Friday, June 29, 2012

Play Ball

Monday, June 25, 2012
As you sports fans are well aware, the Mets and Yankees played three games this weekend at CitiField, the second half of this season’s Subway Series of interleague baseball. I went to Friday night’s game, which the Mets won 6-4. Here is my view.

I was spared Saturday night’s Yankee 4-3 victory by spending the entire evening in a restaurant in the company of Jill and Steve, our stalwart traveling companions. I had no knowledge of the progress or outcome of that disappointing game until leaving the restaurant and starting the drive home.

Last night was the culmination of the series, featuring a great pitching matchup between the Yankees CC (skip the periods) Sabathia (9 wins and 3 losses entering the game) and the Mets R.A. Dickey (11 wins and 1 loss, the best record in baseball). In a telephone conversation before the game with Cindy W.M., a rabid baseball fan unaligned with either team, I proposed that the losing pitcher be obliged to return to using his complete name, Carsten Charles or Robert Alan, for the remainder of the season. As it happens, both pitchers were underwhelming and did not figure in the final result. So, they remain abbreviated until further notice.

Pho Grand Vietnamese Restaurant, 277C Grand Street, is a pleasant joint, with knotty pine paneled walls and exposed beams (decorative, not supportive) giving the feeling of a mountain cabin. It was busy with a mixed crowd, mixed in ages and ethnicity. I had spring rolls & grilled beef on rice vermicelli ($7.75) which only rated a C, middling. The best part of finding Pho Grand was all the other restaurants I passed on the way that will be first impressions when I get to them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Stanley Feingold was in New York and we acolytes gathered for lunch with him. I also took advantage of visiting midtown during daylight hours to see one of my several dentists and my only barber.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012
I took a vacation day in order to visit possible sites for West End Synagogue’s 2013 Retreat with three fellow congregants. We had lunch at McKinney & Doyle, 10 Charles Colman Boulevard, Pawling, New York 12564, a café with a fine bakery. I enjoyed the Chicken & Apricot Salad ($12.50), roasted shredded chicken with apricots and almonds over mixed greens. For dessert, I ordered a whole Belgian chocolate pound cake ($4.50), rich, moist chocolate cake, nearly 6" long, coated with delicious chocolate icing, from the bakery counter, which yielded six ample slices. A steal that I was happy to share.

Thursday, June 28, 2012
Chang Le Xin Fan Zhuang, 36 Eldridge Street, just opened, as attested to by the red-ribboned plants around the front door. It contains seven round tables, four of which had thick glass lazy-Susans in the middle for true family-style dining. Three of the other tables had Chinese patrons, including one cluster of three men enjoying many dishes and many beers. The decor held to the theme More is More. There were two elaborate chandeliers, two flat screen television sets, two large, back-lit photomurals, one of a waterfall, the other Shanghai’s nighttime skyline, other framed artworks, and a tall beverage cooler near the cashier. I tried to concentrate on my crossword puzzle in order to avoid sensory overload.

The heavy, glossy menu was entirely in Chinese, but my goofy look drew an English-language takeout menu. I ordered oyster pancake ($11.95) and got a 10" round pancake (two thin, lightly-fried crepes) stuffed with chopped oysters and lots of chives. The waitress, whose English was otherwise marginal, aptly murmured "pizza" when I placed my order. It was quite good.

Friday, June 29, 2012
Because a number of municipal, state and federal agencies are situated in the area around the courthouse, it’s not unusual to see lines of people as I walk by certain buildings in the morning. For instance, the Department of Buildings has an office on Broadway just below Reade Street, which processes construction plans, where I see 50 or more people waiting outside almost every morning before 9 AM. 26 Federal Plaza, on Broadway, has the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which generates lines of immigrants and would-be immigrants looking even more desperate than the real estate developers seeking building permits at DOB. Today, though, 2 Centre Street, between Duane and Reade Streets (Aha!), had a line circling the block, reaching back almost to its starting point. I learned that these many hundreds of people were waiting entry to take the New York Police Department examination, the next-to-last day it is being administered for some period after one month of daily testing. I called out “Good luck” as I passed by.

