Friday, October 17, 2014

Welcome Mat

Monday, October 13, 2014
Tavish McMullen lives in ski country, about one hour outside Denver.  He gets to New York City only about twice a decade, so I was duty bound to show him a good time.  Friday, our first full day together, was our busiest.  In the morning, we went to the Tenement Museum, centered on a tenement built in 1876 at 97 Orchard Street.  The tour was very interesting, but most compelling for me was to spend time in the 325 square foot, one bedroom apartment, nearly identical to the one a couple of blocks away where my mother was born.  These apartments were heated by a coal stove and a fireplace, leaving black dust everywhere.  Only cold water came into the apartment, lit by gas lamps and candles until electrified during or after World War I.  Each floor had two toilets for the four families, with assorted friends, relatives and boarders, living there.  Toilets were mandated by 1904, after the landlords fought the local law up to the United States Supreme Court.  When my mother was born in 1909, she was probably the sixth occupant of the apartment at 13 Essex Street, with her parents, her older brother and sister, and, as I recall, her maternal grandfather, a widower by the time she was born (she was named for her maternal grandmother).  We walked down Orchard Street after leaving the museum as I explained why people came from the suburbs to buy underwear there in my youth.

We went to Jing Fong, 20 Elizabeth Street, in Chinatown, a favorite of mine for an upbeat dim sum lunch.  We continued walking to the 9/11 site to see the two waterfalls positioned on the footprint of the destroyed towers, where we had gone to the rooftop on an earlier visit by Tavish.  

We stopped into Century 21, 22 Cortlandt Street, the discount department store, where foreign tourists are directed upon emerging from passport control at JFK Airport.  I went in only to look for one thing, a shower curtain, and mirabile dictu, I found exactly what I wanted at $15.99, half off to $7.99.  But, to show you yet again what a great country we live in, the computerized cash register rang up $1.84 including sales tax, which I paid without complaint.  

America’s Favorite Epidemiologist cooked dinner before we went to the evening performance of the Lion King, the brilliant staging of a fable for early adolescents.  

Saturday was much quieter, partly because we slept so late after Friday’s busy schedule.  Tavish and I visited the New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, where the current exhibits include Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (until the 1960s, our history was more the former than the latter), and A Brief History of New York: Selections from A History of New York in 101 Objects, based on reporter Sam Roberts’s book, including the first subway token (when the fare rose to 15 cents in 1953), a Spaldeen (the pink rubber ball actually made by Spalding, owned by every boy that I ever met in Brooklyn), and a black-and-white cookie (my father’s favorite).  We walked back to Palazzo di Gotthelf, stopping at Jacques Torres, 285 Amsterdam Avenue, to buy the greatest chocolate chip cookies in the world, saving one for my young bride at home.

Because of the quirks of our schedule (I was attending a funeral midday on Sunday), we ate bagels and lox (from Fairway) for dinner Saturday night, and why not?

Sunday was meant to be the high point of the weekend, opening night at Madison Square Garden for the New York Rangers 2014-2015 season.  I was, of course, appropriately bedecked, although the Rangers T-shirt that I had bought for Tavish was ill-sized.  Our apparel did not seem to make a difference, however, because Our Boys in Blue appeared to be covered in gray, shrouded in an energy-less pall that resulted in a 6-3 loss.  Oh, the horror!

At least, before the game, the three of us ate very well at DB Dhaba, 108 Lexington Avenue, the 2 New Yorker’s favorite Indian restaurant.  Madame then proceeded home, leaving us anticipating the thrill of victory when we only experienced the agony of defeat.  

On Monday, Columbus Day, a holiday for the courts, Tavish and I went to Greenwich Village, where I showed him where I lived for almost 3 years when I was his age.  We looked at (the exterior of) residences dating to the early 1800s, and former warehouses and factories now containing multi-million dollar apartments, and the dump that I lived in on Morton Street, which fit neither category.  We ate lunch at John’s Pizzeria, “No Slices,” 278 Bleecker Street, which I first patronized in the 1960s.  I am pleased to report that it has changed less than I have.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Bobby Bowden is a retired football coach, who holds the best winning record in major college coaching, even after vacating 12 wins for the 2006 and 2007 seasons because of an academic cheating scandal.  Of course, had Penn State’s Joe Paterno not been stripped of 111 wins because of the child sex abuse scandal, Bowden would sit second.  Now, Bowden has coauthored a book, The Wisdom of Faith.  The publisher’s blurb sums it up: “The success . . . the influence . . . the accolades . . . the wins. . . none of it matters if our lives are not rooted in faith.  God trumps our best hand.  He always wins.  Which is how it should be.  That is the wisdom he wants to share.  Let him tell you why faith and happiness are inseparable.”  

I suspect that the average Florida State football fan during Bowden’s long tenure kept the faith only as long as the team had a winning record.  Happiness came from no higher than the scoreboard above the stadium.  Since I believe that faith is ultimately delusion, I have no reason to allow it to guide me in critical moments, if any.  The book I would like to see would be entitled The Faith of Wisdom, but I doubt that it would emerge from any locker room.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
While I eschew faith, I have room in my life for revelation.  A good example arose the other day when my dear friend Lyn Dobrin called me to discuss my comment on the change in rabbinical views of chicken -- not meat to meat -- which was codified in the 15th century (see Shulkan Arukh [Yoreh De'a 87:3] whatever that means).  Lyn suggested, and I heartily agreed, that chicken parmigiana would, therefore, have been Kosher in days of yore.  With that I had a revelation.  

"Chicken parm" was Carmela Soprano's signature dish.  And, the Inquisition scattered Iberian and Mediterranean Jews all over the world.   Aha!  Carmela Soprano was Jewish, descended from a Jewish family expelled from their native land, only to land on the shores of New Jersey, which helps explain how her daughter Meadow got into Columbia University.
  
