Sunday, September 30, 2012

From Book to Television Series - Overnight!

This caught my eye in non-fiction at the library.  "Call the Midwife" by Jennifer Worth   Penguin Books   340 pages   $16 softback.

There is a banner running across the top of the cover that reads, "Now A PBS Series!"    I shrugged, must have missed it, and began to read.  It was originally published as "The Midwife."

The story is set in the mid-1950s in post-war London.  As it opens, Jennifer Worth is pedaling her bike through the night to deliver a baby in the East End.  She wonders to herself why she ever left nursing to become a midwife.  But after a successful delivery, she feels that yes, it was all worth it.

She left nursing to attend The Midwives of St. Raymond Nonatus (which means "delivered by Caesarian" or, in Latin, "not born.")  The school was run by an order of nuns who, not surprisingly, lived together in a convent.  There is some pretty confusion ("What am I doing in a convent?") when she first arrives, but all is soon straightened out.

The stories of human lives in the dirt-poor section of the wharves are interesting and some are funny.  The convent's handyman decides to raise a pig.  Food was scarce.  It was decided after a while not to kill the pig but to breed her and sell the piglets.  Breeding her becomes problematical in the crowded East End of London. 

There is a terrible old crone who manages to show up at every delivery and ask fearfully about the mother and baby.  Her reason for doing this turns out to be a heartbreaking story.  It devolves that she was in a "workhouse."  These were dreadful establishments to feed the poor - strictly segregated.  Husbands and wives never saw each other again; children were separated from their parents.  These, the poorest of the poor, all lived and worked around the place to justify their existence.  The old woman was kept there from 1919 to 1936 when these places were abolished and the inmates turned loose on the streets.  She was told when one of her children died, but not allowed to see them or attend the funeral, if any.

The sisters themselves add variety to the stew of people and events.  Author Worth not only lived these chapters but she also wrote of them convincingly.  Past tense:  she died in May, 2011, leaving a husband, two daughters and three grandchildren.

I finished it last night and put the book down.  Imagine my surprise to see the front page of the LA Times arts section this morning!  There was a big photo and an article on the PBS series "Call the Midwife" which begins tonight (Sunday, 9/30/12) at 8 p.m. Pacific time on PBS.  This I gotta see.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ah, Fall! My Favorite Season.

Monday is October 1st and October, to me, is Fall!  I love the Fall light - crisper, sharper somehow.  My thoughts begin to turn toward Fall Foods - chili, cornbread with butter and honey, creamed chipped beef on scrambled eggs -- okay, it doesn't take much to make me think of food.  Guilty!

Leafing through the Food & Wine Cookbook they sent me, I came across what sounds like a perfect Fall dish.  Imagine thermoses of it at a football game...or you've been out trimming the hedges and there's a bitter wind and you come in to a steaming bowl of ...

1/4 lb. of bacon, cut into 1/3-inch dice
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
pinch of thyme
One 12-oz. bottle of lager or pilsner
Anout 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
4 T sweet butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream - be thinking about either leaving this out or finding a substitute - plain yogurt?  I think that the cheese would add enough thickener when they've melted.
1/2 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
4 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
Pepper to taste

Cook the bacon till it's done, then lift it out of the skillet and set it aside.  Throw in the jalapeno, onion, garlic and cook them till they're soft.  Add half of the beer and cook until this sauce is reduced by half.  Add the chicken broth and bring it up to a simmer.

Use the butter and flour to make a roux and then whisk it into the soup. 

Add the heavy cream (sigh) and the cheeses and the rest of the beer.  Cook until thickened and then stir iin the bacon and pepper. 

This is a Jonathon Erdeljac recipe, chef of Jonathon's Oak Cliff, Dallas. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

"La Plus Ca Change..."

Many of you will know that the French quoted above goes, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."  The French, notably cynical as a national pasttime, are dead right on this one. 

I noticed that in "Real Life at the White House."   Some examples...

Jacqueline Kennedy was much admired for her inventory and restoration of the White House during 1961-1963.  But Lou (Mrs. Herbert) Hoover did the first inventory during his term from 1929 to 1933.

Nancy Reagan was castigated for using a fortune teller to warn her of days when Reagan was in danger.  Hah!  Florence (The Duchess) Harding (Mrs. Warren G. Harding) regularly consulted several during his term from 1921 to 1923.

In certain circles, much is made of current President Obama's devotion to his golf game.  He's following in the footsteps of three other Presidents - Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and Dwight Eisenhower (who marked up the Oval Office floor by wearing his golf shoes in it.)

Again much was made of Jacqueline Kennedy's love of riding and hunting.  Eleanor Roosevelt rode regularly for exercise. 

There isn't much that's new under the sun. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

William Howard Taft 1909 - 1913

Taft's mother told the press, "I do not want my son to be President; he is not my candidate.  His is a judicial mind, and he loves the law."  Taft himself agreed with her, but his wife Nellie had had visions of herself in the White House since childhood.  And she got her way.

Nellie "rehearsed" for her occupancy of the White House by a reign first in the Philippines when Taft was assigned by President McKinley to set up a civil government.  Nellie gloried in the number of srvants, the five carriages, the 13 horses.  When she did get into the White House, she used so many of the furnishings from the Philippines that detractors started calling it "Malacanan Palace."

Taft moved from the Philippines to Secretary of War with Teddy Roosevelt's endorsement.  Roosevelt said of him, "The most lovable personality I have ever come in contact with."  Nellie insisted on riding next to him in the car taking him to his inauguration.  It wouldn't be the last time she broke with precedence. 

She made significant changes inside the White House.  All of the ushers, who had been white men in frock coats, suddenly became black men in blue livery.  Next she ordered that male White House servants were to be clean shaven -- Off with their beards and moustaches!