By contrast, at lunchtime, with the temperature at 90, I kept quiet as I passed by the Moynihan Federal Courthouse around the corner where dozens of reporters, still photographers and video photographers (often with step ladders for elevation) gathered to see Peter Madoff, Bernie’s little brother, exit after pleading guilty to falsifying documents, filing false tax returns and lying to regulators. Unfortunately, he did not lie to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, so he knew he was sunk. I liked the part about Peter collecting $40 million dollars from Bernie’s firm and not paying any taxes on it. It seems like a good idea if I can only get someone to give me $40 million.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Father's Day

Monday, June 18, 2012
This weekend was special for several reasons, because of Father’s Day, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist’s birthday and the Bar Mitzvah of the oldest grandchild of my dear in-laws Judi and Stu. That occasion attracted our second and third generations to New York which made the celebration of the other two events so much richer. Given the distances separating our immediate family, getting us all together is rare and quite special, but combining it with Father’s Day and our matriarch's birthday beat geometrically-elevated odds.

Saturday morning we headed to New Jersey for the Orthodox synagogue services for the Bar Mitzvah. I was driving, as usual, but my lovely wife, still a Jersey girl, knew the destination. To play it safe, however, she used the GPS to help us find the quickest route. We arrived at Congregation Keter Torah rather effortlessly. We parked the car discreetly around the corner (Orthodox Jews do not use mechanical devices on the Sabbath) and went in. Because men and women sit separately at an Orthodox service, I walked into the sanctuary while my young bride and her near-equally gorgeous daughter took a moment in the ladies’ room. The large sanctuary was crowded with men on one side and women on the other. Stu and his son, the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy, are tall so I scanned the room for them and any other familiar faces. I looked and looked standing at a strategic position, aided by my height. Finally, a concerned worshipper came over to me to offer assistance. “I’m here for the Bar Mitzvah and I’m looking for family members.” “What Bar Mitzvah? We have none today.” I mentioned the family name, somewhat well-known in these circles, but evoked no recognition. “Hmm,” was my studied response.

I went back to the lobby and asked other men gathered there if there was another Orthodox synagogue nearby. Given that we were in the Teaneck-Englewood-Bergenfield nexus, that was like asking Neptune if there were more fish in the sea. Just then mother and daughter emerged to learn of our dilemma. We set out on foot a few blocks to the next synagogue, Congregation Beth Abraham, where we fortunately found familiar family members milling about. It was a smaller synagogue and placed the women upstairs from the men, not side-by-side divided by a low wall as Keter Torah arranged its seating. When Beth Abraham’s rabbi spoke, he displayed a bit more militancy about the fate of the Jewish people and the land of Israel than we usually hear at our psychologically-sensitive West End Synagogue Reconstructionist services. Maybe our GPS was trying to direct us to the Orthodox congregation that we might find slightly more congenial to our radical Jewish beliefs.

The synagogue service was one of three events tied to the Bar Mitzvah this weekend, and gave me more exposure to Orthodox Jewish practice and customs than I have had in a long time. Throughout the weekend, I heard frequent, fervent references to Hashem, the Orthodox way of naming God outside of prayers. Baruch Hashem, praise God, punctuated almost every speech and conversation. Hashem was thanked for good things, but never held responsible for bad things, a disparity characteristic of almost all believers. I wonder if Hashem sticks to odds-on favorites, leaving the long shots to chance.

My encounter with current Orthodox Jewish practice brought to mind a somewhat strange image -- the old trick of pulling a table cloth out from under a fully-set table. I thought that Hashem was the tablecloth, the underpinning for what was spread out on the table, the disparate elements of one’s existence. Leaving the tablecloth in place provides a balanced and harmonious picture and an attempt to jerk the tablecloth out from under the plates and glasses and knives and forks will probably leave a mess of scattered and broken tableware.

So many of the Orthodox Jews I met this weekend, and in the past, are well-educated, highly-competent professionals, educators or businesspeople who have succeeded in public and private pursuits. I would like to think they would fare very well without the tablecloth, as I believe I have. But, I suspect that the havoc of an unsuccessful attempt to pull the tablecloth off the neatly-set table deters some from risking it. Or, others wish to avoid the existential challenge of an uncovered table (the Universe) set with tableware (the episodes of our lives) without an intermediary. Or, they have a faith that they trust and draw comfort from, as the tablecloth may serve to cushion some of the more fragile items falling on the hard table surface. OK, I’ll stop now before I start in on thread counts and fabric content.

