A midnight train to Georgia. . .

. . . is not possible to book from Miami.

Wouldn’t that be a great way to celebrate New Year’s Eve?
In motion, On the Way

It’s not that there’s not a train from Miami to Georgia. Just that the timetable’s backwards: leaving at noon, arriving at midnight.

1.24 am in Savannah to be precise. And while I’ve definitely arrived at that hour in the city that never sleeps, my uneducated and no doubt biased sense of Georgia’s fifth largest municipality is that the Hostess City is more sleepy than sleepless. So I booked a midnight bus instead, arriving at noon on New Year’s day.

I felt renewed for the journey with my second day in Miami. Breakfast was several hours, including a glass or two of rose, working through some year-end Ignatian exercises in the verdant garden of a scruffy French cafe just off Espaniola Way.

Then, a carefully researched cubano sandwich at an off-the-grid lunch counter. Followed by happy hour at the secretly public luxury hotel pool bar where my new favorite bartender Patricia was working and I met some folks visiting from Marblehead (Bizarrely, I’d met a couple from Beverly a few nights previous in Naples.)

I swung back through my hostel for some house punch in the courtyard to watch the beautiful people arrive for a New Year’s Eve fete. [If I got a perm, would I have a jewfro? Or just a perm?]

Then some provisions for the 13 hour bus ride ahead from the grocery store across the street where I was not expecting to have to speak Spanish and off to the city bus stop where I met a cook at a new two-month old hotel who offered me his friends-and-family discount for the next time I’m in town.

In case you’re unfamiliar, bus stations are funny places. They’re not usually accessible by public transit (because everyone obviously is driving themselves?) and are not surrounded by many commercial enterprises. Most upsetting for me, bus travelers, apparently, don’t factor in to Starbucks new location identification algorithm.

[Also a note that while I’ve recently been reminded that the rest of the world doesn’t always take kindly to Bostonians talking about how much better they are than everyone else, it really is hard to ignore how superior Boston’s bus terminal is to every other I’ve ever seen. It’s a completely different animal. No doubt because we paid for it. . .]

I was especially struck by the very interesting array of dental work on display in the waiting room in Miami.
“How do you chew when in possession of those particular three teeth?”
“I’ve never seen such a golden smile. Seriously. How many troy ounces?”

It’s in fact a pretty diverse crowd. I try to do my part representing college-educated white males. Otherwise it’s pretty much equal parts confederate flags and doo-rags.

At our 3 am hour-long rest stop in Orlando, I ordered up some fresh brewed coffee from the vending machine and noticed that there were a few more people queuing to get on than had gotten off. . . I might have to share a seat. . .Should I make an alliance? Or take my chances?

My options for a preferential seatmate were admittedly limited. The blindingly white Lacoste shirt was promising, but the wearer spoke only the equivalent of what must have been Swahili and tried to get off at every stop. . .all that moving and explaining in sign language could get tiresome.

Otherwise the obviously smart but chatty 20-something with a carefully curated EDM playlist she created hand motions for? Probably not.

Ultimately, I decided that chances were in fact slim the entire bus was sold out on this New Year’s train to Georgia so my best strategy was to possess my space with as much presence as I could muster. The very last open seat on that bus was going to be next to me, and if it even occurred to you that you could ask to sit there you’d have to be a sociopath (which would at least result in an interesting conversation).

Luxuriating in open space and weefee, I did a little research into the meaning of that promiscuous midnight train reference. Turns out it’s incredibly irrelevant. The singer’s following her lover back to Georgia where they hope to settle after failing to make it in Los Angeles.

My New Year’s journey is completely different: forward and progressive and venturing.

And northward. . . How remarkable that I’ve been so far south in my journey, Georgia is North! There’s some relativism for y’all.

On the road again

Now that I’m old and responsible, I realize I’ve gotten out of the habit of travelling.

Even before this new-found, so-called maturity, keeping me from the road were battles with various insecurities (housing, employment, steady income).

But prior to all this, in a glorious age of innocence and ignorance, I was pretty good at connecting dots, maximizing experiences and transforming strangers into lifelong friends. I was a traveller, a pilgrim, who could not help but journey into the unknown, finding in the foreigner a neighbor, and in the exotic, an abiding comfort.