She not only changed the interior to reflect her love of Philippine ornamentation and furniture, she took her business outdoors to create Potomac Park and planted the famed cherry trees, which were a 2,000 strong gift of Mayor Ukio Ozaki, of Tokyo.

Despite Roosvelt's warning that the public considered it a frivolous past time, Taft insisted on setting the whole afternoon off for golf.    His vast weight (350 lbs.) hampered his swing as may be imagined.  He used extra-long clubs, a "baseball" grip and short, choppy swings. 

He loved traveling for two reasons - it got him away from work AND Nellie's watchful eyes.  Free from supervision, his appetite was sated.  He set a presidential record for taking vacations.  He would leave for his summer home in Beverly, Mass. with this instruction -- do NOT forward any mail to me.

Taft couldn't tie his own shoe laces; that was a job for his valet.  When he got stuck in the bathtub, it took two men to pull him out.  Finally he ordered a new tub that was 7 ft. long, 41 in. wide and weighed 1 ton. 

Nellie did not go to see Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.  Instead, she sadly roamed around the private quarters and at 12 noon exactly, she put on her hat and furs and walked out of the White House without a single word of farewell to anyone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Judging A Book By Its Cover - Error!

I'm looking at a picture of Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) -- the long, thin face and nose, the wire-framed glasses, the faintly receding hair.  This aesthetic-looking man would be just another East Coast aristocrat if I hadn't read about his White House.

Paradoxically, he was a convincing public speaker, well able to charm and manipulate the multitudes.  He was diffident and uncomfortable in one- to-one meetings.  He once remarked, "Fortunately, I have a special gift for relaxation and being amused."  He liked to entertain guests and family by telling stories in dialect, dancing a jig, imitating a drunk.  He loved limericks.  A favorite:  There was a young monk of Siberia; whose existence grew drearier and drearier  'Till he burst from his cell with a hell of a yell - and eloped with the Mother Superior!

He wrote ardent letters to his fiancee Ellen, such as this before their marriage.  "I tremble with deep excitement ... I never quivered so before with eager impatience and anticipation."  Hot stuff, eh?

Ellen began failing in the Spring of 1913 and died in 1914 of what was belatedly diagnosed as Bright's Disease, a progressive kidney ailment.  Wilson was so deranged by his grief that he would not allow her body to be put in a coffin.  Instead, he kept it on a sofa and he hardly moved from her side.  She died August 6th; the funeral was finally held on August 10th.

He grieved for the next nine months, conveniently forgetting that Ellen had urged him to marry again.  A "chance meeting" (undoubtedly set up by his doctor) at the White House between Wilson and Edith Galt turned into a marriage proposal from him two months later. 
Years later, she was asked how long it took him to become interested in her; "About 10 minutes" she replied. 

They were married on December 18th at her house (she was a widow.)  They began a life of exceptional togetherness, dining alone whenever possible.  She adapted to all of his hobbies.  The walked or took long drives or played golf. She sat in the room while he dictated the nationa's business to a secretary.   In the evenings they would go to the theatre or shoot pool in the White House game room.  If he had to work late, she sat beside him.  She screened his mail and encoded his replies. 

Wilson was also the first really avid golfer in the White House.  It's believed he got in more games than Eisenhower.  As early as 5 a.m., no matter the weather.  When it snowed, he had red-painted golf balls with which to play.  He described golf thusly:  "An ineffectual attempt to put an elusive ball into an obscure hole with implements ill-adapted for the purpose."

Wilson was hypertense with resulting cerebral and arterial disease.  He died on February 24, 1924, and was buried in the "new" Washington Cathedral.  He is the only President buried in Washington, DC.  Edith published her autobiography in 1938 and then lived on to attend JFK's 1961 inaugural.  She is buried beside him the Cathedral. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Unlikely Topic: President William McKinley

"Real Life at the White House; 200 Years of Daily Life at America's Most Famous Residence" by John Whitcombe (father) and Claire whitcombe (daughter.)  Routledge   511 pages   $40

This book covers the presidencies from George Washington through Bill Clinton.  I skipped the earlier presidents and have not read those familiar to me (Truman, Ike, JFK, Johnson et al) but I will. 

I began with William McKinley 1897 - 1901.  During his inauguration, his older brother was heard to say, "But, Mother (she was 87 at the time) this is better than a bishopric!"

His wife, Ida, came from a wealthy family.  She had toured Europe as well as worked in Daddy's bank.  McKinley was blissfully happy to be her husband.

Early in their marriage, however, Ida's mother died, as did their two young children.  Depressed, Ida retired to a dark room, sat in a rocking chair and rocked imaginary children.  Increasingly she suffered from "poor health" and was said to be "delicate."  It was, quite probably, epilepsy.

She came to rely totally on him.  McKinley fed her, when necessary, and would sit with her for hours patting her, soothing her, reading to her.  She suffered from seizures, frothing at the mouth, incontinence, memory loss, infantile behavior as well as phlebitis in both legs (she had to have help to walk) and raging headaches. 

She was sometimes drugged to the gills and was said to resemble "a smiling mannequin."  During normal periods of life, she crocheted -- during their stay in the White House her output was 3,500 pairs of slippers!  Her maid attached them to cork soles, added ribbons to them and they were then given away to relatives and charities. 

She was sharp-tongued and never hesitated to go after women she considered to be too cozy with her husband.  He, in turn, adored her. 

They both learned the signs of an on-coming seizure.  At White House dinners, they broke protocol and she said at his right so he could quickly escort her away from the table.  During informal dinners if they thought a seizure was coming, he would mattr-of-factly put his napkin over he face.  The napkins were thick linen and believed to provide th dark she welcomed.  After a minute or two, he would remove the napkin.  He had continued to converse and hold up the napkin as he ate. 

When McKinley was shot (at the Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo9, NY) he said, "Be easy on him, boys!" (a reference to the assassin) and then, "My wife - be careful how you tell her - oh, be careful!"

