Monday, June 29, 2009

Things May Be Looking Up

I decided to see what Air France typically serves international Coach passengers and looked it up. The comments were generally favorable - free wine! - and portions were said to be generous. Two meals are served and there is a help-yourself-snack bar between services.

I noticed several passengers comments on "flying their 777" which gave me hope that the aircraft wouldn't be an Airbus. Even though I have no idea who manufactures them (and please don't tell me!)

I checked in yesterday afternoon on line. If asked, "Are you traveling for business or pleasure?" I can truthfully respond, "Pour s'echapper Michael Jackson!" (To escape MJ)

Michelle brought her laptop with her, but warns that FiOs is unreliable, small town, etc. I will try to blog anyhow. To see where we will be, go to Google Images and type in Loctudy, France and sit back and enjoy!

I can't wait to BE there -- I just wish we didn't have to fly for 10 hours, then take the Air France bus to Gare Montparnesse and the train to Quimper to GET there. C'est la vie.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

All In Its Season

"Eating Well in Season; the Farmers' Market Cookbook" by Jessie Price and the editors of Eating Well magazine. 250 pages $24.95

In the past 10 years, the number of US farmers' markets has grown from 2,410 to to more than 4,600.

Dr. Preston Maring, an associate physician-in-chief at a hospital in Oakland pioneered the use of hospital parking lots for weekly farmers' markets. He says his patients greatly benefited from eating much fresher produce and fruits.

Some features of the book -- Foods are sorted by color. "Red (such as tomatoes and watermelon) contain lycopene, a phytochemical that may help protect against prostate and breast cancers."

Dietary requirements are spelled out by the number of calories consumed per day.

Various farmers' markets are visited and discussed (Hermosa Beach didn't make the cut which is a pity.)

There are recipes suited to Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. The book (lavishly illustrated) ends with an alphabetical listing of various vegetables with Peak Season, What To Look For (in the item,) How To Store, Prep and a couple of quick recipes for each.

I'd say it's an excellent introduction to the joys of farmers' markets. And with their piles of glistening vegetables and fruits heaped appealingly in baskets, they are a visual feast as well.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This Just In

I sent a brief condolence note to Mrs. Saxon, explaining that I had worked with Sky and Lord Time. I just got this --

"Thank you so much, Nina, for your e-mail. I think the only thing keeping me going is being able to read all the wonderful comments and notes - e-mails like yours as well as on facebook and myspace. Just amazing... LOVE LOVE LOVE Sabrina Saxon."

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

This morning, Richie looked up from the LA Times and said, "Bad news... for you." I looked inquiringly at him and he continued,"Sky Saxon, founder and lead singer for The Seeds, died in an Austin hospital." (Alert readers will recognize the name from a previous column about my rock'n roll days.)

Of course the irony didn't escape me and I roared with laughter at this line, "He had been planning to perform this summer with the California '66 Revue, a tour featuring a line-up of California bands from the 1960s."

I went to his Web site ( and read with interest: "Sky Sunshine Saxon passed over to be with Ya Ho Wha on 6/25/09 at 9:10 a.m. Sabrina Saxon and Joshua Aquarian Saxon were at his side. He passed peacefully and with no pain."

Right next to that, I read: "Donate to help with cremation and other expenses due to this unexpected crisis." There were little signs showing that Visa, American Express, Master Charge and (I seem to remember) Diner's Club cards would be accepted.

Since the paper stated that his ashes will be spread in Hawaii, I had to wonder if "other expenses" might include a pair of 1st class tickets to Hawaii...

Photos of Sky, in his later years, were not exactly flattering. He sported a ratty-looking beard and straggly, long hair. A trip to the barbershop would have benefited him greatly.

Joshua Aquarian Saxon was listed elsewhere as "his spiritual brother in Ya Ho Wha." The photos of Sky and wife Sabrina showed her to be a well-fed, friendly-faced woman.

Cause of death (according to a spokesperson) was heart and kidney failure after an "undiagnosed infection of his internal organs."

Having up-staged both Farrah Fawcett and Sky Saxon, I can imagine that Michael Jackson was greeted rather coolly by some of the inhabitants of Heaven. RIP all of you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael "Short Eyes" Jackson Dead at 50

My first reaction to this news was, "Good riddance! He can't get to Hell* fast enough to suit me!"

* Assuming there is such a place.

The media reaction was universally overwhelming. The BBC (of all people) devoted the entire news hour to his career; this mornings LA Times had what amounted to a full section on him.

I don't get it, not at all. The man was a freak, an accused and tried child molester and (perhaps) the father of three children of extremely dubious lineage. His attempts at a macho personality were risible in the extreme. He sang like a girl!

He could dance up a storm (but so could Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly) but he couldn't manage his money or his desires. Much was made of his childhood -- how he didn't really have one, poor thing! There are a lot of people in this world who never had a childhood -- sweat shop laboring children comes to mind.

I feel sorry for the late Farrah Fawcett who was virtually shoved off of her deathbed in favor of coverage of this idiot.

Enough idle chatter. Time to finish work on my sandwich board -- it reads "Repent! The End is Near!"

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name...

The food mags are promoting fruit and dough desserts as appropriate summer fare. The problem is that all of them seem to have very different names (none of which I really understood.) So I looked them up and list them here in no particular order.

Fruit cobblers - any deep-dish crust (usually made with biscuits) with the fruit cooked on top.

Slump or Grunt (said to be the sound the berries make while cooking) comes from our Northeastern states. They are a cobbler with steamed dumplings on top -- cooked on the top of the stove, not the oven.