So when my parents invited me to spend the holiday with them in Florida, I saw an opportunity to reclaim adventure. Previous insecurities had been shored up to such an extent that I had resources abundant enough to buy myself some freedom: a week-ish to make my way meanderingly from South Florida to New England by whatever means I might conjure.

Ironically, I’ve never travelled in my own country. This is, of course, not to say I haven’t taken trips, been in airplanes, stayed at hotels. What I haven’t done is ventured from here to there, itinerary-less, free to journey wherever and however whim and opportunity might allow. I have no idea why this is the case, except perhaps that there is no real infrastructure in America for budget travel which is perhaps an extension of the belief that a vacation is a luxury which must be bought for a price on the free market.

It was from the Greyhound bus station in Naples, Florida, that I first got the sense that “the things which I have seen, I now can see no more.”

“No, thank you sir, I’m not looking for drugs. Just waiting for the bus to Miami. Is that strange?”

Soon after my drug offer, a young stylish German couple were dropped off by an older man to whom they bid farewell warmly, but not particularly affectionately. Were they related to each other? Couchsurfing? AirBnB? Perhaps one of their parents had met this man 30 years earlier skiing in the Alps and now after a lifetime of hearing stories about their American friend they were finally meeting during this gap year?

I never asked them. My German’s bad. I don’t want to interrupt. They don’t want to talk to me.

Once on board and crossing Alligator Alley I gloried in the wifi (or as I and the French affectionately say, “weefee”), one of the unsung luxuries of domestic bus travel. I used the time to answer emails and work on projects. It felt good to accomplish these tasks and even better to have them to do, though they meant I did not read my book (Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War), research restaurants, or even look out the window at the Everglades, one of America’s most distinctive landscapes.

Upon arrival in Miami, I had done enough post-departure research to know I needed to catch the 150 bus to get me to the  award-winning design hostel in which I had booked a bed for that night. I had not, though, gotten to the point of figuring out where or how or what. . .

My recognizable confusion caught the attention of a young Panamanian who quickly set me straight. We did not make plans to meet-up later as I once would have thought to arrange. It might be strange? I was worried about checking-in. I don’t need a side-kick.

Later I wandered the streets of South Beach, marvelling at the architecture and cosmopolitanism, but realizing I was not in possession of the tools to navigate the complexities of this landscape: What’s a trap? What’s a gem? Where/when are the best special menus? Is that hotel bar open to the public? This rooftop?

It takes some work to be able to answer these questions. I had intuition and the advice of bartenders at my disposal.

For dinner, I ended up at one of the new American outposts of the French bakery chain Paul with a sandwich mixte. Though technically foreign, Paul, did not offer adventure or newness, but rather comfort, the equivalent of hitting up McDonalds in Paris for a Big Mac.

Back at the hostel at a respectable 10pm, I met my bunkmates. A Swede and an Austrian, both au pairs for families visiting Naples from New York. They’d been given some time off for the New Year and came to Miami, like me, looking for something different. They invited me to the courtyard for drinks. I demurred. I’d been there earlier in the evening. Had books to read. The next day to plan.

And besides, “I’ve had that conversation before,” he said to himself with the dismissive confidence of experience, hardly recognizing the threat the incurious thought posed to his very way of life.

Obsessive Political Correctness

Peter Porte as Damien, Nicole Lowrance as Kansas, Kate Mulligan as Smith, Michael T. Weiss as Bruce, Olivia Thirlby as Romi. hotos by Evgenia Eliseeva, A.R.T.
Peter Porte as Damien, Nicole Lowrance as Kansas, Kate Mulligan as Smith, Michael T. Weiss as Bruce, Olivia Thirlby as Romi. hotos by Evgenia Eliseeva, A.R.T.

Award-winning, controversial playwright Eve Ensler has a reputation for tackling the most challenging issues of our day, particularly violence against women.

The worldwide anti-capitalist movement of Dumpster-diving freegans is often mocked as a first world problem of privilege.

The two would not seem to have much common ground.