Friday, October 17, 2014
We welcome other guests this weekend, America’s Loveliest Nephrologist and her companion from San Francisco.  Because they have an array of friends and family to visit in the vicinity, we will do less entertaining and, regrettably, see them only at random intervals, but we expect to enjoy every moment together. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Praise the Lord and Pass the Salt

Monday, October 6, 2014
One problem that I have with organized religion is the sanctimonious pretense to hold eternal verities, without conceding that eternal is often not forever.  For instance, a thousand years ago, the big rabbis decided that chicken really was meat, an important definition within Jewish dietary rules.  Before that, chicken wasn’t considered meat, allowing it to be served with dairy dishes.  St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, Roman Catholic theological giants, placed “animation” at about 40 days after conception.  I’m not going to put English words into their Latin mouths, but they seemed to be speaking of personhood, if not life.

This philosophical exercise is inspired by comments from Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, the second highest Mormon governing body.  In explaining his church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, he recently said: “While many governments and well-meaning individuals have redefined marriage, the Lord has not.”  The trouble is that Apostle Andersen forgot that, “in 1890, President Wilford Woodruff, fourth president of the Church, received what Latter-day Saints believe to be a revelation in which God withdrew the command to practice plural marriage.”
http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/polygamy-latter-day-saints-and-the-practice-of-plural-marriage  [Offical Mormon media outlet]  So, the Lord never changes her mind, unless she does.   

Conservation of Resources Headline: “ISIS’ Ammunition Is Shown to Have Origins in U.S. and China”

What a start to a new year.  Last week, I found a new restaurant, and today I found another one.  Kaede, Japanese Restaurant, 90 Chambers Street, is barely open one week.  Its interior is quite attractive, with two-foot square slate-looking tiles, very dark brown faux-leather upholstery, a wall of cherry-toned wood and a sleek sushi bar on its back wall.  However, the vacuous “pop” style background music was too much in the foreground.  

Because we had two different types of salmon at lunch and dinner yesterday, I skipped the sushi, which was probably a mistake.  Instead, I order a bento box ($11.95) with teriyaki chicken.  It had four small pieces of a very good California roll (crypto-crabmeat and avocado), three mini shu mei dumplings, also very good, a salad of iceberg lettuce, as if you needed to be reminded why iceberg lettuce makes a bad salad, and a thin piece of tough white meat chicken, cut into strips and covered with a vague sauce.  It also came with a bowl of cloudy miso soup.  The California roll was so good, although not what I usually order, that I’ll probably return for straight sushi in the future.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014
While I have to admit not having much luck with new restaurants this year, I can report on an outstanding ice cream flavor that has made its seasonal return – pumpkin at Trader Joe’s ($3.99 a quart).  It tastes enough like pumpkin if you like pumpkin, and not enough like pumpkin if you don’t like pumpkin.  It is very creamy with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves.  It is so seductive that, last night, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist had some even after her bedtime teeth brushing ritual.  

I went to an in-house educational session at lunch time, equipped with a chicken-lamb combo over rice ($6) from the Two Brothers Halal cart on the corner of Centre Street and Worth Street, although the cart was only large enough to hold one person.  If Jews and Muslims spent more time eating together, many of our problems might be resolved, or just forgotten in the glowing aftermath of an excellent meal.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
In spite of my rumored facility with language, I’m really a numbers guy.  After all, I taught ninth-grade algebra for a whole year.  So, I’m fascinated by the New York Times’s interactive college football map, which displays fan loyalty throughout the United States, by zip code, based on Facebook data.  
Forget the sports angle, it’s the sociology that intrigues me.  Why do minority neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan, Newark, Trenton, Camden, Boston, Worcester and Philadelphia “like” the football team of the University of Florida Gators so much?  I simply don’t believe that many of their residents have second homes in Gainesville, Florida.  Why are the North Carolina Tar Heels so popular in Montana, and along the border of South Dakota and Nebraska?  A very predictable result, however, is the national constituency for Notre Dame, with the exception of Utah where Roman Catholics are probably as much a threat as homosexuals..  
  
Thursday, October 9, 2014
The sign says Cheung Wong Kitchen, 38A Allen Street, but the menu says 38 Yummy Kitchen. In either case, it is a new restaurant for me, although not newly-opened.  It is small, 2 rectangular tables seat 6 each, and one small round table can fit another 6.  Half the floor space is taken by the open kitchen.  The restaurant sits on a corner and its north face and half of its west face are glass, allowing a lot of light into the otherwise dingy interior.

It offers almost 60 dishes over rice costing $4.50 to $6.75, most $5 or less.  I had Singapore chow fun, one of my signature dishes ($6.75).  It’s not on the menu, but Singapore chow mai fun and several chow funs are, so there was no hesitation in giving me what I asked for.  In spades.  It was the biggest portion of any noodle dish that I can recall, and well prepared, too.  The spicy curried noodles were mixed with green peppers, beef, pork, egg, shrimp, and bean sprouts.  I was very hungry, but still left about one quarter over.  A Styrofoam cup of tea was gratis.  

Friday, October 10, 2014
Trip Advisor, the website that aggregates reader’s opinions about hotels, restaurants and attractions all over the world, has just released its list of the 25 best restaurants in the United States, according to its respondents.  I’ll provide the top ten.  See http://www.tripadvisor.com/TravelersChoice-Restaurants-g191-a_Mode.expanded

Alinea – Chicago
Eleven Madison Park – New York City
Restaurant Gary Danko – San Francisco
Halls Chophouse – Charleston, SC
Victoria & Albert’s – Orlando
Uchi – Austin
Bouley – New York City
Canlis Restaurant – Seattle
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse – Dallas
Daniel – New York City

Note that Bouley and Daniel did not get three stars from Michelin last week; only Eleven Madison Park did.  Three of the other seven top-rated New York Michelin group hit the top 25: Le Bernardin (11), Per Se (19) and Jean Georges (24).  In contrast to the Michelin 8, none of which we ever patronized, we have eaten at 3 of the 25: Bouley (before it moved around the corner), the French Laundry (Yountville, CA), and Chez Panisse (Berkeley, CA).  It looks like I have a lot of eating yet to do.

