Thursday, November 28 2013
Though temperatures were in the low-to-mid 20s, the only footwear I used when walking the dogs in the forest this morning was Crocs & socks, and those socks had huge holes in them, completely exposing both of my heals. But it turns out that heals aren't particularly sensitive to cold. All that matters is covering up the toes. At some point, though, I stepped in one or more of the many puddles presently in the forest, and so I spent part of the walk with wet toes in wet socks. Fortunately, the unpleasant conditions had kept all the hunters at home, but I wore my blaze-orange NAMBLA cap and had put bright collars on the dogs just in case.
I mostly stayed away from the kitchen and dining room during the many steps and procedures necessary to create the Thanksgiving feast that we would be hosting. But we all gathered around the computer after a podcast featuring Gretchen was posted online, and later I gave Gretchen's parents a tour of the greenhouse. (I was still working on building its second floor during their last visit.) Though cold, at least today was sunny and so the second floor nicely showcased its most important talent; temperatures were in the 80s. Ramona (whom Gretchen's mother seems to dislike because of her aggressive friendliness) immediately plopped down on the couch.
In the early afternoon, I drove to the Kingston bus station to pick up Robert, who was coming up from Manhattan and would be spending the night. Robert is one of the former prisoner-students from the Bard Prison Initiative who has maintained his friendship with Gretchen since he was released and she was fired from that program.
Soon after people started arriving, Robert said something about a part of New York City where, back during the 70s or 80s, it was possible to buy brownstones for $1. Now, of course, those same buildings are worth millions. If only we'd known to invest in that real estate when it was cheap! I pointed out that we have the same investment opportunity right now in Detroit. I said that now is the time to buy, that prices can only go up. Gretchen's father disagreed, parroting something he'd read in a book by Ed Glæser about how only the coastal cities mattered and places like Detroit were destined for permanent decline. I've heard of Ed Glæser, and my generally-negative opinion of him was initially molded by James Howard Kunstler (listen to this podcast). Nore recently I heard him being uncritically presented on Freakonomics, and, while he made some good points about the superficiality of a lot of pop environmentalism, he also made some terrible points. For example, he said that if "what we want" is "more trees" we should encourage paper use, for the same reason that we should eat more beef if "what we want" is "more cows." But this is itself a superficial argument, because it presumes that "what we want" is tree plantations (as distinguished from forests) and factory farms. Most animal rights activist I know do not equate more animal rights with "more cows." And anyone who knows anything about ecology (admittedly less than 5% of the population) will know that a tree farm is an ecological desert compared to even a second-growth natural forest. Anyway, back to the subject of Detroit. I got the feeling that Gretchen's father was assuming, along with Ed Glæser, that present conditions would continue perpetually: cheap oil would be pumped from the ground, raw materials would be shipped to China and cheaply-made consumer goods would be shipped back, and that everything would continue to move around on fleets of trucks. My view, which is informed by James Howard Kunstler, is that eventually fuel prices will be too high to support the present system and intra-continental river shipping will be a lot more important. When that day comes, Detroit's location will once again be important and a great city will have to be there (though it may well be smaller than even the city that is there now).
Beyond the four of us already there, six others came: Sarah the Vegan and her friend from Alexandria, Ellen (both were at last Thanksgiving in Silver Spring), Robert, Michæl (the lawyer-turned-nut-cheese entrepreneur), Ray, and Nancy (who also brought the dogs Jack and Bruce). With such a diverse crowd, we had our usual fun mix of conversations and subconversations. At one point I gave Ellen a tour of the laboratory, where she was particularly inspired by my various copper lamps. Later Ellen tried to hypnotize Gretchen into like avocados, and while I suspect Gretchen is too no-bullshit for such things, she was willing to give it a try.
I should probably at least mention that the ubiquity of iPads and smartphones in our social circle is turning into a net detriment to socializing. The barrier now to suddenly showing a video or picture one loves is essentially zero, and there is no precedent for telling someone that no, actually I don't want to watch old clips of Victor Borge being fucking hilarious. Perhaps a radio frequency jammer would be a good addition to the living room. It could remain off when groupings of four or less people are present.
Foodwise, it all began with a chesnut soup garnished with carmelized onions followed by a mushroom pie in a crust made of ground-up almonds. There was also a noodle bake, mashed sweet potatoes, a salad of finely-diced Brussel sprouts, and some sort of cauliflower in a white cream sauce (those last three prepared by Sarah & Ellen). For a dessert, Gretchen prepared crème brûlée "in jars" (using my MAPP gas torch to carmelize the sugar). She'd recently found a book entitled Vegan Desserts in Jars and was inspired. Throughout all this, I occasionally got up to do a round of dishes. When each course generates at least ten dishes, it's important to stay on top of dishes or you'll soon run out of space on the drying rack.
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