Clafoutis (France) a pancake-like dough on the bottom with cherries (usually) packed on top and baked. Purists insist that the cherries not be pitted as the pits release additional flavor. Bon chance eating it.

Crisps and Crumbles -- the fruit is put on the bottom of the pan and topped with a mixture of flour, butter and sugar and baked.

Brown Betty - fruit and crumbles layered and baked.

Buckle (Great Britain) Cake dough with berries stirred into it and baked.

All of them require either oven or stove top heat -- in August? Not recommended unless you live in a Deep South mansion -- with the kitchen out back in the yard.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Recently we got Fiber Optics cable for the landline, the notebook computer and the big screen TV. The cell is also from that provider, which to avoid lawsuits and other such unpleasantnesses, I will call Very-Zoned-Out.

Two days ago, I called them to have the cell phone made capable of making and receiving calls in France. Unwittingly I had embarked down the Rabbit Hole (but I didn't see Alice.) On-screen "help" didn't know what I was talking about. A call to several "help" lines didn't because I was led, deeper and deeper, into "the system" with as many eight choices of menu.

In desperation I looked up the closest store and yesterday afternoon, we paid them a visit. First to greet us was an affable young man, who took our names and put them on the waiting-for-service list (on-screen, of course.) Next he gave us 90 days of free movie channels for the TV, apparently for just coming in.

Finally, our names were called and we met a second (equally affable) young man, who took the back off of the cell phone, pursed his lips and said, "It won't work in France." And then he quickly added, "But use it to call *611" (I made a face) "and right after you type in your cell phone number, hit 0 and you'll get an Operator. They'll send you a disposable phone the next day." I slitted my eyes in polite disbelief; he grinned winningly and we left.

Once home, I dialed *611, typed in the required number and hit 0. No operator came on. So I picked up the second guy's business card and called the store. "That number has been discontinued." I used the number I'd originally called to locate them and called it. All it did was recite the address and store hours.

So, I e'd the guy, using his e-mail address on his business card. There has been no response. The hell with Very-Zoned-Out. I'll buy a phone card at the Paris airport.

Clearly, the only people who actually work for this company are in the stores and on the installation trucks. There are no other human beings -- just a series of automated menus originating from deep in a cave in downtown Calcutta.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fear of Flying

On Monday, June 29th, we board Air France #69 for a 6:45 p.m. flight direct from LAX to Paris (CDG.) We've been assigned aisle seats in Row 43. It's an Airbus and that fact has triggered my terror.

I would rate my fears on a scale of from 1 to 8, with 2 being apprehension and 8 being waves of unrelenting terror. There is no 10 because that would mean calling Air France and mindlessly screaming "I can't do it! Don't make me!"

According to a friend (and retired UAL Captain) Airbuses are made up,largely, of com[osite materials, not good, old, honest steel and aluminum. In fact, the tail attachment to the body is one of its weaker points. "How nice..." I cooed on reception of this news.

His reassurances that airlines rarely ever have had successive crashes within the same month wasn't particularly soothing.

What does reassure me (a bit) us the fact that the French are the most enthusiastic in all of the world to go on strike -- for real, imagined or just for the hell of it reasons. So far, the AF pilots are all at work.

Normally, we would (try to) go on MAA (a Major American Airline) but MAA doesn't go direct to Paris, only via Chicago, Boston, New York or Dallas and every one of those flights are full. Some have as many as 10 non-revs (non-revenue passengers) trying to make it to France. Even if MAA set out deck chairs on the wings, not every one is going to make those flights. So it's Air Chance or nothing.

We've only flown Air France once (tourist, round trip from LAX to CDG) and it was a memorable experience. I was in the middle of a row with five other people; my seat mates were a lovely, older couple, farmers, on their first flight ever (to visit a daughter in LA.) Both were dressed in their Sunday best - a blue rayon dress for her; tweedy suit for him. With typical French thrift, they had eschewed sending these outfits to the cleaners and instead hung them out "to air" --and apparently there was no wind that day.

In some ways, it didn't matter because immediately after the meal, there was a rush to the bathrooms where cologne (male and female) was available and free! No French person is going to ignore "free" and consequently a cologne front moved swiftly through the plane. So noxious was the aroma that several babies, who had been quietly sleeping, roused themselves with horrible cries. And then their mothers added to the din by cooing (uselessly) at them. It was an interesting if clamorous 45 minutes.

Our plane is scheduled to land (notice I'm not saying it actually will) at 2:15 p.m. on June 30th. A nice long flight over the French countryside. I hope I can keep my eyes open. It's so tiring to have to will a plane to stay in the air for so long...

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Roumanian Doctor

Back in (I believe) 2006, intrepid travelers Pat and Bob sailed majestically down the Danube to the Black Sea. While aboard, Bob became ill and the ship's doctor (our hero) put him in the infirmary and spent an anxious night with Pat standing guard over him. Bob was unaware, "I was walking six inches abouve the ground!" he chortled.

Pat, in feverish gratitude (which she has now regretted) thanked him over and over for "saving Bob" and invited him to come stay with them "any time you're in our area!" They remained in dsultory touch throught the next three years -- until they got his e-mail earlier this year. He was indeed going to be here and looked forward to staying with them!

Happily, the Brodsky's word is their bond and they welcomed him with open arms. Last night we were invited to come over and meet him.

