Friday, July 26, 2013

Picking and Choosing

Monday, July 22, 2013
I had fresh blueberries and raspberries on my Special K this morning. "Big deal," is your response, if, like me, you are accustomed to talking back to video screens. Well, the big deal is that I picked the very same berries yesterday in a field in Massachusetts that I ate this morning. Less than 24 hours from field to table. It gave me a great feeling of satisfaction stepping into the food chain, taking part in one of humankind’s most elemental functions just as our distant ancestors did, although they probably did not transport their gatherings to table in a four-door Lexus sedan.

Having dared to cross the borders into Greece, Bulgaria, Illinois, Macedonia, Massachusetts and Connecticut recently, I thought I was up to a search for a new restaurant today. However, I could only find beverage shops and bakeries that I haven’t been to before and the absence of solid food at the former and edible food at the latter kept me from increasing my restaurant count. So, recalling last week’s meal at West New Malaysian Restaurant (WNMR), I revisited Nyonya Malaysian Cuisine, 199 Grand Street (November 27, 2012), and had roti canai ($3.50) and nasi lemak ($7.50), two highly typical Malaysian dishes. The roti canai disappointed in comparison with WNMR’s because the pancake was more of a flaky crêpe that crumbled when you tried to dip it into the small bowl of curry which had only the rumor of chicken present. WNMR provides a hearty pancake which, torn into pieces, allows you to zzzup up the curry sauce. Nyonya’s nasi lemak was good, though, consisting of a mound of rice surrounded by two small pieces of beef on the bone, two quarters of a hard-boiled egg, raw cucumber slices, ikan bilis (tiny, crisp anchovies), and sambal (a spicy caponata). In Malaysia and Indonesia, nasi lemak is frequently a breakfast dish, although not yet on the IHOP menu. It is usually described as having coconut-flavored rice, but that familiar flavor has eluded me with each nasi lemak.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013
SAC is an unregistered investment advisory firm that controls several hedge funds. It is the creation of Steven A. Cohen (I won’t even try to distinguish him from other prominent Steven [Stephen] Cohens). Recently, Cohen settled civil charges of insider trading brought by your Securities & Exchange Commission for $616 million "without admitting or denying guilt." This remarkable feat even caused the presiding judge to utter, "There is something counterintuitive and incongruous about settling for $600 million if it truly did nothing wrong." Fortunately, your government was not convinced that the matter ended there, and on Friday commenced another action against Cohen charging that he "failed to take reasonable steps to investigate and prevent such violations of federal securities laws" by two senior employees in spite of "red flags of potentially unlawful conduct."

Can you just imagine what a something admission might be worth, if a nothing admission is worth $616 million? According to your Department of Agriculture, in 2012, the average American recipient received $134.29 per month in food assistance through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp program. Even though I don’t have an MBA, I was able to calculate that a simple repeat of Cohen’s feigned innocence could provide food stamps for 382,257 people for one year. Or, let them eat cake.

Dean Alfange and I chose to eat rice as our starch at Shanghai Gourmet, 23 Pell Street, which may have the best lunch specials in Chinatown (February 9, 2013, November 9, 2012, October 17, 2012). $4.95 to $6.25 gets you a bowl of very good hot and sour soup, a bowl of white rice and a medium portion of your main course, consistently well prepared. I had shrimps with egg sauce (lobster sauce without the usual pork); Dean chose shredded pork with Peking sauce. I threw in a scallion pancake for good luck, since I have oft touted the superior virtues of Shanghai Gourmet’s scallion pancake.

Speaking of good food, this early evening I met a man who made a turducken from scratch. Sam, a young cashier at Fairway, worked with his mother and brother to prepare a turducken for Thanksgiving about 5 years ago. It took the three of them the entire day before to prepare the three birds, deboning the duck, the chicken and the turkey in order to fit one inside the other inside the other. Additionally, they surrounded the two interior layers with homemade stuffing/filling. He told me that the meal was a great success, but never to be repeated.