She outlived him by another six years and never had another seizure again. 

If you think that was interesting, wait till you hear about Woodrow Wilson and HIS marital devotion - to both of his wives!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Short Discourse on the Writings of James Lee Burke

"Feast Day of Fools" by James Lee Burke   Simon & Schuster   463 pages   $26.99

Burke is now 74; his first book was published two weeks after his 24th birthday.  Thus he's had 50 years of familiarity with his fiction characters such as Dave Robicheaux, Clete Purcell, Billy Bob  Holland and his cousin Sheriff Hackberry Holland.  If you haven't read him, you may still have seen his works.  Three of his books were turned into movies. 

I'm halfway through his latest ("Feast Day") and despite being a devoted fan, I'm really not liking this one very much.   Burke has always employed the following tools - mental flashbacks to Korea, the Civil War and Viet Nam,  ghosts, dry drunks, weather and terrain as living characters.  Personal philosophies are inserted that have little to do with the action of the moment.  The bad guys are always grotesquely limned with weird facial/cranial features and/or skin problems.  Body shapes might be pear-shaped or like a pile of wire coat hangars. 

But Burke interrups himself every time he slips into a flashback in the middle of the action. 

He uses similes that don't make sense.  On page 7, a character is described as hungover with "his breath dense and sedimentary, like a load of fruit that had been dumped down a stone well."  Stone well?  Dumping fruit down a well?  That doesn't make any kind of sense to me. 

In short this is a confusing compendium of then and now, philosophies, memories that are not germane to the plot and worse, it rambles on for 463 pages of nonsense. 

I do heartily recommend his earlier works.  Clete Purcell, formerly a New Orleans police department cop is the best of them all.  Clete is a merry prankster who filled a thug's convertible with wet concrete, poured sand in the gas tank of a thug's private plane and waved goodbye as the plane took off.   He has a real sense of fun. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

You Can Make Numbers Say Anything...

Having nothing in particular to say today other than "It's a nice day," I decided to check my statistics on this blog. 

To my great amazement, I discovered that it's been viewed more than 19,000 times.  But:  it's been running three years.  I didn't get all giddy, okay?

There is a section called "Pageviewby Country" and to my utter astonishment this is what I found:

United States - 154
Russia - 13
France - 8
Netherlands - 6
Australia - 3
Malaysia - 3
Poland - 3
United Kingdon - 2
China and Germany - 1 each

Who are these people?  English is a secondary language (if at all) in many of the above.

So, I don't believe my "good press."  And you shouldn't either.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Turning On The Oven Now...

Fall, the season, is very nearly here.  Sure, it's been in the '70s, but underneath the sun-warmed breeze is a colder, bass note.  Since our house is drafty - few Southern California homes are well-insulated; particularly the older homes - throughout the winter, I rely on the oven to make up some of the difference.  Winter is the season for roast pork loin (three hours at 300 degrees) or a daube Provencale (an hour at 300) but I rarely - okay, I never bake.

To remedy this sad state of affairs, I leafed through the Food & Wine cookbook...

The long way - make cornbread
My way - buy a cornbread mix...

However you do it, add in chopped rosemary, 8 Black Mission figs, chopped, and a half-cup of crumbled feta cheese.  Cook per box instructions.

The name and the fact that this pie makes its own crust intrigued me...

1 stick sweet butter, melted plus enough to grease the pie pans
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup self-rising flour
2 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
2 cups of milk

Pre-heat the oven to 350 and butter two glass pie plates

Whisk the melted butter with the sugar, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is smooth.  Stir in the flour, coconut and milk and divide this mix between the two pie plates.

Bake in the lower one-third of the oven for 1 hour or until the pies are firm to the touch and golden.  Let cool completely before serving. 

There you have it - something good to eat and a nice, warm house in which to eat it!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Shuttle Fever

At 12:40 p.m. today, it flew over our next door neighbor's house and we had a clear view of the left side of it  from our balcony! 

The shuttle Endeavor's last flight is generating a tremendous amount of excitement here in Southern California.  Traffic is piled up, a street in El Segundo that overlooks LAX has been closed to traffic; the 405 on either side of LAX is jammed...  all to see a shuttle and a 747 doing it doggy style.

I am, by nature, a worrier.  Logic tells me that since the shuttle hasn't fallen off of the 747 on the long journey from Florida to here, it probably won't.

But what if it did over almost any one of the "tour points" out here -- Disneyland, JPL Labs (boom!  Scientists wiped out) the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach?  If it crashed by the Hollywood sign, not so much.  It's mainly cleared land there anyhow and halfway up a short mountain. 

Worst case scenario:   The approach to LAX flies directly over the ghet-to.  What if some wag down below decides it would be fun to laser dot the 747's pilot's eyes?  Or a terrorist fires off a ground-to-air missile?  And it connects?

I'm sure the people behind the Last Tour have considered all such disastrous events, but.. luck is not always with the good guys.

On an even more morbid note, this final pass over various places reminds me of funerals where the route from the church/mortuary to the cemetery makes a final tour past the deceased's work place or favorite bar.

Richie can sit out on our balcony for as long as he wants to see the approach into LAX.  Me?  I'll be under the bed -- with the cats. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Champagne Dreams, Beer Budget

One of my Palm Springs treats is:  first morning there, grab the free copies of Homes for Sale and head for breakfast.  I peruse them while waiting for our food.  It always interests me to see which former movie star's house is for sale and for how much.  Frank Sinatra's mountain home was listed a couple of years ago for $2.5 million which I thought was dirt cheap. 