Sunday’s Times had an essay by Alexandra Styron, a daughter of the novelist William Styron, on the occasion of Father’s Day. Her focus was a photograph taken in 1967, when she was a toddler, reproduced with her writing. It shows her in the arms of an African-American handyman “who performed many jobs around our place but none more important, or better executed, than filling the aching void left by our father’s inaccessibility.” Apart from the emotional content of her recollections, I was drawn to the essay by the identity of the photographer, Bernard Gotfryd, sent by Newsweek magazine to photograph Styron who had recently published “The Confessions of Nat Turner” to wide acclaim and controversy.

I knew Bernard Gotfryd at about that time because his son was in my eighth-grade home room class and, believe it or not, the General Science class that I taught in a better-than-average, but not fancy-schmancy private school in Queens. Gotfryd and his wife, both European Jewish refugees, had me over to dinner once and I must have seen them at school functions and parent-teacher conferences during my one-year tenure. He was small, dark and delicate, resembling a pleasant-looking Peter Lorre.

I knew Gotfryd’s reputation; he shot many Newsweek covers. So, I was excited to discuss his work with him on the evening I visited his home. I wanted to know what Kim Novak was like, a recent cover subject of his. But Gotfryd kept pulling out shots that never appeared in Newsweek, pictures of windows, doors, simple architectural details. Few, if any, of those pictures contained people, but he was eager for me to appreciate the symmetry or asymmetry, the light, the dark, the purity of the image, something that I only now might be able to appreciate.

No doubt Gotfryd took many pictures of the famous author that day, but I think that the photograph of the young child in the arms of the handyman was the one that he would have shown in private again and again, even as the now-grown woman cherishes it 45 years later.

Thursday, June 14, 2012
Good friend Burt called at 7:30 AM to tell me that my e-mail account has been hacked and I am seemingly giving unwanted investment advice to the world at large. I apologize to you if you have been bothered by this. I've retired "olderthanusualloveobject" as my password as a precaution.

With the temperature in the mid 90s again today, my new-places-to-eat gene took a rest.

Friday, June 15, 2012
While I’ve had no new Chinatown venues to report on this week so far, last night offered some food for thought. We ate at “London Lennie’s,” 63-88 Woodhaven Boulevard, Rego Park, after visiting Mother Ruth Gotthelf further down Woodhaven Boulevard. The restaurant specializes in fish and seafood although operating from a very land-locked location in Queens. While I did not order them, I was interested in the soft-shell crabs, an in-season specialty. London Lennie’s was charging $34 for three, carefully prepared and presented. You may recall that last week I had three idyllic salt and pepper soft-shell crabs at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for $9.99. So, $34 could get me at least nine salt and pepper soft-shell crabs and put me in a euphoric state for the weekend.

The awning over the front door at 30 Mott Street says Silkroad Place, but the business card on the counter reads Long Feng @ Mocha. There were no menus to act as tiebreaker, so I’ll refer to Silkroad Place as the spot that I passed hundreds of times without entering until today. I’ve ignored it because it appears to serve only beverages and that proved to be nearly correct. In fact, Silkroad Place offers only steamed gyoza, Japanese dumplings (8 for $3), and takoyaki, a ball-shaped dumpling supposedly containing octopus (although you’d never know it) (special $4 for four and choice of drink). I therefore ate everything Silkroad Place had to eat. All else was liquid. I enjoyed what I had; the takoyaki skin was wonderfully flaky, similar to phyllo dough. One long, exposed brick wall was an attractive feature in a space that was quite underdecorated, a rarity in Chinatown. A sign also proclaimed that they had the lowest prices around for Internet access on the two computers sitting towards the back. All of this in combination still attracted almost no other customers while I sat and worked the crossword puzzle.

Friday, June 15, 2012

1 Across

Monday, June 11, 2012
My confidence is sapped. I was unable to do more than half of Saturday’s crossword puzzle, the hardest of the week. “Al Jazeera locale” was the clue for 1 Across, 9 letters. dohaqatar (Doha Qatar) was the answer and I was never going to get that correct. Even as I filled in some of the Down answers, no light bulb went off. Being scrupulous, at least when it comes to crossword puzzles, I sought no assistance and wound up staring at empty boxes for much of the afternoon.

