Betty Duffy

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finding...Being Found

Our hotel in Rockville, Maryland was on Research Boulevard accessed by Corporate Drive on the East, and on the West, by Shady Grove. Every time I left the hotel, I got lost on the wide boulevards that wound through blocks of glass office buildings. Research and Corporate looked the same to me, and also, I refused to use the GPS. My husband says the GPS works very well if you let it warm up for forty-five minutes or so. I say, I have not time to drive around in circles for forty five minutes waiting for a machine to tell me what to do, especially when I can call and ask my husband where I am.

He was in a lab at Johns Hopkins, and keeping his customers happy meant he was just a tiny bit short with me on the phone, and I decided that instead, I would ask strangers for directions.

Many people are uncomfortable when a stranger slows down and approaches in their car. I've had it happen to me a couple times, out running on a country road, and if I'd had a can of mace, I'd have put my finger on the trigger--at least until I knew the person was a friendly element. I stopped a woman in a cul-de-sac into which I'd pulled to turn around. She was in a black SUV, and I was in a black mini-van-- two black cars, on a dead-end road, two wary women, rolling down their windows. She looked at me with razor eyes, until I asked her, "Can you tell me how to get to Hillendale Shopping Center?"

Hillendale is the sight of what --I think-- might be our nation's best thrift store, Unique/ Value Village, and this woman in the cul-de-sac, hearing my desired destination, brightened, smiled, and proceeded to do me, a pilgrim shopper from Indiana, the charity of being my light and guide to her local gem. We had forged one of the quickest bonds two passing strangers in America can share; we were both the same kind of consumers. She seemed to take pleasure at being sought for knowledge, at being asked for something she could actually give.

I listened to her. I repeated the directions back to her: right, left, right. There were street names to memorize, and corresponding directions to associate with each. My brain perked up at the challenge. I took stock of my bearings and proceeded forth towards Unique. Nevertheless, I very soon was uncertain, once again, of my direction. This time, I cornered a man in a parking lot, getting into his car. Again, he seemed glad to help. He leaned in my car window and opened up the GPS application on his I-phone. "I don't know what I'd do without this thing. I just moved here from Miami." Then he showed me how it worked and I was very impressed.

Over the course of the next four days, I would ask seven more people for directions, and each of them seemed pleased to be asked, pleased they had answers to my questions. And I, of course, was pleased to be found.

All my children needed shoes. My husband needed pants for work--all of which I found, hardly worn, at Unique, for very low prices. I also found a purty dress to wear for Christmas that has a waistline, rather than one of those empire waists that make you look pregnant at all times. A dress with a waistline is surprisingly difficult to find. I managed to eat chocolate for breakfast every morning this week, and had dinner out with my husband every night; I could potentially turn up pregnant in a couple weeks--so in the near future, I may have no waist to speak of, and I'll be glad I didn't pay much for the dress.

I entered the store at noon, and I left it after dark, feeling like a worm reaching the surface of the earth for the first time in months. Just as I was leaving, I found tucked up on the highest overhead shelf, a cello, possibly handcrafted in the 1700s by a notable Austrian Luthier (currently researching). I'd been looking for a good student cello on which to teach my kids, and I could see that this cello had indeed been under the stewardship of a student in the not so recent past. There was tape on the fingerboard, marking the notes, and it was pretty dinged up. I'm sure I don't need to tell you, I bought it for a scandalously low price, and ran out of the store before anyone could realize what I'd done. I'll need to have it appraised, because it does have some wounds, but violins sold at auction by the same craftsman were priced about 300% higher than I paid. And the sound quality is outstanding.

We spent a lot of time with family. I had a long, hilarious lunch with one of my favorite cousins in Virginia, and the next day, a long, hilarious lunch with one of my other favorite cousins who is a Dominican Nun in Baltimore.

Almost every night we got together with my husband's brother and his wife, who are both young and hip, and know how to live the nightlife. The first night I was there, we went to a little pool hall next door to the restaurant where we ate dinner. The bar was well-lit, and mostly empty, except for a few older drinkers at the bar. There was one pool table, a couple pin-ball machines, and an I-tunes jukebox in the corner.

The last time I was in my anti-technology mood, I had a combox conversation with Pentimento about music and radio and the different methods people use to personalize and stream the kind of musical experiences they want to have, and how music, which once brought people together at live venues for a common experience, now often caters to our self-imposed isolation. She mentioned that she nearly always listens to classical music stations on the radio because she enjoys knowing that there is a communion going on between herself and the other listeners in nearby localities.