Some time ago, I came across an ad for a six-unit motel for $1.5 million and I thought, "How totally cool!  All of the snowbirds would come to see us and we'd have a room for them!"  (Right now the only vacant space in our house is the daybed in the office which is hardly palatial.)  My dream continued -- "Everyone would have their own parking space and they could hole up in their room, if they wanted to, or be sociable around the pool!  Maybe put in a fire pit, too ..."   But best of all, when they left, their space could be cleaned and the door locked.  Belongings in our house seem to drift, almost like the driftwood in the ocean.

With the thought of building my own motel if Richie ever wins a substantial lottery sum, I went to the library and checked out a book assembled by the Architectural Record people.
In it there are extensive chapters on Motor Hotels, Architecture for Eating and Drinking and it's all as cute as it can be.  The book was printed in 1953! 

Motor Hotels got the most space because in the post- WW2 years, more people had spendable income and they bought cars, determined to see America or at least Grandma across the state. 

In 1953, as a point of interest, this lavishly illustrated book cost our library $9.75!

Prefabrication or not?  Noise control, air conditionng (swamp coolers were recommended.)  Restaurants in this book were limited to the drive-thrus and walk-ins, Googie-style.  The department store "tea room" got prominent mention as did the ballrooms with "private banquet rooms" off of it. 

Freshly informed, I'm just waiting for Richie to win champagne big.  He would enjoy being The Host of his own hotel.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All Very Idyllic, But...

"A Year in the Village of Eternity:  The Lifestyle of Longevity in Campodimele, Italy" by Tracey Lawson   Bloomsbury   374 pages   $30

Lawson writes that 111 of the 671 people living here are between 75 and 98 years old.  She adds this means that 16.6 per cent of the population is over 75.  The Italian average mortality age is 77.5 years for men; 83.5 for women. 

She reports that they work like beavers in the fresh, mountain air to grow their crops, can and preserve food and eat as little processed food as possible.  The women make pasta/bread daily, can during the summers to provide food for the winter, tend the chickens and work in their fruit and vegetable gardens.  The men keep an eye on the goats, plant crops, tend the olive trees, use horses to gather wood for the home fire.  All of it active work. 

They eat very little meat, mainly the odd chicken that's grown too old to lay; a Fall wild boar, every scrap of which is used to make something.  They make their own sausages and either air dry them or pack them into jars and cover the sausages with olive oil. 

Their main seasoning is this (always this) -- olive oil, white wine vinegar, pinch of salt and another pinch of chilies.  White wine vinegar?  What happened to balsamic?

The book has a double section of 4/c photos of many of these older people (all of the women are fat, not overweight.  Fat)  and the simple dishes they prepare.  Seasonal is stressed above all -- the first asparagus, sour cherries, etc.  But:  they can tons of tomatoes to use in the winter.  Slow fast food?

It amazed me to learn that they seem to depend  primarily on eggs for their protein.  Time after time, a recipe says, "Stir in four beaten eggs;"  for a frittata "beat 10 fresh eggs..." A perfectly acceptable light lunch is two eggs, fried in olive oil, eaten with bread and some fresh fruit for dessert.  (By contrast, Richie and I each eat one egg every Sunday.)

She paints an idyllic picture, but the reality depressed me.  Olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and chilies to flavor EVERYTHING?  I think of the wonderful varieties we eat all of the time -- Thai or Asian or Barbecue...

They don't even add garlic!  "Flatten it with a knife blade, cook it a little bit and discard it.  You just want the olive oil to absorb the flavor."  One of the great joys of my life is a clove of garlic, grated, in olive oil and chunks of baguette to dip into it and eat!

I wish all of them well, but no civilization could stand to live like that even if the person made it to 100 and beyond.  Only to eat more of the same seasoning?  Feh!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Strangest Book Presentation Ever

Why?  Because the only words on the book jacket are printed on the spine of the book.  "Before I Go To Sleep"  S. J. Watson.  That's it for reading.  The cover is a photo of a woman's face, reflected in a bathroom mirror, clouded by steam.  The back cover is more steam on the mirror. 

There is no jacket flap at either end of the book.  This hardcover book has been printed with the photo and nothing else. 

I googled S. J. Watson and found that is Steven Watson, a 31 year old male.  He worked as an audiologist for deaf children in a London hospital.  In his spare time, he wrote this book which is written in a woman's voice.  The book dedication is:  For my mother and for Nicolas.

"What's it about?" you say?  The book begins as if the woman relating the story is in her early '20s.  She has woken up in a strange bedroom next to a man she doesn't recognize.  Panicked, she slithers out of the bed and into the bathroom.  Staring into the mirror, she discovers she is not 20-something, but 40-something instead.  She is horrified.

The man in the bed awakens and comes to her in the bathroom.  "I'm your husband, Ben," he says.

The reader soon discovers that as a result of being nearly killed by a hit and run driver, she has a type of amnesia that refuses to let her brain store new information.  Every morning, when she wakes up, is literally a new day to her.

I won't be a spoiler; suffice to say simply that her life as she believes it to be is very different from reality.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Egos and Delusions

"January First, A Child's Descent into Madness and Her Father's Struggle to Save Her" by Michael Schofield   Crown Publishers   291 pages   $25

January is Michael and Susan Schofield's oldest child.  He teaches writing at Cal State Northridge; Susan is a former broadcaster for a local Southern California radio station.

At age two, January made the jump from concrete reasoning to abstract, something that normally happens when a child is much older.  Daddy begins to envision a Nobel Prize for her - "For what, I don't know and don't really care," he wrote.

At three, Michael says that January could read and do multiplication and division in her head. 

At four, she was given an IQ test and scored 146.  There were oddities - she preferred imaginary pets to live people.  She said she had seven rats, named for the days of the week and a cat named "400." 

By the time she was six, she had to be hospitalized to control her violence.  When triggered (for instance by calling her "January" and not "Blue-Eyed Tree Toad") she hit, bit, scratched and kicked.  When the couple's second child, a son they named "Bodhi" was born, January had to be kept totally segregated from him.  When told, "Don't hit Bodhi" she replied single-minded, "I have to hit him."  If they hadn't been separated, she would have killed him.

