Friday, October 25, 2013

Try, Try Again

Monday, October 21, 2013
I admit that my eyebrows rose a bit when I saw a book review in yesterday’s Times of The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf.  Did one of my alternate personalties actually find a publisher?  Should I modestly claim credit for this work?  In reality, the book is 171 years old, written by Albert Bitzius, a Swiss clergyman, who chose this lovely nom de plume.  The reviewer described it as a “dire, bone-freezing short novel . . . scary as hell.”  The best that I can muster in that direction is Ted Cruz or Michele Bachmann.

In another part of the newspaper, in an article about the creation of Fiddler on the Roof, the hugely successful Broadway show, its lyricist said, “It never entered our minds that it was Jewish.”  Yeah, sure.  Maybe Downton Abbey isn’t British and The Godfather isn’t Italian, but Fiddler on the Roof is definitely Jewish.

I decided to put off my third attempt to scale Division 31 Restaurant until later in the week, and headed to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for some extremely reliable grub.  I walked back to the office somewhat circuitously in order to buy packages of raspberries and blackberries at $2 each at my favorite fruit stand on Mulberry Street, just south of Canal Street.  From there, my path inevitably led through Columbus Park, where, on this very fair day, every available space was taken mostly by elderly Chinese people playing cards or Xiangqi, the still opaque Chinese version of chess.  As always, a few folk were enjoying themselves playing musical instruments, today with a new addition to the cacophony.  At the northeast corner of the park, just inside the entrance, where a group of musicians always gathers, a tenor saxophonist joined the 2 Erhu (Chinese fiddle) players, one flute player and one reliably discordant banjo player.  Since the tenor saxophonist was closer in style to Coleman Hawkins than Ornette Coleman, he added a mellow gloss to the ensemble in spite of the efforts of the banjo player.   

Tuesday, October 22, 2012
There is an interesting essay about law reviews in today’s Times.  It includes the statistic that “about 43 percent of law review articles have never been cited in another article or in a judicial decision,” which inverts to about 57% of law review articles have been cited in another article or in a judicial decision.  Actually, this is higher than I would have guessed given the increasing granularity of such articles.  This figure comes from the work of Thomas A. Smith, Professor of Law, University of San Diego,
  Smith also found, with the help of LexisNexis, that, of approximately 4 million recorded federal and state cases, about 400,000 cases are not cited by any other case, and another 773,000 are cited only once.  Only .3 percent of all cases have been cited 500 or more times.  Of United States Supreme Court cases, 2 percent of cases gather 56 percent of all citations.  These numbers are not going to keep me up at night, but they might inspire some of you legal eagles, without looking it up, to speculate on what’s on the Hit Parade.

{Khe-Yo}, 157 Duane Street, would not serve me lunch simply because it is only open for dinner.  However, in a little notch, next to its front door, it operates {Khe-Yo}Sk for a couple of hours each weekday, serving only Banh Mi, the Vietnamese national sandwich to take away.  Pork and duck are the only choices ($11) and I had duck, in fact, the last order of duck they had even though it was only around 12:35.  They limit themselves to the number of sandwiches they serve, on a sliding scale as the week progresses, I was told.  Regular and diet Coke and San Pellegrino sodas are the only other things for sale.  Ample seating is available at Duane Park, only half a block away, at Hudson Street.   

My sandwich was very good, on a fresh, warm baguette, with a side container of pan juices to dip into.  But, be advised that the spicy/hot level is very high, up there with the hottest Szechuan or Hunan cuisine.  The young woman taking orders did not offer a choice in this regard, but, if you want a very good not-so-spicy duck Banh Mi (itself an oddity), you could ask, but get there early.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
There has been a lot of agitation around the flawed introduction of the Obamacare insurance exchange web site, much of the noise coming from Republicans who have sworn not to avail themselves of the system perfect or not.  Having spent 30 years in and around the computer industry, I have my collection of angry customer memories.  I was not conscience-free; I understood the frustration and disruption that I (shouldering the responsibility for my group) introduced into people’s lives.  However, everyone involved with computer systems development knows that it never works right at first, and sometimes not even long after.  Here, for instance, are a few recent headlines:

Computer system failure suspected in DC Metro crash.
More Computer Failures in [New York] City’s 911 System.
Knight Capital Says Trading Glitch Cost It $440 Million.
Air Force scraps massive ERP project after racking up $1 billion in costs.
Major computer failures delay United Airlines passengers across the country.
[Oregon] State computer systems back online after ‘catastrophic failure’ that delayed unemployment payments.
California scraps massive courts software project.
JetBlue Computer Failure to Delay Flights Throughout Day.  