My brother-in-law discovered that he could create a musical communion in the bar from his I-phone, by sending a virtual request to the I-tunes jukebox to play any song he chose, without ever getting up from the booth. No one would know who requested the song. He selected Andrea Bocelli singing Ave Maria.

From the very first notes, the other patrons of the bar were alarmed. The bartender went to the jukebox to see what was playing. Another patron went with him, and together they tried to override the song. But it couldn't be done. The bartender tried to comfort his customer saying, "Well, it's sort of a pretty song."

To which the patron replied, "I'm going to throw up."

This is one of those very rare cases where technology thrills me: you could potentially request an I-jukebox song from your I-phone, without ever even entering the bar. If you want the pool-hall patrons to spend the evening listening to Gregorian Chant, sit in your car, and request (for a small fee) all the songs you desire, from your phone.

The next night, we went to a bar in Baltimore called 8x10 to hear singer/songwriter Kevin Heider play in a battle of the bands. Kevin happens to be my brother-in-law's brother-in-law. But we would have cheered very loudly for him regardless. He's exceptionally talented. Sadly, he faced off against a showy quintet doing the Mumford thing with a banjo and phishy lyrics in shouted harmonies. It's sort of funny to picture Bob Dylan in a battle of the bands against Mumford and Sons. They are really not in the same genre at all--but you know who would win.


My favorite thing I ate this week: chicken livers, wrapped in bacon, skewered over a bed of wilted spinach, drizzled with horseradish and balsamic reduction.

For reasons unknown, I've been craving liver lately. I don't even like liver. My parents used to push braunschweiger sandwiches on us when we were kids, served on Wonder Bread with Mayonnaise. I hated it. But in my old age, my palate can override years of negative experience with a particular food and nonsensically demand things I know I dislike.

And now, I like liver.

Conversely, I've always loved seafood. It was one thing I definitely wanted to eat in Baltimore, and one night, I had the Bouillabaisse. I knew, objectively, it was a very good stew. But the palate wasn't having it.

I'm not sure what this is about.

We spent the first two nights in Rockville, the next two in Baltimore.

I like Baltimore. It's walkable, residential, gritty, and alive. People are out everywhere, all night long, talking in the alleys, walking up and down sidewalks, in restaurants. It's young and old, poor and rich, all in close quarters. It makes me happy to learn that my presumptions about the world are wrong, that there are still communities and neighborhoods where people interact with one another at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes it's terribly messy, dirty, immoral. Sometimes it's heavenly. But culture is not dead yet.

My husband and I went to the Baltimore Cathedral Friday afternoon, and found ourselves just in time for about ten minutes of Adoration in the crypt before they reposed the Sacrament. I've been thinking more about this idea of clinging to the Body of Christ, of going to where I know the Body of Christ can be found. I realized, kneeling there in front of the literal Body of Christ, that I have been in the midst of it for days, for years, for my whole life. I've thought at times that when we sin, we add something to Christ's suffering--that we hurt someone outside ourselves--we hurt Him. It seems more likely that we don't add to the wounds--we are the wounds on the Body--and this sick feeling I get sometimes about how things are, and how I think they should be, is just part and parcel of the wound that came into being with the origins of humanity.

From the meditation in Magnificat on Friday:

"This is the meaning of the Incarnation. God became tangible in order to teach us to find him in all that we touch and see and feel; for we are necessarily bound to the senses in this life. Jesus did not do away with these external contacts; what he taught us is not to stop at them….We must endeavor, therefore, to cultivate this spiritual "second-sight." It is the secret of the saints, for whom this world is not an obstacle between their souls and God, but a living image, a resplendent mirror of his goodness and beauty…"
--Dom Augustin Guillerand


Kimberlie said...

Yes, I do know that it is 4:20am and I am awake. So glad I found you had a new, wonderful post for me to read in my insomniac state of being. Wish I'd found it two hours ago. Here are a few thoughts:
1. So cool about the iTunes ability. Wish I'd been a fly on the wall in that bar you were in. Yes, sit in your car and request Gregorian chant to play on some bar iJukebox. What a scream!
2. I think you are already pregnant if you are liking liver/braunschweiger and your palate doesn't like seafood right now. Either that or you are just plain old crazy. My husband has gotten a couple of my kids to enjoy braunschweiger and it just makes me want to gag when I smell it. I refuse to cut them pieces. I might puke.
3. I need to spend some quality time in front of the literal Body of Christ. My soul is parched, I should be filled with anticipation for the feast day of our salvation, but I am not. I wish I could get my priorities right.

I think one of my New Year's resolutions for 2012 is to meet some bloggers I admire in person sometime. Don't know how, where, or when, but it'd be nice.

Emily J. said...