That alone would give me reason to have the child hospitalilzed, but Daddy persists in believing it's only a sign of frustration at being so much more intelligent than the rest of us. 

After frequent hospitalizations, drug changes and intense therapy, January is diagnosed as schizophrenic.  To protect their son, the couple got two separate apartments in the same complex.  Susan and Bodhi live in one; Michael and January in the other.  They have dinner together.

Sadly this book sounded to me like a clash of egos - Daddy positive she's a genius; Mommy sure she's a sick child.  When you have a six year old child, bent on suicide, you don't have a genius.  The book was written from Daddy's blog - - and Daddy has gone on to make something of a cottage industry of his daughter, with the book, continuing blog and appearances and interviews in the media.  Exhibit A - the book's title. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Last Week

A new magazine, called "The Week,"  arrived on our shores yesterday.  It is to news what the Readers' Digest is to human interest stories.    The editors pick a story, run it and then add Op Ed to the piece by running other media comments on the same story.  Done wisely, this mode can give us an idea of what the thinking is in other parts of the country, or world, for that matter.

I culled some things for your amusement.  Under the column "Wit & Wisdom" I found

"History is the sum total of the things that could have been avoided."
  Konrad Adenauer.

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."  Charles Darwin.

Listed under "The Best Dorm Room Gear" we find an alarm clock.  It is squat and round with a propeller sitting on the top.  The user is allowed X number of snoozes and then the propeller flies off across the room and the noise won't stop until it's put back on the clock.

"Back to 1968" is a story on groups that re-enact Viet Nam!  Most of us are familiar with battle re-enactments, but they're usually Civil War events.  Writer Chrlie Schroeder attended one "somewhere in a wooded part of Virginia."  The camp is set up authentically - the first thing he does is spot a trip wire inches close to his head.  He follows it to a party popper noisemaker.  In reality, he would have been blown up.

On his departure, he was asked what he thought about it all and he told the man that the racial epithets disturbed him a great deal.  He, never having been to Viet Nam, was offended at the frequent use of "gook," "dink," "slopes."

Good thing he was never in Viet Nam for real.

The publisher offers six more editions gratis - do we want it? to explore it more thoroughly.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

One of Us Got the Wrong Memo

The memo I got talked of record high unemployment, a major increase in food stamps issued and other dire matters.

The one Architectural Diogest got must have read, "Spend! Spend! and feverishly!"

From their pages, a few of the things millionaires may find necessary to cosset themselves...

Books for a long winter's night, the reader curled in front of a blazing fire  in the Hamptons house- Barbara Barry, Around Beauty, $65  A decorator details the things that inspire her such as a Mexican fig tree in a courtyard.  The Summer Palaces of the Romanovs:  Treasures from Tsarskoye Selo, $100.  A look at every-day items such as a mother-of-pearl sewing kit, an amber shaving set.  The Iconic Interior:  Private Spaces of Leading Artists, Architects and Designers, $65  A look at 100 of the most celebrated dwellings of the 20th and 21st century.

The new Series II Rolls Royce Phantom has a 360-degree camera system among other goodies.  The interior leathers and woods can be custom designed.  Starting at $400,000.

Need a pied-a-terre in Manhattan?  Here's a duplex on the roof of a converted Tribeca factory.  It has 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, covers 7,500 sq. ft. with a 4,500 sq.ft. terrace for $48 million.

The last page of the magazine is always "Exchange Rate," a listing of what things sold for in recent auctions.  Of note, every single objet d'arte sold for ABOVE the listed price in September.  "A flock of four ever-hip Lalanne sheep sculptures, dated 1996-99, breezed past its $500,000 estimate to bring $620000."

See for yourself at  Special this month!  visit celebrity closets!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Madcap or Clinically Insane? You Be the Judge!

As I have aged, I have discovered a new facet of the diamond that is my personality (I don't need to tell you that I'm joking, right?) and it is this:  a part of my brain that I never knew existed will pop into a conversation uninvited and add a comment that I never would have thought of all by myself.

Example:  A woman I didn't know very well and I were having a business lunch in a restaurant.  The waitress noticed that I didn't have a place setting and scurried to bring me a napkin, knife and fork.

I gravely handed the knife back to her, handle first, and said, sadly, "I'm not allowed these." 

The look on her face was priceless and my luncheon companion edged her chair away from the table a little bit.

Admittedly I've done things like this in the past, but those were planned.  I had a client named Danny Ashcraft, an off-road racer, who ran a successful business down in Carlsbad.  We had to communicate frequently during racing season, but he had a secretary who always asked, "May I tell him who is calling?" (despite the frequent number of times she'd heard my voice.

So I took to making up occupations.  "Certainly -- I'm his parole officer" was one; another was "Certainly - I'm his spiritual guru" to which she asked, "What's a guru?" beating me at my own game. 

Most recently, I had another attack (?) in France.   The wedding party was gathered on the ramparts of an old fort with a dynamite view of the Old Port.  It was a balmy evening, the drinks table was laden, the appetizers were abundant.  I was visiting with a trio that consisted of an old man, his middle-aged son and his wife.

The Old Man had worked for IBM in San Francisco and waxed nostalgic about it and San Diego where he'd done a stint.  I explained that we lived in Los Angeles County, in a little town called "Redondo Beach."  Noting their blank expressions, I added, "We're 20 minutes south of LAX."

"Ah, ah!" recognition.  One asked, "What do you do there?"

I looked around rather furtively, hunched my shoulders and leaned toward them.  "We're in France -- I guess it's okay to tell you -- my husband and I rob banks - so being close to the airport is a real advantage."