I repeat this tale to provide notice to some of my more culinary-accomplished relatives (and you know who are up there in Bergen County) that I intend to pursue the turducken issue. For at least the first iteration, I will seek out a Kosher turducken (see for a ready-to-cook version, leaving only the roasting to us. If all goes well, I will set the bar (but not the bar exam) higher, and expect a completely homemade turducken. In both cases, I will provide the raw materials and supervise their ultimate consumption.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Anthony Weiner has captured the flag for the most public display of persistent futility. However, I don’t want to lose sight of two individuals, acting independently, who serve as an inspiration for the inadequate, unprepared and ineffective among us. From this week’s New Yorker: "According to John McAlary, the executive director of the New York State Board of Law Examiners, there are two people who have taken [and failed] the test [– the New York State Bar Exam –] more than sixty times." Since the Bar Exam is given usually twice a year, February and July, these folks have been at it more than 30 years each. That would make them currently at least 55 years old, if they proceeded directly from a four-year college to the three years of law school before taking the exam for the first time. That leaves no time off for finding themselves, learning the mandolin, spelunking, making French pastry or writing poetry. How could they have known that their cherished goal would continue to elude them? If there were only someone they could sue. Of course, they would probably have to hire a lawyer to represent them.

Today, I had lunch with a visitor from further afield than North Leverett, MA, Dean’s home. Sarah Nabagala is a third-year law student from Uganda, who has been in the United States this summer attending a camp for Jewish African students. Because Sarah observes Kosher food rules, we ate at Vegetarian Dim Sum House, 24 Pell Street (February 2, 2011), accompanied by friend Ken Klein, whose wife Harriet Bograd is president of Kulanu, Inc., an organization supporting dispersed Jewish communities around the world. We ordered spinach dumplings ($3.45), (not really) mini vegetarian spring rolls ($3.45), vegetarian mock roast pork buns ($3.45), fried rice noodles (mei fun) in Singapore style ($8.95 small, $10.95 large), and mango pudding ($3.45). No meat, seafood or fish are served in the restaurant, and the menu has sections labelled mock chicken, mock pork, mock beef and mock seafood. Some dishes, as noted above, also take care to explain themselves. Everything was very good, fairly priced except the tasty mango pudding which could have been a buck less.

After a brief walk around the nearby streets of Chinatown, I took Sarah to my regular Wednesday afternoon gig, supervising conferences on civil actions involving New York City as a litigant. The conferences themselves are rarely interesting, focussing upon scheduling and exchanging information between the parties, often months after first promised. However, I asked several attorneys to explain the case they were working on and their role to Sarah. She sat next to me for one hour while the attorneys sorted out the steps needed to move their lawsuits along. Since Uganda models its legal system and education after the British, Sarah got a brief look for the first time at our form of civil litigation. What seemed to surprise her the most was the sheer size of our legal establishment, demonstrated by the half dozen or more courthouses immediately around Centre Street. She was too polite to ask just what are all these people doing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013
Quiet lunch at Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, beef and chicken fried rice ($7.50), always a huge portion. I only had Wednesday’s and Thursday’s crossword puzzles as company. Finished the first, will aim to finish the second on the train home.

Anthony Weiner has demonstrated very bad judgment, but consider N. Gonzalez, a Department of Corrections officer (prison guard), who had several sexual encounters with Ronell Wilson in prison while he was awaiting retrial in the murder of two New York City police officers. A baby boy was born to Ms. Gonzalez on March 22, 2013. She will return to her child after serving a 10 to 18 month sentence. Mr. Wilson’s time with his son, established by test and conceded by the parties, may well be limited because, yesterday, a jury found Wilson guilty again and voted for the death penalty.