Bogdan is a pleasant fellow, quick to laugh and easy in conversation. He has finished his residency and is looking to specialize as a General Practitioner. He is 32, of medium height with dark hair cut a la Napoleon, a rosy complexion and very blue eyes, behind little gold-framed glasses. His use of the English language is fairly fluent with a minor, kind of crisp, accent. "Grek Orto-docks" for "Greek Orthodox" (The national religion.)

Knowing I'd better swot up on Roumainia, I visited earlier in the day. I found that the country is divided into 41 "counties" and Bucharest, the capital, is its own "county" on the Black sea. Bogdan comes from the second largest city, Constanta, located in Dobrogea "county" on the Black Sea. He very thoughtfully gave us a little hard-backed book on it -- imagine a National Geographic 4 in. x 5 but an inch thick, crammed with color photos. The captions are in English and Roumanian and I joked that now I could learn to speak it!

I noted that many names there end in "escu" or "cu" and asked if that meant "son of" as Mac does in Gaelic. "No," was the response. "There is nothing like that in Roumanian names."

Bogdan said that he began learning English in the 6th grade when it is mandatory for students to specialize in another two languages -- French and English or Italian and English and so on. His 3rd language is French, "But I can't really make a good conversation in it," he confided.

He has worked as a ship's doctor for the past five years (while attending medical school) for four to six weeks a summer and can now select the trips he wants to work. I remarked that he's in a difficult place on board -- neither crew nor passenger and he admitted that this was so, but he and the purser hang out together. He's an only child, remarking jokingly that he thinks his parents were glad -- "One of me was enough!"

All in all, a very pleasant evening among very good company. Tomorrow he leaves for Las Vegas and I can only imagine what he'll have to tell the home folks about that. Bogdan is an open-natured sort and whatever goes on there, isn't going to stay in Vegas this time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


And not for the first time, by any means. I have a warning: the below author was featured in Oprah's magazine. Newsweek recently ran a cover story on the likelihood that many of her guests are no more than charlatans or quacks.

"I'm Still Here: a Brilliant Approach to Understanding Someone Living with Alzheimer's" by John Zeisel, PhD. Penguin Group 262 pages $24.95

Zeisel posits that it's quite possible to have a good mutually-caring relationship with someone with this disease. He points out that certain portions of our brains continue to function normally -- art and/or music appreciation being two. We don't forget facial expressions or human touch.

Throughout the book, he stresses his theme "I'm still here" which, of course, I took to be positive and do-able. And then I got to thinking about it ... yes, physically, one is still "here" but when the mind has devolved into a much lesser part of us .. that IS change any way you cut it. Zeisel writes that changing just one half-step in music creates a different-sounding song -- and that is what happens to Alzheimer patients.

He lists three full pages of "what's left" -- sense memories such as smell, touch,. taste; body memories like riding a bicycle, putting a golf ball, dancing the fox trot. I would argue with him about "skill memories" such as cooking, knitting, bowling, sewing. Never leave a patient with Alzheimer's alone in the kitchen.

Conversely, complex sequence memories (brushing one's teeth, dressing, packing for a trip) are among the first to go. He writes that there are 51 separate activities just getting dressed! Clearly, he's thought about these things analytically.

Where he went off-track for me was the suggestion of museum tours with a small group of patients during off-hours or by special arrangement on days the museum/gallery is normally closed to the public. He advocates tickets to attractions such as ballet, opera, concerts and circuses! He also has said that patients grow nervous and agitated in crowds so I don't think these are good ideas. Art DVDs of museum tours, lives of artists, etc. might be a better idea.

One thing we do agree upon is this: Never approach a patient and ask, 'Do you know who I am?" Right away you've scared the poor bastard, forced him into a mental scramble trying to remember. It's far better to say, "Hi! I'm ______________ and we were neighbors on 62nd Street." Give them a reference frame.

If you can overlook the impractability of some of his suggestions, you may find some nuggets indeed.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

SAD Weather

As in "Seasonal Affective Disorder" -- when the sun don't shine in my back do' no mo'. Not, that is, until possibly 2 or 3 p.m. It irritates me because very often it looks like it will rain (and anywhere but in Southern California, it would.) Occasionally - very occasionally- it will "smizzle" which is a cross between mist and a light drizzle.

Worst of all, the sun does dawn brightly (waking me up) only to disappear as soon as I do get up. How cruel is that?

When you have to have the lights on at noon -- this is not good. Naturally, this is the month that God decided to take three of our friends/relatives home. First Jerry Kelly, a fellow volunteer, a woman I liked and respected.

Next at bat, so to speak, was my cousin Marjorie, 88, who died after a necessary surgery. Her heart gave the operating team fits and starts all through it only to quit post-surgery.

Last night, Richie's cousin Maureen called to say that her mother/his aunt had just died. She was living in a nursing home (Alzheimer's) and then diagnosed with breast cancer, but what got her was a fall from her wheelchair. ER to a very brief spell in ICU. She was also 88.

But, on the bright side -- don't get me started about the weather again -- if death comes in threes (debatable) then that's three and hopefully an end to it for awhile.

Friday, June 19, 2009

"Dazed" and "Confused" Go Out to Dinner

We'd been out for lunch, dinner, breakfst the next day and lunch with Rosalind and Charlie, but I still felt that Richie should have his very own birthday dinner out. He, of course, demurred, "It's just another day." I insisted, "Well go anywhere you like -- French, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Cajun ..." and he said, "Let me think about it."

Five minutes later, he blurted, "Steak! I want a steak." Equitably, I said, "Bull Pen or Union Cattle Company? (beat) Actually the Bull Pen'd be more approrpiate because you're both old..."

