Friday, December 2, 2016

Deli, No Delhi

Monday, November 28, 2016
In case you just came on board, allow me to tell you that my first "real" job was as a computer programmer in 1969.  In the years that followed until I left the field in 1999 to go to law school, I saw an amazing amount of change and innovation.  Therefore, my resistance to driverless cars is not some simple reaction to change, but rather a concern for the overselling of and overconfidence in technology that may not meet the challenge of protecting human lives. 

Here is my anecdote du jour in this regard.  Blessed by the company of America's Loveliest Nephrologist, we decided to go to an Indian restaurant on Sunday evening, specifically Dhaba, 108 Lexington Avenue, a favorite.  Since it gets particularly busy on Sunday evenings, I used Open Table, the handy restaurant reservation web site.  It gave me a choice of a table for three at 6 PM or 8:30 PM and later.  I chose 6 PM and received an acknowledgment: Your Reservation Confirmation for Dhaba.  However, Dhaba was dark when we arrived, with a sign announcing that it was closed for renovations.  Get that. The computer was very deliberate in restricting the choice of reservation times, even though we couldn't get in at any time.  It gets better.  Today, this message came from Open Table: Congrats! You just earned 1,000 points.  Because of not being able to get into Dhaba last night at 6 PM. 

I got up this morning feeling like it was the first day of school.  I have to report to jury duty.  It's been about 10 years since I was last called and then was almost immediately dismissed by the judge who did not want to run the risk of being overridden in private by a punk lawyer.  In fact, I was one of several lawyers summarily dismissed.  While a return to the legal world accounts for part of my excitement, the prospect of daily lunches in Chinatown is certainly a stimulant.  I might be tempted to prolong deliberations so that access to this magical kingdom will be convenient and efficient.

For my lunch today I chose Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, as if I were visiting the area for the first time to get classic Chinatown Chinese food served in large portions at modest prices.  It's hard to say low prices about anything these days, but Wo Hop certainly stands out on a price/performance basis.  I had beef and shrimp chow fun, delicious at $8.95.  Looking back, I found that on January 26, 2011, a year into this (ad)venture, I first recorded the price of chow fun at Wo Hop at $7.60, which at a 3% rate of inflation brings us to the current price.  I am not sure why it took me a whole year to start reporting prices or why I didn't from the start.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Recognizing the increasing diversity of the American population, the supporters of the president-elect are being offered the choice of black or brown shirts.

Calvin Trillin has joined the discussion on the scariest word originated by this article.  He suggests "Upgrade," which promises a traumatic period at the hands of a computer geek.  

Yesterday afternoon, the judge told us that the trial might run through the end of next week.  I was delighted with this news and started menu planning for the next 10 days, alternating old favorites and new joints that have popped up in Chinatown since I retired.  This morning, I was temporarily relieved to find the courtroom door locked and everyone sitting in the hall even though I arrived almost 20 minutes late.  "The judge is late," someone said, but, as we sat longer and longer, I became worried.  The judge was probably working over the lawyers to find a way to avoid a trial, an expensive, messy affair for all concerned, except a retired attorney who wanted to spend time in Chinatown.  Just as I feared, the defendant accused of selling heroin copped a plea and all the prospective jurors were dismissed, insulated against being called back to jury duty for 6 years.  What a wretched fate.  

The day was partially redeemed by going to the winning Rangers game in the evening with Jerry Saltzman, a fine gentleman.  We ate at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 209 West 38th Street, before the game.  Putting aside temporarily my fastidious concern for preserving my figure, I ordered a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic, at 140 calories, the ideal beverage to accompany corned beef, pastrami, brisket or, at least, to pay tribute to your ancestors.  After all, popular brand beers typically have 150 calories, 100 calories for a "light" beer.  

Open Table completed its trinity of errors by asking me today How was Dhaba?  If I were in a driverless car, I think I would just have jumped a curb.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016
I have admitted several times that I am ethnocentric, a bit hyper when my tribe is demeaned, put on the defensive or outright injured.  But, there are some incidents that rise (or descend) to a unique level of insanity as exemplified by this clip from a Russian ice show.  Note that the woman is reportedly the wife of Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

A new report, "The Leaky Pipeline for Women Entering the Legal Profession," offers some very interesting statistics about women and law school.  While women are about half of the current law student population, a smaller percentage of women college graduates apply to law school than men; they are less frequently admitted; they tend to enroll at lower ranked law schools.  This eventually seems to account for disparities in hiring and advancement between men and women lawyers.  The report overlooks marital status, a key element in career choices for some women, I believe.  Right now, many American wives willingly or not, more often than not, operate in the wake of their husband's career plans and aspirations.  That may curb their geographic options and limit the quality of their academic choices.  Whether coincidence or not, the recognized elite law schools are concentrated in a few cities and the benefits of attendance thereat may be lost to the wife of a sheepherder.

Put aside political considerations for a moment as you read the following story.   You'd have to go back many presidents to find one demonstrating the basic humanity of Barack Obama, even as we prepare to place him in the rear view mirror. 

