Archive for December, 2009

Dear E 12/25,

December 25, 2009

As you can probably see from the date, it’s Christmas day. The droll and solid mass of your grandfather is hunched over the sink, pouring the briny juice from the pot in which the turkey soaked overnight. Your Oma Liesien, as you have so quickly learnt to call her, is tending to the plump and mottled red sausages hissing in the pan. Her pure white hair hangs at blunt, clean angles around her lovely and entirely reasonable face.
You are in our room, which used to be your uncle Joe’s. You lie between the pillows on the bed, between your parents’ abandoned places, in the middle where you demand to be around 2:30am every morning. Sometimes you meow in your sleep.
Last night you puked on the bed. A sludgey puddle with wisps of cheese. We’ve run the gamut of symptoms over the past two weeks since arriving: your hoarse cough, your three days of significant fever, a disappearing/reappearing rash–hives of red with pale polka dots.
And yet, beyond these inconveniences, being here seems to make no difference to you. Only to us.
You love Bubba, the parents’ dog, like you love your own dog, Helwa. “Bubba, Bubba” you cry upon waking. You feed him cookie after cookie. You grasp his black and brown face and cackle with joy.
You try to steal his grimy chew-rope and you know to back off when he growls.
You also love the cat, Peter, whom you call ‘Meow’, along with the rest of his kind, as well as cows, squirrels and the monkeys at the zoo with their crumpled black and infantile faces.
The cat has scratched you a couple of times now. Little ones on the cheek or the wrist. You get angry. You stomp up to him and yell “meow!” Just once and loud.
We went to Spider House last Saturday morning. It’s a cobbled contrivance of a coffee bar in a city full of cobbled contrivances: Austin, Texas. The city is known by locals as ‘the velvet rut’, because people never leave or always come back. You can spend a long lifetime there accomplishing not a lot very happily. The city is ultra tolerant, most of all of that.
I would move us back there in an instant, if it were at all a lucrative place.
Anyhow, I wonder if the proprieters of these intentionally ad hoc destinations have taken this style of decor and assigned it a discretion, a name, an ethos. Probably they have, something obnoxious. “Shabby chic,” I have heard. Maybe transient trendy. Hobo hip. Junkyard je ne sais quoi.
We four sat at a picnic table in the jumble garden. My sister and her (second) wife. Me and my (first) husband. (Where spouses, if not their titles, can keep their married names and hold on the imaginations of those who reviled or replaced them.)
Did you know, in Italy it takes three or four years to finalize a divorce? There’s a waiting period in which time you can only build some single zombie half-life. You are urged to seek counseling, and obliged to avoid affairs, the stain of adultery. The divorce rate there is like three percent or something insane.
Overall, I think this Catholic artifact plugging up the bureaucracy is a good thing. Our world has gotten so casual, so easy to mold into something suitable, like a kinky leather suit. Once we get rid of death, we probably won’t have anything to do with each other at all anymore. Children will certainly go out of style.
Until then, you’ve been cursed with a mother who thinks being too easy on oneself is a form of masochism. People who want to avoid labor and love, I’m never really sure what else they could be after.