I have to admit I always liked those whitebreadandmayonnaisebraunschweiger sandwiches, but I wouldn't admit it in polite company.

Glad you had a good trip.

Alix said...

"[Pentimento] mentioned that she nearly always listens to classical music stations on the radio because she enjoys knowing that there is a communion going on between herself and the other listeners in nearby localities."

Oh, I thought I was the only one. I don't like to watch videos, and did like the phenomenon of 'appointment television' for the same reason. My husband thinks it's so *odd* I love listening to WETA because I know thousands of others are hearing Pachelbel's Canon at exactly the same time. I work at home mostly, and I feel less alone when the radio is on.

karyn said...

Yea - my hometown - though I have to admit I'm always a bit surprised when people like Baltimore - it's a quirky city. I love the 8X10, which used to be even smaller, if you can believe that. And seafood in Baltimore - okay, that makes sense, but not bouillabaisse - you're supposed to get the crabcakes! As for the braunschweiger - it was probably all of the "Germanness" in Baltimore wearing off on you. Glad your trip went well!

BettyDuffy said...

Kimberlie, Re. #2: I almost thought the same thing, and it worried me. is not possible. A month from now...we'll see how I feel about liver.

Re. your last point, I hear some folks might be heading to the Behold conference this Spring. It's not too far from me, which makes it appealing...

Karyn, My husband got the crabcakes--and like always, I wished I'd ordered what he ordered. I ate a bite and his scraps (He had scraps!), I would have licked his plate. They were SO good.

berenike said...

Liver recipe for liver loathers:

For the pancakes: 1/2 kilo liver, an onion, a glass of flour, about 1/4 litre of milk, 2 eggs

Garlic mayonnaise: mayonnaise and crushed garlic. I used about half a head of garlic, and it was definitely not too much. I also didn’t have enough mayonnaise and had to pad it out with sour cream, and this seems to have worked fine.

To serve: grated carrots and finely chopped onions – glaze the onions and then add the carrots and fry till they’re, well, done.

Pancakes: Put the liver through a mincer. Put the onion through it as well if your blades are sharp enough (I chopped mine and put it through a garlic crusher). Add the milk, eggs and flour, and mix it all up - you should have something the consistency of thick pancake batter. (Add salt.).

Fry thin pancakes. Stack them up, spreading garlic mayonnaise on each one.

Serve with the carrot. It’s usually served cold, and both the liver and the carrot taste as good or better after a day or two.

Cathy said...

My family and I are a military family living in DC. There is a fantastic Value Village across the road from Andrews AFB in MD. I have found amazing deals there. One of the employees told me that they get shipments from New York. They wear very nice clothing in New York.:) Love reading your blog; you are a really great writer!

MrsDarwin said...

If you find, say, a quality violin at any of your shopping haunts, pick it up for me and I'll pay you back on the installation plan.

Pentimento said...

BD, I want to know more about that cello when you have a minute. It sounds like a tremendously providential find.

BettyDuffy said...

P, I sent some pictures to an early music expert in Vienna, and it's probably a reproduction. Oh well....It's still a decent cello. Johann Georg Thir, is the label, and I couldn't find any information on modern reproductions by that name--so it's curious.

Pentimento said...

Really, really interesting. Let me know what you find out.

Enbrethiliel said...


When a dear friend of mine recently opened her heart to me and asked, "Do you ever feel that you were born in the wrong place?"--the first thought in my superficial mind was all the concerts I could never go to because I don't even live in the same continent as the musicians.

The (pop) music I am most drawn to, I discovered by happy accident on the Internet. (Thank you, Twitter!) Nobody I know within a fifty mile radius even knows about the bands. Perhaps I'd be better off denying myself the YouTube indulgence and just turning on the radio and loving the limitations of my geographical community . . . but I think I'll save that for Lent.

Peter and Nancy said...

Berenike, what did your family call the liver pancakes? My mom used to make them, but her recipe also called for mincing a potato along with everything else. And we didn't use the garlic mayonnaise . . . ketchup. Oh, yes ma'am.

I'm in Wisconsin, also the home of braunschweiger and lots of Germans. My dad at it with jelly on a sandwich. Eew.

BettyDuffy said...

The only thing I know how to say in German is "The Potato pancakes look delicious." I have no idea how to spell it though. And I'd have no idea how to say "liver pancakes." But liver pancakes sound delicious.

Matthew Lickona said...

I know someone who's bringing a cello to Gerasene '12...

BettyDuffy said...


mrs snoodle said...

I was expecting some jucier details, ha!

BettyDuffy said...

I have learned my lesson Mrs. Snoodle. Family only likes juicy details in theory--not in reality.