Han Dynasty, 215 West 85th Street, is the biggest Chinese restaurant that I can think of, dim sum palaces aside.  It may also be the most attractive, sitting in a high-ceilinged space that must have once been a ballroom.  Only a few tables were occupied there as I enjoyed the company of Margie Schorr and the very spicy food that we shared at lunch. 

We had a large portion of dan dan noodles ($8.95), with the pepper flakes giving an obvious kick to the lo mein-like noodles.  We continued with 2 lunch specials in common, garlic sauce chicken ($9.95) and dry pepper fish ($11.95).  The chicken was undistinguished, but the fried fish fillets were spicy hot and kept us reaching for the hot tea and cold water.  The restaurant is part of a small chain, originating in Philadelphia, with another branch in the East Village.  Its URL is distinctive, but somewhat offputting.

Thursday, December 1, 2016
I joined Stanley and Fumiko Feingold and a handful of other superannuated CCNY graduates for dinner at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 209 West 38th Street, just 48 hours after my last visit.  I would not suggest another venue, since the Feingolds now spent their days where one is more likely to meet a Trump voter than a potato knish.  Offering them a good pastrami sandwich might be viewed as the Jewish equivalent of the communion wafer.  

Friday, December 2, 2016
87-year old David Goldfarb was not offended by my suggestion that we have lunch at Old John's Luncheonette, 148 West 67th Street, even though he has a few generations on it.  David is always friendly and stimulating company, while I might be viewed as much more the latter than the former.  

Friday, November 25, 2016

Let Me Count The Ways

Monday, November 21, 2016
Throughout the year, the center of Saturday Jewish religious services is the reading of the Torah, a section at a time.  The birthday of the Torah (Simchat Torah) comes two weeks on the Jewish calendar after the birthday of the universe (Rosh haShana).  A lot of hot stuff, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, are all jammed into the first few readings, then the patriarch Abraham appears not even a month into the new year.  While the stories of Abraham's near-sacrifice of his son Isaac and his expulsion of his concubine Hagar and their son Ishmael have kept rabbis and psychiatrists busy for centuries, one little snippet from this Saturday's reading caught my attention.

At Genesis 18:7-8, Abraham feeds three strangers who appear at his tent, possibly emissaries or surrogates of God.  A conventional translation of the Hebrew reads: "And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hastened to dress it.  And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat."  In other words, on this important occasion, Abraham served a meal combining dairy and meat, a big No No in Hebrew circles.  

Exodus 34:36 offers the enigmatic "You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk."   Deuteronomy 14 repeats this and spells out in detail the Kosher rules, animals that may be eaten and those not.  Leviticus 11 gives a list of forbidden birds, but nothing on four legs or cuisines is mentioned.  Defenders of the faith rush to explain that these Kosher rules, part of the Torah delivered to Moses at Mt. Sinai, emerge long after the days of Abraham.  Thereby, the law seems to revoke custom, not an unusual event.  

But, this is my problem.  I agree that boiling a baby goat/lamb/calf in its mother's milk sounds pretty disgusting, but what about the myriad strictures that result from this directive?  The web site Judaism 101 ( this candid commentary, which I found repeated in several places:  "The short answer to why Jews observe these laws is: because the Torah says so.  The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason."   Therefore, no cheeseburgers or chicken parmesan because.  Just Because.  Did you hear me, BECAUSE!!??   Isn't it enough that over centuries we have been persecuted, ghettoized, tortured?  We have to eschew some very delectable dishes without any explanation?  What's more Jewish than asking questions?

I think that it is more than sophistry for me to examine later imperatives in light of earlier behavior.  While the Torah was manifested in the Sinai Desert, when Moses had a 40-day binge of transcribing the verities, it does not seem to be rooted only in time and space.  "Not only Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also Noah and even Adam knew the Torah," says the very orthodox Lubavitcher sect.  

Since Abraham was getting critical messages from on high (such as, kill your son), we might expect that he would have heard about a serious error in menu planning.  
I visited Joy Luck Palace, 98 Mott Street, shortly after this big dim sum joint opened (February 24, 2016).  Today, I returned with Seth G., a nice young man who probably would have paid for lunch at some fancy schmancy place.  Instead, I wanted to insure a good time for both of us and we happily devoured 7 different dim sum items, 3 or 4 pieces on each plate.  The carts were coming fast and furious and we could have easily had another dozen or more attractive items.  Next time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Two weeks ago vividly demonstrated that truth is stranger than fiction.  So, I am going to skip strange and stick to fiction for the foreseeable future.  I am turning to Ruth Rendell, Michael Connelly, Alex Berenson, among others, for a world with a semblance of sense.

Thursday, November 24, 2106
Happy Thanksgiving.  Let us give thanks that at least 2 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than the other guy.

More thanks to Rudi G., my favorite Latvian, for sending this article on the benefits of eating ice cream for breakfast.
This is an area where I might claim a pioneering role.  I have been eating ice cream late at night for decades, anticipating the dawn.

