I’d Rather Be Writing

writingWriter in residence? I’ll give it a try.

I stayed four nights this week at the Moshin Vineyard in Healdsburg, in Sonoma county. The program, Writing Between the Vines, is directed by Marcy Gordon, from nearby Sebastopol.  Along with Moshin Vineyards, residencies were also offered this year at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in British Columbia. You stay four nights, give a reading on the first night. The rest of the time is dedicated to writing and residing.


At Moshin I was welcomed by Jan Moshin and Julia Lander, and by Colleen, who has a expert pour. From everyone at Moshin, I felt nothing but all-around wonderful hospitality.

I showed up just in time for rain, which is an inducement to stay inside and keep your butt in the chair.  And I did. Still sleeping on Detroit time, I was awake every night at 2:00 a.m. That’s a great time for office hours.

Daylight hours, sprinkles notwithstanding, I got outside and toured around Sonoma, an area I had never visited. In the far west, at Bodega Head you can do some whale watching. The experience turned out to be whale waiting. Alas, no whales. No matter. All that northern California rocky coastline, the jagged western edge of the continent, never loses its mystical power.


From Bodega I drove north to Goat Point, then east to Guerneville and the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve.  Big trees in a quiet grove I had all to myself. I stood in front of a tall wide dude named Colonel Armstrong and looked up, hello there, at a tree 1400 years old, 300 feet tall. From there I cruised along the Russian River a bit, back toward Moshin, back to have a taste. Just a couple sips.

russian river

And writing. Take a sip, write a paragraph. Take a sip, write a sentence. Take a sip, add a prepositional phrase. Sip, ponder. More sips, more ponders.

Whales, redwoods, big stuff.  Many small details also registered, resonated. The old red rail bridge over the Russian River, a mile from Moshin Vineyards. Westside Road winding north from Moshin toward Healdsburg, past wineries with their gates and tasting rooms, their stately rows of vines, all such clean geometry, and further on, the road curving beneath canopies of shaggy trees and lengthening toward town. Other small details.  Good food: wild stinging nettle fritters, spiced and roasted fennel, raw ahi tuna tacos, tondini beans and roast pork.


Finally, and best of all, the company of good writers. Rebecca Gomez Farrell read from Wings Unseen, her gorgeously imagined fantasy novel that bursts with verbal energy. Marcy Gordon read from a future memoir, about the joys and comedy of living in Perugia, Italy. And Stephanie Rosenbaum, a prolific food writer, joined us at dinner after the reading, sharing her food knowledge and expertise, her love of Sonoma, and introducing me to Meyer lemons.

All in all, much to digest and be thankful for.

writing reading

Breathing, Speaking, Eating

g mask

They are adventurous, agile, adaptable. They will manage.

Today is another bad air day. This morning in Shanghai, for the half-mile walk to my grandson’s pre-school, we’re masking up. The four-month-old has not left the apartment in two weeks. In each room in the apartment, Blue Air purifiers do their job making the space safe for occupation.

Shortly after arriving here, I learned about Plume from my daughter.  Plume is an app that reports levels of particulate matter (PM), providing “full coverage from Alabama to Zanzibar.”

Plume labs rely on air quality data collected from cities and countries around the world–for example, Federation ATMO in France, DEFRA in the UK, EPA in the US.  Air quality data in China is reported by US embassies and consulates.  In China, Plume reports air quality, why I do not know, in PAQI numbers, short for Pakistan Air Quality Index. We look at the Plume report every morning, cross-checking it with data on the US State Department website. Continue reading

Fang Xin–Rest Assured: A Fleeting Glance at the Issue of Food Safety

f mart

Wet means everything uncovered, unwrapped, naked and exposed to the human touch…

“If I lived here,” I tell my daughter, “I would shop at Fart Mart.”

I’m referring to the grocery store next to the high-rise where she’ll be living the next two years or so. It’s real name is FMart. She goes there only when she has to.

FMart is a full service grocery store, with a Chinese accent. The store combines elements of industrial food production and distribution with the traditional Chinese “wet market.” It’s about the size of a large 7-11, well, four 7-11’s piled on top of each other. Four floors of pandemonium. Continue reading

The Fifteenth Floor


 I’m reminded of the folly of thinking we can understand much in such a short time.

One morning we walk to the Montessori pre-school our grandson will attend. A few blocks from there, a man is lying on his stomach on the sidewalk. It’s 10:00 a.m., a weekday in late January.  The temperature is around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This man is shoeless and shirtless, both arms extended in front of him, like he’s a swimmer diving into a pool. Under his left hand, visible between splayed fingers, is a small pile of banknotes. He’s talking, maybe he’s begging; to me it sounds like chanting or singing. Something tells me, even if I knew Chinese, I might not understand what he’s saying. Continue reading

ATM, Wontons, Lizard


I am an illiterate deaf-mute.

After the jet lag passes (it takes a week) I’m getting up again at 5:00 a.m. every morning. No, I want to get up that early. Everyone has their quiet time. This is mine.

One morning I shuffle in bare feet into the kitchen to make coffee. There are two small children in the apartment. For the love of God, let them sleep a few more hours. Every sound is deafening: the tick of a spoon on the kitchen counter, the spray and percussion of water in the sink, the sticky refrigerator door that goes thonk when I pull it open.  Back in the living room, I foolishly decide to put my pants on while standing up, in the dark. What could be a perfunctory operation goes badly. With both legs pushing into the same pant leg, I lose my balance and tip over sideways, flopping with a silent splash onto the couch. Unhurt. Continue reading