Anyway, I digress. We sat at the picnic table amidst metal chairs shedding their rusty paint like serpent skins, amidst concrete angels missing extremities, mismatched tiles, where there were tiles, and the occasional eruption of grackels. I had a cappuccino, which I only ever drink half of, given how caffeine makes my heart skip beats. It feels sort of like someone is working one of those red toilet plungers beneath your sternum. It also feels like you’re going to piss your pants if keeps up like this.
The ladies were sharing Mexican Martinis. I used to have to make them when I bartended at the Driskill. Those and Cosmos. (This was the girly, non-smoking bar downstairs. Nowadays it is all non-smoking. I wonder where the fat, old senators take their cigar husks anymore. The soccer moms may get rid of smoking, but they’ll never do away with fat old senators.)
Your father was chasing you between the pierced and tatted up goths and the bursts of grackels.
I told my sister her hands were lovely: long and lithe. My sister held them out and turned them over. She said they were swollen from all the booze. She wanted to get the drinking in before they tried to get pregnant. I kept the lecture about how alcoholism doesn’t prepare the body for pregnancy secured in my head, prepared for someone I know better than my sister. Perhaps future you.
We had a good talk, about how nurses and grade school teachers have the best immune systems in the world, and how incoming grade school teachers all get the crud like a rite of passage. I added that living in a co-op also did wonders for the immune system–not to mention increasing one’s sense of tolerance, reducing that of personal space, and providing you with health conditions to leave you prepared to eat off the ground in Juarez.
Her eyes are shot through with green and her high cheekbones are delightfully freckled, just like our mothers. She looks like your grandmother, prettier and not as beautiful.
You ate your sweet potato mush and your pea mush and then some tortilla chips, without hesitation. Her wife threw my sister long, charmed looks, unseen, as she spoke to me. Someone to look after her.
My sister told me it would be a great thing for our mother if I took you to see her, though prudently refusing to act as intermediary. (In fact, I am sworn not to tell anyone that we speak and meet.)
She claimed that JoAnn has mellowed over the years. She now attends the parish in our neighborhood rather than drive to the rich Catholics’ congregation out in the hills. She volunteers. Her grandchildren from my brother are, for the most part, as defective as he is. It would be a dream for her to see a healthy, rosy-cheeked bit of progeny.
I take this conversation back to my father. He tells me that, after about ten minutes on the phone with her, some weeks ago, she launched into a diatribe about how I was a shit, our whole family were selfish shits, and my grandmother had been a pig.
On the desk in this room, there is a bag of stuff she sent here for you. Contents: A powder blue sweater with fat little buttons; a toy phone from my very early childhood. A handkerchief my grandmother made. You picked up the phone to play and I pulled it from you, to howls of protest. I set it high up in the closet. She may have poisoned it.
Now you are up, telling me mamma from behind your green ciucio.
You hand me the lighter your father left on the dresser and pull down the very vanilla cookies embossed with letters. You are now feeding them to Bubba.
Ahpoopie. There is a poopie. I am telling you now. Time for a change.