Friday, November 25, 2016
America's Favorite Epidemiologist produced a memorable holiday meal for more people than we had chairs and dinner plates until we did some strategic borrowing.  Everyone seemed to eat heartily, too heartily when it came to dessert, leaving no chocolate chip mandelbrot or chocolate peanut squares for the house account.  Of course, this was an occasion for selflessness and charity, almost.

Friday, November 18, 2016

It's Still Over

Monday, November 14, 2016
The natural followup to my visit last week to Afghan Kebab House #1 is "Is that all there is?"  No, there is Afghan Kebab House #2 at 1345 Second Avenue (71st Street).  While I haven't been there, the on-line reviews indicate that it is very similar to #1.

As a result of recent events, I will be paying much more attention to sports in the foreseeable future.  In fact, tonight I am going to see the New York Knicks, a professional basketball team (you never know who might read this) play in Madison Square Garden.  It must be 20 years since I last saw them play in person and what makes it even more special is my companion, William Franklin Harrison, on the day before his 16th birthday.  That means he will be eligible to run for president in 19 years at age 35, in time for the 2036 election.  I've explained before that William Franklin Harrison is as presidential a name as you could imagine and I want get on the bandwagon early. 

William and I met at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen, 209 West 38th Street, one of the very few of a vanishing breed.  I had a very good, generously portioned corned beef/pastrami combination sandwich.  The meal was marked with my disagreement with our waiter, a longtime fixture at Ben's.  I was lamenting the disappearance of diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic, a variant of the classic Jewish delicatessen beverage.  (Note that Dr. Brown has been around since the 19th Century, and today offers fully-sugared cream, black cherry, ginger ale, root beer and cel-ray, but only diet versions of cream and black cherry soda.  I find it necessary to drink diet beverages in order to protect my modeling career.)  As unthinkable as drinking a glass of milk with a corned beef sandwich, it was as unthinkable for me to not have a diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic when ingesting any Hebrew National product.  I admit that it is an acquired taste, probably acquired during the forty years crossing the desert to the Promised Land after leaving Egypt.

The waiter claimed that it had been discontinued 27 years ago.  I demurred.  I thought it had been a decade or so since I complained to Ralph Blumenthal, crack New York Times journalist and New York City connoisseur, about the loss of diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic.  While I know that Ralph recognized the importance of this development, the Times kept silent, probably to further distance itself from its Jewish heritage.  In any case, Google led us to the information that diet Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray Tonic was discontinued in 2005, allegedly because of weak demand.  The waiter avoided our table after we passed along this news and we had to go to the front to pay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
After spending last evening with the youngest generation, I jumped back (ahead?) to my own by having lunch with Irwin Pronin, whom I will always regard as my President (Student Government, CCNY, 1962), at Taste of Shanghai, 42 Mott Street, a tiny, brand new joint.  The place held 8 two tops and was nicely decorated.  One wall was mirrored and the other had wallpaper showing Chinese pictographs.  The kitchen was in the basement, sending food up on a dumbwaiter. 

We shared plump dumplings (5 for $4.99), stewed beef flank ($9.99 for a theoretical 9 ounces), and "Hand-Ripped Noodles" with chicken cooked with green and red peppers.  The sauce for the beef and the chicken were nicely spiced and we zupped it all up.  However, even counting the tendons in the beef dish, it was underweight.  The hand pulled noodles, using the more common name, were very good, although we each had the impression that it was one very long noodle that occupied our plate as we bit off piece after piece in order to consume it.  Our plates, by the way, were styrofoam and an upgrade in tableware is sorely needed if this joint hangs around.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 
As of today, the widely disliked Hillary Clinton leads in the popular vote by around 1 million votes.

Goodbye Joe Siegel, distinguished as a human being, a Jew and an American.

Thursday, November 17, 2016
The Electoral College, now a division of Trump University, is not the only institution 
that distorts the popular will.  Major League Baseball announced certain honors last night including the Cy Young Award given to the best pitcher in each of the two leagues.  The voting in the National League proceeded democratically, if you'll pardon the expression.  However, it seems that in an effort to make the American League great again, the results got skewed.

Here is a fascinating graphic illustration of the too recent presidential election.  For some reason, looking at these maps reminds me of the supposed path to resolving the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis, "land for peace." Right here in America, they have the land and we ain't getting no peace.

Friday, November 18, 2016
I've been thinking about the spurt of threats and insults directed towards Jews that has accompanied the rise of DT.  See, for example,  I guess that if his vulgarity and misogyny can be dismissed as "locker room banter,"  I just have to accept this anti-Semitism as "concentration camp banter."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Well, It's Over

Monday, November 7, 2016
I am very skeptical about driverless cars.  Granted, taking the wheel away from myriad mouthbreathers should lower fatalities significantly, it will be easier said than done.  I started programming computers in 1969 and, even as I marveled at the remarkable progress made over the decades, I remained  aware of the errors emanating from computer systems whether laughable or lethal.  Not often, but I found myself telling a client that the system failure that she experienced in fact could not have happened.  