It should be noted that both the Bull Pen, Redondo, and Melvyn's, Palm Springs, are nearly interchangeable in menu and service style (circa 1980,) the Bull Pen being less formal. The main rooms are similar -- down to a back wall, curtained niche containing service items and a center-wall entrance, dark interiors and big booths.

The first mistake - We're discussing the menu over drinks; he's going for the tournedos with a butter, wine, lemon sauce; me for the medallions and the bordelaise sauce. Incidentally these are from their "Petit" menu with smaller portions of several of the favorites -- soup or salad, meat and mashed potatoes for $15.

She comes, I order and he says, "Same for me except soup instead of salad" (a very good navy bean.)

Our come our dinners - identical medallions. I say softly, "Uh, he ordered tournedos?" She checks her pad and says, "He said, 'the same except for the soup...'" "Richie!" I say and apologize profusely to her.

Act 2 Knowing that the ladies room is past the bar at the rear of a big nightclub-type room -- tiny tables, twinkling lights and a stage, I head for it.

Just past the bar, the corridor ends in a flapping curtain with daylight behind it! "Oh, cool! They've got a retractable skylight! I didn't know that ..." and take a peek. It's a parking lot. The bathrooms are to my right.

I went back to the table puzzled. I knew I was right. (Near-sighted people tend to memorize the location of the bathrooms in every place we've ever been.)

At the table, it hit me: I was thinking of MELVYN'S IN PALM SPRINGS! Naturally (after a martini and a glass of wine) I have to share this fascinating tidbit with the maitre'd. He graciously says he'll google it. Our waitress beings the check and I tell her, too, because I'm a roll here; isn't this hysterical? Ha, ha, ha!

In retrospect, I'm glad I have the 20% tip habit. It means we can go back there again. And that I won't make the same mistake. Richie? No guarantees...

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Two Women

"Welcome to the Departure Lounge" by Meg Federico Random House 191 pages $25

This is an account of a daughter's attempts tp care for her mother, 81. Complicating matters is the fact that the mother is in her dotage, likes her cocktails, but not her second husband, 82, who inconveniently, develops Alzheimer's in his.

We meet the mother when she falls, strikes her head on a curb and is taken, comatose, by ambulance to a hospital. There she suddenly sits bolt upright on the examining table and yells, "I demand an autopsy!" and sinks back into torpor.

The daughter who lives in Halifax with her husband and kids, is the closest sibling to them geographically. They live in New Jersey in a home she nicknamed the Departure Lounge.

The couple figures out that calling the liquor store and having booze delivered gets around the ban on alcohol in the house. Ditto for when the television won't work (because he can't figure out the remote) - you just call and the nice people bring you a new one! And cases of Scotch and televisions begin piling up.

The parents are (amazingly) considered competent by the courts, so they can't be put in nursing homes. Happily, both are quite well off financially (at one point, home care was running $400,000/year.) It's a fun read and really explores a child's helplessness in the face of a determined (and demented) parent.

Money 'Ho
"Michelle, a Biography" by Lisa Mundy (see above) Simon & Schuster 217 pages $25

There is nothing new to learn here, unless you are deeply interested in black politics in Chicago; the black movement there in the '60s or in learning that even as a child, Michelle was headstrong and aggressively competitive.

What irritated me especially is that the book ends mid-Presidential campaign! Given the cover head shot and the speed with which Obama seems to be moving, I assumed that it would cover them in the White House and/or certainlyhave more up-to-date information. I would have liked to learn the name of her designer at K-Mart among other things.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Smelling the Roses...

Yesterday morning we (Charlie, Rosalind, Richie and self) had downtime between breakfast and their having to check out of the hotel. Knwing that they love being outdoors and walking, I suggested the South Coast Botanical Gardens, 26300 Crenshaw Blvd, Palos Verdes Peninsula 310-544-6815 Admission is free every 3rd Tuesday; adults $6, seniors $5 other days.

'Way back in 1959, the garden was created on a sanitary landfill (oxymoron?) by the LA County Board of Supervisors at the request of a group of citizens, who incorporated and have run it ever since.

To this day, the gases from the underground decomposing refuse are collected throughout the gardens and used to generate electricity for it! Moving farther into the future (at least to me) you can dial their number on your cell phone and listen to a recorded description of the area you're seeing.

The gardens are extensive so we only saw some of the highlights. We missed the lake, a California native garden, palms and a plumeria garden (had to smell heavenly; plumerias are used in leis.)

Our first stop was the rose garden, a bowl-shaped depression with 1,600 roses of all kinds -- multiflora, old fashioned, miniatures... Charlie was absolutely thrilled by all of them and kept yelling, "Come smell this one!"

The Garden for the Senses is entered via the rose garden and has plants labeled "Touch Me" (and then sniff your fingers - rosemary, lavendar, etc.) or "Smell Me" (lemon verbena, peppermint.) Fountains burble quietly and there are frequent places to sit.

The Cactus Garden was Richie's favorite. There are examples of specimens from the US, Africa, Mexico and South America.

We got thrown out of the Children's Garden. Innocently we started to walk into an area with a nursery rhyme theme only to be blocked (no other word) by a largish lady who said, pleasantly enough, "We have a program starting very soon and if you want to be in the middle of a group of 25 children...otherwise, you should leave." I'd already begun back pedalling at '25 children' but Rosalind throught her rather rude and said so (out of her earshot.)