Nanosecond  - and they roared.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Adding "Snap"

"Snap" in this instance meaning that little exta you put into "company food" - like a handful of popcorn tossed across a serving of tomato soup or a few sprigs of cilantro arranged like a bouquet across one side of the guacamole..It just means that little extra that makes it visually or tastefully "better."

Unfortunately, it's not a Good Example addressing you here.  I have come across recipes for Parmesan Crisps at least three times, always remarking on how good they look, how easy they are to make.  And have never actually stirred my stumps, waddled into the kitchen and made some. 

But in the new  Food & Wines 2012 cookbook ( page 16 made me jump back.  It was a photo of Parmesan Crisps looking reproachfully up from the page.  As in "How come you don't like us?  We're good, we're easy to make ..."

6 T freshly-grated Pamegiano-Reggiano cheese
1 1/2 T sweet butter, softened
1 T plus 2 teas. all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 400, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set it aside.
Make the dough, roll it into a tube (any thickness you want) and then cut slices and put them on the parchment paper, kind of flattening them on it. 

Put the pan on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for 3 1/2 minutes, then turn the pan and bake another 3 1/2 minutes.

They'd be an excellent appetizer with drinks.  If you're thinking ahead to edible, home-made (a phrase not used much around here) Christmas gifts, these will keep in an air-tight can for a week. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9-11 Never Forget, Never Forgive

This thought popped into my mind this morning.  During WW2, the Germans viciously attacked England and France.  Today, more than 60 years later, France and England seem to have forgotten all about the Boches/Huns who so brutally set upon them.  Not me.

My thoughts today go to the survivors of 9-11.  The dead are gone; there is nothing we can do about that.

It's the living that should be in our thoughts -- the mother of the child that didn't come home; the wives of fire fighters and police who vanished, literally.  The father whose pretty little daughter was working her first job after graduating college. 

Everyday people thrust irrevocably into a holocaust of tumbling pieces of massive buildings, blinding smoke, destruction and death.  I cannot imagine what the rememberances done on this day are doing to them.  They will never forget; neither we nor history should either. 

It's easy for me -- I still think of "Germans" as"Nazis" and that was 60 years ago and counting!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fifty Years of Fine Music

Noodling around while waiting for the doors to open

An eager crowd

The parasol parade

The Yankee fan brought his car
Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, the South Bay New Orleans Jazz Club celebrated having been alive and flourishing here from 1962 to today.  Not in the same building, mind you, but as a club dedicated to New Orleans jazz.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Sin of Omission Fixed

Many older Americans have been conditioned to think of France (when or if they even do) as:  Good food!  Couture fashion!  Perfumes!   I covered food, fashion in that the women can't choose decent shoes or hide their bra straps... Perfume never came up in our travels.

But I forgot one of the biggies -- wine!  Probably because California vintages have been very good and extremely affordable.

This one is for my nephew, a certified, professional sommelier, and our good friend "D" who greatly appreciates wines and is an amateur sommelier.

These are the wines served on Air France, BusinessZ class both ways.  They're listed by region.  I listed them word-for-word because the authorities know more than I ever will about wine -- and I am exceptionally lazy.  In professional circles this is called "laundry list writing." 

CHAMPAGNE - Nicolas Feuilatte Brut Chardonney 2005
This impessive cooperative, founded by Nicolas Feuillatte in 1976 benefits from the high quality and high volume of the appellation.  Today it is the largest producers' union (over 5,000 strong) and is the third-largest producer of champagne. 

This pure chardonney wine, cellar-aged for six years, offers a bouquet of white flowers and citrus.  It makes a refreshing aperitif with a light, creamy bubble.

LANGUEDOC Blanc - Limoux Terroir Oceanique 2008 Caves Sieur d'Arques
To the south of Carcasson, this vineyard, praised by the historian Livy, is the site of the world's oldest sparkling wine (1531.)  Limoux is an unlikely location, tucked between hills that edge the upper Aude Valley; however, it brings us gentle chardonnay wines raised in four distinct zones. 

The "terroir oceanique," located to the west, is swept by Atlantic winds, resulting in a remarkable fatty (fatty) wine with a fine harmony of flavor.   

BOURGOGNE Rouge - Cote-de-Beaume-Villages 2008 Joseph Drouhin
Producer Joseph Drouhin owns vineyards in Chablis (the original home of the company) as well as the Cote d'Or and the Cote Chalonnaise.  Renowned for its Clos des Mouches, (translates as caged flies) this winemaker also does a fine job with village appellations such as this light and elegant pinot noir. 

This wine, the product of grapes selected from among the finest village terroirs of the area, is cask-aged, with very little new wood.  It offers elegant notes of fruit.

BORDEAUX Rouge - Haut-Medoc Chateau de Villambis 2008 Cru Bourgeois
West of the junction between the Pauillac and Saint-Estephe vineyards lies the Cissac-Medoc vineyards, which shares their limestone gravel soils.  The Chateau de Villambis benefits from this favorable location, producing a mellow wine composed mainly of Merlot (55%.) 

This producer is unusual in that it employs about 100 mentally-handicapped workers as part of their program of social integration. 

My own wine tasting?  In Provence, icy-cold rose is the tipple of the season.  And I did my share toward keeping the vineyards in business.

Saturday, September 8, 2012


Counting the profits

A celebratory lunch

The locals' bar, Bouc-Bel-Air

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Last Leg Before Home

We took the train back to the airport and spent the night at the airport Hilton (to the tune of 188 Euros/night) and finally, finally got a shower head that was taller than we are.  We had been crouching under showers that were about the right height for a six year old.  Yes, we could have lifted the head out of the stand and sprayed random bits of ourselves, but we're not used to that -- shower heads stay where they're supposed to in America! - and we would have sprayed the entire bathroom!

We unpacked the next day's outfits and nothing else and went down to the bar for a beer.  The lobby/bar/restaurant area was pretty much deserted.  We sat at the bar and the only other guest was sitting down at the other end, visiting with the bartender. 