Since waking

December 23, 2009

Here are the things I have thought about since waking:
Whether birdsong would stretch like taffy, or echo like whalesong, if our atmosphere were thicker.
Whether prize-winning hogs, teutonic midwesterners with fast food habits, and pick-up trucks would all have evolved for balletic flight were the atmosphere thicker, and whether a group of WASPy Minnesotans, soaring above, casting sturdy, Germanic shadows on empty fields below, would be referred to as a herd or as a congregation. And would it cost even more to power the flying pick-ups, because certainly we would HAVE to have them.
Then this thought sprouted: Did he regret it, with the ‘he’ and the ‘it’ being specific–though having small-town-sized sets–correlated temporally, more cemented than by the bonds of bloodlines by virtue of being past.
‘He’ might have been, for instance, Richard whom we referred to as ‘Richard The Rapist’ after he drugged a drunken friend of ours before helping down his pants. He was a little guy, but the chemicals she’d ingested had breathed lead into her extremities so that when she came to, intermittently, she couldn’t muster enough force to shove him off of her.
Did he regret it? Or did he merely flee the city because of the tattooed bodybuilders (who thought of her like brothers) and he knew his rabbit scent had filled the air, that ink stained knuckles, and possibly a steel pipe or baseball bat or some other instrument had been imbued with a new purpose that might be his back or might even be his skull, because who can predict these things that happen in the heat of the moment of the possible and fueled by alcohol and chemicals? (Though certainly he could say a lot about the aphrodisiac of opportunity.)
But, as if our sprout now began to veer toward the sun, my thought returns to the original ‘he’ of the morning and I answer myself with more, if agonizingly incomplete, certainty: No, people like that don’t regret things. They conjure absolute certainties and then use these to build a scaffolding life that haloes their actual life: certainties about who they are, what foods they like, which movies suck, whether I am the type of girl to cheat, which of my friends are intolerable and which merely inexplicable.
My life has been full of men in possession of what I might now call ‘abcertainties’: There was one, borderline child molester, with that hipster disease that insists (without irony) that there is some higher form in the obscure. A superiority apprehended only through a love of bad seventies films and Japanoise. In essence, this is the poor man’s snobbery.
This bastard, when he wasn’t taking ecstasy and making sex tapes with fifteen-year-olds to show his skater pals (he was in his mid-to-stale twenties at the time), would puff on his cigarette and insist that Joy Division, for instance, was a ‘great’ band, objectively better by far than Bauhaus (in spite of the latter being more prolific, innovative, lyrically challenging, and skilled at playing their instruments.) He was full of such pseudo facts. Belief in God is silly. Conservative commentators are evil. Bands begin to suck when more than three people like them.
And I think of him: how, in just this way, such men ‘know’ many, confounding things:
In his case: the rightness of his thoughts (as a starting point), and the concomitant lack of any thing known as rightness or wrongness when his actions were considered wrong. The utter intelligibility of the primacy of the self, except where that self is another in need of his being kind or decent or reasonably moral, or a self to whom he is somehow historically obliged because of an outmoded and probably religiously generated notion of responsibility or reciprocity (in which cases the world reverts to its amoral state and waits for him to do something ethical or sense some society-wide injustice (ie people who drive suvs, conservative politics (again), Darfur, Fox News, etc, in which moment morality will skitter from its shell and snap its claws before being thrown in the roiling pot waters). (Morality is the most obedient of creatures.)(Hobbes works out really well when you are a young white dude in America–provided you avoid camping trips.)
Later, and at this point I am out for a jog, I thought: E, don’t be one of those people who is certain of everything.
Don’t follow one philosopher or another. Consider the limits to what privileged, elderly white men can tell you about a world full of lives which are, overwhelmingly, bounded neither by privilege nor whiteness (nor even old age.) Sure, you can say: these men knew suffering. In the prefaces and the biographies much is made about the influence of their sufferings on their thoughts. Losing a child to cholera in some drafty Roman hallway. Etcetera.
I agree. But where is the preface that asks how much their thoughts on the world were stunted by the dimensions of the windows from which they viewed it? That is to say that we celebrate and elevate all the pedestrian trials of these men, ignoring, perhaps, that the starting point for all philosophy is the acknowledgement of ordinariness. The socioeconomically elevated life is less rational, or at least more imbued with a sense of fate, of entitlement, of better-ness. If reality were democratic, this would be a vast distortion. If there is alterity between men, these men are the heart of otherness. On top of the other heap. Is it brilliance, or mere access? How can they have your welfare in mind, my daughter? They who would steal the peasant God to justify having teenaged lovers.
I mean, you can and perhaps should ‘believe’ in whatever. Season your life with beliefs, even. Believe the first boy who broke your heart was a bisexual sociopath; that fervency in atheism is ultimately indistinguishable from what is in the hearts of the attendees at the tent revival; put on the kaffiyeh and march to the capital chanting ‘free free Palestine’ or else comb your hair and wait patiently outside until the hall opens up for Netanyahu’s talk.
Or believe all of it, at different moments, depending on how much wine you’ve drunk or what company you’re in or what paper you must present.
But never be certain. Instead remember, and this is the key to happiness as I see it: Remember the doubt of Descartes, who taught us not to trust any certainty completely beyond that we exist. That the material world has betrayed us, and that the fraction of it that we are capable of perceiving, much less of grasping, is unknown to us, so that neither belief nor disbelief is half as silly as certainty.
You may also recall that Descartes was a devout Catholic until his death, and so, apparently, more opposed to certainty than belief.
Ex nihilo nihil fit.
Or remember as I do, in this order: That we are all flickering specks on a whirling pebble, itself destined for the intergalactic orphanage. That we are titans to cells. That we are unknown to ourselves.