Friday, July 26, 2013
I’m not proud, I’m proud to say. I will admit defeat or error within moments of being discovered. So, I won’t hesitate to confess to a major shortfall on my part, yesterday’s crossword puzzle. The New York Times Thursday puzzle almost always has a gimmick. Yesterday, it declared itself openly. The answer to 14- Down emerged quickly as DOUBLEFEATURE. Then, 4-Down asked for "14-Down starring Jack Lemmon" and 21-Down asked for "14-Down starring Frank Sinatra". At first, I thought that two movie titles would run serially for each actor. Then, as I solved, I found that every answer that crossed 4-Down and 21- Down contained two letters in one box. Some examples, 1-Across contained GT in one box, 22-Across contained PP, 46-Across contained SN. These two-letter groups were stacked vertically, meaning that the answers to 4-Down and 21-Down consisted entirely of the pairs. I was stumped. I had everything that I needed to know, yet I knew not. There was a lot of empty space around 4-Down and 21-Down. Fortunately, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist did not ask me "How was your day?"

Today, at lunch at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street (March 8, 2011, November 20, 2012, February 7, 2013), I examined the answer to yesterday’s puzzle and learned my lesson. I was erroneously reading the two letters in a pair together, yielding PPYAOR, for instance, or EYASNA. But, you had to separate the two letters, left and right, and read each after the letter above, thus:
P       P                       E       Y
Y       A                      A       S
O       R                      N       A

With that, GRUMPYOLDMEN and THEAPARTMENT, and OCEANSELEVEN and GUYSANDDOLLS jump right out at you.  And how could I not get Grumpy Old Men?

To end the week on a pleasant note, please rush to Trader Joe's where Saturn peaches (their name for donut peaches) are on sale at $2.99 for 20 oz., 1.25 lbs.  Enjoy.

Friday, July 19, 2013


Monday, July 15, 2013
I’m not a taxi kind of guy.  I grew up in modest circumstances in Brooklyn, but my father had a car and took the family just about anywhere we needed to go.  For adventures in “the City,” the A train was three short blocks away.  After we moved to Queens, where travel either started with a seven-block walk to the elevated or a bus to the subway, taxis were not part of my repertoire for two reasons – money and availability.  Even if I could have afforded a taxi, there were none to be found in our neighborhood, none that were unoccupied at least, since the only ones to be seen were driven by a few experienced cab drivers who knew that the best way from Idlewild Airport (later JFK) to Manhattan was up Woodhaven Boulevard.  Once I moved to Manhattan, I still avoided taxis because my advanced subway knowledge, bred by my weekday trips to Stuyvesant HS and then CCNY, usually led me underground, and the frequent use of surface transit in Manhattan has been acknowledged as a defense to many felonies.  In any case, my taxi rides are usually confined to strange and remote places, such as Chicago, where we spent the weekend.  Going from and to O’Hare Airport entailed close to 30 minutes in a Chicago taxicab, ample time to read the detailed fare card facing the back seat.  The basic rates were unsurprising, yielding trips costing $40-50 (including tip) between airport and downtown hotel.  However, I was struck almost physically, squirming in my seat, seeing the $50 Vomit Cleanup Charge.  Even considering my limited experience as a taxi passenger, I simply don’t recall the likes of that anywhere else.  It’s not unreasonable, of course, but I wonder about actually implementing this.  Does the driver ask for payment in advance?  Or, once the facts are in place, so to speak, can such a financial transaction be conducted simply and neatly?

Hallelujah!  At two o’clock this afternoon, my mother’s apartment was sold.  More than 58 years after we moved into the two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in a leafy part of Queens, it is out of our hands.  The transaction, which occurred almost 8 months after the apartment was put on sale, went smoothly.  Since I had to be in Queens in the early afternoon, I could not have a celebratory meal in advance.  I’ll have to wait until after the fact.  I may even use part of the proceeds to take a cab to a nice restaurant.     