This afternoon promises to be no cheerier since I am headed back to the dentist’s chair for the root canal postponed last week. While I took a long walk seeking a new establishment without success, I returned to Wo Hop downstairs, 17 Mott Street, daring history to repeat itself. This time I felt no need to play it safe and I ordered soft shell crabs with salt and pepper ($9.95 for 3). I was rewarded with a superb dish, the soft shells barely distinguishable from the juicy meat within. Green onions, peppers and garlic were sauteed along with the crabs and I ate them too in order to meet my Vitamin A and C requirements. I’ll brush my teeth before leaving the building, but I’ll wait as long as I can to preserve the happy taste in my mouth.

On the way home after the root canal, I was fortunate in finding a reasonable way to provide another happy taste to enjoy after sensation returned to my mouth and lips – Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy Cherry Chocolate Chip Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert. Now, Trader Joe assumes an enormous risk by meddling with one of the Universe’s finest creations, but he pulls it off. The quart container had a generous portion of cherries and chocolate pieces in a cherry-flavored not-really ice cream. It is vegan and Kosher and went very well with Novocain.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Last night, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New Jersey Devils for the Stanley Cup, the peak achievement in professional hockey. And who cares? Los Angeles is notorious in sports circles for how early in the evening the fans for any of its teams flee in order to beat traffic. The Devils, I reluctantly admit, are one of the best run sports franchises in the world, but unable to fill their arena unless the New York Rangers are opposing them. So, probably 87 people in North America were absorbed by the contest, but not me. Instead, I ate my Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy Cherry Chocolate Chip Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert and watched the first half of “Lawrence of Arabia,” to maintain my two-week old connection to Bedouin culture, and the first half of the third episode of the first season of “Trial & Retribution,” a British police procedural series that is much edgier than any version of “Law & Order.” Each full episode of “Trial & Retribution” runs about 3 hours, so half is a reasonable dose for any school night.

As a hockey fan and especially a Rangers fan, I was challenged by the matchup of the Kings and the Devils. Normally, any opponent of the Devils (who defeated the Rangers to get to the championship round) would be my favorite. However, it ain’t so easy. Decisions of this sort, who to root for when your team is out of contention, are almost entirely based on antagonisms. The Kings are owned by a rapacious billionaire who ardently pursues his economic gain at the expense of the rest of us. While his hockey operations are conducted in a non-partisan fashion and, unlike owners in other sports, hockey team ownership is usually pretty obscure to the average fan. So, while Mr. LA Greed Face will only hover in the background of the celebrations surrounding the Cup, he will presumably gain enormous satisfaction. Where do I stand? It’s very hard sometimes to reconcile the sports section with the rest of the newspaper.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The fruit situation on the streets of Chinatown continues to improve. White/Queen Anne cherries have dropped to 3 pounds for $5, or $2 per pound; red cherries are 2 pounds for $3 along Canal Street, East Broadway and Mulberry Street. Good-sized mangoes remain at $1 each, but seem juicier and tastier each week. However, donut peaches have not reappeared.

Thursday, June 14, 2012
Last night, in another setback for the Jewish people, I was elected a vice president of West End Synagogue.

Another lunchtime without finding a new place to eat. I’m not asking for sympathy, but, after almost 30 months of exploring metropolitan Chinatown, it’s not easy locating an untried venue. Everyday this week, I walked around in different directions without any success. I’ve seen some new places solely serving beverages, bubble tea and the like, or bakeries offering leaden, lard-ridden “buns.” The former group don’t offer food and the latter group are disqualified by what they try to pass off as food. There are many sites in transition, closed weeks or months ago with some promising signs of construction. But, for the here and now, I have to keep prowling the streets in search of the next superior scallion pancake or plate of Singapore chow fun.