What if the delays downloading an episode of "Nurse Jackie" on Netflix also arise when your automated chariot is navigating the Long Island Expressway?  Beside the formidable concerns about errors, consider the problems associated with getting it right.  The article below discusses ethical considerations in designing a driverless system, specifically do you kill the driver and passengers in order to save even more people in another vehicle or on the sidewalk?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016
In spite of my background in information technology, at 7:00 this morning, even as I read the New York Times on my smartyphone, a combination of hardware and software that was inconceivable back in the day, I was anxious to get my hands on the printed newspaper, whose delivery was delayed.  Even though the on-line version offers features, such as hyperlinks and interactive graphics, that a two-dimensional hard copy could never approach, I derive satisfaction/comfort/reassurance from clutching the newspaper.  With the criticality of the day's pending events, this feeling is even greater.  Information actually in hand seems to carry more weight than the ephemeral mixture of electrons and pixels flashing on our screens.

The Palazzo di Gotthelf is no more than 1/4 mile from the finish line of the New York City Marathon, so I was not surprised to see people walking around the neighborhood yesterday wearing the bronze medal awarded to all finishers on Sunday.  Today, when I walked to the theater district, the sight of successful runners, at least those advertising their success, was a bit off putting at first, like enough already.   But, I quickly realized that these folks did something I never did, never contemplated doing, and never will do.  When I was a semi-athletic kid, I showed some skills, but I didn't run.  I played first base on a baseball team, pitched on a softball team, was a lineman and a quarterback on football teams.  Generally, nothing more than a long stride was needed at any time.  So, hats off to you who came from near and far (a guy from Perth, Australia took 33 hours to get here, arriving not long before the start of the race) to run 26 miles through the streets of New York.  If I ever did that, I know that I would wear my medal day and night until the ribbon rotted.  

On my walk, I stopped for lunch at the Afghan Kebab House #1, 764 Ninth Avenue, owned by a former royal chef, who fled the country in 1979.  It's a narrow joint, holding 13 tables, almost evenly divided between two and four tops.  It does not resemble a war zone.  Oriental rugs hang on the walls along with that famous photograph of the striking young woman on the cover of National Geographic.  

She was my only company when I sat down near 1 PM and only two other customers came while I was there.  I ordered Kabuli Palow, nine small chunks of grilled lamb atop brown rice mixed with sliced almonds, raisins, and carrots ($18).  The meat was freshly cooked and the dish was given a zest by squeezes from the bottles of white (dilly yoghurt), green (sweet pesto) and red (hot pepper) sauce on the table.  The salad greens on the side were tired. 

In all, Afghan Kebab House #1 is not a bad choice if you want to sit down and be served, instead of standing on the sidewalk ordering from one of the many Halal carts offering tasty chicken and mystery meat cooked with onions and spices for $5/6.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016
We turned the clock back too far, I fear.  It seems that a lot of people prefer fascism to feminism.  

By the way, it is 8:45 AM and the newspaper has not yet been delivered.  Is that an act of mercy?

My friend Lyn Dobrin has started a petition calling for the presidency to be decided by popular vote alone.  Take a look.   By the way, it makes a big difference.

Thursday,  November 10, 2016
What I learned from the election: Lying is the new black. 

Not all the election results were dreary.  "Voters in San Diego County on Tuesday soundly rejected a referendum that would have steered hundreds of millions of tax dollars toward a stadium the [NFL] team wanted to build in downtown San Diego."

The Boyz Club met today at Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, the reliable, cavernous dim sum establishment.  These are just the people that you want and need to surround you at this crazy time.  Educated, articulate, caring, broad-minded, they deal openly with issues that may touch sensitive emotional and ideological nerves.  Today, we discussed adopting a pet, pie vs. cake, and favorite beaches.  No holds were barred.

Friday, November 11, 2016
DT's supporters often said,"He tells it like it is."  I think that this is a comment about style, not substance.  It's not so much what "it" is, but rather how he talks about "it".  He peddles exasperation.

About driverless cars:   Would you put your life in the hands of data modeling technology that predicted an overwhelming victory for Hillary Clinton?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Home Again

Saturday, October 29, 2016
The New York Times considers whether operating a restaurant in New York City is a viable proposition and compares it to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In sum, it finds that New Yorkers may have to go hungry.  Space costs much more in Manhattan and Brooklyn; labor is cheapest in Los Angeles; fruits and vegetables are cheaper in California, closer to the source; "even red meat, chicken and some fish are cheaper in the West."  New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have more restaurants than anywhere else in the country — 16.9 per 10,000 people as of spring 2016.  However, the choices may not be to your liking. "Chains are growing and independents are closing, with the steepest decline in New York City.” 

