Jan 30, 2009

R.I.P. John Updike

I'm saddened by the news of John Updike's death on Tuesday of lung cancer. He was America's quintessential man of letters. In an extraordinarily poorly-timed story, the Marin Independent Journal ran a syndicated interview with Updike on the day of his death in which Updike was optimistic about his future writing. What a shame we won't be reading it.

With prodding from George, we've discussed several times reading one of Updike's novels. Maybe that time has now come.

Jan 12, 2009

A Serene Ski Weekend

This weekend’s trip to Serene Lakes was our first out-of-town sojourn and—based on everyone’s reactions to the food, the weather, and the company—it was a smashing success. Since I pushed this excursion on the group, I’m only pretending to be objective and will happily take credit in any comments below.

The Setting
Located near Donner Summit, and nestled between the Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge ski resorts, Serene Lakes is famous for two things: ice and the Donner Party. The Donner story is well-known, but the area’s ice production history isn’t. Given its elevation (about 7,000 feet) and its proximity to the Union Pacific main line, the “Ice Lakes” were the largest source of wholesale ice for Sacramento and San Francisco in the late 19th century. Mark Twain was so taken by the beauty of the area, and so distressed by its generic name, that he christened the eastern lake "Serena" and the western lake "Dulzura". Hence the current sobriquet, Serene Lakes.

All of this history was lost on us as we scrambled for choice beds, and seats at the correct dining table on Hillside Drive. Everyone in the Dearborn cabin scored his own room, but John and Tom and Dean and Larry had to share rooms in my cabin (which I’m told worked well until Dean’s homemade chili tested the bonds of friendship).

The Skiing
For those who arrived in time to ski on Friday, it was sunny and icy at Sugar Bowl. The skiing at Alpine Meadows the next day was an improvement, even if the snow was patchy in places. (For Larry and Dean, however, there was ample snow to shovel during the excursion to Tom’s cabin.) On Sunday morning, some headed home, others returned to Sugar Bowl, and one hapless soul enjoyed his death march, er, backcountry ascent of Castle Peak with Trapper John.

The Group
The obvious benefit of our weekend retreat was that we came to know each other quite well without—OMG!—the artifice of a book to engage us. Some random observations and a few character assassinations:

Doug’s skiing is like his lawyering: excellent and understated. I begged him to quit the practice of law and become my ski coach, but he would have none of it. Damn his Yankee prudence!

Terry eschewed alpine for the safety of cross country skiing. In so doing he managed to fall, lacerate his face (it looked like a paper cut), and bleed profusely on the trail. Next time, Terry, please spring for a lift ticket.

Peter, the entire group recommends that you take Terry’s advice at the earliest opportunity. We also ask that you report back so we learn if it works. If so, I suspect there will be a number of guys ready to follow your lead!

Tom proved to be a fine skier and an even better cook. But it was his story about the risks of growing old, without friends or community, that reinforced for us the importance of staying close. Thanks for the reminder, Tom.

John learned to ski with the best at Mammoth Mountain, but alpine skiing wasn’t enough this weekend. Armed with a new set of boots for his randonnee skis and skins, he convinced me to accompany him up Castle Peak on a rental set. The verdict: amazing!

Dean told me he was a mogul team skier in his youth. Of course, when you’re that fast, you’re apt to lose the group you’re with. Which Dean did several times on Friday. All was forgiven once we sat down to his excellent chili.

Roy’s skiing manners were impeccable, but it was the imported Mizuno skiwear (courtesy of his Japanese clients) that captured our attention. When paired with his home-distilled brandy and ouzo, and his grandmother’s chicken-fried gravy and biscuits, Roy was a study in contrasts all weekend.

George’s outfit made us cringe. With vintage Olin skis, rusty Marker bindings, and white “Starship Trooper” alpine boots, we were convinced that George would separate from his aged skis on the first run. He didn’t. Instead, he was consistently first down the hill. He was also first in the weekend’s sommelier contest: his vertical tasting of three Bandol vintages was outstanding. (Note: Peter pulled a close second with a fine bottle of Silver Oak.)

Larry was given a dessert assignment, and (like the amateur pastry chef that he is) he exceeded our expectations: brilliant brownies a la mode both evenings! With his terribly correct (and perfectly luxurious) hybrid SUV, he also took green honors for the weekend. If he discharges his banker’s responsibilities with the same zeal he shows for our palates and our environment, the financial crisis might soon be behind us.

Stan, we all appreciated your cameo appearance for dinner on Saturday. You drove up from Squaw and regaled us with the story of your disastrous plunge off Stan’s Rock and the ensuing 44 stitches to your scalp. (Was it just me, or was Terry caressing the paper cut on his nose during Stan’s account? )

The Rest
Between the morality debate, everyone's Favorite Books, and Peter's intervention (about which, more later), we all spent plenty of time jawboning. But the weekend was about more than that. In his recent comment, Jeff Potter of the Great Apes refers to “the good things in the manly life.” We found those things this weekend. Thanks to everyone for the gift of his company, and our regrets to those who couldn’t make it. Let’s do this again!