Monday, June 15, 2009


Richie's younger brother Charlie and his wife Rosalind flew in from NY today on AA #1. Long before they landed, I knew they'd had an 18-minute delay taking off. I saw them over Kansas and then again crossing into Nevada. "How can this be?" you scratch your head. All you have to do is put in the name of the airline and the flight number and sit back. All of the data (altitude, air speed, estimated arrival time, departure time) pops up including a map of the United States with "your" plane's position and flight path. Fascinating!

Got the bags, got in the car and headed for Main Street Cafe, El Segundo (previously reviewed.) What is new there is an amazing addition to the toilets!

The Mens' and Womens' are separate rooms, but each has a framed & lighted color photo of a Caribbean beach -- white sand, turquoise sea, palm trees ... and sound! One hears the gentle surf and a bird twittering! How cool is THAT?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Man of Many Hats

Richie's going to be busy today. First he puts on his chauffeur's hat to drive Bob and his equipment to the Jazz Club for his lecture. Once there, he rips it off to put on his roadie cap (and t-shirt that says "I'm with the band.") Equipment in place, he changes again into a French beret to be the Official Photographer. Then back to roadie to dismantle it all.

Where am I in this flurry of activity? I'll be a superbly supportive wife and have a cold one ready for him when his day is done!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Enjoy the Summer!

The Hermosa Beach Art Walk takes place today and Sunday. They started putting up rows of little white tents yesterday on the grounds of the Hermosa Beach Community Center (Pier Avenue and PCH) and today the artists will be using them to display their wares, starting at 10 a.m. Last year I bought a small oil of a rooster on a golf course in Hawaii. How do I know so much about the rooster's location? The artist was so bemused by it that he wrote it down on the back of the frame!

This single event replaces the three monthly Art Walks that were held on Thursdays, literally on the streets of Hermosa (and was a hell of a lot more revenue-producing for the restos there.)

Sunday, the South Bay New Orleans Dixieland Jazz concert will feature Dr. Bob Brodsky's famous lecture on Our Kind of Music, or OKOM, in addition to live bands which will perform on either side of his act. Bob roped Richie in as his official roadie and we've been driving around with a movie screen wedged between us in the car. Had to fold a back seat down flat to accomodate it. The session begins at 1 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus, 214 Avenue I, Riviera Village. Admission is $9.

Soon the free concerts in Polliwog Park, Manhattan Beach, will begin. They start at 5 p.m. every Sunday and last a little over an hour. As always the Hyperion Outfall Serenaders, the official band of Manhattan Beach, will start the season. Each Sunday showcases a different musical style -- zydeco or a rock' roll tribute band or country and western or reggae.

We used to take folding chairs and a picnic and a bottle of wine, but this year the Official Nannies of Southern California are whining about "excessive drinking!" which we have never, ever seen. People are quite content to sip daintily; there is no drunken cavorting. Last year, they banned smoking -- outdoors, in a huge park. I thought that was kind of funny -- "Bring yer wine! Pull up a chair! But if you want a cigarette, go out to the street." Where will it all end?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Last of the French

In the car, we laughed all the way home about "how to get along with the French." I probably shouldn't have pulled that ruse with the expresso, but he'd irritated me with his "Mom!" routine. And.. I simple couldn't resist showing him how to get along with the French. He bit big time.

But back at the house, the joke was on us. Thanks to the expresso, Michelle and I weren't sleepy at all so we sat around the kitchen table until 2 a.m. laughing about the evening. I'm ashamed to report that most of our mirth was caused by our imitations of our crude, but well-meaning, dinner partner. Michelle had him down particularly well except that she mispronounced the F word.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


"God! You're JUST like my mother!" he howled, slapping my back vigorously. "No one getsd the last word... C'mon, guys, let me buy you a Calvados and an expresso."

Before I thought, I had blurted out, "I love Calvados!" (an idea forming) "But I've never had an expresso," wide-eyed.

"You've never had an expresso?" he asked in shock. Richie and Michelle looked at me; they knew very well that I had had many.

"They always look so ... dark and strong," I said demurely.

"Aw, you gotta try this," he said. "You drink the expresso and then you pour the Calvados in the still-warm cup and drink that."

"Ummm," I demurred, "It's getting kind of late..." looking at Michelle and Richie. Michelle looked like someone watching a train wreck in progress and Richie merely looked bemused. He's used to me.

"Aw, c'mon on" he cajoled, "You'll love it."

"Well ..." (another look at my companions) "just a little one." Richie declined the coffee and accepted the Calvados; Michelle both.

Enthusiastically, he signaled our waitress and ordered the drinks in rapid French. I did catch the words "and put it on my bill" which was a relief because I had fully expected that we would probably wind up paying his bill.

The waitress duly returned and doled out our drinks. The Calvados was served in short-stemmed ballon glasses, the tiny lethal coffees with two wrapped cubes of sugar and a square of chocolate.

I looked at my serving. "Do you put the Calvados in the coffee?" I asked.
"You can, but it's better to drink the coffee first and then put the Calvados in the cup.
"Is it okay to put sugar in the coffee?" I asked worriedly. "I like a little sugar in my coffee.
"Sure you can!" he said genially.
I unwrapped the cube, put it in and sipped. "It's still awfully strong, Would it be an insult to put the other one in?"
"God, no!" he crowed, waiting until I had done so. "How is it now?" anxiously.
"Quite good," I said with a surprised look on my face. He beamed. Conversation resumed, the expresso disappeared and we put our Calvados in the empty cups.

"How/s that?" he bellowed, "Pretty f***** good, huh?"

We agreed that it had been taste. The bill came - separate checks - and we prepared to depart. In leaving he saw a tableful of friends and insisted on introducing us to them.

