do "menial" jobs. Kevin did not seem to have gotten the memo that his job is "menial" and that he would be better off collecting $900 a month on a polar bear-5150 social security riff while sitting on his ass smoking rocks, drinking Keystone Light and letting the Mexicans do the work.....Cachagua-style.

I don't know why this is not the reality here. This guy likes his work, likes the people he works with, and likes the people he works for. Probably he is tagging one of the maids, huh? is blind.

Wages seemed to match the local economy. The culture seemed intact....lots of mom and pop places, as well as the superstores and chain restaurants.

In Ithaca housing is still cheap. It doesn't take three quarters of your income to rent a room. People seem happy. It was possible to communicate with all of them. Though I am proud of my was a pleasure I could not have imagined to not have to use it for four entire days.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Agony and Ecstasy

We have been in the depths of Sophomore College.....the Stanford kids.

It is a class that I sort of teach with Stuart Thompson from Hopkins Marine Station....a real Stanford professor.

The class is 18 days lessons. The goal is to turn incoming Stanford sophomores into humans, and to knock them around enough to get their brains running in new ways.
700 incoming Stanford sophomores apply. Stuart takes 12, with two student advisors.
My part is breakfast and dinner every day.....even camping in Big Sur. I try to get them to love Steinbeck, and Robinson Jeffers, and Mimi and Richard Farina, and Ansel and the Westons. We drag them all over: Big Creek for five days, Tassajara for five days, Hastings Reserve, Heller Estate, organic farms...speakers every night.

This is in the middle of the height of wedding season. My crew, and Amanda and Brendan, have to cover me....and they hate it.

I get up at 5am every day, and usually crash around midnight or 1am....then back at it.
People always talk about working 16 or 18 or 20 hour days.....but it is mostly bullshit. The difference between a 16 and an 18 hour day is huge. The missing two hours are for sleep, or checking emails or voice mail.....god forbid there should be non-work related activity.
Now try stringing fifteen or twenty of those in a row. the midst of this kind of work environment the ability to absorb any kind of bullshit drops to near zero. The 16 hour worker knows that he or she is among the few; the 18 hour worker is convinced; the 20 hour worker feels anointed by the God of Work.


There is no God of Work.

Maybe Upton Sinclair?

And then people give you shit on top of the work?


The menu for Monday Night Dinner at The Store was titled: "The People in the Aprons are Not Your Bitches" Roadhouse."

So, this is some of the stuff that makes me want to sell my house and move to Spain:

1) It was not possible to renew pain medication prescriptions for a kid with 80 percent of the skin stripped from his body below the waist. (Yes...that part, too). This was three days after the accident. The doctors gave him oxycontin 20's and pretended that they last 12 hours.
The half-life of the drug is 2.5 hours at that dosage, but federal guidelines.....fueled by Jesus and fear of hillbilly heroin junkies swarming the hills.... forbid actually letting doctors give people in pain medication to relieve pain.

Thank you again, George Bush.....War President. War on Drugs. War on Terror.
Let's talk Terror: stripping raw flesh with the bandages every morning from your son's body.....without pain medication.

No worries. We made some phone calls and met a guy in Marina who hooked us up with real oxy's, not generic, for eight bucks a pop. These were 80's....and they lasted for almost six hours.

2) The father of the bride. Guy shows up at the end of the wedding to take care of the balance on his beautiful daughter's wedding. Eleven grand total, six outstanding. He decides to leave two hundred bucks in tips for the 16 workers to split (twelve bucks!) but is certain that I will not pass on the dough to the kids.

"How can I be certain if I give you the will pass it on to the workers?"

After we have been working for a year on this gig you can't trust me to give a shitty tip to my most valued people?

I let it go. He was drunk, and he was the well-deserved-to-be EX husband of the mom of the bride.

The guy followed me and badgered me for some kind of document that would prove that I wouldn't steal twelve bucks from each of 16 of my best friends. Four times he asked me for proof.

This was a 20 hour day.

"You are an offensive little turd, sir. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on....and no wonder you are the EX-husband. I can only hope that the biological father is really the UPS guy and not a miserable sawed-off little prick like you. I tip my crew $50 each and lie to them that you had the tiny amount of class necessary to recognize their hard work."