Tuesday, July 16, 2013
At lunchtime, the various weather reports are reporting numbers such as 96º (Weather Underground), 99º (Weather Channel), and 90º (AccuWeather).  Hot, in other words.  However, it has been a long time since I had lunch with Alan Heim, an Oscar winner from CCNY, probably much rarer than a Nobel Laureate from CCNY, so I was not deterred.  We ate at Kori Tribeca, 253 Church Street, that very pleasant Korean restaurant (May 28, 2013).  The complimentary soup today was a chilled, mildly-sweet and sour vegetable broth, compared to the hot miso soup upon my last visit, more in line with the outside temperature.  I ordered the lunch box with short ribs, accompanied by soba noodles, salad, brown rice, a vegetable dumpling and potato salad, of all things, but a very good potato salad. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The weather remains in the 90s as I meet the Boyz for lunch at West New Malaysia Restaurant, 46-48 Bowery Street, Chinatown Arcade # 28, a place that has become one of my go-to favorites.  We ate roti canai, satay beef, satay chicken, sungai wang kway teow (mixed meat lo mein essentially), Bangkok seafood fried rice and beef rendang (listed as dried curry beef, but really a very good wet curry beef).  Several servings of Diet Coke vintage 2013 brought the bottom line to $21 each.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013
As a follow-up on last week’s comments on sinful politicians, you may be interested in, a study of the voting public’s reaction to scandal-tarred incumbents.  While many hastened to retire or resign, Scott J. Basinger, a political scientist at the University of Houston, found that nearly three-quarters of those who decided to run again survived their primaries and 81 percent of those who made it to the general election retained their seats.  So, the wages of sin continue to be paid by the taxpayers.  Note that Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer do not have the benefit of incumbency, but neither do any of their opponents. 

The consensus on the temperature is 97º as I went to 325 Broadway today, the third visit to that location: Sushein, Kaiten Sushi Bar & Restaurant, the Kosher sushi place with the conveyor belt (December 19, 2011); Siring Asian Grill, the struggling pan-Asian joint trying to cope with the architectural features left over by Sushein (April 10, 2013); and, what at a distance I took for, a new joint called Blue Moon.  It turned out that the bright blue neon sign was advertising a brewery, not a new name for the resident eatery.  I went ahead and chose among the various foundations, meats, vegetables and dressings to come up with tasty chunks of beef and mushrooms over vermicelli in a bland Thai salsa sauce.  

Fortunately for me, but maybe not for him, Smith, the owner/operator of the restaurant, walked by my booth and recognized me from my last visit.  Again, he asked for my candid appraisal of the food, which I enjoyed more this time.  Even while we sat and talked, I could see people peering through the large, thick, clear glass doors, and turning away.  You definitely get a visual hodge-podge when you approach Siring that way.  Until you move several yards into the long narrow space, you can’t tell what you are getting into, or what might be getting into you.  

Smith, the young MIT graduate of Thai background, has not yet introduced the big changes that would draw in customers that we spoke of in my prior visit.  He has been tweaking the menu and his recipes, and changing suppliers, but this can only be appreciated by someone comes in, orders and eats.  While I must admit that I was delighted to have Smith seek my opinion, I’m not sure that I qualify as more than a know-it-all busybody, which is how I was recorded on the United States Census.  On the other hand, when several people timidly entered the restaurant and started to look around, I was heard to bellow my appreciation for the good food in front of me, giving them some reason to continue to the ordering station. 

Friday, July 19, 2013
Back on America's highways and byways to see our expanded family in Massachusetts.  Bubbe a/k/a America's Favorite Epidemiologist is positively quaking with anticipation at seeing her first ever granddaughter.  The air seems thick with visions of party dresses and silk ballet slippers and doctoral dissertations covered in Coach Leather.  Grandpa Alan, always more down to earth, simply anticipates taking her to hockey games at Madison Square Garden.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

