Quiche Moraine at Azia and the Black Forest

It all started with a joke by my friend Monica.

Question: “How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

Answer: “That’s not funny!”

Sometimes when I’m writing on my blog, I’m speaking to every reader. Sometimes I’m speaking to a subset of readers. Sometimes I’m speaking to just one or two people, and sometimes I’m talking to myself. This is not unusual. All writers do this.

Sometimes what I’m writing is really written for one person, but I can make it interesting, in a subtle way that is not always palpable, to many other readers. So when I posted Monica’s joke (which is not really her joke but rather one on which she is carrying out a feminist analysis as part of her academic studies) on my blog, I was writing for a select audience, and that audience appreciated it.

A few other people decided that I was ruining The Internet and entered into a campaign to discredit me and take my voice away. It worked.

For about five seconds. Because most people got the meaning of the joke and the post about the joke, even though it was not meant for them.

And a small part of the more thoughtful, positive, and non-stupid audience subsequently organized to form a blog and a blog community known as Quiche Moraine, and last night we had our launch party (months after the actual start of the blog) and eventually we had a conversation about how that joke…Monica’s joke…had really started it all. What I want to do now is tell you a bit about the party, but really, this is not about the party. It is about the people who were at the party and what I think about them and how they relate to me. So hold on to your seats; this could get pretty scandalous.

Sometimes you know two or three or four people who are important to you for various reasons, but they don’t know each other. Last night a handful of people whom I’ve known for anywhere from many months to many years and who are very important to me met each other for the first time. Sometimes one has anxiety when that sort of thing happens. I didn’t. And it went fine.

John Funk was there, whom I only barely know, but I know his blog and some of his photojournalism work. He is actually one of the few people who have ever been allowed in the Blog Cave…well, actually, he snuck past the guards with his press pass. Last night, it was interesting to get to know him better, and to see how he interacted with Ben, because they both are into similar things such as cameras.

Ben was there, and photography did come up quite a few times. But oddly he didn’t take any pictures. There are some people who are photographers and some people who take pictures all the time. Ben is a photographer. He’s also a geek, so there was quite a bit of conversation about the new iPhone stuff. I think Ben may have been jealous of John’s iPhone.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should really talk about dinner first. To do this, I have to go back in time a few years to the very year that Azia, the restaurant where some of us stopped before the party, opened. Azia was then a new restaurant, opened in a location that had previously spawned many failures, but as I recall, everyone who knew anyone or anything believed correctly that the owners of Azia had the necessary magic touch, and that Azia would be a success.

There was a person who had become a friend in the academic context, but with whom I had never gotten together outside of that context, who wanted to meet with me to talk about important things going on in her life. I’m referring to Analiese Miller, whom many of you know via the blogosphere. So this one afternoon on a weekday, Ana and I got together at Azia to talk about important stuff and have our first drinks and food together. And that, by and large, has been the nature of our face-to-face relationship ever since: Talk about important stuff, eat, and drink. Sometimes we skip the food. But occasionally there must be cookies.

The reason I mention this at all is because back at that first meal, we ordered and shared a special seafood dinner kind of thing that you get for two or more people. We gorged ourselves on that, and we took home piles of extra scallops and shrimp and squid. Ana has not forgotten that meal, and she mentions it now and then, so I know it made a very positive impression on her, and here I speak of the seafood dinner, not the conversation.

So last night, when Ben and Stephanie and I got to Azia and were expecting Ana, but she was running late, I suggested that we order that dish as well as some organic wine if they had any on the wine list. This way Ana would be taken care of when she arrived, and we would not have to mess around. I am so incredibly thoughtful that I can’t even believe it sometimes.

It turns out that Azia no longer serves this dish, but that did not matter. Our waiter, who was excellent, simply arranged for the dish to be made and for a proper organic wine (I should mention that Ana prefers organic wine) to be uncorked. The dish was significantly larger than I remembered it, several feet in diameter (or so it seemed) and teeming with what looked like the day’s catch from a medium-sized trawler (but with no turtles). We were about halfway through when Ana arrived, and I know she appreciated the fact that we had arranged the dinner in her honor, even if we had already eaten most of it.

This was not the first time Ben and Ana had met because, it turns out, they went to the same grade school and knew each other there. Strange? Maybe, but I think Ben might be a member of the Conicidenti. (People to whom coincidences happen more often than…can be explained by probability theory. By coincidence of course.)

I also have hysterically funny internal thoughts about Ben and Ana in grade school. In my imagination they are identical to how they look now but very small and somewhat bewildered as little children usually are. This makes me laugh.

Anyway, this was the first time Stephanie and Ana had met, even though they have worked together quite a bit on Quiche Moraine, and I think this was a very comfortable first meeting because of that.