3) The Florist and Photographer from Hell. Wedding in 100 degree heat. The florist bosses around my crew about protecting her flowers from the sun. Then decides to stay for the party. She postitions herself outside the door to the kitchen and intercepts every tray of hors d'oeuvres. She takes two or three from each tray of ten items, before the guests get a chance.
Alex forgot to pack an oyster knife, so I am opening oysters with a can opener. My palm actually starts to bleed after a while. The groom is a diver from San Diego, and his only request in the whole of the wedding is for our oysters with porcini cream. The photographer delays the entire wedding an hour and a half while she takes staged photos of......who knows? The bride and groom miss all the hors d'oeuvres. I save back a tray of oysters, but the florist knows I have them. When the photographer finally releases the couple to join their friends I send Jacque out the back door of the house and around the pool and bar with the last tray of oysters. We wiped off the blood stains from the tray.

The florist is ready for us, though. She spots Jacque heading across the lawn, and hits her like Lawrence Taylor hit Joe Theisman. As the groom reaches for the last oyster spoon, the florist shoves Jacque out of the way and snatches the spoon from his hand and mows it.

We get the bored, starving guests to the buffet that has been ready for an hour. In the middle of serving the photographer comes up to me and says: "We need to cut the cake. I have to go."
This was also a 20 hour day.....and I did not cut her.


4) The Disc Jockey from Hell. A nice wedding at a winery. It will come as no shock to anyone that has organized a wedding, or ever been to one for that matter......that things do not go according to plan. "In war, the best plans do not survive first contact with the enemy." Napoleon or Tacitus or whoever.

The disc jockey stuck to her printed schedule: she announced the wedding before the bride and groom had arrived; she announced dinner before anyone had had hors d'oeuvres, and announced the cake cutting while people were still eating dinner.

And she played Paul McCartney songs into my ear at the cheese station. In the words of my friend AJ Houston: "The wrong Beatle died!" One thing I remember from electrical engineering....connecting expensive speakers directly to the 110 volt outlet makes for a very satisfying explosion and lots of nice smoke.

5) The Restaurant Guest From Hell. Upon being told that we have two seatings, 6:30 and 8:30....still insists on 7:30. We refuse. She agrees to 6:30. We are sold out and turn people away for both seatings. The woman shows up at 7:30 anyway.....and proceeds to change chairs because she doesn't like the ones at her table. She complains about the live music, which is a major feature of the dinner every week. She insists on butter, which we don't serve in lieu of organic extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and Murray River salt. She refuses to order her entrée until she has had her appetizers.....and then complains that we are serving everyone else their entrées in chronological order and she is now last. She interrupts the waitress while taking an order at a nearby table to demand more water.

6) The Worst Kid in the World. Stanford kid. I arrive each morning at 7:30 and cook a breakfast to order. Pancakes with organic maple syrup. Quesadillas with Manchego cheese and hand cut salsa. Scrambles and omelettes to order. Fresh cut local organic strawberries and melons in huge quantities. We contact the kids months in advance to find out their dietary needs and desires. Did I mention that I am working in a field next to a creek in Big Sur?

The kid comes up to me on Day 13: "Could you do a traditional breakfast from another culture? Say Indian?"

"Woo woo Indian or Om Om Indian?"


"American Indian or Asian Indian"

"Well, either would be cool...for a change."

Quesadillas, pancakes, omelettes and fresh organic fruit gets boring after two weeks. What the fuck is an American Indian breakfast.....and how do you do it at a campsite in Big Sur? Hindu breakfast? Build a tandoori?

"Well, I guess just give me an omelette....but I want a plain omelette, and put all the ingredients on the side, so I can mix them myself."

One guy, working on a folding table in the woods with one burner.


"Well, I guess....eggs over easy."

Minutes later I overhear this monologue:

" I go to First Awakenings and ask for eggs over easy and toast. The plate comes, and there are fucking sliced heirloom tomatoes on the plate. When did I ask for tomatoes? the plate too big and you feel some need to fill the empty space with any old thing? When I ask for eggs and toast....I want eggs and toast. You are not paid to think....just give me my fucking eggs and toast..... or what?"