On the Road Again

Monday, July 8, 2013
In case you were feeling optimistic about the human race, I suggest, reluctantly, that you read about a 48-year old Bronx woman, who has had six children and frequently drawn the attention of the police and social welfare agencies for her inability to control herself or her family.  She dropped out of school in the ninth grade to have her first child.  Currently, she is denied access to her two youngest children, who have lived in foster care longer than they have lived with her.  Some relatives and some professionals are quoted as mouthing banalities, such as, "I know she loves her children very dearly;" "She tried her best;" "She's not going to be the mother of the year, but this woman is not a homicidal murderer."  Indeed, her adult children have seemed to have fared well enough (and may somewhat counteract my pessimism).  One is a college graduate social worker, one works in a retail store and another in a restaurant kitchen, although there is little indication that their mother aided their progress in any way.  Yet, her story is marked by bad choices for herself and her children, leading to her legal and physical separation from her youngest daughters, even as lawyers, social workers, the courts (a/k/a the system) struggled to assist her.  Oh Ye Liberals, do we continue to invest more time and money to rescue  a woman who seems unable to make practical or prudent judgments -- benign impotence?  Hark Conservatives, what is to be done when individual responsibility cannot meet the demands of adulthood and parenthood -- malign neglect? 
Late this afternoon, the announcement came that “Perry Will Not Seek Re-election as Texas Governor.”  It is rumored that he will return to Texas A&M University for graduate studies in arithmetic. 
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The New York news media is in seventh heaven dealing with the news that Eliot Spitzer, New York’s former Governor, has entered the race for New York City Comptroller (sic) even as Anthony Weiner, a former New York Congressman, shows strength in his race for New York City Mayor in this fall’s municipal elections.  Spitzer resigned as Governor in 2008 after his visits to prostitutes became known.  Weiner resigned in 2011 when his salacious e-mails and texts to strangers became public.  The compare and contrasts are being conducted at full tilt.  Spitzer broke the law; Weiner apparently did not.  Spitzer’s was, by many standards, a “victimless” crime, while Weiner offended, if not damaged, his unwitting correspondents.  Each is renowned for the size of his ego.  Both are Jewish, which distinguishes them from so many other fallen politicians in recent years.  Usually, we hear a lot about alcohol and Jesus, too much of the former and not enough of the latter, when some (temporarily) disgraced public servant is caught with (how felicitous a phrase) his pants down.  Spitzer and Weiner both avoided reference to Manischewitz and Moses in accounting for their downfall, thereby retaining at least an ounce of integrity in my eyes.  However, there is an ethnic angle that so far remains unexplored in the affairs of Spitzer and Weiner.  Both are married to non-Jewish women.  While this is a sample that does not guarantee statistical reliability, let it be noted that, during my marriage to two Jewish women (serially), I never was accused of patronizing prostitutes or found to have sent lewd E-mails to strange women.  I must note that my first marriage, however, preceded the Internet.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
The tooth is back.  This morning I hiked far north into the Bronx in order for young Dr. Dan to restore my glistening smile.  I have great confidence in his work, which earned him a Toyota Camry, and expect to enjoy chewing and gnashing and grinding and gnawing and biting and nibbling with my reconstructed mouth.  As an act of prudence, I’ll stay out of the Balkans for a while.
I found what has to be the best buy of the summer on the way back from lunch (scallion pancake and spicy chicken with orange flavor, 456 Shanghai Cuisine, 69 Mott Street).  Donut peaches, 1.25 lbs. for $2.25.  When you can find them at a regular produce market, they run $4-6 a pound.  We’re expecting a few people to drop by this evening on a casual basis, so it’ll be donut peaches all around.