Tavish McMullen arrived last night for visit over the long weekend.  We have several interesting things planned, which will begin next week’s report.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

5775 and All That

Monday, September 29, 2014
We watched the inaugural show of the 40th season of "Saturday Night Live" over the weekend  The host and the musical guest were unknown to us, but that was probably generational.  Imagine millennials being offered Henny Youngman and Sarah Vaughan.  The big problem with the program, though, was the absence of anything funny, humorous, or mirthful.  I almost chuckled at 12:43 AM, after more than an hour of ill-executed material that probably wasn't even funny on paper.  By then, America's Favorite Epidemiologist was in the arms of Morpheus, so she could not confirm whether there was even a moment of relief from the late night tedium.
Fortunately, earlier in the evening we had a more rewarding experience at a preview performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time,” just imported from London.  The play, based on a popular book, deals with the difficulty of parenting an adolescent boy, who falls within the autism spectrum (although never made explicit).  It drags in the second act, and there is some confusion about the context of the presentation, but the conflicted characters are engaging and the staging is quite imaginative.  It opens in another week, and maybe they’ll do some trimming by then.  Do see it.  It might be interesting to compare the New York Times review of the London production with what we read next week.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/theater/reviews/curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-in-london.html?pagewanted=all

New year – new restaurant.  21 Shanghai House, 21 Division Street, replaced Gold River Malaysian Cuisine, I’m sorry to say, because I’ve become quite taken with Malaysian cuisine, and there are so few alternatives.  In any case, 21 Shanghai House just opened after renovating a good part of the interior.  The cashier’s station has moved; a wall of large tiles is new.  Different artwork is on display; no flat screen television was evident.

The menu seems pretty conventional.  I had a scallion pancake ($2.50), which would have been good if not so greasy.  From a list of 20 lunch specials, all $5.50, I chose shrimp with lobster sauce, which was verbally corrected to shrimp with egg sauce, and turned out to be scrambled eggs with shrimp.  Accompanied by a large mound of white rice, it was an acceptable lunch dish.  Nothing sets this place apart, especially on a street with a handful of lower-priced, cafeteria-style joints and a few “real” restaurants, such as Fuleen Seafood Restaurant and Jing Star Restaurant.  In order to succeed, I think it will need to rely on friends and family rather than the kindness of strangers.

There is a 12-hour time difference between New York and Hong Kong, so, even though it is pre-dawn there now, live feeds show thousands of student-led protestors in the streets demanding free elections.  I wonder if the repressive regime is inspired by the Keep Out the Vote message of some American politicians.  It’s interesting that our R*p*bl*c*n friends are willing to err on the side of too much money in politics, but are militant in limiting the numbers of voters at the booth.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Here’s some news for you big spenders.  Michelin released its New York City restaurant rankings today, and found six worthy of three stars, one less than last year.  Comments from each joint’s website, except as noted.

Per Se, 10 Columbus Circle – Website under construction.  New York Times review of October 11, 2011, called Per Se the best restaurant in New York City: “Its synthesis of culinary art and exquisite service is now complete.  It represents the ideal of an American high-culture luxury restaurant.”  Choice of a nine-course vegetable tasting menu or a nine-course chef’s tasting menu; each costs $310.
Masa, 10 Columbus Circle – “The otherwise simple décor is intentionally sparse to act as a blank canvass on which the food will be allotted space to shine.  The courses build on seasonal properties utilized only in their freshest most delicious state.  Each dish is composed to ensure that the most basic, innate character of the ingredients persists.”  $450, not including tip, tax or drinks, 20-25 Courses.  “Menu Changes Every Day Depending On Seasonal Availability And Chef Inspiration For The Day.”  Must reserve with a credit card, and cancellations less than 48 hours in advance cost $200 per person.
Jean Georges, 1 Central Park West (a/k/a 15 Columbus Circle when it was an office building) – “Impeccable service, tableside preparations, and floor-to-ceiling windows with stunning views of Central Park and Columbus Circle all contribute to an unforgettable dining experience.  Jean-Georges offers a three-course prix-fixe menu and two six-course tasting menus: a traditional tasting of the chef’s signature dishes, and a seasonal tasting featuring fresh market ingredients.”  Three course dinner, $128; “Chef Vongerichten’s Assortment of Signature Dishes,” $208, wine pairing $148 extra.
Le Bernardin,155 West 51st Street – Because Le Bernardin’s website is very unpoetic, simply reciting its many honors and awards, let’s look at the New York Times review of May 22, 2102: “No other restaurant in the city makes the simple cooking of fish (and the fish at Le Bernardin is cooked simply, when it is cooked at all) seem so ripe with opportunities for excitement.  Some of the thrills are the hushed kind, like the way black garlic, pomegranate and lime support the crisp skin and white flesh of sautéed black bass.  Others are scene-stealers, as when a white slab of steamed halibut is slowly surrounded by a crimson pool of beet sauce that, with crème fraîche stirred in, will turn the delirious pink of summer borscht.”  Four course dinner, $135; chef’s tasting menu, $198, $336 with wine pairing.  
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, 200 Schermerhorn Street (Brooklyn) – “Settle in to the kitchen counter at this intimate 18 seat space for a unique dining experience featuring the cuisine of Chef Cesar Ramirez.  This prix-fixe dinner [$255 plus NY tax and 20% service fee] consists of over fifteen small plate courses.”  
Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue – “Our [$225] multi-course tasting menu focuses on the extraordinary agricultural bounty of New York and on the centuries-old culinary traditions that have taken root here.”