The other Stanford kids all laughed.

This was only and 18 hour I did not slice the prick like a tomato on the spot.

But I might yet.

I finally packed the kids off to Tassajara on Sunday. I don't have to cook. I was supposed to go up there today to join them and continue my life lessons.

Brendan was in the ER yesterday with a suspected aneurism.....dropped down in the middle of prep for Monday dinner. When the Urgent Care doctor saw him, she rushed him to the ER. It was another 20 hour day.

I didn't go to Tassajara. We got Brendan out of the hospital and settled and I took an hour nap. I got up at 6:30pm to take the dogs for a walk up the mountain....wondering why the fuck we do this.

We have been working so much that I haven't been up the hill in six weeks. I have not been in the garden in eight, and I have not been in the office in a month. I have not had food I didn't cook myself or microwave in five weeks.

Why do we do this?

The dogs were thrilled to go for a hike, and charged up Buck Mountain Road.
Immediately I was struck by how out of shape I am. I was huffing and puffing like old Morgana, the arthritic wolf dog. She and I did the sweep. It is a steep climb, though.

A few hundred yards up the climb, Morgana and I stopped for breath. I looked back towards Rancho Chupinos and Mount Toro......and was struck dumb.

The view was literally stunning. The land unfolded under me in a golden carpet that climbed up towards The Pastures of Heaven. The gold of the hills was dazzling, but the fog was creeping in all around....flowing up over Toro Peak from Salinas and closing down Carmel Valley from the sea.

My brain jumped to Georgia O'Keefe, who would have painted this as a glorious Navajo blanket. The fog slowly shut down the color machine. When we worked for Georgia she was already blind....her color machine shut down as well. Thanks, God.

My brain jumped to the Ansel photo of Georgia in the peak of her New Mexico prime, with her sun weathered and lined face....and to Ansel himself with his Santa eye-twinkle...and my brain immediately jumped to Tom and Laurie Coke, my farmer friends. Tom has the same twinkle....and Laurie has the same madonna glow and weathering as Georgia...Tom and Laurie just work in a different medium. Our work is evanescent and lives possibly in the memory of the folks that enjoy our food....

I have this weird idea that the work itself lives on, just like Georgia and Ansel's....only normal folks can't see it. Brendan's Beet Salad with Chevre/Coconut and Balsamic Reduction is right there with "Moonrise Hernandez".

Jerry Jeff Walker came into my brain, "Night Rider's Lament":

"Why do they ride for their money?
Why do they rope for short pay?
They ain't gettin' nowhere....
And they're losing their share....
Son, they all must be crazy out there.

"But they ain't never seen the northern lights...
Ain't never heard the hawk on the wing...
Ain't never seen the sun hit the Great Divide....
Andthey ain't never heard old Camp Cookie sing......"


The dogs and I kept climbing. We went through the gates of Dru Hammond's ranch and on to the hill beyond that looks over the San Clemente.

Fucking stunned again.

The sun was setting over the farthest ridge. The fog had pushed tendrils up over the peaks towards the coast and the entire sky was blasted with another flavor of the same gold that lay over Rancho Chupinos. Hammered copper. Beaten gold. Whatever....something metallic....and fire of the forge was still all around us. The sky glowed, it radiated....and all the ridges were part of it.

I counted seven mountain ridges I had never noticed in twenty years of hiking Buck Mountain.....ridges climbing on west towards Big Sur. This time I was not just stunned....I teared up. The dogs gave me weird looks as I stopped and stared.

Robert Frost entered my brain: "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening".

"Whose woods these are I think I know.....
His house is in the Village though...
He will not see me stopping here...."

Well, I hope. I am actually trespassing. Frost's horse "must think it queer to stop without a village near...."

My dogs think it queer that I am stopped in the middle of a field, staring at the sunset and crying like a baby.

The sun is actually setting, but you would never know it. The sky is alive with flame and fire, and the fog is pushing light into valleys and canyons and ridges that I have never noticed before. It is more like a sun rise than a sun set.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep....
And miles to go before I sleep......"



Break over.

Back at it.

Ars longa, vita brevis.

Arbeit macht frei.

Tomorrow is only an 18.

Piece of cake.....