Later this evening I found that the donut peaches were rock hard, so they will have to wait for our return from another exciting adventure.
Friday, July 12, 2013
It ain’t the Balkans, but we are off to Chicago today, for the wedding of Bari and Howard, a delightful young couple.  In addition to the ceremony and reception Saturday night, I understand that we are expected at dinner tonight and brunch Sunday.  The weekend’s weather forecast is much milder for Chicago than New York, so, properly bedentured, I should be able to enjoy all those meals and wear my tuxedo in relative comfort, at least until all that food settles in.  I’m sorry to note that young Dr. Dan cautioned me against dancing this weekend for fear that my violent gyrations might loosen all the teeth in my mouth, but, for the sake of America’s Favorite Epidemiologist, I might spend a few moments on the dance floor, risk-taker that I am.
Our flight was pleasant enough, especially because we had the company of Aunt Judi and Uncle Stu, who met us at the airport and, by chance, occupied the seats directly across the aisle on the plane.  We are all ensconced in a very fancy hotel downtown, with a view of Lake Michigan from our lovely room.  Once in the hotel we inevitably encountered more relatives from the groom’s side on my bride’s side, and since currently everybody is talking to everybody we passed a pleasant evening. 

Selfishly, I found the best aspect of the trip so far to be the free copy of the Wall Street Journal that was available at LaGuardia Airport before boarding.  It wasn’t just any copy of the Wall Street Journal, but the weekend edition which contains a challenging crossword puzzle and several articles where the words “austerity,” “venture capital,” or “taxes” do not appear.  I was particularly taken by the article “Play Ball . . . Please,” which examines the progress of a typical baseball game and finds that, on the average, 2 hours 39 minutes and 58 seconds pass without any action, while the all the action is contained within 17 minutes and 58 seconds.  (Please note that the WSJ does not allow freeloaders to cut and paste articles, so I suggest that you examine piles of discarded newspapers wherever they accumulate in order to read it for yourself.  You might collect empty bottles and cans while you are at it to justify your own use of time.)  The paper also studied the typical professional football game in January 2010 and found that there was even less than met the eye, about 11 minutes of action in the elapsed 3 hours.  If these baseball and football players were not making so much money, they might consider a second job to fill the gaping intervals of inaction.           
I expect the food and drink this weekend to be first-rate, but I will not report on it unless the hotel’s catering department defies expectations.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Balkans III

My Christian readers may wish to start at the bottom.

Saturday, June 29, 2013
Why Ioannina (yah-nin-ah)? It is a small city of about 120,000 people, set on a very pretty lake, surrounded by rugged mountains. The old city is contained within the walls of the Kastro, a fort dating back to the 13th century. Before WW II, the Jewish population of Ioannina had fallen by about half to under 2,000. Initially, the Jews were relatively safe because Ioannina was in the Italian occupation zone, but once Mussolini fell the Germans arrived in force. Almost all of these Jews were sent to Auschwitz, and now 30 Jews live in Ioannina. This, in itself, does not distinguish Ioannina from so many other Balkan or European communities. We came to Ioannina because it is the now nearly-deserted home of Romaniote Jews, so-called for two millennia to identify them as Roman subjects. They long preceded the Sephardim, the Iberian Jews fleeing the Inquisition, although the large number of Sephardim (from the Hebrew word for Spain) overwhelmed Romaniote customs and practices to a great extent.

A small Romaniote community maintained itself in Ioannina until the Nazi scourge. The one synagogue in Ioannina continues in the Romaniote tradition. One other exists on Broome Street on the lower East Side. Not only our group, but a family from Maryland celebrating a Bar Mitzvah brought the synagogue to life, if only for a few hours. The father is descended from an Ioannina Romaniote family, and his son expressed his desire to be Bar Mitzvahed in the Romaniote synagogue. An Athens-based, Israeli-trained cantor conducted services Friday night and Saturday morning, sometimes joined by the voice of Samouel Koen, the 88-year old Romaniote cantor who has lived in Ioannina his whole life, with the exception of his time with the partisans in the mountains where he survived the war. Note that his wife’s left forearm bore the tattoo she received at Auschwitz, where she was spared extermination as a healthy teenager to work in a munitions plant.