Nevertheless, in Ensler’s new play O.P.C. (i.e Obsessive Political Correctness) at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre through January 4, the violence consumerism inflicts on our relationships and world is treated with all due seriousness, which is a lot.

Romi (Olivia Thirlby) is the stereotypical freegan: from a good family, too smart for her own good, she squats not because she must but because she can. Thirlby plays Romi with the manic earnestness of the convert: at once ingratiating and grating. The disgust Romi’s high-achieving Senate candidate mother Smth Weill (Kate Mulligan) shows towards her daughter’s Dumpster-ed bruschetta and by extension under-achieving is not hard to sympathize with.

It is in fact this feeling of disgust which Ensler wants us to gaze upon and transform. (She does this as well in the Vagina Monologues.) What’s the difference between trash and beauty? When does one become the other? Who has the authority to decide?

Artistic director Diane Paulus shows fearless brilliance in bringing important, developing work like O.P.C to the A.R.T.’s stage (see too last season’s Witness Uganda). She finds meaning and connections where developing scripts might be thin and makes choices small and large that accumulate in service of communicating important stories that creating dialogues encouraging action. Upon reflection, we notice not the flaws of the script or the specific choices of the director, but our joy and altered world view.

The A.R.T. has embraced too in this production the ethos of “eco-theatre.” Much of the surprisingly beautiful and intricate set was built from recycled or reused materials: plastic bottles and cardboard boxes. There’s a swap shop in the lobby: find something you like? Leave something of equal or greater value in its place. The only programs printed are “communal” copies available for perusing in the lobby. You can also view a program on your mobile device.

Even within mainstream liberalism, the notion that 40% of food in the United States is thrown away is challenging as much in its veracity as its consequence. (The not unconnected mainstream conservative analog might be that the world is getting warmer.)

Consumerism teaches us to value and pursue newness. Shiny food on the shelf in its package is superior to food in the Dumpster (or sometimes even from the garden). Romi reminds us that America is, of course, new, and derives much of its exceptionalism from that status. Political correctness is new, too, and O.P.C. by Eve Ensler is very new indeed.

What’s very old are the transformative effects of storytelling. Is there anything more valuable than that?

Thank the ever-warming heavens we keep finding stories and storytellers.

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O.P.C.
by Eve Ensler
through January 4, 2015
at the American Repertory Theater
americanrepertorytheater.org

Bad Jews

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Good, entertaining, satisfying theatre is increasingly hard to find.

The marketing departments for many of our artistic communities have identified easy access to audiences for fun musicals, gimmicky adaptations and emotionally trending sob stories. [How soon before the immersive audience experience, Ebola: The Musical?] All these promotional handles, unfortunately I’m afraid, too often actually just divert attention from good storytelling and cover up half-baked productions.

So, when a universally resonant story, staged simply and honestly with subtle, sophisticated performances comes along, theatre lovers should pay attention.

The SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of Bad Jews at the Calderwood Pavilion through Nov 29 is just such an opportunity.
Gentiles might assume there’s nothing for them in this story about “family, faith and legacy,” but they’d be very wrong.
The three young cousins brought together in an Upper West Side studio for the mourning of their Holocaust-surviving grandfather’s death, grapple with big questions of identity, community, and self-projection. The context might be Judaism, but the substance is universal: Who am I? Where am I going? How am I connected?
This is pretty modern reasoning and Bad Jews is very much a story of this time. Daphna (Alison McCartan), born Diana and planning to start rabbinical training in Israel after graduating from Vassar in the spring, reminds us that it’s easier to be Jewish now than ever before. Indeed, she claims 22% of Nobel Prize Winners are Jewish. [I have not independently verified this, but it sounds right. . .]

Cousin Liam (Victor Shopov) integrates his Jewish privilege with a very different guise: devoting his life to studying Japanese and assuming the title “Jew” only when it might help him win an argument about the Mideast peace process.
Their polarizing identities result in some astounding, tour-de-force soliloquies. With language so smart and biting, performances so virtuosic, I couldn’t help but join in a spontaneous eruption of applause at the conclusion of one Victor’s especially gripping take-downs of Daphna.
What seems in my mind to make Bad Jews especially rich though is the room it gives to quieter, more subtle characters and performances.
Liam’s younger brother Jonah (Alex Marz) spends most of his time on stage playing a video game or sleeping. He has very few lines, in fact. And yet is as fully embodied and pivotal and colorful a character as his much louder brother and cousin.
Liam’s girlfriend Melody (Gillian Mariner Gordon) is perhaps a little flatter than the rest, but that somehow only adds to her Midwestern gentile interloper status.
There’s definitely cleverness here — I loved the simple staging incorporating a hallway – but it’s not cleverness or even group affinities that makes Bad Jews work.
Much like a good life, Bad Jews is simple and honest and masterful.