The biggest financial news of the past week was the proposed acquisition of TimeWarner by AT&T, to the tune of $85,400,000,000.  That's a big number, but I was drawn to another big number, almost 100, the number of lobbyists AT&T has on retainer, according to the New York Times.

The Center for Responsive Politics claims that "80 out of 113 AT&T Inc lobbyists in 2015-2016 have previously held government jobs."   We might be thankful to AT&T for keeping these former legislators and public officials away from our schools, playgrounds and scout troops. 

Being a practical guy, I'm thinking about how much this costs., a specialist in compensation reporting, states that the "median annual Lobbyist salary is $105,695, as of September 30, 2016, with a range usually between $85,092-$145,911."  No special rate exists for those most adept at ignoring the common good, former members of Congress.  The aggregate expense for AT&T currying favor is probably just a fraction of the $85.4 billion purchase price, although it would probably provide a lot of pitchforks to the peasants out there, an earlier form of influencing opinion.

This deal differs from the typical horizontal merger, where competitors join, typically drawing anti-trust scrutiny.  Here we have a vertical merger, buyer and seller combining for perceived efficiencies.  The law and economics of this entire area is a mystery to me, but I can contribute a memory: In 2000, AOL purchased Time Warner for $164 billion.  The new enterprise named TimeWarner proceeded to lose $99 billion in 2002 and the value of its stock subsequently went from $226 billion to about $20 billion.  In 2009, AOL was spun off into oblivion.  Et tu, AT&T?  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Last year (September 1, 2015), I was disappointed when I belatedly discovered that the big, black metal cube poised on edge that sat on Cooper Square, the intersection of St. Marks Place, the Bowery, Astor Place and Lafayette Street, had been removed.  It had been there for over 45 years and I, along with other adolescents of all ages, would give it a twirl when I passed by.

Like the Dodgers returning to Brooklyn, I never expected it to be restored.  To my surprise, I saw today that you might be able to go home again.

I was in the vicinity on the way to Drunken Dumplings, 137 First Avenue, to begin to make up for not eating Chinese food for almost two weeks while away.  It's a small joint, 8 two tops and a ledge with 8 stools along one wall, exposed  brick on the other.  Very good soul music played at just the right decibel level to stimulate your appetite.  

The menu is very simple, a few dumplings, either pan fried or boiled at $8.75 for 6 pieces, or 3 types of xiao long bao (soup dumplings), $10.75 and $11.75.  One of the soup dumplings I had never seen before, five inches in diameter, taking the entire bamboo steamer.  If you know your soup dumplings, you know that this cannot be finger food.  You need a straw to zup up the soup and then chopsticks to finish it off.  That was too complicated, so I ordered fried chicken with cashew dumplings and boiled shrimp with bacon and orange slice dumplings.  The dumplings were well prepared and only the orange flavor eluded me.  However, I had this feeling that the food was too clean.  One of the charms of Chinese (Indian food, too) is the suspicion that your mother would be shocked if all the ingredients were laid out in front of her.  These dumplings seemed to contain exactly what was said on the blackboard menu, nothing mysterious, nothing to raise offense or eyebrows, a bit dull, in other words.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016
By now, I am back in a New York state of mind.  On Sunday, we had bagels and lox for brunch.  Yesterday, I had Chinese food for lunch and went to Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers play.  Today, on the way to a doctor's appointment, I passed Woody Allen on Park Avenue and shopped at Zabar's on the way home.

Thursday, November 3, 2016
Not everyone thinks that I am just an old fogy; here is the title of an e-mail message that I received:  Alan, enjoy exclusive savings on a new Maserati

Friday, November 4, 2016
Appropriate for the season, Trader Joe's has pumpkin ice cream.  Do not buy it if you hate your mouth.

Friday, October 28, 2016

How Are Things In Montenegro?

Saturday, October 22, 2016
We had a lecture this morning about the late 20th century Yugoslav War(s).  Croatians speak of the Homeland War, claiming that they were invaded by the predominantly Serbian Yugoslav Army, not beset by any local forces.  The fracturing of Yugoslavia into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro is very proximate in time and consciousness.  The religious conflicts, which agitated this area for centuries, have now been concretized by borders.  Croatia and Slovenia are Roman Catholic, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro are Eastern (Serbian) Orthodox, Kosovo is Muslim, and Bosnia a volatile mix.  While the locals may have derived psychic benefits from national autonomy, the several independent countries seem destined to hang separately, sacrificing opportunity to vaunted pride.

We cruised on the motor yacht Futura for a couple of hours and landed at Korčula, a  long, skinny island, reputedly the home of Marco Polo.  For the linguists in the crowd allow me to point out that č is one of a few letters Croatian adds to the Roman alphabet, while eliminating some others.  It is not just c with an accent; it is pronounced ch.

Korčula has a fussily decorated cathedral and a few modest palaces.  The old town is surrounded by ramparts, affording a beautiful view of the sea.  Ten minutes is all it takes to walk the ramparts, demonstrating how small the old town is.  