"And this is my Mom!" he crowed to them all. I smiled grimly.

On the terrace, he shook hands with Richie and me and kissed Michelle warmly on both cheeks, murmuring in her ear. She smiled and we left.

To be ended tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Damn AOL Anyhow!

(It ate it before I could save it.)

I hoped that Michelle didn't understand this word (used as an adjective, noun, adjective in sequence) and that Richie wouldn't react to it.

I remarked gently that I speak French.

Not appeased at all, he yelled, "That's another thing! The French hate it when Americans try to speak their language -- they all say how badly you do it!"

At this, I began to take umbrage. I have been fluent in French for 30 years. I said so in no uncertain terms. I remarked upon the gratitude foreigners have demonstrated when "ugly Americans" make the attempt. I was quite stern about this.

Suddenly, he began to laugh an said, "You are just like my mother! You remind me so much of my mother!"

What happy news!

"Nah, it's true, man. No one gets the last word in with my mother," he said. Eating swiftly, forking his steak in and swilling down his wine, he interrupted his meal long enough to tell us how to get along with the French.

Resting his fork on the side of his plate, he picked up his wine glass and said, "If a French person offers you something -- a drink, a bit of food -- you are to say, 'Oh, I don't think so ...' and then you let yourself be persuaded. Then you say, 'Oh, I've never had this! It's wonderful!' They will love you from then on!"

I rebutted, saying that all the waiters I smiled at and tipped 20% wanted to follow us home.

To Be Continued.

How To Get Along With the French II

Richie had had the crabs on his mind all afternoon. He was relieved to find them on the menu. He and MIchelle ordered them and I the langoustines, a really small version of lobster.

Halfway through our meal, the entertainer appeared in the dining room doorway. He was talking to the waitress, who looked in our direction.

Michelle said, "He's asking her to ask us if he can sit with us; the dining room is full." Indeed it was and we'd been too busy eating to notice.

We nodded our approval and he sat down in the empty chair next to me. "Really appreciate this, guys" he said. The waitress asked him what he would take and he told her steak, French fries, salad and a bottle of theh ouse burgundy.

While he waited for his food and we finished urs, he told us more about hiumself. He said he was 38 and then rather suddenly asked me how old I was. I said "59" and added swiftly, "and Michelle is exactly half my age." Michelle was so startled she nearly ate a piece of crab shell. She's 48. My reasoning was: she's single now; what's wrong with a little fling?

He looked at Michelle, but then the waitress brought his wine. Pouring hisemlf a glassful, he went on to say that it was difficult to get along with the French.

I grinned and said that I'd found a big smile and a20% tip made instant friends. (Tipping is usually 15% and added into the bill.)

This excited him greatly and began talking very loudly in English. "Now you see, THIS is what ruins France for the rest of us! Goddamned Americans come over here with their f****** money and the French hate the f*****s! And we get tarred with the same f****** brush!" He was yelling now. I looked furtively around the restaurant, but no one seemed to be paying any attention to him.

I hoped that Michelle didn't understand this word (used as an

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To Explain...

When we go to France at the end of the month, we won't be staying in Paris, but going on to Bretagne where Michelle has a summer home. You can "see" the location by going to Google Images and typing in Loctudy, France. The following is an account of what happened to us the first time we visited her there...

HOW TO GET ALONG WITH THE FRENCH (from "Dispatches From a Born-Again CYNIC)

We (Richie, Michelle and self) were lazing on the roofed-over outdoor terrace of the Soleil d'Or in Lesconil, a fishing village in Bregane. Among us was that easy camaraderie of shared interests and humor of many years' standing.

It was mid-May, but summer was far from appearing. All the drive down from Michelle's home near Versailles, the sun had flirted with the clouds; sometimes it was bright -- glowing off of the backs of the cows basking in the fields; sometimes gray as if it was just about to rain.

A festival was taking place. In a parking lot in the distance, a merry-go-round spun, children screamed and a loudspeaker boomed that pecularly French music -- no matter the material, the beat is alwys Thump! Thump! Thump!

Opposite us, on the water side of the think little street, vendors sold caramelized peanuts, garish candies, local cakes rich with butter; crepes prepared in a special skillet over an open fire. The aromas were enticing. Richie bought some of the peanuts and we ate them, a little greedily at first. Lunch had been awhile ago.

The six people at a table across from us had reluctantly departed -- their faces bore expressions of happy fatigue, the result of eating an apparently very long and ample lunch. Their table was littered with overflowing ashtrays and balloon glasses with dregs of the alcoholic cider so much a part of this region.

We sipped our beers and watched the people -- many with their dogs -- and commented idly on what we were seeing. I was just remarking that the dogs in France seem much more socially oriented than the ones at home -- they greeted each other genially with never a bark of a lunch -- when a small van pulled up at the side of the terrace and parked.

A man and a woman got out; she went into the restaurant of the Soleil d'Or and he began opening the van's back doors. She was smartly dressed in black slacks and sweater and had a purposeful air about her as she strode through the bar door.

The man, probably 6 ft. 3 in., 220 pounds, had shaved his head, but kept a bushy black moustache. He was wearing jeans, a faded chambray shirt and cowboy boots. The shirt, open to mid-chest, let passers-by admire a massive charm of some sort on a heavy gold chain around his neck.

By the time the woman came back out, the man had finished unloading and carrying in his equipment. Giving him a disinterested peck on the cheek, she got into the van and drove it away.