Even though I participated in the Saturday morning service, chanting a blessing over the Torah, it was very hard to keep up with the proceedings combining two traditions that were equally foreign to me and my Eastern European background. We were also inhibited by the use of several different prayer books, since there were not enough of any one version to go around. On the other hand, the emotional value of attending this Bar Mitzvah, the first held in this synagogue since 2007, was substantial. This rare occurrence drew most of the local Jews as well.

Earlier yesterday, we went to the local Jewish cemetery, not free from vandalism, but relatively well-maintained. Typical of Sephardic custom, the tombstones lay flat covering the entire grave. This protected them from being toppled over, the easiest form of desecration. However, a thick coat of pine needles covered most of the tombstones, because, until you came close, the property looked like a grove of tall pine trees, set close together. I suggested to Marcia, our group leader who is the docent for the museum portion of the Manhattan Romaniote synagogue, that her packing instructions for next year’s group include whisk brooms to uncover the inscriptions engraved on the horizontal tombstones.

Just as Dr. Laura in our group provided a personal connection to Salonika, Leon W., a retired foreign service officer, who was traveling with his wife, daughter and son-in-law, has deep roots in Ioannina, through his father. He quickly recognized familiar family names in the cemetery and on memorial plaques in the synagogue. He also was the only one of us familiar with the Romaniote service, and the other four of us (males – the women across a wide aisle, but not forced to sit in the balcony) kept looking over his shoulder to approximate where in the order of service the rapidly-chanting cantor had reached.

Sunday, June 30, 2013
While hard copy newspapers eluded me, the informed that there was business as usual back at the ranch. You can easily recognize the subject matter from the URLs.

Ten hours after leaving Ioannina, we arrived in Athens. Fortunately, we made two interesting and refreshing stops along the way. First, Metsovo, an Alpine-appearing village, where many of the houses had slate roofs, real slate slabs set in concrete.  Then, and my intermittent naps threw my measure of time off, we reached Meteora, where six monasteries are built on the top of soaring sandstone rock pillars, and I mean soaring.,or.r_cp.r_qf.&fp=6ca84d98d48f74bf&biw=1280&bih=680 

We visited one of the monasteries that was approachable on wheels. The views were thrilling and scary, and the small church rivalled the monastery in Rila, Bulgaria for the density of interior decorations.

That brief taste of the ascetic existence in retreat from the world did not diminish my appreciation of our luxury hotel in the Plaka, an ancient neighborhood in the shadow of the Acropolis.

Monday, July 1, 2013
This morning, we had our last outing as a group, a visit to the Jewish Museum of Athens, three short blocks from our hotel. Again, personal links to our group jumped up. The current exhibit on Greek Jewish partisans featured a cousin of Leon W., who could have been his double. A book on hidden Greek Jewish children had a photograph of Dr. Laura, with her childhood friend.

With another couple, we foolishly climbed to the top of the Acropolis at the peak of the afternoon’s heat. Foolish, but rewarded by the sight of the magnificent structures going back thousands of years.

Our biggest reward came when we returned to our hotel and free Wi-Fi to learn that Boaz and Noam have a baby sister. Even in a couple of thousand years, it would be hard to find happier grandparents. Our group mates toasted us at the farewell dinner tonight, since they were leaving Greece tomorrow while we arranged for two more days on our own.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
We went to the marvelous, new Acropolis museum, a striking building with a magnificent collection of antiquities. The glory that was Greece. Wow! Yo! The contrast with the present is more dramatic when the quality of the past is so manifest. As tourists, we generally saw the better side of contemporary Greek life. Cafés and tavernas were crowded at all hours, maybe no jobs distracted the patrons. Almost any conversation with local citizens quickly turned to the financial hardships they are facing and their desire to flee or have their children flee to almost anywhere.