+++

by Joshua Harmon
directed by Rebecca Bradshaw
Performing at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
through Nov. 29
bostontheatrescene.com

Let’s make a sandwich

“Let’s make a Sandwich” is perhaps not the most interesting invitation. Even a sandwich you can eat with a fork doesn’t really inspire much emotional conviction. So, a sandwich of micro-operas inspired by a 1950s infomercial of the same seems dubious at best.

Soprano Aliana de la Guardia. Liz Linder Photography
Soprano Aliana de la Guardia. Liz Linder Photography

Then again dubiousness is just that at which Geurilla Opera, the ensemble-in-residence at The Boson Conservatory, excels.

With exquisite musicianship, thoughtful dramaturgy, and no-holds-barred risk taking, Guerilla consistently makes the mundane interesting, even operatic.

In this case, two composers freely adapted librettos from the same source material, a 1950 informational film, called “Let’s Make a Sandwich.” Each opera-etta is presented twice, with separate stagings by two directors, resulting in a sandwiching of an operatic sandwich about a sandwich.

A sandwich is, of course, never just a sandwich, and that abiding truth is especially apparent in this rich territory. How interesting it is to compare how the two composers found different meanings in that same 1950s tuna rarebit and then how the two directors presented those perspectives differently.

Another abiding truth: interestingness covers a multitude of sins. While one cannot deny these compositions shied too often from beauty, the stagings played too much to shock, and performances didn’t always necessarily fill the small Zack Box Theatre, one could not help but be overwhelmed by the creative potential, technical facility, and fun.

Where else might one more dramatically confront the circularity (sandwiching?) of life than in a scene where young Sally gives birth to an heir as Mother is suffocated by the director and father of all?

When else might we more clearly recognize the power of perspective and the multiplicity of meaning embedded in objective reality than in this enjambment of multiple creators’ creations, apart from everyday life?

If a sandwich is not just a sandwich, an opera, not just an opera, what then is life?

+++

“Let’s Make A Sandwich”
Sept 26-27, 2014
Guerilla Opera
The Zack Box at the Boston Conservatory
guerillaopera.com

Can writing be taught?*

In my life as an editor and occasional writer, I’ve found there to be two basic types of people who write.

The first group call themselves “writers.” They know the rules and tricks and processes and take great pride in exercising their facility therewith. They really like to talk about punctuation and the proper — or more often, improper — uses of common language. They will write about anything, regardless of whether they have anything to say about it. All of these skills, they acquired through instruction.

The second group fears the name “writer.” They’re often, I believe, the victims of uninspiring English teachers, who are themselves unfulfilled “writers.” They can never remember all those rules and tricks. When do you use a semi-colon? [Never; if you can help it, and most of the time you can.] What’s the difference between nauseous and nauseated? [Just look it up, on the rare occasion the difference might actually matter.] Nevertheless, they can’t help but write. They know things, make things, and do things. Frankly, they only want (need?) to know enough about writing that they can communicate with clarity and accuracy. I think they can be taught too, perhaps not to be “writers,” but surely to write.

A lot of writing instruction is built around acquiring knowledge of rules: dangling participles, oxford commas, five-paragraph essays. We should all know all these things (and more!), but not as rules, but rather tools. In fact, we should know so much about how our language works that we know when and how to bend or even break the rules in service to our subject.

I hesitate to define this distinction as the difference between writing and communicating only because part of what I’m advocating is not just clear communication (which I have no doubt can be taught) but writing that is so original, inspiring, and just plain good that reading it is in itself a pleasure, distinct from its ability to communicate any particularly worthy thought or conform to any norm. 