Friday, June 15, 2012
The big sign over 102 Mott Street reads 102 Noodles Town Restaurant. However, the menu and business cards inside read Big Wing Wong Restaurant, the same as they did on May 6, 2010 when I last visited. So, is it new or old? I decided not to increase my restaurant count when I realized that I ordered the exact same dish, spicy fried beef chow fun ($7.25), 25 months ago. It certainly held its own after all this time.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Returning to Normal

Monday, June 4, 2012
We have returned, leaving a legacy of peace and understanding in the Middle East. The Ruling Spirit of the Universe seems to be pleased with our accomplishments, signified by the three victories of the Mets over the Cardinals this past weekend, including the first ever no-hit ball game thrown by a Mets pitcher. On the other hand, I am personally off to a slow start, somewhat inhibited by digestion problems (of all things) that arose as we approached the continental US. For the last several days, the list of what I skipped eating is far more interesting than the list of what I ate. I hope to restore the natural order soon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Facing a root canal this afternoon, and my cast iron stomach having nearly returned to working order, I dipped back into Chinese food at lunch. A mild dip admittedly at Wo Hop downstairs, 17 Mott Street, for egg drop soup and chicken fried rice. I took into consideration my digestion and the dentist’s sense of sight and smell as he approached my gaping maw. This meal was Chinese food with training wheels, but was satisfactory nevertheless due to Wo Hop’s consistent high quality.

Surprise! After a pleasant walk to the dentist’s office, I learned that he has something in his eye and prudently defers my procedure until next week.

One byproduct of our vacation was the accumulation of reading material awaiting us, catalogs, periodicals and a near-complete edition of the Sunday New York Times, preserved by dear friends. I have been diligently trying to catch up and get current, but it has been a slow process. Two issues of the New Yorker were central to the dilemma. Fortunately one issue is a double issue, so, if I could get through it soon, I could return to the future. My problem was solved when I opened this double issue today, which is devoted to science fiction, and found it almost unreadable. While all the articles were written in English, not some invention to embroider “Avatar” or “Star Trek,” they contained almost no interesting, useful or even curious information to my mind. The result was that, on the subway ride back from the dentist, Fulton Street to 72nd Street on the #3 line, I read (scanned, skipped through, ignored) most of the magazine. For those of you whose knowledge of the New York City subway system is limited to the chase scenes in “The French Connection,” I have to note that the #3 line is an express train, stopping only a handful of times between the House of Dental Pain and the Palazzo di Gotthelf, leaving only a minimum amount of time for reading. Under these circumstances, I expect to be all caught up by tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Not only D-Day, but D&I Day. Congratulations to that wonderful couple celebrating their eighth anniversary.

Here is your latest Chinatown Fruit Report:
Red cherries are $2 per pound everywhere; white/Queen Anne cherries are $3 per pound or $5 for 2 pounds. Those juicy champagne mangoes (not a trademark lawyer’s favorite appellation) are $1 each for hefty-sized ones. Today’s best bet are donut peaches at $2 per pound on the east side of Mulberry Street, just south of Canal Street. Fairway has them at $4 per pound, although slightly larger in size thereby improving the flesh-to-pit ratio.

Heading back to the courthouse, I came across the largest ensemble of Chinese musicians this side of the Beijing Opera. Gathered at the northeastern corner of Columbus Park, with sheet music in front of most of them, were 4 Erhu (Chinese fiddle) players, 2 banjo players, 1 saxophonist, 1 percussionist, 1 Yangqin (hammered dulcimer) player and 2 singers, 1 male and 1 female. They made quite a sight, and quite a sound. Take that as you will.

Thursday, June 7, 2012
Because Michael Ratner and I agreed to have dinner together before attending a lecture at West End synagogue, and because Michael’s wife does not like Chinese food as much as Michael and I do, we two plan to eat at Grand Sichuan, 307 Amsterdam Avenue, sibling to Grand Sichuan, 125 Canal Street (October 18, 2010). Therefore, I skipped Chinese food at lunch and brought in a nice lamb/chicken combo over rice with pita from a nearby food cart. There are usually three or four Halal food carts operating within one block of the courthouse and I have patronized them randomly. I’ll have to concentrate and compare them systematically soon.

After a good, but inevitably fatty, tea-smoked duck at Grand Sichuan, Michael and I strolled over to WES. Lo and behold, at the corner of 72nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, I spotted Jon S. Hall, law school classmate, walking with his charming 5-year old daughter. Jon, as you may not remember was the singer-songwriter with the hit “Detachable Penis” (, which is now 20 years old. In the 2004 presidential election, Jon and I went to Reading, PA together as legal poll watchers. I recall driving back on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, listening to radio reports that led us to believe that John Kerry was the next president of all the United States except Ohio. Jon works as an intellectual property lawyer, but continues his artistic pursuits.