I almost did it.  Walking around the Plaka, I spotted Chop Sticks, a Chinese restaurant, next to a Japanese and an Indian restaurant.  When we headed over there for dinner, we found that they had hung up their chopsticks and closed the restaurant permanently.  Instead, we went into Indian Kitchen, Apollos 6, a long, narrow space decorated modestly except for the back wall that looks like the entrance to a respectable Delhi mansion.  It was almost empty when we entered at 7:30, but was 2/3 full when we finished.  We chose some of our favorite dishes, chicken biryani (7.20€), saag paneer (8€) and nan (2€).  Food was good at a fair price.  Only the Coke Zero at 2.50€ for a 33 cl bottle was a reach.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013
The weather in Athens remained hot and we decided to head to sea rather than traipse museum to museum, or even store to store.  We took an all-day, three-island cruise from the port of Pireas, stopping at Hydra, Poros and Aegina.  Hydra was easily the most interesting and attractive of the three, maybe because it is the least developed, barring all motorized vehicles.  Humans and materials are moved around the island by donkey.  Doors off small alleys open to colorful gardens.  This could be a perfect hideaway while you finish the Great Athenian Novel.  The other islands are much more conventional in appearance, with new buildings on the landscape, cars, motorbikes, trucks and, except for their waterfronts, less charm than our hotel room.

When we returned to our hotel, we were greeted by armed police and those guys with twisty wires running out of their ears hovering near a big Mercedes sedan with the German flag on its front fender, parked in front.  I waved to them, and inquired after Frau Merkel's health.  We washed up quickly and went to a nearby taverna for our last dinner in Greece.  I ate moussaka, appropriately enough.

Thursday, July 4, 2013
Our flight to New York lasted over 10 hours and we landed among a huge crowd of folks arriving in time to see the fireworks over the Hudson River.  It took us more than one hour to get through passport control and customs.  All this time afforded me the opportunity to gather some of my Balkan impressions.  There seems to be a literary renaissance throughout the region, with graffiti on almost every available surface.  Welcome to the Bronx circa 1980.  Language is a source of local fun, especially when the word for Yes in Greek sounds like the word for No in Bulgarian.  "Turkish" serves as a common, but inconsistent, adjective -- Turkish bread is very good; Turkish coffee is very strong, but is now called Greek coffee; Turkish toilets require aim and acrobatics.

Friday, July 5, 2013
Back to work and back to Chinatown today, as the temperature reached 99° according to two web sites that I checked.  Under these conditions, a visit to Wo Hop downstairs at 17 Mott Street for beef chow fun and a 12 oz. can of Diet Coke at $1.25 for lunch made the most sense.

Epistle to the Christians
Admittedly, my writings are often full of Jew this and Jew that, but I learned of a remarkable act of Christian charity on this trip that deserves repeating over and over.  I'll quote from a story in the Jerusalem Post by Leora Goldberg, published on December 13, 2009, coincidentally my brother's birthday if you need reminding.  “On September 9 1943, the governor of the German occupation [of the Greek island of Zakynthos] named Berenz had asked the mayor, Loukas Karrer, for a list of all Jews on the island.  Rejecting the demand after consulting with [Greek Orthodox] Bishop Chrysostomos, they decided to go together to the governor's office the next day. When Berenz insisted once again for the list, the bishop explained that these Jews weren't Christians but had lived here in peace and quiet for hundreds of years.  They had never bothered anyone, he said.  They were Greeks just like all other Greeks, and it would offend all the residents of Zakynthos if they were to leave.  But the governor persisted that they give him the names. The bishop then handed him a piece of paper containing only two names: Bishop Chrysostomos and Mayor Karrer.  In addition, the bishop wrote a letter to Hitler himself, declaring that the Jews in Zakynthos were under his authority.  The speechless governor took both documents and sent them to the Nazi military commander in Berlin.  In the meantime, not knowing what would happen, the local Jews were sent by the leaders of the island to hide inside Christian homes in the hills.  However, a Nazi order to round up the Jews was soon revoked - thanks to the devoted leaders who risked their lives to save them.  In October 1944, the Germans withdrew from the island, leaving behind 275 Jews.  The entire Jewish population had survived.”

Thank you.