Dear E, Texas Visit II

December 15, 2009

It is 7:25 on Tuesday. I am sitting in the front room of the red brick house that we’ve rented from your auntie N’s mother. The sock to my right foot seems to have been a casualty of my battle with sleep, so now the right foot is feeling the nip of temperature, the cool resistance of the wood floor and the whole of its pedestrian universe without a silencer. Its like having only one ear pricked.
The sky is milk blue and milk gray and one, continuous feather. The spiky blue whip of which the weatherman warned passed over us like wrath in the night, plundered the air of its warmth, and left behind an unruly wind to garrison, turned the urban avenues into harried corridors, conspirators, and it is currently obliging the autumn leaves to waltz in bright funnels the height of children before their bodies bend and press on into adulthood.
How I love your little bean body–all clean, round lines. Your first undiscovered territory–this month you have chanced upon your nostrils and your fingers burrow in. You have pulled over to explore your bellybutton. Sometimes, with open palms, you beat your belly like a drum. Like a new car owner might proudly slap the hood or the tires.
But then living is an act in perpetual search of new frontiers. It doesn’t notice anything else.
And you have been sick since our arrival, with a cough and with hives and with general stress. I feel guilty, as if life is something I am ramming down your throat with these travels, rather than letting you wade in, rather than giving your body time to regulate to these new climates. Your vocabulary is a now a collision of Italian and English, mixed together indifferently and as needed.
You are a wonder to behold.
We are on a street only three or four blocks from that on which I grew up. Only a few minutes’ walk away, your biological grandmother has come down with cervical cancer and is recovering from a radical hysterectomy. In the same house where I grew from the corners like a poisonous moss. Where I fled beneath the furniture like a grasshopper. To live was to chirp, was involuntary, to live was to be vinegar in the well.
Should I take you there?
If she dies will you resent me for not introducing you to her?
Will I later be an even greater villain than teenaged years require?
Will you squirm, as you do now from your car seat, from the confines of my explanations and chart your own path to the truth?
She didn’t love me, E. She was very frank about that. “I don’t love you. I only keep you around for child support…and to clean the house.” And I did, alone, every Sunday after church. From top to bottom. Vacuuming, polishing, windexing, ajaxing the tubs and sinks.
A toothbrush, according to her, was required to clean the bathroom crevices: the gummy white junctures between the blue tiles mildewed imperturbably brown.
I shrunk from the fifty year old vacuum cleaner which weighed the same as a nursing calf and was as reluctant to be dragged through the sumptuous beige carpet. The vacuum had been her mother’s vacuum. It had a fat metal body and little rubber wheels which would slump off and lay on their sides before they would consent to rolling anywhere.
I would stop, fit them back on, begin again, and repeat every three or four minutes for several hours, as my sister played catch with her father in the driveway and my mother sat, propped up on a hill of pillows on the waterbed, eating ice cream and watching soaps.
“Make sure you do a good job, because I’m going to give it the white glove treatment and if you miss a spot, you’ll have to start over.”
She didn’t actually have white gloves. She would simply run her fingers along the high landings of the armoire, which I would have climbed onto a kitchen chair to reach, or else the sloping wooden paws of the kitchen table, or the armpits of the windowpanes.
But we’d end up, ritualistically, before those immovable stains in the calking between the tiles. She was convinced that with just a little more elbow grease I could get them out. This conviction would come out in a winding, epithet laden monologue that concluded in my banishment to the bathroom to continue scrubbing until she was satisfied (forgot I was in there.)
It’s not that I think she would make you clean the house on Sundays, E. Nor even the fact that she couldn’t love you. I just don’t want to be that person if you’re in the room. I don’t want to be with you in the room where I was that person. I don’t want its corners to tug at me nor its shadows to powder your perfect blond curls.
I want you to live solely in the world I’ve built in anticipation of you. The one that was born on the judge’s pronouncement requiring my mother to stay so many feet from fifteen year old me at all times. Far enough that this wind would gut her curses and leave her dreams a hollow mumble from behind the glass.
And we all try to make those nearest us fit into our dreams. The dreams of adults are children’s most fearsome predators. It is interesting. When I was growing up I thought this neighborhood, Allandale, was a poor shithole. My mother called it a shithole. Yellowpine was a shithole.
I return, misshapen by the pounding and erosion of a sea of years, and find a little American paradise, blossoming with spacious brick houses in rust and moss and hide; cyclists whipping by in those embarrassing little outfits which identify them as taking-this-seriously; gardens that pool within lawns overseen by charming, if-unused porches. This is still America, after all, and we are pretty sure you are a child abductor or serial killer or both.
For years now, a period has materialized preceding my returns to Austin in which I’ve envisioned my return through a queasy hesitation. I am propelled by those friendships that have plowed along for decades. People in whose contented adulthoods I revel. But this city is menaced by the me whose stirring causes the grass above her to purr, Hermes of the barbarian years. Plunged from pleiades, tearing heaven in two. I would keep her from you.