Friday, June 8, 2012
Today is the courthouse’s 9th Annual Unity in Diversity Program, which, as I have observed in the past, features a phenomenal array of food provided by organizations within and without the court system, such as the Dominican Bar Association, the Asian American Bar Association of New York, the Guild of Catholic Attorneys, the Gay Straight Alliance of the New York State Courts, the Jewish Lawyers’ Guild, the Hispanic Court Officers Association, the New York Women’s Bar Association, the Columbian Lawyers Association and the Puerto Rican Bar Association. Each tries to outdo the other in offering ethnically-representative or otherwise memorable food to anyone wandering by. It seems as if an implicit aspect of diversity here is, “We’re different, but we taste good.” I find this event ill-timed today because my gastrointestinal system has just been restored to its laser-like efficiency, and I may have to consider exercising restraint and moderation as I circulate around the rotunda this afternoon, or maybe not.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Alan of Arabia

Thursday, May 24, 2012
The border with Jordan was a 6-minute taxicab ride from our hotel in Eilat. Had we turned right instead of left out of the driveway, we would have been at the Egyptian border a little later. We had already been close to Lebanon and Syria in northern Israel, now Jordan and Egypt, and, about one-half hour driving in Jordan brought us less than two kilometers from Saudi Arabia. This was a geography lesson that I had never had before. The border crossing was totally undramatic. One group of Ecuadorean tourists and some random others, including an American couple and their 27-year old twin sons, were ahead of us. We spent only 5 minutes at the wrong window, sorted it out and entered the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with warm greetings from our Semitic cousins.

Our driver-guide Wa'el (a relative of Superman?) was waiting for us and we were thrilled and delighted to see his 2011 Hyundai Sonata, all clean and airconditioned, entirely at our disposal. We booked the trip though Jordan Select Tours, may Allah give them long life, based on good Internet reviews and very attractive pricing. Everything short of a few meals was included in their quote, which responded to our itinerary and hotel choices. I kept my fingers crossed, however, until we met Wa'el and his car. Although he is a university graduate in accounting and finance, his command of English and his knowledge of his country's history and attractions make him a very popular guide.

Wa'el drove us through Aqaba, the port city on the Red Sea, just across from Eilat, and then into the interior to Wadi Rum, a huge expanse of desert punctuated by weathered rock formations. Much of "Lawrence of Arabia" was filmed in Wadi Rum where Wa'el turned us over to a Bedouin who drove us around for over two hours in a "Jeep" (really a Toyota pickup truck with two crude benches in the truck bed). The Bedouin, remarkably spry in spite of having two wives and 12 children, pointed out many natural phenomena, rock drawings left by ancient caravan travelers on route from Africa, and a cave where Lawrence reputedly hid from Ottoman pursuers. He stopped to prepare cardamon tea under a shady rock overhang.

This was a far more enjoyable excursion than I imagined.

We rejoined Wa'el at the Bedouin camp, and we proceeded almost 2 hours north to Petra, the city carved out of sheer rock by the Nabateans, about 2,000 years ago. Unasked, he got us an upgrade at the Mövenpick Petra Resort, one of the finest hotels we have ever stayed in. It offers fine design, fine accommodations, fine food and fine service immediately outside the entrance to Petra. That night, we took the Petra night tour, the rugged path to the instantly-recognizable "Treasury" illuminated only by candles. When I saw the ground by daylight, the next day, I marveled at how the 200+ visitors avoided sprains, strains and simple fractures as we blundered along. Even without injury, this experience was less than anticipated, since the walk was unguided, and a simple musical performance and brief introduction to Petra's history awaited us when we sat before the Treasury, a noble's tomb whose grandeur was thought to house gold and other wealth.

Friday, May 25, 2012
Petra is a special place, as vital a destination in evoking the distant past as Pompeii and Xi'An. You can ride in and about much of the site on horseback, camel, donkey and mule cart. The first 1.2 kilometers goes through a very narrow canyon, that is shaded at the beginning and end of the day. Everything else, all day, sits in bright, hot sun. Even the finest physical specimen, naming no names, will occasionally huff and puff when climbing to some elevated vantage point. A thorough exploration would take days, but is more likely to hold the interest of the amateur archeologist than the casual tourist. However, returning each afternoon to the Mövenpick Petra Resort might justify an extended stay.