Of course, I've never been to any of these restaurants.  I've gotten close once. We dined at Nougatine at Jean Georges, which sits in front of Jean Georges.  It's more casual and cheaper, but it still has a sexy vibe based on proximity.  I have to admit that, except for brushing past Bruce Willis, I don't remember a thing about the evening.  Early in this century, America's Favorite Epidemiologist treated one of her two favorite husbands to dinner at the French Laundry, Yountville, California, Per Se's parent restaurant.  Back then, with only a modest amount of wine, dinner for two cost about $400, and he was worth it. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The Boyz Club met today at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street.  The secret of an excellent lunch (I’ve never eaten dinner here) is to order one scallion pancake ($2.25) (no worse than second best in Chinatown) and three lunch specials ($4.95-6.25) for every two people.  See http://www1.beyondmenu.com/27851/new-york/shanghai-gourmet-new-york-10013.aspx?r=27851.  You’ll have a good variety of dishes, a more than ample amount of food and spend about $12-13 apiece.

Thursday, October 2, 2014
I don't find the biblical tale of Noah and the ark particularly inspiring.  There are just too many things that don't make sense, including forgetting to get the unicorns on board.  Notably, it shows a petulant deity, effectively reversing Creation.  No matter, my thoughts turned to Noah last night when I learned that, for the fifth time since we moved into the Palazzo di Gotthelf 11 years ago, water from the apartment above was leaking into our happy home.  This, of course, while we are only beginning to plan for repair of the water damage to our wood floors caused by the faulty installation of our new refrigerator.  Of course, Noah was spared from the Flood, which was not our luck.  On the other hand, aside from his family and a bunch of animals, he lost everything else.  We didn't face such thorough destruction.  Internet, cable TV and Netflix remain undisturbed.  

Friday, October 3, 2014
We fast tonight and tomorrow, hoping to make a clear delineation between the past and the future.  In the past, our Rabbi Marc Margolius has wisely asked us not to undertake extreme makeovers, but to aim for a 5% improvement in our conduct.  It might seem trivial, too little to bother with.  But, the basis of great fortunes has often been compound interest.    

Friday, September 26, 2014

Auld Lang Zion

Monday, September 22, 2014
Mmuseumm (mmuseumm.com) is located on Cortlandt Alley, which runs two blocks from Leonard Street to White Street, bisecting the wide block between Lafayette Street and Broadway, just around the corner from New York County’s Family Court, a woeful place to be sure. (Nearest subways – Franklin Street on #1, Canal Street on #6, R, N, Q, J, Z.) It is referred to as the smallest museum in New York, but there is evidence that it may be the smallest museum in the world. There is an operation in Superior, Arizona that carries that title, but it claims to be 134 square feet, while New York’s alternative is only 60 square feet.

Mmuseumm occupies the former ground floor stop on a freight elevator, that neighborhood once occupied by light industry and warehouses. It’s open only weekend afternoons, but the slits in the door allow a look into the illuminated interior.


It is devoted to the jetsam of contemporary life, exhibits such as toothpaste tubes from around the world, "200 New Delhi Mosquitos Killed Mid Bite" and plastic spoons. These exhibits come from folks just like you and me, only weirder. 

I thought I was paying a return visit to 27 Sunshine, 46 Bowery, for dim sum today, but I could find no record of ever going there before. Then, I realized that this was the site of HSF, a very popular, early dim sum joint, and I merely assumed that I had been there more recently. In any case, lots of other people, all Chinese, found their way to this large restaurant, bright with yellow linen. I wasn’t very hungry, so I only had steamed pork dumplings (3 fat ones), steamed shrimp dumplings (4) and deep fried (not pan fried) shrimp dumplings (4), from the carts that came around pretty quickly. The steamed dumplings were nice and hot, contrary to Silverberg’s Law on Circulating Food, although the fried shrimp dumplings were no more than room temperature. All else went well, except for the math on the bill, which must have included the tip for the three adjacent tables.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
The Texas legislature, with the hearty approval of Governor Rick Perry, has been trying to eliminate abortion in the state by imposing strictures on abortion clinics, forcing many to close. Perry proved to be almost as good a medical diagnostician as he was a mathematician during the 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival on Sunday, he said: "It was interesting that, when Joan Rivers, and the procedure that she had done where she died, that was a clinic. It’s a curious thought that if they had had that type of regulations in place [that have been imposed in Texas], whether or not that individual would be still alive."

Rock on, Rick.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I've heard Barack Obama and Rabbi Marc Margolius, of West End Synagogue, quote Martin Luther King, Jr.'s optimistic adage that the moral arc of the Universe bends towards justice.  I've never accepted that idea for two reasons: Philosophically, I don't believe that there is any overarching meaning in the Universe, and practically, the history of humankind is marked by continuing exploitation and savagery.  I'm reminded of this by the front page of the New York Times, which reports people shouting "Death to the Jews!" and "Gas the Jews!" on the same European streets where this was successfully urged over 70 years ago.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/24/world/europe/europes-anti-semitism-comes-out-of-shadows.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpSumMediumMediaFloated&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

The worst part of these events, in my mind, is the complicity of European intellectuals and academics in this behavior, even as they maintain silence at the news of the beheading of Westerners and the ethnic cleansing of Christian, Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak, Kaka’e, Sabaeans and Shi’a communities by ISIS.  Who should be boycotting whom?

The following is written in advance, as the Jewish new year holiday (Rosh Hashanah) begins at sundown.  We are having dinner with Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu, as we do on other important occasions, especially Passover.  While there will be less of a crowd than at their fabulous seders, Judi will certainly provide a large variety of dishes to please us all.  The menu for tonight, I am told, is: French onion soup or zucchini pear soup with matzoh balls; beef brisket in a cranberry-onion sauce; honey-lemon glazed chicken with onion, mushroom and matzoh farfel stuffing; roasted turnips, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes with shallots and garlic; carrot muffins; and string bean salad.  Of course, there will be home-baked sugar cookies, chocolate chip mandelbrot (a personal favorite), and brownies.  Beverages hard and soft, hot and cold complete the fare.  Unlike Fox News, I will not invent facts and give opinions in advance, but I anticipate delight. 