What Korčula has is one very good restaurant, Filippi, Šetalište Petra Kanavelića (that's an address not a review) with 20 seats inside and maybe a dozen tables outside.  We were a party of six; tonight's dinner was at large, not on the Futura.  The host/waiter was extremely cordial even after he heard that we wanted separate checks.

I had the soup of the day, pureed zucchini cooked simply with salt, pepper and olive oil (40 HRK, $6).  Then, I had pappardelle with dark meat chicken cooked in a sweet soy sauce (120 HRK).  Other choices included roasted sea bass, ziti with shrimp and cherry tomatoes, and pappardelle with truffles.  Four of us shared a bottle of local white wine (260 HRK), making for an excellent meal.  All of Filippi's wine, along with most of the other ingredients are locally-sourced.

Korčula, like many other Croatian islands dependent on tourism, seems to hibernate during the fall and winter.  Filippi, however, stays open and I encourage you to drop in next time you are sailing the Adriatic Sea.

Sunday, October 23, 2016
We landed on Mljet (mil-yet) this morning, a sparsely populated, densely forested island, 2 miles deep and 20 miles long.  A good portion of the island was designated as a national park in 1960, the first of its kind in the Adriatic.  We hiked into the woods to the edge of Big Lake, actually a bay with a narrow outlet to the sea, causing a mix of fresh and salt water with the tides.  A small boat took us across the lake to St. Mary's Island, hardly bigger than a baseball field, on which a Benedictine monastery was built in the 12th century.  The building has been repurposed several times with each invasion, friendly or otherwise.  It now serves as a restaurant, poised to close for the season on November 1.  St. Mary's also holds a tiny cemetery, long out of commission, where bodies were buried vertically to save space.  

As a result of jiggling our schedule, we cruised to another small island this afternoon, Šipan, pronounced ship-ann, using one of the extra letters of the Croatian alphabet.  It has a pretty harbor and an array of old stone houses along the waterfront.  When you look a bit more closely you see that some of the houses are mere shells, no roofs, long deserted.  A big earthquake in 1979 drove some people away and the lack of opportunity increased the flight subsequently.  The population is now under 1,000.

As with the other small islands that we have visited, Šipan has an elementary school and a doctor in general practice.  Anything further in education or medical specialization requires a long boat ride to either Split or Dubrovnik.  A helicopter is called in for emergencies.

There were no special landmarks in the village, but the sight of pomegranate trees swollen with fruit was out of the ordinary for most of us.

Monday, October 24, 2016
We cruised for about two hours this morning to Dubrovnik, the southern tip of Croatia.  The actual distance that we covered Split to Dubrovnik is less than 200 kilometers, but this trip was not about haste.  

Before we went ashore to explore Dubrovnik, we had a very informative lecture by a young academic, that is someone under 60, about Dubrovnik's success as an independent city-state for four-and-a-half centuries until overrun by Napoleon.  

Dubrovnik's old town is completely walled in and probably the most charming place that we have visited, even with the dense presence of T-shirt shops, jewelry stores and restaurants.  It contains a cathedral (inevitably), the rector's palace (the rector was the appointed big cheese of the city-state), other mansions and churches, and narrow residential alleys at right angles to the main street running down the center.  

It also has a synagogue, apparently founded in the mid-16th century, larger and more formal in appearance than Split's synagogue.  The current Jewish population of Dubrovnik is around 50 and it seems never to have had a significant Jewish presence.  The synagogue's memorial to victims of the Nazis and local fascists has 27 names, while a plaque in the Split synagogue lists about 100 names.  These numbers, from the second and third largest cities in the country, come nowhere near the estimate of 33,000 Croatian Jews killed in the Holocaust, according to the United States Holocaust Museum.  

As in Split, the synagogue is only fitfully active, although it claims to be the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the world, and the second oldest of any type in Europe.  Tonight is Simchas Torah, a festive Holy Day, but sadly no observance is planned here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016
We slept aboard the Futura last night, which stayed docked in Dubrovnik, and we packed up and left the ship this morning.  Before heading south by bus, we returned to the old town.  I chose to walk the ramparts atop the walls that surround the old town.  The circuit is about 1-1/4 miles and rises to about 150 meters above the street on one side and the sea on the other.  The path is narrow; in most places two people are barely able to walk together.  The ramparts are generally about three feet tall on each side.  While there is only one route, there are two ways to handle it.  If you proceed normally, you can be finished in just over one hour.  I proceeded with terror, taking about two hours.  As slow as I was, my early start got me off the ramparts before the hordes from two gargantuan cruise ships swarmed over the old town.  At least, observing many of these folk made me feel somewhat youthful.

We crossed the border and arrived in Herceg (hertz-egg) Novi, Montenegro late in the afternoon.  I missed our group's introductory walking tour of the vicinity, because a couple of minor but time-consuming repairs had to be made to our room, which sits over a large infinity pool just in front of the seashore.  With the repairs made, I was able to sit on our terrace and record these thoughts.   