"Must be tonight's entertainment," Richie said. "Mmmm," responded Michelle who had closed her eyes and was basking in the feeble sun. Michelle loves the sun like a cat.

The man caught my eye and started toward us. Arriving at our table, he said, " Americans, right? How ya doin', guys?"

We said we were fine, thank you.

"I'm an American, too," he said, "Born in Seattle, did studio gigs in Los Angeles; been here in France for the last nine years."

"You must speak French," I said.

"Mais, oui, certainment," he responded. He looked at Michelle so unmistably Parisienne in her trim-fitting navy sweater and slacks, double rope of pearls as small and white as a toddler's teeth around her neck. He began speaking in swift, colloquial French to her. She smiled that reserved smile that the French do so well. It's polite, certainly civil enough, but not particularly warming.

He chatted on for a minute, asking Richie (who was wearing a Dodgers' jacket) how the team was doing and then nodded toward the restaurant door, said he'd be seeing us and left.

We went in to dinner. (To be continued)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dueling Editions II

The other magazine bragged "The BBQ Edition!" I can always get my mouth around barbecue, so I began reading with full attention.

This was good but I made it with shrimp instead of pork ribs.

1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (used powdered and only 2 T at that)
6 garlic cloves, chopped (used 3, not that many shrimp)
1 T sugar (used 1/2 T)
pinch f sea salt
1 T black pepper
2 T honey (just glugged it in; didn't measure it)
2 T soy sauce (was out of soy; used teriyaki)
OPTIONAL: 2 T nuoc nam (Thai fish sauce)

Put the ginger, garlic, sugar salt and papper into a blender and puree. Smear it over the shrimp, let them sit a minute and then grill them.

I can't image what the editors were smoking, but they went wild over barbecued hot dogs. They created six recipes (Brie and sliced pears, anyone?) and then the madness (or a whisky front) moved in and they didn't stop until they had 80 different ways to do it.

A few of the more acceptable ones - LA-Mexican - bacon and jalapenos; the Reuben - sauerkraut, melted Swiss and Russian dressing.

Some that made me ask: Why bother with the hot dog and bun? Such as: Creole - fried green tomatoes and remoulade sauce. Buffalo - wing sauce, carrot and celery matchsticks and blue cheese dressing. Genoese - pesto and toasted pine nuts. Russian salad - boiled potatoes mixed with mayo, pickles, capers, hard-boiled eggs and peas.

Premature heat stroke? "Funny" kitchen fumes? Your guess is as good as mine... You can read both magazines at Saveur. com and Bon

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Other Voices; Other Views

Comments re yesterday's blog on Texas food:

A woman from Kentucky wrote: "I love chicken-fried steak! Your description made my mouth water and made me hungry. I haven't done that in a couple of years. Maybe I should move to Texas..."

A proud scion in East Texas (and a great American) wrote: "Obviously you are uneducated in the finer cuisines of Texas and have only frequented the poorer-quality restaurants and their roadkill fare. I myself have not eaten many things to compare with the lack of taste that California provides. Please! Sprouts and nuts?

The Mexican food there is a blend of New York and Oregon and is hopeless at best.

Come on back and we will show you good food. (Also, no place better than German communities in West Texas for food.) Always welcome!"

This correspondence is so typically Texan that I smiled. In the beginning, he does everything but call me a Christian; at the end he is displaying the courtesy and warmth that pervades all of Texas -- "Y'all hurry on back, heah?"

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dueling Editions

Saveur and Bon Appetite arrived the same day last week. One is all "The Texas Issue!" as if that was a good thing. It's not. Texas has more bad food per capita than any other state that I can think of. If they'd make it "The Louisiana Issue!" they'd a been onto something.

Let us examine the "classic" chicken-fried steak which is a piece of beef that's had the hell beat out of it, then dredged in flour, then a milk and egg mixture and then flour again and fried until cirsp. Think: wallpaper paste-crusted steak. The accompaniment is thick white gravy, ladled generously over the poor old beat-up beef.

In Texas they savor Tex-Mex (too mild to be commented on here -- don't they have any hot chilis in Texas?) and they put tomatoes and beans in their chili. That is, quite frankly, an abomination. Chili is pure meat, spices and a little onion -- maybe some chopped green pepper if the cook is feeling frisky.

They eat waffles. Waffle Houses are strewn across Texas with an abandon not seen since Starbucks. We were having breakfast in one (Richie's idea, not mine) and asked the little 17 year old waitress (a good five months pregnant) what time it was and she said, "Oh, honey, I don't have a watch no more; my no-good sister done stole it to buy dope." Which is one good thing about Texas restaurants -- the female servers (and they are all women) always have a story. Can't remember the town, but one of ours actually sat down with us in the booth and bewailed the actions of her drunken daughter! Really, you get much more than just food down there.

Texans can often, however, grill up a good steak. That's when they keep portions reasonable. We ate once at a restaurant in Huntsville, Tx. that served 32 oz. steaks which were so big they hung off the large plate edges. A group of beefalos roamed in and all six of them ordered it. I edged my chair away, fearing for the floor.

That's what's bad about Texas -- if "some" is good, then by God, a ton of it will be better.

The only exception that I can think of is The Club, a restaurant in Beeville, Tx. I look forward to eating there every time. They serve Cajun food.

Friday, June 5, 2009


You don't have to live in a tent in a forest for 30 days; you can get a very nice pick-up in just a morning.

We went to the Palos Verde library book sale which involves a beautiful drive up The Hill, past million dollar homes and breath-taking views of greater Los Angeles and out to the Pacific.