I’m not sure that can be taught, but if it could. . .

I think there’d have to be two pedagogical paradigms.

The “writers” amongst us don’t need to be taught any more new multi-syllabic words or grammatical tricks or literary forms. They first need to liberate themselves from an aspiration to conform, and then be inspired to dive headfirst in to the messiness of life, using their deep knowledge of punctuation to create bridges and handholds for their readers to cling to between irregular concepts and experiences; otherwise, why should a semi-colon possibly exist?

[There also is the problem of narcissism, writing for and about oneself, which must be overcome.]

Those who simply write because they can’t avoid it, need to be assured that there is no club of writers that they can or should aspire to join. Nor is it possible to clearly communicate an original thought wrongly (i.e. if most of your readers understand what you write, it frankly doesn’t really matter whether you wrote it in the most standard way.) They need to claim their facility with language to whatever degree it exists, and then play with what might be possible and effective, not simply right.

Both groups should of course be conversant with some basic rules of grammar. Everyone should know how simple and complex sentences work. We should all have diagrammed a sentence, and be ever looking for patterns, consistency, and flow.

Can we teach these things? I don’t actually see why not, and I believe we do. But too often, in practice I’m afraid, teachers confuse the pursuit of a [nauseating] heavily-punctuated, five-paragraph essay about flim flam, with the inspiring, experimental, original discoveries that good writing should support.

Have I made any writers nauseous?

* I’ve grown w(e)ary of sourcing blog entries from the events of my own life, and so am turning to arbitrary questions sourced from elsewhere with which to engage. This one first appeared in the “Book Ends” section of the NYTimes Book Review on Aug 24. I don’t presume to write with any authority, only curiosity.

The JS Commandments

Over a series of informal office happy hours, I’ve apparently been preaching a personal gospel of freedom, community, and hard work. A colleague recorded some of my bon mots, condensed them into a list and shared with me. I figure I might as well share them here with with you, too. (I think they’re pretty good!)

While I am the first to admit I am no expert in matters of psychology, theology or even my own life, I have been blessed with a range of experience which I have attempted to process and integrate with great devotion and intention. The evolving philosophy behind the following words comes from this practice.


 

1. Do not be afraid. Go!

[Christians will recognize this line as the first in many of the Bible’s most pivotal stories, from the Exodus (Moses), to the Nativity (shepherds, wise men), to the Passion (Jesus), to the Great Commissioning (disciples, you and me). Students of literature, will recognize it as an essential animating device. For fear and stasis do not tell a story, but merely describe a far too common, unfortunate reality we each have the authority to rewrite.]

2. Pourquoi pas?

[When in doubt, ask “why not?” and discover that fear is most often really the only reason, in which case refer to number 1.] 

3. Treat others as they would like to be treated. 

[The more traditional, narcissistic interpretation of the “Golden Rule” assumes everyone wants to be treated the same way, like me. The “Platinum Rule” requires us to engage with the hopes, fears and preferences of the other, and in so doing enter in to deeper and more meaningful relationships.]

4. You can never go back; forward is the only option. 

[Motion is constant and cumulative. Therefore, even if we return to a place, relationship, or situation we do so in the full knowledge and consequence of our accumulated experience. The Past can only exist in memory. We create the Future in our Present.] 

5. You just have to do the work. 

[Regardless of how deserving, smart or capable we are and regardless of easy or difficult the task, the constant of any achievement is the hard work carried out, sans short cuts and low expectations.]

6. Privilege the queer. 

[The strong and popular enjoy privilege by default. The marginal, uncommon, fragile and outlier benefit most from intentional privileging, and we in turn benefit from their wisdom and perspective.]

crossing the bridge

From a suburban cubicle in one of New England’s largest office parks, I spend my days making extraordinarily beautiful books.  To that end, as a requirement of my job, I must research San Francisco’s artisanal toast trend, develop projects with media savvy Dumpster divers, and find ways to endear myself to The 60 (Plus)  Coolest People in Food and Drink 2014.

Nothing has much of anything to do with my immediate environment or community. It’s just me, my imagination and Google. And while that combination’s a pretty fecund one, it does have its limitations: namely me (not so much Google).