Since no Chinatown lunch can serve as an appropriate lead-in to tonight's dinner, I chose something completely different -- sushi at Tokyo Mart, 91 Mulberry Street, a Japanese supermarket with a little sushi stand.  Since my last visit, they replaced the counter inside the front door with a high round table, still using three stools.  The sushi was packaged, but my serving of a cooked salmon and avocado roll, dusted with salmon caviar, cut into seven pieces, and four pieces of grilled eel sushi ($8) was quite fresh, as if it had been made to order.  The contrast with my reasonable expectations for this evening was complete, fish vs. no fish, solitary dining vs. a raft of relatives, primitive surroundings vs. stylish decor, but it was thoroughly satisfying in its own way.    

Friday, September 26, 2014
Welcome 5775.  I can't offer undifferentiated wishes for health and happiness to all; that's not my style.  But, your fate is in your own hands to a great extent.  Do good things; have good things happen to you, and I'll take retroactive credit.




Friday, September 19, 2014

Home and Away

Monday, September 15, 2014
Jews are considered People of the Book. These days, it is more typically People of the Newspaper, more particularly People of the New York Times. Therefore, you might understand the mixed emotions that accompanied the (ultimately unpublished) letter to the editor that I sent off this morning.

"I consider myself a careful reader of your newspaper, so I was confused by the following opening paragraph of an otherwise heartening story:

‘BERLIN — Thousands of Germans, many wrapped in Israeli flags, gathered at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate on Sunday for a rally against anti-Semitism, which has flared up in Europe following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.’

I’ve read about the extensive damage done by the exchange of missiles, rockets and artillery by the contesting forces. However, I simply missed the news of an invasion of Gaza by Israel. When did you publish this story, which presumably was more than a one-day affair? Or, were you referring to the infiltration of Israel by Palestinians through tunnels under the border between Gaza and Israel? If so, haven’t you confused your proper nouns? Please clarify."

I had to check my notes to find that I had been to Hong Kong Station, 45 Bayard Street, before on August 10 2010, so long ago that I forgot. I wasn’t sorry that I returned. The bright, airy space had leaf green paint and tiles accenting the white interior, containing about 25 two-tops. The menu basically offers you the opportunity to create your own dish, choosing among 10 noodles or rice, 32 toppings (tofu, beef balls, fish skin, Spam, shiitake mushrooms, and so on) in one of 6 sauces or soups. The exhaustive possibilities exhausted me, and I chose one of a handful of organized efforts, spicy chicken fried rice ($7.25). It was very good, carefully cooked for me in the open food preparation area at the back of the restaurant. The spicy rice contained egg, small chicken chunks, pieces of chopped choi sum (poetically translated as Chinese flowering cabbage), and boiled peanuts. It was the sort of dish that would go well with a variety of 6 or 8 others on a table surrounded by hungry friends.

Joseph Berger, distinguished reporter for the New York Times and a fellow Feingoldian, is about to publish a book about the Hasidim, the very orthodox Jews who are both a mystery and an embarrassment to many (most?) other American Jews. After reading a short essay on the subject in yesterday’s paper, my anticipation of his book is heightened.
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/sunday-review/are-liberal-jewish-voters-a-thing-of-the-past.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=MostEmailed&version=Full&region=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article#

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
I went to my last Mets game of the season yesterday, and, too predictably, it ended the same as the first game that I attended this season, a one-run loss after they lead most of the game. I will soon face the test of my loyalty to lost causes when asked to renew my subscription to 20 or so ball games. This is the sixth losing season in a row for the Mets, all of which I’ve attended. However, Gil Glotzer, attorney to the stars, my faithful companion throughout this fruitless period, is relocating (not because of the Mets, it should be noted), leaving me to face the next drought alone. I must think long and hard about this.

Today, doctor-lawyer-rabbi Traube examined my kishkes from the inside while I was dispatched to Dreamland. He reported that all was essentially well with my GI system, even after eating haggis in Edinburgh, a fact that I kept from him.

I haven’t been in Illinois since July 2013, but the Greek Bookstore appears to be only a web site based in Chicago, not a physical presence. In any case, I received an alert this evening that someone, using my credit card, was trying to spend $125.55 there. No, I said, resulting in the cancellation of the card all together in light of its compromised position. Unfortunately, I have no information about the nature of the suspect purchase – poetry, pornography, Plato – and can only wonder how I was selected for this dubious transaction.

Thursday, September 18, 2014
For those, such as Stony Brook Steve, who worry, as taxpayers, that I may not be devoting my time and energy to public employment, allow me to note that this commentary (about Scotland’s independence vote) is being written before 9 AM, Eastern Daylight Time.

Today, Scotland votes on its independence, whether to leave the United Kingdom. Our trip to Scotland and England ended just one week ago and, while politics played no role in our scheduling, it was exciting to be in the midst of this historic event. It was especially interesting as the London political establishment woke up to the ineffectiveness of its campaign for continued unity, the No vote. While the political party dynamics involved are complex and ambiguous, the leadership of the two major parties realized that they had a lot to lose and were, according to the latest polls, losing. Their sudden devotion to their even funnier-talking brethren to the north was amusing at times, since an element in Scotland’s move towards independence is the benign neglect shown by Westminster (the shorthand for the British government) towards Scotland. It was even suggested that the announcement of the pregnancy of Kate Middleton, future Queen of England, was timed to evoke feelings of avuncular (what’s the word for auntiness?) pride throughout the land(s).

An interesting procedural note about this election: Voting is limited to physical residents of Scotland. A kilt-wearing, haggis-eating, bagpiper who moved to London from Glasgow weeks ago cannot vote, while any citizen of the European Union living in Scotland may vote. That includes Poles, Italians and Germans, for instance, since they might be expected to benefit or lose by the results of the election. Personally, as a graduate of CCNY, I would vote for independence, because Scotland, like New York City until the late 1960s, offers free college tuition, while England does not. The legacy of Scotland’s free tuition may not rival CCNY’s, but it is a building block for a better, more equal society.