Once there, we scored a bunch of throw-away books -- for the trip to France. Read 'em and leave 'em.

Then, ravished by hunger at such hard work, we went to Fatburger and had hamburgers and split an order of onion rings.

Made the noon Farmers' Market at 12 on the spot and wandered around. Granted we go every Friday, but there is something about the carefully heaped glistening fresh fruits and vegetables that soothes the eye's soul. Bonjour Laurent (imported cheeses) had a photo of his new son with his older sister -- adorable kids.

It may (or may not) rain this afternoon and we've got leftover albondigas soup for dinner, perfect for not-so-clement weather. "Cosy food." With chips and salsa, of course.

Three hours - three countries -- The Land of the Rich (Palos Verdes;) America (Fatburger) and Europe (Farmers' Market.) Vacation enough for me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

On Fame

Coming home from the gym, we heard a brief report on Scottish singing star Susan Boyle. It seems that she has been invited to sing for President Obama during the 4th of July events in Washington.

I haven't followed her story closely other than the headlines - Wins! Loses! Tantrums! "Rest Cure" so most of America knows a great deal more than I do. The announcer speculated that perhaps "it" was all too much for her. Which got me to thinking about fame.

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow morning to national and international acclaim?

If it was for something you'd worked hard on for years, you'd probably be pleased. "Ah, recognition! At last!" and then ... "How can I cash in on this?" (It would be un-American not to try to make a buck.)

Since it's extremely unlikely that this could happen to me (can't sing, can't dance; more than a few would add, "Can't write") I let my mind explore the possibilities and finally decided that there would be two of me. Public and Private. Public would be meticulous about being on time for appearances ("Hi, Oprah") and gracious to the public. "I'd be happy to sign your menu/piece of paper" "Of course, you can have your picture taken with me!" I would be well-groomed and appropriately dressed for the occasion, too.

Those are a celebrity's jobs. Too few of them seem to know that.

"Private" me would be exactly what I am today (and was yesterday and will be tomorrow.) In a word: plain.

But it is a fine amusement to picture myself (preferably in a gigantic, complicated hat) being gracious. To imagine murmuring swells of hushed, "Look! It's Her!" Nodding, smiling -- waving a hand to the adoring throngs...

But best of all would be knowing I can go right back to "plain" where none of my friends or family think I'm special. Fame -- it's just another job.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sticker Shock

Richie had business at the meat counter at the supermarket, so I trailed over to the spice aisle. I must say McCormick & Co. is rather sneaky. They have a huge display of their red/white tins of stuff right next to a fancy rack with glass bottles of spices. That label downplays McCormick and stresses "gourmet." Either container, spices are wildly expensive. Average prices run beween $5.40 to $8.75 and those are often for less than an ounce of product!

But they've been selling spices for a long time. Willoughby McCormick founded the company in 1889 -- he was making fruit syrups and root beer in his Baltimore home. In 1896, he had prospered enough to buy out the F.G. Emmett Spice Co. of Philadelphia. By the 1900s, he was regularly importing spices from all over the world and that explains why spices cost so much.

Dr. Bader ("Mr. 10,001") conveniently lists spices and their country of origin today in his book.

Allspice - Jamaica, Central and South America
Caraway seeds - they're harvested at night (!) before the dew evaporates. Netherlands.
Cardamom - India
Chervil - France
Cinnamon - China, Indonesia and mainly Thailand
Cloves - Indonesia
Ginger - India and West Africa
Marjoram - France, Chile and Peru
Nutmeg - East and West Indies
Paprika - Hungary
Saffron - The most expensive because it is extracted from the stigma of a flowering crocus and is only imported from Spain.
Tarragon - native to Siberia, mostly imported from Spain and France
Tumeric - India and Peru
Vanilla - Also expensive as it is hand-pollinated when grown commercially. In the wild, one species of hummingbird (and one only) pollinates.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The (Self-Proclaimed) Racist

"I'd Rather We Got Casinos and Other Black Thoughts" by Larry Wilmore Hyperion 224 pages $23.99

Wilmore is the Daily Show's Senior Black Correspondent and has also been a TV producer, actor, comedian and writer. I'm surprised he didn't include "Brotha can't keep a job" given his tone throughout.

He's on a crusade to have the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NACCP) change "Colored" to "Chocolate" saying who doesn't like chocolate? He posits that renaming a product often works out well. No one would go see a cowboy movie staring Marion Morrison, but John Wayne pulled 'em in big time. Of note, Ving Rahmes' real name is Irving and Wilmore writes "no brother should really ever be called Irving." Since Irving is a classic Jewish name, I found that racist!

He believes in the "Shetland Negro" -- smaller black stars such as Gary Coleman -- who never get taller and bigger and thus are unthreatening to whites.

He wants to run as a black -- sorry, chocolate - leader and wonders why they appoint themselves that and are not elected.

A guest on his radio show explains "nizames" which are not your real name nor your nickname, but a name that expresses your character. Example given: Puff Daddy was a nickname for Sean "Puffy" Combs. P.Diddy is his nizame.

Once I got over my shock at some of the stuff in the book (proud resident of PC So. Calif. for the past 46 years) I enjoyed his humor, but my jury's still out on exactly how racist he is or meant to be.

Monday, June 1, 2009

How To Blow Half of a Morning...

Visit and rove through the blogs -- I particularly enjoyed (celebs in First on American) and

Wendy Perrin is a very well-known travel editor for Conde Nast Traveller which, come to think of it, you can read online (save your postman's back!)