We sipped our beers and ate a peanut or two from the dish on the bar.   Another guest came in, a guy about 40-45 years old who walked up and sat one barstool away from Richie.  We got to talking and it turns out that he is a private pilot for an unnamed sheik; in Paris on a layover. 

He said he lives at home in Seattle for a month with his wife and college-age daughter, then flies back to the sheik and works two months; repeat.  Occasionally, his wife flies in to join him at some exotic location. 

He said that the sheik employs three pilots, but one of them had just left and the replacement couldn't join up until some time in September.  He added that the job pays very, very well and his personal goal is to buy a 100-acre farm, and pay it off fully.

I asked if they flew US regulation hours (eight hours on duty and that's all) and he replied that they didn't because it was a privately-owned aircraft with three different sets of regulations and charter rules.  Their minimum is 10 hours.

He said the sheik is in the process of buying a new, larger plane --no, not a 747 -- I asked! but that he's "a bit lazy" about crew quarters on the plane.  In short, not awfully concerned about the pilot comforts.  I thought that was funny - I pictured an irate sheik, standing in the doorway of a closet yelling at the pilot  sleeping on the floor, "The control for my revolving, king-sized bed is not working! Do something about it!"

Next morning we had to be at the airport by 7:30 a.m.  and we overslept until 6:45!  But we made it!  The Hilton shuttle was outside the door when we tumbled through it and off we went. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Odds, Ends, Observations

His bag was filled with rocks - a geologist.
On the Train
The train conductor
We're in the first car after the engine.  The bar car is five on down.  The drug dog with a handler and two other officers came through.  All were in plain clothes and bright orange armbands that said "Douan" (Customs.)  They passed, I forgot about them, but then Richie came back from a beer run empty-handed.  He said, "They closed the bar car and the dog was sniffing around."

"Was the bartender still in there?"  I was curious because he had one of the more interesting mouths I've ever seen -- top row of teeth, left side only.  Bottom row of teeth, right side only.  Richie said he was, leaning against his counter.

Sidewalk Cafes
There's a reason they are everyone's second living room.  You can smoke with impunity and the French love nothing better than sitting (comfortably, of course) and critiquing passers-by's outfits.  French women are, generally speaking, well-groomed and well dressed, but they don't know squat about shoes.  It's as if they bought the outfit at Dior -- and then darted in to Payless for the shoes.  A disturbing new fashion -- bra straps everywhere you looked.  The women were extremely careless about matching the right  bra to the dress/blouse cut. 

The Busy Port
Due to construction, much of the sidewalks are blocked, and the roar is constant into the night - the back-up bells, the roar of engines or heavy-duty equipment, the scrape of a bulldozer blade on concrete -- and the ambulances.

Either the Old Port has a huge elderly population or else a very accident-prone one.  Every morning, I'd sit out on the balcony with my coffee and listen for the First Ambulance of the Day.  I must say help is at hand, because the ambulances circle (like vultures) on the road around the Old Port.  Never during our visit did see the accident or cause for the sirens.

Who Am I?
I was asked to my face if I was Dutch?  Another person asked if I were Swiss?  And on the train back to Paris -- "Are you English?"  You'd think that after four words in that accent! (mine) they'd know absolutely that I am an American.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Dejeuner en Pleine Air or Backyard Lunch

The groom's parents held Sunday lunch the day after the wedding in their back yard.  Some 100 guests mixed, sipped and ate.  I believe we were introduced to everyone present and because we were at a private party at a private house, every single one of them greeted us with the double kiss!  Not even in my long career as a woman of no particular repute have I been kissed by so many, including four and five year old kids!

Richie, being from New York, is quite used to giving female friends a quick peck on the lips, so coming in for the side of his cheek rather confused him in the beginning.

The weather co-operated beautifully, too.  Having survived the kiss-a-thon, we got beers and browsed.  One end of the drinks table held salty snacks -- black or green tapanede (both made by our hostess.) crackers, baguette slices and olives.

Much was made of the presence of a whole Iberian ham.  These hams are cured for 24 to 36 months and were once wild boars, fed largely on a diet of acorns.  Their Spanish name is "pata negra" because they have black nails, the distinguishing characteristic of Iberian hams.  Beware though -- unscrupulous ham dealers have been known to paint the toenails black!  And at between $639 -$650 per ham -- Sue the bastard!  France is much closer to Spain than we here are, so maybe they're not quite as roaringly expensive there as here.  The American price runs about $96/lb. 

The texture is not as coarse as beef jerky, but not as flimsy as prosciutto.  I liked it (but not at those prices.)

The Next Showstopper was the arrival of four men carrying an enormous paella platter.  Naturally the lead guy was a clown who faked stumbles and dropping it.   This was not a popular move - French people take their food Very Seriously Indeed. 

Salad followed the paella and then came the cheese course.  Dessert consisted of your choise of four, different ice creams (presented in the cartons so that you could see which was which) - vanilla, citron, strawberry and pistachio.  The groom's mother had also made a huge mousse au chocolat that was out of this world!  She adds crushed, sugared almonds to the mix which gives it crunch against the silky texture of the mousse. (I had two slices...)

Next trays of fruit were passed around and the French fastidiously peeled their peaches or carefully cut slices of melon as we all lounged around the tables; their tableclothes speckled with crumbs and wadded-up napkins.  Over all lay a mood of deep contentment, punctuated by the occasional belch. 

The paella

Paella cooker


World's Best Mousse au Chocolat!
Iberian ham
This repose lasted only for a short time.  The sportier members of the group went out to the front yard to play sand volleyball.  (Our hosts have a court.)  It was all I could do to stagger to a seat in the shade and watch.  Very unAmerican, I know.  But you weren't there and you didn't eat like I did!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

At A French Wedding

The groom and his mother

The bride and her father

Reciting their vows


Well wishers after the ceremony

Our godson - handsome devil, isn't he?