Finally (at 8:57 AM), I predict a narrow victory for independence. See you tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2014
I was wrong about Scotland, but not too disappointed in the result. I believe in pluralism as an organizing principle of civil society. Living alongside someone different in relative peace and harmony is a substantial challenge and tests our values as a person and a people. That’s what marriage is about, after all.

There were already sounds of discontent with the prospect of an independent Scotland. Orkney and Shetland Islands, which voted overwhelmingly for remaining in the United Kingdom, threatened to leave an independent Scotland for many of the same reasons that 45% of the voters wanted Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. No doubt, some village or two on those islands might have been disgruntled, in turn, by incorporation into an autonomous region.

There is an evident gravitational pull among like-minded, ethnically-similar people. It’s just easier to understand and tolerate those whom you recognize as versions of yourself, at least on the outside. Fun, risk, frustration comes with moving beyond the similar and familiar. Breaking up homogeneous populations in Africa and the Middle East by the arbitrary imposition of borders resulted in turmoil that remains today. Minorities usually suffer at the hands of empowered majorities everywhere you look. However, Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority dominates the Syrian Sunni majority even as the Koch brothers attempt to rule their fellow citizens.

With increased mobility and the ultimate futility of trying to keep people within borders or settings that they find unbearable, the need for pluralism arises, even if undesired or unanticipated. Without going all Emma Lazarus, I think that the United States has done a better job than most other nations in coping with disparate populations, even though the ebbing of white, Christian power has been so disturbing to many Americans who mistake the accident of birth for virtue.

From the New York Times today: "Jackie Cain, who teamed with her husband, Roy Kral, to form probably the most famous vocal duo in jazz history, melding popular tunes and sophisticated harmonies for more than half a century, died on Monday at her home in Montclair, N.J. She was 86." They were wonderful performers, who recorded together for over 50 years. If you don't know their work, beg, borrow, buy, stream or download "Storyville Presents Jackie And Roy" (1955) (also released as "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"), and anything else they did later. I'm partial to their "Sondheim" album (1982). Be warned, though -- you'll fall in love or more deeply in love with whomever is in the room listening with you.

Friday, September 12, 2014

UK and Us

Scottish Consensus
 [Click to enlarge]
 
Monday, September 8, 2014
This trip is strongly colored by memories. The main event for us was the 50th wedding anniversary of David and Kathleen (McConnell) Mervin, which was celebrated with a big party in their home community of Arnside, Cumbria, on the northwest coast of England. Along with Kathleen's three lovely sisters, I was the only other guest to have attended the wedding, held in Durham, New Hampshire, at the home of the president of the University of New Hampshire, who conveniently happened to be Kathleen's father.

Of the 70 or so guests this weekend in Arnside, I counted 4 adult Jews, several hundred percent more than can usually be found in Arnside or anywhere closer than 100 miles.

We arrived in London yesterday afternoon, and checked into Fleming's Mayfair, 7 Half Moon Street, reputedly the oldest hotel in London. Even if it proves to be a Johnny-come-lately, just being situated on Half Moon Street qualifies it as a place to stay. However, memories powered my selection of this hotel. In March 2002, America's Favorite Epidemiologist, with me in tow, brought her son and daughter to London to celebrate their upcoming graduation from law school and medical school, respectively. The busyness that would immediately follow the end of their formal studies required us to take this trip a few months early. And, sure enough, we stayed in Fleming's Mayfair, one entire renovation before its current manifestation, but thoroughly pleasant at the time. We saw plays; had nice meals; met dear New Jersey friends, also on vacation, for tea at the Connaught, where Bibi Netanyahu was hustling a blonde in the lounge, not yet burdened with the mantle of leadership.

I don't know how Bibi made out, but I recall the trip as one of the best that I've ever taken, the hotel, the diversions, and, mostly, the company.

We spent a few hours in the Victoria & Albert Museum today. It has remarkable collections of stuff. I spent much of the time in the large area devoted to Islamic art. I realized that I enjoyed it far more than the typical array of pre-Impressionist European art, because it ain't churchy, no saints, no martyrs, no angels, no saviours. Just beautiful shapes and colors adorning walls and clothing and ceramics and rugs. I imagine that Islam, like classic Judaism, eschews the graven image, and thank God for that. However, after looking around for quite some time, I had to ask (myself), is there current Islamic art of this caliber? Or, an even more difficult question, where is the spirit that produced such beauty? Islam once swept over much of the known world with the power of its message. What does it bring today?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
We went to see the Book of Mormon last night, and cannot help but agree that it is a great show. It was even greater by virtue of only costing £52.25 a ticket for orchestra seats, about 1/3 of New York prices. (Note that the issue of the 2 extra tickets that, at first, we were not allowed to buy, and then could not get rid of, was resolved in our favor. Thanks for asking.) Of course, waiting on line at the box office to pick up our tickets, we were hardly surprised to be standing next to Nicolai V. and his wife, the only two people from Bulgaria that we know. Why not?

For all the noise that I made last week about Zephyr Teachout as my preferred candidate for governor of New York State, I find myself comfortably installed in downtown England on the day of the Democratic primary election. I hope that the margin of victory/loss is more than one vote. Mostly, I hope that Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent, realizes that many voters took his promise to deal with corruption in Albany somewhat seriously, more seriously than he has.

I am facing another dilemma, that might last longer than today's electoral oversight. I've taught Boaz, born on the day that the New York Giants won Super Bowl Zwei und Fertzig, that there are two professional football teams to root for -- the New York Giants and whoever is playing the Dallas Cowboys. Well, the Dallas Cowboys have picked up Michael Sams -- the Michael Sams -- after he was cut by the St. Louis Rams. I hope that he succeeds as a professional football player, as long as it is in a losing cause.