So in an effort to break free from the insularity of my own mind and intentionally expose myself to the new/unexpected/other, I organized a Friday afternoon office field trip.  A dozen of us would make the ten-minute drive across the bridge from Beverly to Salem (which in truth is a journey as psychological as it is physical) to America’s oldest operating and most innovating museum, our very own Peabody Essex.

A tour of their new exhibit, “California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way,”  did not seem immediately relevant to developing food and craft books, but pourquois pas? Why not let another with more knowledge than I take on the responsibility of showing me something interesting?

Also, I’ve found a change of scenery is usually beneficial in itself.

Buff, Straub & Hensman (1955-1961, later Buff, Hensman and Associates). Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959. Getty Research Institute
Buff, Straub & Hensman (1955-1961, later Buff, Hensman and Associates). Recreation pavilion, Mirman House, Arcadia, 1958. Photo by Julius Shulman, 1959. Getty Research Institute

 

And the effect of a change in scenery, is in large part, what the show is about: the ways California’s climate, opportunity and distance from the Establishment manifested themselves in myriad ways from the domestic to the atomic to create a distinctively “modern” and memorable way  of life.

 

Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier
Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier

 

Look at those Shapes!

 

photo 2
Photo courtesy of Regina Grenier

And colors!

In thinking about the artists, designers, manufacturers and consumers who cultivated the looks on display here, it’s not hard to recognize their intentionality and drive.  In every new shape, color combination, and product is a glimpse of the new/unexpected/other; the very manifestation of the modern.

These creators crossed a continent in pursuit; we crossed a bridge to glimpse.

It will be curious to see once settled back at our (actually rather innovative) cube farm on the other side of the bridge, how we find new ways to pursue the beautifully new, despite our undeniably established environs.

When there’s not a bridge or continent or any real geographic distance at all to cross, how do we remind ourselves to look relentlessly for the new amidst all the old?  To cross from the known, to the unknown?  To journey from the ordinary to the extraordinary?

Memories of California might help.

Onward!

“To the farthest port of the rich Indies.”

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PEM presents California Design, 1930 – 1965: Living in a Modern Way
On view from March 29 to July 6, 2014
www.pem.org 

english: all day, every day

Do, you like me, tire of the same-old, same-old?  Occasionally desire the other, greener grass?

It’s a common enough malaise, regardless of the greenness of the grass in which we find ourselves. A friend currently living in Hawaii but having spent most of her life abroad expressed the dullness of her every day there this way: “I only speak English: all-day, every day.”

Which I thought was a ridiculous thing for a native-English speaker living in the most exotic of the united states to say.

But then I thought about it a little bit and reminded myself of those times in my life I have not spoken English all day, every day. When every interaction from ordering coffee to crossing the street, was infused with challenge and revelation.

That grass was tres vert.

Here in Salem most of my everyday interactions are not infused with challenge and revelation.  I order the same coffee from the same places, so much so that I no longer even really have to order it.  They just make it and I pay for it.

That sort of interaction can be comforting, though not particularly inspiring.

To counter the mundane, therefore, I’ve had to develop the ability to see beyond the known, and to respond to the unknown: Pourquois pas? 

“Would I like to go to see an internationally known Fado singer at the local Portuguese social club?”

“Why not?”

A five-minute drive from my normal Salem stomping grounds is the Club Luis de Camões.  A nondescript beige brick facade sits on a side street I would never know existed.  There’s a neighborhood vineyard across the street.  Inside is an immense beige hall set for hundreds to dine round round linen clad tables.

The price of admission is $35 for kale stew, Portuguese bacalau (salt cod, onions potatoes), braised broccoli rabe, and a dessert (which I honestly don’t remember).  It’s all served family style and remarkably tasty. Despite our inability to vanquish the heaping patters, we’re continually offered more.

Also included in that $35 is the night’s entertainment.  On tour from Lisbon, Ricardo Ribeiro & Pedro Jóia perform a night of fado.

One of Portugal’s great exports, fado is a remarkably dramatic and moving musical genre, animated, mostly by a sense of longing, of “saudade.”  Our musicians were introduced in Portuguese. . .  we understood what we needed to. . . and began to sing, transforming our new world air  into something much saltier, darker and richer.