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Today is the last full day of our tour and they kept us busy.  We took a bus to a pretty place with a church and then a boat to another pretty place with a church and then a bus to still another pretty place with lots of churches and then a ferry across the bay to shorten the drive back to our hotel.  

Actually, one stop stood out.  Lonely Planet call Kotor the "prettiest and best-preserved town in Montenegro."  It sits on the Adriatic Sea and originated over 2,000 years ago.  The walls surrounding the old town do not stop at the edge of the settlement, but rather climb 350 meters up the mountain behind it, resembling, if anything, the Great Wall of China.  One can walk the walls, just not this one.

I may seem fickle, but I now pronounce Kotor more charming than Dubrovnik, whose symmetry appealed to me; narrow alleys radiating from one main street, like the skeleton of a fish.  Kotor is quite the opposite; a random collection of narrow streets run 50 to 100 feet before entering into a plaza, which might have 1 to 4 exits.  Also, Kotor has some real stores and businesses along with the inevitable souvenir shops and restaurants.  Kotor's old town had more churches than Dubrovnik's, but it was more ecumenical, containing Eastern (Serbian) Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, the fuel for violence in the past.

Let me skip back to Montenegro 101.  Montenegro, an Italian word supposedly never used by the residents, joined with Serbia when Yugoslavia dissolved.  They shared the same religion and language, with minor variations.  It fought Croatia in the 1990s alongside Serbia.  However, in 2006, Montenegro declared its independence and established a fiscal policy that lead to its adoption of the Euro as its currency, even though it is not a member of the European Union.  

In spite of the historic divisions between them, Croatian influences are especially apparent in this northwest area of Montenegro.  In order to institutionalize "Montenegrin" as its official language, as declared by its 2007 constitution, in spite of its near identity with Serbian, Montenegro allows schoolchildren to choose whether to write the language in the Roman alphabet, à la Croatian, or in Cyrillic, à la Serbian.  This must yield either great mental dexterity or massive confusion.

Thursday, October 27, 2016
We had to get up at 3:30 AM in order to drive back to the nearest major airport, situated in Croatia, to catch a flight to Frankfurt and on to the Holy Land.  Free copies of the International New York Times and the Wall Street Journal at the airport helped me reset my biorhythms to their normal abnormal levels.  WSJ, in an article about the reshaping of the Republican Party, had one statistic that came as a surprise to me.  Of "the 100 poorest counties in America, 74 voted for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012."  That means that when Romney disparaged the 47% lower portion of the population "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it," he failed to mention that they are also masochistic.

Friday, October 28, 2016
Back home, I consider our trip as successful on the whole, but I was disappointed in one regard.  Even though we visited Croatia's second and third largest cities and every known tourist spot along the Dalmatian Coast, I did not see that guy on a unicycle juggling flaming torches, that guy who always shows up at places like that.  Has he relocated to more financially rewarding venues, following the doctors, computer programmers, tattoo artists and scientists that he grew up with?  Is this an opportunity for (young, agile) refugees fleeing strife and violence to fill a niche in the world of Balkan show biz?

Parting shot

Friday, October 21, 2016

Croatian Journey

Monday, October 17, 2016
We arrived in Split, Croatia late Sunday morning. I quickly found that as little as I know about Croatian history and politics, I know even less about its geography.  Split is on the western edge of Croatia, along the Adriatic Sea, opposite Italy's eastern coast, roughly at the same latitude as Rome.  Zagreb is Croatia's capital, far inland.  The sight of palm trees surprised me; I don't think of them as European flora.

We are traveling with Road Scholar, which runs trips all around the world, always with an educational component.  It definitely appeals to an older population.  Our group of 21 has only three people not collecting Social Security.  On the other hand, members of this group seem to be more experienced travelers  than your ordinary collection of Americans.  We found the same on our Road Scholar trip to Portugal a few years ago.  The other most interesting demographic is the presence of only four men in the group. 

Croatia is a member of the EU, but does not use the Euro.  (We conclude our tour in Montenegro, where Nero Wolfe came from, which is not an EU member, yet uses the Euro as its currency.  Go figure.)  Croatia's currency is the Kuna (HRK), roughly just under seven to the dollar, or $.15 each.  I have to keep stashed the pile of crisp $1 bills that I got from the bank just before leaving, because the use of anything but the Kuna is more than discouraged, it is illegal for ordinary merchants.  Local prices seem moderate compared to other European locales.  For instance, the menu in the restaurant of our 4 (of 5) star hotel shows reasonable prices, such as, 10 HRK for a cup of espresso, 16 HRK for "white coffee" (more to an American's taste), 22 HRK for universally-beloved Coca Cola.  A shot of Scotch whiskey runs 28-45 HRK, according to brand, and a bottle of local white wine at dinner starts at 180 HRK.  A critical economic measure was the cost of three scoops of ice cream at Slasticarnica Bili San, Nigerova 2, for 22 HRK, about $1.10 a scoop.  I  have also learned that Slasticarnica means "establishment that Grandpa Alan has a hard time passing by."  