While we usually seek variety when traveling, tonight, our wedding anniversary, we ate dinner again at Al Saraya Restaurant in the hotel, with a buffet of particular quality and sophistication that eliminated the need to seek any alternative. Near the end of the meal, although it's hard to determine when I am finished with a buffet, a covey of Jordanian waiters approached our table bearing a beautiful cake and singing Happy Birthday until corrected. My young bride still doubts my innocence in arranging this demonstration of intergroup, interfaith and international accord.

Saturday, May 26, 2012
We left early for Amman, Jordan's capital, three or more hours north. On the way, Wa'el took us to Umm Ar-Rasas, the site of some early Christian mosaics, and Madaba, where St. George's Church houses a 6th century Byzantine mosaic map showing Jerusalem and other holy sites. The map, originally 25 by 5 meters, is estimated to have 2,ooo,ooo pieces of colored stone, a remarkable achievement. We made one more stop before entering Amman, at Mt. Nebo, and, for the first time this entire trip, Grandpa Alan got seriously annoyed. It was not Israeli Jews that annoyed me, not Jordanian Muslims that annoyed me, but Italian Catholics, specifically the Order of the Franciscan Friars. They control Mt. Nebo, the closest that Moses got to the Promised Land after 40 years wandering the desert. According to anybody's bible, Moses died on Mt. Nebo and was buried there, overlooking the Jordan Velley and the Dead Sea. Now, it is a tourist destination, charging admission, run by the Franciscans. And, you know what? There is absolutely no use of the I word, the J word or the H word on the premises or in the associated literature. It is "a Christian holy site," no more, no less. Only the restraining presence of my beloved traveling companion stopped me from baptizing the site with some of my own personal holy water.

Wa'el, unaware of my annoyance, nevertheless provided a decent counterbalance, Tawaheen Al-Hawa Restaurant, Tlaa'a Al-Ali Jubilee Circle, in eastern Amman. This is a very large restaurant, where the outdoor portion resembles a Bedouin camp. We ate indoors, at four-foot square wooden tables embedded with three-foot round brass plates. Wa'el, apparently known to management, ordered and further ingratiated himself to me with the lavish spread that ensued. We began with eight "salads," hummus, babaganoush, labana, vegetables and the like with a variant of pita. Accompanying those cold dishes were two types of merguez, the North African sausage, two meat pies, lamb and chicken, and strips of lightly-grilled cheese. Then, the main course, grilled pieces of lamb and chicken, ground beef and parsley sausages, and french fries. At that point, I was ready to devote my life to maintaining peace in the Middle East forever. Total delerium was avoided when only watermelon was served for dessert. The bill came to 32.48 Jordanian Dinars, $45.80, including some non-alcoholic drinks. I'm sure that the cost to Al'an would have been greater without Wa'el.

The patrons at Tawaheen Al-Hawa provided an interesting cross-section of Arab life. At the three nearest tables sat women representing the gamut of public demeanor. A woman dressed in "Western" clothes ate alone, writing in a journal in Arabic -- She wrote right to left using a fine brush. Another table had a family group, probably three generations, with the women wearing scarves covering only their hair. At a third table, occupied Wa'el insisted by Arabs from a Persian Gulf state, were two women totally enveloped in black burqas (burkas, burkhas), although it could have been men underneath, for all you know. One man, wearing a traditional white tunic, sat with them.

Wa'el checked us into the Intercontinental Hotel, where we were upgraded again. Our exposure to Amman was limited to a short nighttime walk through a nearby neighborhood, although I was heartened by one storefront.

Sunday, May 27, 2012
The hotel was loaded with senior Jordanian military types this morning, although my favorite moment was provided by an American soldier who came over to me when he heard my dulcet tones describing how I wanted my eggs prepared. He was from New York and the sound of my voice reminded him of the genuine Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Wa'el picked us up early for our last morning in Jordan, visiting Jerash, about 30 miles north of Amman. Jerash is one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the world. It was a city of about 25,000 before the devastating earthquake of 747 led to its abandonment, and eventual disappearance under sand for almost a thousand years. It occupied 800,000 square meters within its walls (nearly 198 acres). Now, you see amphitheaters, colonnaded streets, marketplaces, temples and other buildings amid lots of rubble. As with Pompeii, with which it is often compared, much remains buried. Metaphors anyone?