We had lunch today with David and Katherine Brodie, who hosted a delightful dinner for us Sunday night, to which David allegedly contributed more than commentary. They also went to the theater with us last night, qualifying as stalwart friends and companions. We ate at the Capital, 22-24 Basil Street, an exquisite small hotel very near Harrod's, where my young bride and I have eaten a couple of times in the past, always feeling and being treated as lottery winners. If I were to win, I might actually be able to stay there overnight, not just showing up for lunch. Just showing up for lunch, however, resulted in one of the finest afternoons that we have spent in ages. The Capital has a three-course lunch for £27 and worth every nickel. I had quail as an appetizer and then duck, sticking to the fowl side of the menu. Dessert was a poached pear with small scoops of stem ginger (not stem cell, as I suggested) ice cream and dark chocolate mousse. A few glasses of rosé helped wash everything down and kept the conversation going for 2 1/2 hours.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
By 8:30 last night, the physical effects of our wonderful lunch had subsided, so we ventured forth into Chinatown, an area in London that has remained pretty compact over the years compared to the vast expansion of New York's Chinatown, not to say anything about the emergence of other Chinatowns in Brooklyn and Queens. We went to Canton Restaurant, 11 Newport Place, the first London Chinese restaurant that I ever went to, 29 years ago. We didn't order much, sharing Thai style fish (£8.80) and egg fried rice (£2.80). The small portion of fish consisted of deep-fried fingerlings, tasteless themselves, but served in a delicious sweet and spicy sauce. The fried rice was not cooked with soy sauce, leaving it white. Yet, together, the two dishes made for a satisfying snack. Canton was the place where I first ate Singapore chow fun (called ho fun here), a turning point in my life.

While many British people speak funny, they are often eloquent, even poetic in their utterances. However, I've noticed even before this trip, by watching British crime shows on PBS, cable and Netflix, that the British are as promiscuous in their use of the word Brilliant as we are with Awesome. It often sounds so inappropriate, having nothing to do with a person, place or thing's index of refraction. Also, British folks of almost any age seem unashamed to use Brilliant, while I think that Americans begin to limit their use of Awesome as they approach full height and weight.

The upcoming vote on Scotland's future has been the first or second most prominent news story ever since we arrived. In fact, with the young cancer victim reunited with his family after his parents were temporarily jailed for removing him from a hospital without permission, the front pages now are devoted to the fate of the United Kingdom. An interesting byproduct of this situation, regardless of its outcome, is the strengthened interest in autonomy for other groups -- the Basques and Catalonians in Spain, the Walloons in Belgium, the Kurds embedded in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, for example. May I propose something closer to home, a reconsideration of the Civil War, allowing the Confederate States to go their own way. I, for one, will not miss the whole Bible thumpin', gun totin', stock car racin', science denyin', gerund mispronouncin' lot. Of course, I would grant Cindy and David McMullen compassionate asylum before I line our side of the Mason-Dixon Line with specially-trained Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan border guards.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
It was admittedly a strange day to be flying into New York, but it met our needs otherwise. The flight was thoroughly uneventful, noticeably less crowded than the flight to Edinburgh. We got to Heathrow by simply riding the Piccadilly Line, with a station three blocks from the hotel, probably the easiest (cheapest) trip to an airport that I can recall.

Friday, September 12, 2014
Back home and safely in the hands of those nearest and dearest to me, the waiters at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Over There

 
 
Monday, September 1, 2014
America's Favorite Epidemiologist is #1 in my book in almost all imaginable categories.  However, I believe that she must defer to Zephyr Teachout in the area of unusual names.  At first, I thought that this was a child of the late Frank Zappa.  Then, I learned that Ms. Teachout is a Fordham University law professor, which places her place of employment just a few hundred yards from the Palazzo di Gotthelf.  However, it is her proximity to the governor's mansion in Albany, New York that interests me.  She is running against incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination. 

While Cuomo has had a successful record overall, in my eyes, as governor, I plan to vote for Teachout.  I don't think that I'll be the only progressive (pinko, limousine liberal, America-hating, warrior against Christmas) Democrat taking that path.  I recognize that Cuomo, as any politician faced with the realities of governing and reelection, has had to take stands that I disfavor.  However, his conduct surrounding his signature issue -- corruption in Albany -- has been appalling.  After appointing a commission to deal with the issue, possibly no greater here than anywhere else, but here nevertheless, he retreated quickly and publicly when the group opened an inquiry that might have led to activities near to the governor, although not the governor himself. 

Last year, Cuomo said, "Anything they want to look at, they can look at — me, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the comptroller, any senator, any assemblyman.”  When disbanding the commission preemptively a few months ago, in rhetoric that evoked Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, he said, “A commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive.”  So, the winds of reform that we anticipated with Cuomo must now come, if at all, from a Zephyr.
 
We are putting aside domestic election concerns for the time being as we set off tonight for Scotland, where a vote on independence is scheduled for September 18th.  One commentator wrote that "a significant number of Scottish people have a dream where statehood, social justice and cultural self-confidence fit together into a clear and popular project." This seems to combine disparate elements that are also found in our national politics: opposition to a remote big government that is unwilling or unable to effect economic reform.  I venture that, in the US today, the left touts social justice and the right touts culture.  Do we need Woody Guthrie to have an effective blend of the two?
 
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
We arrived in Edinburgh this morning and our hotel took pains to get us into a freshly-cleaned room without too much delay.  The flight was uneventful, but I didn't find the skies of United that friendly, rather more dispassionate and business-like.  In contrast to the two other trans-Atlantic flights that we took recently (and the easiest to recall), to Sicily and Portugal, United was notably ungenerous in small but telling regards.  Alcoholic beverages had to be purchased; no free wine or beer.  And, the beverage service came with nothing, not a peanut, not a pretzel, not a Pepperidge Farm goldfish.  This might seem like the least consequential matters to complain about, but we paid over a thousand bucks a ticket.  For that much money, throw in a small bottle of Chateau Schwartz, or a fraction of an ounce of potato chips. 