The extended wedding party

The bride changed to something cooler - it was a hot night
We missed the Mayor's office because we turned left instead of right.  When we did find it, the wedding party was streaming down the sidewalk, ready to drive to the church.  We were told we hadn't missed anything and, in fact, his/her office was hotter than hell is reported to be -- no air conditioning.    

Monday, September 3, 2012

We Interrupt This Travelogue...for the Hermosa Beach Fiesta

Yes.  The bike has a wheel.

This is not a pig.  It's a dog the owners painted pink.

BIG beautiful dog (Great Dane, I believe)
Barbecued prawns

New This Year - Ferris Wheel

The oar as cane...

Santa Maria tri-tip

The patio crowd at the Poopdeck

Sunday, September 2, 2012


It's a village (pop. 6,331) 19 miles west of Marseilles.  We went to recce the place, mainly how to find it, for the wedding on Saturday.  First we had to be in the mayor's office there at 4 p.m.; second we would all traipse to another village, 6 kilometers away, for the church wedding in Ensues-le-Redonne at 5 p.m.  Carry-le-Rouet is the couple's home village.

Naturally we timed our arrival for a leisurely lunch.  Below is the seafood salad supreme - skewers of scallops and mussels with lobster and deep-fried shrimp and a stuffed oyster.  We both ordered it -  16 Euros each and that's a big piece of lobster!

Lemon tart with meringue for me...

Mousse au chocolate for Richie

The beach

The water
The boat basin

Restaurant  Le Scoop, 13620 Carry-le-Rouet - first or second restaurant as you walk into the waterfront; white awnings. Lunch and dessert came to 55 Euros, including the service compris.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The 30Eu/Night Difference

Never having stayed in a Marseilles hotel prior to this visit, I had to rely on guidebooks and to "see" the various hotels (and their prices.)  Travel expert Rick Steves praised one as being relatively cheap, clean, great location and so on.  He mentioned in passing that the hotel layout was a bit different.

Indeed it is.  After entering the street door, you climb up two flights of steep stairs.  You will arrive at the reception desk.  After signing in, you will take your bags up another flight of stairs where you will find the elevator.  It took us up one flight to our floor.  Why it's all the way up there and not down where an elevator would be useful, I will never know.

In truth, this building dates back to the 1800s and has been re-configured several times in its long history.  The floors tend to slope and gave me the feeling of a sailor on shore leave.

The room itself was small (I would later joke that I'
ve been in bigger bathrooms - on a plane!) and sparsely furnished -- one battered wooden kitchen chair or the bed were the sit-down choices.  The selling point was the view from The Window (one.)  The old port is U-shaped and the hotel was located in the bottom of the U.

It was very hot the night we arrived and since the a/c seemed not to be working, I left said window open -- and we listened to traffic, sirens, car radios and drunks yelling until I finally got up and closed it. 

Next morning, we went down for breakfast in the lounge area.  It was 7.9 Euros for both of us.  A nice spread - slices of deli ham, an egg cooker, croissants, butter, yogurt, dry cereals and apricot or orange juice.

The egg cooker, rarely, if ever, seen in the US.

That morning, my goal was to find another hotel and since the Old Port sides are dotted with them, we could just pop in and inquire.  The Alize is a very good hotel for youthful people - backpackers maybe who are used to hurtling themselves up mountains and down roads.  It's not for rapidly-aging Americans.

Hotel Alize, 35 Quai des Belges,k 13001 Marseilles

On our stroll around the port, we popped into the first hotel we came to -- Hotel La Residence, 18 quai du Port ( and they had me at the first "Bonjour!"

Look!  an elevator on the first floor!  A computer for guest's usage!  Wonderfully chill a/c.  A chic restaurant (theirs) just outside the front door!  The clerk gave me the rate -- 130 Euros/night and I asked to see a room.  She handed me the key to 403; we promised not to touch anything and bounded onto the elevator.  The room faced the right of the U with a splendid view from the solid balcony (not like New Orleans where balconies seem to be made of black iron lace) with a small table and two chairs.

We went back down, I handed her the key and said, "We'll take it!"  Richie made me stay at the Alize that night because I'd told that desk clerk that we would.  With a sigh that would have broken a less steely heart, I meekly acquiesced. 

View from our balcony
View from our balcony
Sorry - turn your head; this is the bed

Next day we moved into heaven.  In fact, we got room 403.  Some of the amenities:  A bathroom bigger (nearly) than our room at the Alize; coffee/tea maker with mugs, ice bucket, honor bar and two wine glasses; a much bigger bed with four pillows;  The balcony and chairs where I smoked contentedly - smoking is forbidden in the room, but an ashtray was provided along with a book of matches and the earnest written plea that we not smoke in the room. Happy to comply!

Best of all were the four desk clerks we encountered during our stay.  They of them were very professionally-dressed women; the fourth was the night guy who was very friedly and funny.  The ladies were long-legged (a trend now in France) and thin.  They reminded me of sleek greyhounds.

The ladies were of immense help -- called us a cab, showed us where to park, answered questions about where things were; provided maps and logged me on to the computer every morning -- all of these things were done with maximum friendliness and a genuine desire to be useful.  They were so nice that when we visited Aix, I brought them back little boxes of Callisons as a modest "thank you.".  They were quite surprised.

The breakfast help, a waitress and a young waiter were friendly and watchful.  Our first morning, I asked for a glass of water so that we could take our pills.  The next morning, this waiter grinned and brought a pitcher of water to the table.  "For the pills," he announced.  Yes, that kind of attention to detail.

The outdoor terrace was a great place to butter a chunk of baguette, spread honey on it and eat it, gazing at the never-ending parade of people along the port.

I liked it all there so much that I was only half-joking when I said I was going to move in and the hell with going home.