Our room in the Cornaro Hotel, Sinjska 6, is very comfortable, with a well-designed bathroom about one-half the size of the bedroom itself.  Most notable is the totally intuitive shower fixture, contrary to contemporary European and Israeli practice of offering plumbing that provides the choice of scalding hot or ice cold water misdirected to random parts of your body or the room in general.  

While we don't have to think about cooking for a while, I found the following New York Times on-line article featuring dishes prepared with few ingredients particularly interesting and worthy of filing for future reference.  

We broke away from the group this afternoon and took a tour with Lea Altarac, a local Jewish woman, who offers an informative walking tour of Jewish interest,  We went to the Jewish cemetery, dating from 1517, high on a hill above the city, now unused and practically inaccessible.

Only a few tombstones were legible, written entirely in Hebrew or Croatian written in Hebrew letters, with one exception for a prominent citizen inscribed in both languages.  Lea then took us to the one synagogue, founded less than a decade before the cemetery, in a building two hundred years older.  There is archaeological evidence of Jews in the area as early as the third century.  Note that many Jews use BCE (before the common era) and CE (common era) instead of BC and AD.  After all, the D of AD ain't our D.

It was our good fortune to meet Lea's father Albert Altarac at the synagogue, a vice president of the small Jewish community, numbering about 100 people.  He explained that, unlike the larger Jewish community in Zagreb, the nation's capital and home to almost one quarter of the total population, Split's Jews are mostly intermarried, as he is, and follow few of the customary rituals and practices.  There is no local rabbi and services are generally held on demand, rather than according to a calendar.  The good news is that Albert claims no local anti-Semitism in a country over 90% Roman Catholic.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
We did some typical sightseeing today, with periods of heavy rain coming mostly while we were on our bus.  Late in the afternoon, we transferred to the motor yacht Futura, which will be our home base for the next week as we hop town to town, island to island along the Adriatic coast.

The following article, lamenting the decline of Jewish (but not necessarily Kosher) delicatessens in Los Angeles, strikes me as much ado about nothing, although my first hand experience is a few decades old.

Los Angeles delicatessens were never very special, if you had a realistic (New York) frame of reference.  Nate'n Al (sic), 414 North Beverly Drive, remains famous as a Beverly Hills power meeting spot and Canter's419 North Fairfax Avenue, serves as a hangout for an older generation of Jews.  Neither is Kosher, although they may serve some Kosher products.  The only LA delicatessen that I took seriously was Langer's, still at 704 South Alvarado Street, right across the street from the well-sung MacArthur Park.  Langer's, not Kosher of course, had the best seeded rye bread that I have ever had and, as the late, lamented Leo Steiner said, it makes a nice sandwich. 

I found the story behind the following headline somewhat puzzling: "Audience Members Walk Out on Amy Schumer After Trump Criticisms"  Or, maybe too predictable.  What were they thinking?  How about a Hadassah theater party at Jesus Christ, Superstar?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
We spent the night on the Futura, but it didn't leave the port of Split until late this morning.  Our first stop was Trogir, a tiny island just feet off the mainland.  Its outstanding feature is a cathedral that was constructed mostly in the 13th century. 

Meanwhile,  it is estimated that there are 66 million more men on earth than women.  This seems to contradict common sense: men's lifespans are shorter than women's.  More than their female counterparts, young men die in accidents and by criminal conduct;  old men die from heart attacks and strokes.  However,  the contest does not start on an even footing.  For every 100 female babies born, there are 107 males, as if nature recognizes the harder road for little boys.  Why don't we have more polyandry under these circumstances?  Or are women more reluctant to share the wealth, as it were, while polygamous men are found worldwide, eager to mix and match. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016
The Futura left Trogir even as we ate breakfast, but most of us paid no attention to this because we were absorbed in reading accounts of last night's presidential debate.  This was two out of three debates that I slept through in a foreign country.  By the way, the politics of this crowd of older, white people, prosperous enough to afford this trip, was remarkably consistent and not what you might immediately guess, fortunately for my blood pressure.

It took over three hours and one nap to sail from Trogir to Stari Grad, population 2,500, on the island of Hvar, where we walked through narrow alleys lined by stone houses.  Many of the houses now stand empty as inhabitants have given up on agricultural pursuits after generations growing grapes, olives and lavender.  Tourism seems to be the only viable alternative for many of these scenic Croatian islands and that is limited to the summer, because the centuries-old houses usually lack heating.

The Croatian mainland as well as its 66 populated islands are regularly losing population, along with much of Europe, which makes the failure to deal comprehensively with refugees costly for all involved.

Friday, October 21, 2016
We slept aboard the Futura again last night and sailed around Hvar island to the town of Hvar, population around 4,000.  Of particular interest there was a Franciscan  monastery, now the home of exactly one monk.  He was actually out fishing when we came to visit.

On Hvar's central square, I saw something that had eluded me on this trip so far.