We are staying on Bread Street, a central location in Edinburgh, but it is sort of a misnomer.  Although only two blocks long, it might be more appropriately named Rice Street, because the otherwise respectable neighborhood is rife with Chinese, Indian, Mexican and miscellaneous ethnic restaurants, and several "gentlemen's clubs," for which I don't qualify.  However, our first lunch this afternoon was at the White Hart Inn, 34 The Greenmarket, reputedly Edinburgh's oldest bar.  It had haggis on the menu, but I settled for steak and ale pie, a very modest, but satisfying, dip into local cuisine.  I intend to try haggis for sure, once my head, stomach and mind all agree to meet in the same time zone.

NYTimes.com is coming in loud and clear over here. That's how I learned today that Eric Cantor, former leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, rejected by voters in his party's primary, has taken a job at a Wall Street investment bank as vice chairman and managing director.  According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, he will receive a base salary of $400,000 and an initial cash payment of $400,000.  The firm is also granting Mr. Cantor $1 million in shares that vest over a five-year period.  The Wall Street Journal commented that Cantor will be "learning the investment banking business."  It's such good news that American workers are being afforded job training opportunities, when unemployment affects so many households.  This puts an end to the rumors that he would enter show business reviving the song and dance routines of his grandfather Eddie Cantor, although that was a prospect that I personally looked forward to.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014
I read on NYTimes.com that "[t]he trend away from classes based on reading and listening passively to lectures, and toward a more active role for students, has its most profound effects on black students and those whose parents did not go to college, a new study of college students shows."  This was the genius of CCNY, at least in the rosy past.  All of our classes were taught by the Professor, in front of a group of 20-30 grubby kids from the four boroughs.  (I never met a kid from Staten Island at CCNY in my four years.)  Not all teachers took a participative approach to the subject, but the most memorable did.  That accounts for the loyalty that a group of us display towards Stanley Feingold, of the Government Department, more than 50 years after our graduation.  He worked the class; he did not address the class.  Some students cowered and tried to avoid his attention, but many of us couldn't wait, in the words of Rumpole, to get up on our hind legs and offer our thoughts -- baked, half-baked and sometimes still in raw ingredients.  Of course, in those days CCNY was not considered a research institution and the model of the Great Mind surrounded by eager graduate students, occasionally entering the lecture hall, did not apply.  And we were so lucky for that.

We took a tour of the Scottish parliament at midday.  The building is new, befitting the emergence of the parliament about 15 years ago.  The architecture tries a little too hard to evoke images of land and sea, and transparency in the conduct of affairs.  However, the actual legislative chamber was quite interesting and a model of efficiency.  It resembles a very up-to-date law school lecture hall, roomy, airy, equipped with sophisticated electronics.  The obvious contrast is with the British House of Commons, crowded, noisy, only seeming to lack tankards of ale and spitoons.  Of course, the US Congress also meets in relative comfort, supported by modern technology, but that hasn't prevented legislative constipation.
 
Tonight, we ate at Kama Sutra, 105-109 Lothian Road, two doors off of Bread Street, an Indian restaurant that deserves a better name.  There are many dozens of Indian restaurants in Edinburgh, but in our wanderings for the last few days, the local population seems to fit the stereotype of the rosy-cheeked, ginger-haired Scot, so Indian food must have passed into general circulation.  We shared an onion bhaji appetizer (£4.25) and I made a meal of three other appetizers, lamb chop adriki, 3 medium chops marinated in spices and yoghurt (£5.95); lahsuni tangri, 2 chicken drumsticks also marinated in spices and yoghurt (£4.25); and 4 grilled scallops (£4.75).  All of them were good, and more or less worth the price converted to good old American dollars, at $1.65 a pound.  I had a lot to eat, for sure, which deterred me from going 5 blocks in the wrong direction to an artisanal gelateria, after dinner, that we passed earlier, that had fig ice cream, among other interesting flavors. 
 
Thursday, September 4, 2014
Haggis was right under my nose, it turns out, a staple of the hotel's breakfast buffet.  I may have been too busy with the fresh croissants to notice until this morning.  I put a scoop alongside my scrambled eggs and found that it resembled a minced hash, just a tad wetter.  Haggis will not play a role on my vote on Scottish independence.  There are, apparently, bigger fish to fry, which reminds me that we haven't had fish and chips yet, although, unlike haggis, it will be available as we head south into England.

Our 24-hour hop-on, hop-off bus tour lasted until late morning and we headed out for one last loop of local attractions.  Working backwards, after a fashion, we wound up at Edinburgh Castle, the very foundation of the city and its most popular tourist attraction, as the 20-minute wait to buy a ticket attested.  At one of the highest points of the city, on a long-dormant volcano, it has a history of royal and military occupation, most of which is completely lost on an American.

Dinner tonight was at the Galvin Brasserie, in the Caledonia Hotel, once a grand railway station, now repurposed as an even grander hotel, with several dining rooms.  We had a lovely meal, but skipped dessert in order to walk over to Affogato, 36 Queensferry Street, for that fig gelato.  Of course, there was none left from yesterday, so I had to make do with Valhrona chocolate and hazelnut, while my young bride had coconut and salted caramel.  Two scoops were £2.80, a bargain by local standards.  Looking into any retail store around here makes New York look like John's Bargain Store.  I told Johannes, a young German working in a bookstore up the street for the summer, who has never been to the US in spite of near-perfect English, to take an empty suitcase to New York and fill it with Levi's at £20 a pair and sell them at £50 to his eager friends.  The result will be one all-expense paid vacation.
 
Friday, September 5, 2014
We leave Edinburgh today on a three-hour train ride to the village of Arnside, Cumbria, on the northwest coast of England.  This spot is the focus of our trip, to mark the 50th wedding anniversary of Kathleen McConnell and David Mervin, joined as graduate students at Cornell University, in my presence. 
 
One last observation on Edinburgh.  This week, the first week in September, several restaurants are promoting their Christmas parties and dinners.  Fortunately, there are no trees, wreaths or ornaments on display, yet, but this reminded me of the idea that one ages differently during space travel, an application of Einstein's theory of relativity.  It seems that in Edinburgh, three months pass at a much faster rate than in the rest of the world (except where we are waging a war on Christmas, as Fox News has detected).