Dear E, your second trip to Texas

December 10, 2009

Up above the world so high, peering at Nova Scotia through that narrow, almost oval airplane window. Powdered earth, gnawed on by the blind slugging of black ocean. I had visions of the bright, undifferentiated magma below: The throb and tumble of liquid fire.
And later, you lay sleeping, head in my lap: skin a mottled ballet, rose in cream’s embrace, lips plump and prone, how like a doll. Exactly like a doll, I thought, definitely a doll except for that bright impossibility of magma below the surface.
And what a pedestrian disaster, in every instance, when a crack opens and the light and heat evacuate.
We flew first from Fiumicino to Heathrow’s new terminal 5. Trapped in a valley, with luxury shops rising all around us and great floor to ceiling windows from which it is impossible to fling oneself, or even reach out and let one’s hand gather a glove of mist.
Instead there is Shopping. The phenomenon of shopping as pastime: a parasitic sport played out on the fields of boredom and exhaustion to a captive audience.
Your father asked if I needed some diamonds from the Tiffany store. Probably I should be the kind of woman who has other than short nubby nails and sands the callouses from her palms before I graduate myself to diamonds. So, no.
Maybe this is just because I don’t fully understand why many expensive things are so expensive. And maybe that is just because I am not aroused by the competition of having.
I changed you in a changing room with a mother from Britain and another from Ghana. We exchanged small hopes, longing for our charges to be unusually sleepy.
Your father and I ate an assembly line breakfast at a place dressed up like a jungle. Sloppy eggs, wooden sausages, smoothies comprisd mostly of sugar. The place advertised itself as kid friendly, even put crayons on the table, but was mostly occupied by businessmen with fixed grins enjoying
breakfast cocktails, and surly waitresses in their late youth, who aimed in their serving to demonstrate that they had better things to do, bigger dreams than this.
I know lady. I’ve been there myself. But in reality, you’ll never leave. No matter where you go, even if you win on Britain’s got talent, you’ll still awake there at 7:30am. So just try to be decent while you pass your time, because we’re all right there with you. And my husband has not had a smoke in ten hours.
At moments like this, I see the realist bent of the tip-based service industry.
And your father was nervous and nicotine deprived. It was probably not the time to lecture him on the advantages of getting himself unaddicted, but I did, tactlessly.
He’d just been furious at the British guard who made us unpack your three bottles of formula and three jars of food, open one of each (plus your pear juice) and eat/drink them.
I had anticipated this, and was only angry that she made me render one of your empty bottles useless by forcing me to fill it with the opened formula before I drank it.
I’m no princess. I can drink it straight from the bottle, I told her.
No. You must pour all of it in. Fill it up.
Her lips jammed together.
But then the empty bottle will be contaminated. And we’ve still got about 20 hours in the trip, on planes that dehydrate, with a baby who is only so-so with a cup.
I shrugged and followed her instructions. Your father fumed, said the British are just assholes. Everyone (Italian) knows that. It wasn’t that she insisted we ruin the bottle. It was that she showed no sympathy, and would not deign to explain why it was necessary either.
Don’t make a scene. I just want to get out of here.
For the next hour everything was a sleight against him. The time it took the waitress to bring his syrup. The length of the line at the Starbucks coffee stand. The jostle of passengers rushing by.
I have to admit though, Terminal 5 beats the rest of that Godforsaken hub.
We went through Heathrow on our last trip, your father insisted. No, we did not. We went through Frankfurt on Lufthansa or maybe American or maybe from Rome to Chicago (neither of us remembered exactly). But it wasn’t Heathrow because I chose the tickets and only go through London if absolutely necessary. Fantastic city. Nightmare of an airport.
On the long plane trip, you slept an hour at the offset, waking, naturally, at the precise moment I peeled the tin lid off my pre-packaged airplane meal.
You went back to sleep, just as predictably, seven hours later… as we began our descent into Houston.
In the interim, you provoked a camraderie between your mother and the BA flight attendants, who were exceedingly kind. Mothers themselves, with affection for you and suggestions for me. Try drinking cold milk in front of her, she’ll want to try it, and then maybe you won’t have to heat it for her every time…
You made friends with the passengers who stayed awake, notably the two Italian men across from us, the man with the discolored face who smiled brightly every time I strolled by bouncing you down the aisles, and the elegant young woman at the end of our row, in knee high leather boots and a mustard colored wrap. When we sat down, she had not proffered the cursory plane smile, meant to say: I’ll try not to fart if you don’t hog the arm rest. I thought she might be dismayed to have been sat next to the curse of a traveling family. But then, when you laid on the filthy airplane carpet near her feet, she reached one long, manicured hand down, wordlessly, and tickled your belly.
The customs check at the Houston airport went smoothly. I explained about the complexity of the foodstuffs I had brought. Telling enough of the truth to save myself from culpability, but not enough to invite a check. It had been almost 24 hours. Your father really needed a smoke, and you a new diaper. (Mammas don’t need anything. It’s good to know this before you get with child.)
We made it onto the highway by 9:30. It was all ink and mist and great trucks in great lanes whipping by us at lightning speed.
I could take no more. With the city crumbling into countryside around us, we stopped in a Hampton Inn behind an IHop off the highway. You woke at just past 3am. We made it to San Antonio by the next afternoon.
I am sure there is more to tell, but suffice it to say we will remember this time in which city we changed planes.