Chatterers were shushed, one drunk suited man standing in the back engaged in a call and response.  We looked on in awe, longing for green grass like this, forever after.

“Entrega” Ricardo Ribeiro & Pedro Jóia from Ricardo Ribeiro on Vimeo.

You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

Sometimes I get an idea in my head about doing/creating/eating something and I just won’t let it go, until I get it out of my head and in to the world.  It keeps me up at night, it peppers my conversation, it directs my reading.  It might be a trip, a pop-up community event or a menu.  Most recently, it was goat braised in goat milk.

I first read about this subversive dish in the cookbook Eat With Your Hands by Zac Pelaccio, chef of NYC’s Fatty Crab (I once ate a fat sandwich there. . . yum!).  I loved the idea of so flagrantly breaking dietary law (mixing meat and milk is explicitly forbidden by the bible), exploring new protein (it’s not everyday goat is on the menu), and sourcing the relatively exotic and hard to come-by ingredients (I was heartened by a vague memory of seeing goat milk for sale at a Hy-Vee supermarket in Lee’s Summit, Mo.).

Of course, all things only become things by taking a first step, and then another, so I started making a list.

– Gather friendly, adventurous dinner guests
– Secure an interesting, welcoming location
– Pick a date
– Write the rest of the menu
– Shop. . . which necessitated its own list

I don’t normally shop at big supermarkets, preferring regular trips to one of my two small neighborhood markets.  Their respective clientele reflect what I suppose are my two closest affinity groups: food snobs and the homeless.  They know me and I know them.  I can be in and out quickly, on my way here or there, but they don’t always have everything just when or how I want it.

Occasionally, then, when I need to do a big shop for a big event, I almost desire those wide florescent-lit aisles containing every packaged food-stuff the average American household might need.  It could be so convenient, especially if I talk myself out of walking there.

Invariably, though, I’m not shopping for the average American household.  I’m shopping for the proverbial goat.

I did look at the local supermarket’s meat counter for a package of goat — sometimes a supermarket in close proximity to an immigrant community can surprise — but alas not this time.

Instead my research led me to the Al-Hoda Market (also apparently known interchangeably as Al Barah) in Cambridge’s Inman Square.  I read in the Globe that this Halal butcher kept his own trip of goats in New Hampshire that he slaughtered in accordance with the instructions of the Koran.  If I were so blatantly breaking biblical law by boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Exodus 34:26), I probably should hedge my bets and make sure one of the prophets was on board with my plans.

I called ahead to make sure they had goat in stock before hopping on the bus, the train, the other train, and walking a number of blocks in search of my kid.

Upon entering the small sparsely stocked florescently lit market, I was greeted with “salaam alaikum” (aka “peace to you”) by a young man hiding behind the counter, which I returned in kind (this phrase I first learned from binge watching some years ago that trailblazing Canadian sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie”).

I inquired about the goat. Yes.  What part did I want?  idk? For stew?

Summarily, I was escorted behind the counter and down the stairs to the basement meat locker, leaving the store upstairs un-kept. I waited just outside the freezer door as my muslim butcher rustled around, eventually emerging with an entire goat carcass.  He wanted me to point out the part I wanted; I demurred and deferred.  He eventually took the goat over to the bandsaw and sawed off some stew chunks and sent me on my way.  I’m still not quite sure, what “part” I ended up with, but it was preposterously inexpensive.

Back home, I marinated my kid over-night in chilies, ginger and garlic, before transferring to the Le Creuset the next evening, adding more chilies, ginger and garlic, onions and carrots too, then dousing in the milk of its mother.

Many hours in the oven passed. Collagen melted. Chilies mellowed.  The milk curdled.

Just before serving, and after removing the fort tender goat chunks, an immersion blender brought all the spicy, fatty, fragrant bits together into a silky, exotic sauce, a perfect compliment to the game-y goat and light bulgur.

At the end of the night, none of us were struck by lightening for our flagrant disobedience, but none of us, I think were keen to repeat the experience any time soon either.

Happy to have had the experience, I could once again sleep through the night, dreaming of the next idea to make a list for. . .