Near the end of dinner, Amanda came by. Remarkably, this was the first time Amanda has met Ana, and that was to me a fairly momentous occasion. You have to understand that at the time Amanda and I first met, there were three or four people in my life who had actually “been there for me” as the saying goes (and I for them as well) over the previous somewhat tumultuous year. If I came into Amanda’s life as not-too-damaged goods, it was because of Ana and a few other people being thoughtful of me, sometimes just amusing me, always listening to me, and occasionally telling me what to do.

And it was appropriate that we all met at Azia, because this is where Amanda and I had our first date.

It was actually part two of our first date. We had originally met in a professional setting, and I think we found each other interesting. We worked together (but in a group) for a couple of weeks, and at the end of that time, we both felt that we had unfinished business, things to talk about. So we had a brief conversation about that, and I suggested we meet in a day or two and talk. Since the weather that year was being spectacularly good (as has happened now and then in the Twin Cities), I suggested a walk around the lake. That would be Lake Calhoun.

So we met at the lake and walked around it a couple of times and talked. Mostly we talked about Amanda’s future. One of the things we talked about was her graduate prospects, and that conversation played a large role in Amanda’s decision to get a master’s degree, a degree that she is finishing even as I write this. So it is interesting to recollect that conversation between two people who did not know what was going to happen between them, and to realize that not only did that plan come to fruition, but that I ended up being part of it.

Nothing was mentioned at the time of Amanda having my child. But who knows, perhaps it was on our minds somewhere….

Anyway, at the end of the first walk around the lake, we felt we needed more, so we took another walk around the lake. At the end of that, we felt we needed even more, so we went to Azia for a beer. I will now confess something to all of you. At this point on that sunny afternoon, I was well along the route of being, as we say in primatology, “interested” in Amanda. So when we stopped at my car before going to her car to drive over to Azia, I grabbed something that I had stashed in the glove compartment, just in case, because one never knows, and put it in my pocket. One must always be prepared.

So we sat down at a table in Azia, and the waitress came over to take our order. I suggested the bow tie pasta with chicken to share. (At some later time, Amanda would discover Azia’s green curry and that would become her favorite.) I asked Amanda a question or two about her preferences and ordered her beer for her. We sat and talked and things were going quite well. After the food was done and the plates taken away and the beer mostly gone, I felt pretty good about how we were relating and finally had the confidence to show her what I had taken from the glove compartment and secreted in my pocket, knowing, hoping, that she would be…”interested.”

“Look at this,” I said as I opened my hand and showed her the object that rested on my palm.

“Oh, what is that?” was her reply, a bit of nervousness in her voice, possibly because no one had ever showed her something like this before, in a crowded restaurant on a first date.

“It’s a wildebeest tooth,” was my reply.

“Really? Like a ‘gnu’? Cool!”

“Not only that,” I said, now swaggering a bit, I admit. “It’s about two million years old!”

“Really!” Amanda’s eyes sprang wide open.

“It’s a fossil. I was bringing it into the lab to check for ancient phytoliths that might tell us about the evolution of diet. It’s from my excavation in Africa.”

Never has that line worked so well. She was hooked, I was hooked, and the trusty old fossil was put away never to be used again.1

Well, that was the story of our first date, but let’s get back to last night’s party. When we finally got over to the Black Forest, we were a bit late, as is the tradition. Monica was there, as were Brian and John Funk. We managed to get a set of adjoined tables.

The conversation wafted and waned and wandered. Every now and then the people at the table would fall silent, as four or five individuals pulled out their devices and Tweeted. Every now and then some question would arise and two or three people would pull out their devices and Google it. I’ve never quite seen that happen before. It is, indeed, a whole new world.

Lizzie came to the party.

There are a lot of crazy people in this world, and I have no problem with that. But some people’s neurosis seems to be to make life hard for other people (on purpose), or their particular craziness just has that side effect. I can characterize my own life over the last several years (well, actually, since as far back as I can remember) in terms of which crazy people were annoying me, when they were doing it, and in what manner. And every now and then one of the crazy people goes away (or I go away), and my heart lightens and I gain happiness.

(The above statement is not meant to imply that I am not one of the crazy people.)

So Lizzie was at the party, and last night I realized something about her regarding craziness. If you pay any attention to my blogging, you’ll know that I write about Lizzie now and then. In fact, sometimes Lizzie is my main audience, although I don’t think she knows that. Lizzie met Ben, Ana, John and Brian for the first time last night, and she’s met Stephanie and Mike only once or twice each. Of course she knows Amanda.

So, why do I mention crazy people and Lizzie in the same set of thoughts? Lizzie and I get together now and then, and I ask her what is going on in her life, and I love to listen to her describe what’s up. She asks me about my life, and I tell her stuff. We do not do this by phone or email, only in person. Our lives have very few overlaps (though the ones that exist are clearly the work of the Coincidenti, like the link that goes back 15 years connecting Amanda to Lizzie).