December 2, 2009

I get my haircuts at a little shop in the Talenti neighborhood where G’s parents live. Apparently this is a fascist neighborhood. You can tell by the graffiti. And by the fact that this is what G told me and my friend Lucia confirmed. But also because Italian graffiti is frequently political.
For instance, the anarchist squatters who occupied the abandoned building in Piazza Sempione, until their recent eviction, were probably responsible for the “Freedom cannot be given, only taken” slogan. This was brandished across the wall between the pizzeria and the antique store. Take that and put it in the bag with your new China set!
In the Talenti neighborhood it is mostly stuff about ‘red pigs’ (who ever heard of red pigs?!) and then some swastikas, presumably to clarify (oh, THOSE red pigs).
So anyway, this is where I get my haircut. The place is called “Hair Point” and the stylist and shop owner is a middle-aged Sicilian woman. She flits around the store with a moth’s determination, more black hair than head atop her shoulders. I love her. And I am pretty sure she is a fascist.
Why, you ask?
1. Her haircuts are forceful, borderline violent. They would never splinter off beneath the weight of internal bickering about their authenticity or cultural relativism. My neck propped uncomfortably on the lip of the wash basin, water is sprayed directly into my ear-infection prone ears, as if to let me know that if my ears aren’t fit enough to survive, they have no right to be here. In the chair, my hair is yanked and snipped while she talks on her cell phone. Its position in the hierarchy clarified, it says nothing.
Most of her cruelty, however, is saved for the post haircut styling. Her sure little hands slap my scalp, as if trying to rouse my hair from a drunken stupor. This happens simultaneous with the blowdrier, turned up unnecessarily high, swooping down and scorching my vulnerable skull, all while the round brush pulls and teases relentlessly.
Such delicious agony, I presume, is meant to test my hair’s endurance and so its potential for heroism, by which it must be motivated to be respectable.
2. She makes me look like a rockstar…but from the 1980s, maybe early 90s, when, after all, fascism was in its last throes of stylishness. This is also most of the reason I visit her. Once a month, I get to see what I would like if I had been born a boy and grown up to join Ratt or Warrant or one of those bands. Although today there was more of a Farrah Fawcett bouncy to me. Farrah Fawcett with sallow skin, dark eyes, and a big frown.
In any event, my hair is a symbol, there to remind people of a foregone era, one when fascism still meant something important to a handful of boys, themselves with overly short hair, who hung out at the mall, where they could buy their military paraphenalia, usually at the big sporting goods store in the back.
3. She is short. Nearly child-sized. And short people have overcompensation issues much better suited to fascism, with its domination/empowerment/control bent, than to communism, which thinks we are all equal (good-looking 20 year-old boys with ponytails wearing Palestinian kaffiyeh being significantly more equal than chubby, middle aged soccer moms. Another motivation behind her choice, no doubt. For what mom in Italy can be other than a soccer mom?)
I can’t come up with any more reasons, other than that she is good at what she does, no matter how aesthetically despicable it might seem to some.
In other news, E has had a cold for three or four days. Time in which she has shared (occupied entirely) my pillow (she drains better propped up), snored in my face, stuck her fingers in her runny nose and then directly in my mouth, wiped her snot on my shoulder and coughed directly into my lungs (practically). Only right now am I starting to feel that terrible tickle…

Ode to Blemishes (in Three Haiku)

December 1, 2009

Like some larval soul
Encased in a milken pearl
You rise, ingrown hair

Because when ripe you,
Vesuvial, test our will
Little red pustule

Past the comedo
Furuncles and carbuncles
protein seas below