The point is we have no complexities in our relationship. We just care about each other. And we have a common interest in rodents. But what is interesting to me, as I’ve come to realize, is that I’m pretty sure that Lizzie and I have exactly the same perspective on what is crazy and what is not, and I’m absolutely certain that she is not even a little crazy. She and Amanda share that. They are both perfectly normal with the most harmless and innocuous neuroses imaginable. This is probably related to the fact that they are both very quiet in groups. So when Lizzie came in (long after Amanda had gone home and as people were starting to file out), I sat aside with her and we caught each other up, and Lizzie gave me the gift she always gives me: a sense of calm and comfort. A sane sense of calm and comfort.

Stephanie was, of course, the other focal point (besides myself and Mike, as we are the Three Blogoteers that make up the core of Quiche Moraine) of the evening. But Stephanie is never a focal point by herself when she is with Ben (they are a couple). The two of them have at least fifty running conversations that are so spread out and complex that I have seen the two of them discover new things about each other three or four times in a given evening as their umbilical banter turns on and off with the broader conversation waxing and waning. Which is often quite entertaining.

I’ve spoken of Ana and Lizzie, both of whom I’ve known many years and with whom I share many (different kinds of) politics, intimacies, proclivities, dislikes, likes and the odd friend or two. (Well, they’re not all that odd….) But in many ways, I feel just as close to Stephanie and, to some extent, her partner Ben, even though I’ve known them for just about a year (or so). Stephanie knows some of my darkest secrets, and I hers (my only regret being that they are not more scandalous, but that is the writer in me talking), and I think we have come to trust, and increasingly to make use of, each other’s reasoning and thought process. I think we get along so well because she is a very scary person and I’m not scared by much. It also helps that we have slightly overlapping but largely complementary knowledge bases but with very similar sensibilities and, for lack of a better term, world views. That makes for interesting conversation, and this conversation plays out in the blogosphere in ways that I think many readers cannot imagine. When I write with Stephanie as my audience, as when I wrote with Monica as my audience (see beginning of essay, above), I usually get into a lot of trouble.

Mike came late and had to leave a bit early, and I kind of saw him in a new light last night. Although I’ve run into him a couple of times over the last month, those were in contexts that were very impersonal and artificial and may as well have not happened with respect to our friendship or work together on the blog. So I can somewhat artificially but still truthfully say that I’ve not really seen Mike since his blogging about the gubernatorial candidates had developed to the extent that is has. When Mike came in and sat down, I imagined him as a 1940s-style, very well-connected reporter who we may presume spent the day in private conversations with powerful people, digging up the scoop. I think that Mike’s essays are going to keep opening doors for him because they are well done and insightful, respectful and important, and (BTW) very well edited by Stephanie (and sometimes me). People are going to look back on his Quiche Moraine posts of this year (and probably next) as a way of grounding some of the conversations that are going to happen as we pick our next Governor next year.

Which brings me to Jim. Jim, a former student, worked for the Ashwin Madia campaign last year (as a staffer, not a mere volunteer as I did). From the moment I met Jim a couple of years ago, I liked him. He is a very serious, dedicated, totally-in-the-blood, grassroots, Democratic Party activist. This is what he does, essentially, for a living. He thinks and breathes politics. Over the next couple of years, I predict that Jim will become one of those people that politicians feel lucky to get to run their campaigns. By the way, Jim will have a series of guest posts on his role in the Madia campaign, coming up soon, on Quiche Moraine.

As usual, the evening ended with a whimper. Amanda had already left, as had Mike and Monica. We wandered out into the street, and John darted off in one direction and Stephanie and Ben in another. I made a quick plan with Lizzie to make contact later in the week for some business we have, and she rode off into the night on her bike. Ana and I walked to her car and promised to meet next week so she could take the next steps in writing regular posts for Quiche Moraine.

When I picked up my car in the parking lot at Azia, where I had carelessly left it when we walked down to the Black Forest, I thought about my old neighborhood, the new buildings that had been built here, the restaurants that were once new but have now become established. I thought about the centrality of the corner of Nicollet and 26th as a point of geography in my own experience. I have told you, over several essays, only a portion of the things that happened to me within a few hundred meters of where I stood unlocking my car. Some of it I can’t tell you because it is rather too painful to discuss. Some of it I have to tell you, because I can’t keep those moments to myself.

Stay tuned.

  1. All kidding aside, it is absolutely true that I never showed my fossil to anyone other than Amanda. []

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One Response to “Quiche Moraine at Azia and the Black Forest”

  1. June 12th, 2009 at 7:27 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    I wish that I could have come earlier and stayed longer. It is truly a remarkable group of people that gathered that night, and it was a pleasure to meet Jim, Monica and Analiese. What I am thinking now is that I need to get a fedora and a brown suit….

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