So, while I don’t excuse the inability of the government to inaugurate the crown jewel of its policy agenda without screwing up, let’s not pretend that this is a singular event.  While that distinguished American statesman Donald Rumsfeld said “Stuff happens” in regard to looting in Baghdad, it may serve as a mantra for computer system development.  Therefore, I suggest that we show at least the same patience with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius that we seem to be showing with JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon as he is about to pay a $13 billion ($13,000,000,000) settlement with the Department of Justice for not exactly keeping his eye on the ball.  

Stony Brook Steve came to lunch today and we went to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, only 48 hours after I had been there last.  As it happens, I should have limited myself to one visit this week.  While we availed ourselves of the soup special, small bowl $1, large bowl $2, of all the traditional favorites, we erred by not specifying the beef chow fun “dry.”  While the gravy that covered noodles and beef wasn’t bad in itself, it robbed both of their distinct flavors.  Also, I admitted to Stony Brook Steve that I didn’t know what the Kow in Chicken Kow with Black Bean Sauce stood for, and then learned that it meant the same breaded, deep-fried chicken nugget that is the base for sweet-and-sour chicken, sesame chicken, General Tso’s chicken and probably several other dishes only distinguished by the sauce tossed on top.  This was a rare disappointing meal at Wo Hop, but still leaves them with a higher satisfaction rating than software developers in both the public and private sectors. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013
I spent three hours in the dentist’s chair today, making sure that the Toyota sedan that I provided to my practitioner gets a good oil and lube job and a thorough waxing.  There’s little else that I can provide for it, since my initial contribution covered just about all the available options.  Needless to say, my meat and chicken will be boneless and my nuts shelled for the next several days.

Friday, October 25, 2013
Palazzo di Gotthelf is graced by the presence of America’s Loveliest Nephrologist through the weekend, although her busy social schedule gives her mother and me only fleeting contact.  Still, my kidneys feel better just knowing that she is liable to cross our threshold at any moment.

Speaking of doctors, if you are interested in a television series about a turn of the 20th Century New York surgeon, addicted to opium, stay tuned for The Knick, a HBO series, now in production.  They have turned the one-block length of Mosco Street into a 1901 setting, dirt road, push carts, old (false) storefronts.  I got an interesting tour from a crew member in exchange for a couple of restaurant tips.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sweets To The Sweet

Monday, October 14, 2013
Around 1991, I visited Nate Persily at Yale, where he was an undergraduate.  As we walked across the campus, we passed a younger man, who appeared to be the quintessential punk rocker, dressed in dark jeans and a black leather jacket, ripped with painted-on slogans and symbols, glistening with chains and safety pins.  His haircut featured a partially-shaved scalp.  “Elie Wiesel’s son,” Nate muttered to me.  I remember thinking, “For this he went to a concentration camp?”  It all came back as I read an otherwise innocuous story in the Sunday paper referring to the very same Elisha Wiesel, now 41 and a partner at Goldman Sachs.  I spent the next few hours considering which anti-social persona I found more tolerable.

It’s Columbus Day, a holiday for the courts, and I took a long walk through midtown Manhattan, stopping to get a haircut, among other errands.  Walking up Madison Avenue, in that stretch of men’s stores in the mid 40s, I discovered that J. Press has opened a large store on the corner of 47th Street, leaving its long-held position on East 44th Street, around the corner from Brooks Brothers.  J. Press is the preppiest of stores and I never had reason to enter it before in all these decades.   Today, for instance, it had college pennants in its windows.  Even the sign in the window offering 30% off fall and winter merchandise did not make me break stride, but I stopped when my eye caught a large display of colorful wool British college scarves.  Living in New York, I’ve usually owned one for the cold winters.  Currently, I wear the colors of Jesus College, Cambridge, a nod to my ecumenical spirit.  Before that, I wore a St. John’s College, Oxford scarf, a lovely present from Nate Persily, in fact.  I thought that I could pick a nice gift or two from the big selection on display at a good discount, and I said as much as I entered the store.  Oh, no, the elegant sales clerk quickly informed me, they are full price.  A colleague of his hastened to add that 30% off applied only to select merchandise.  As I pivoted and sought the exit, I pronounced that the selections were obviously made by someone other than me.

Strangely enough, when I looked on-line at, I found about 40 different color patterns, more from the Ivy League rather than the United Kingdom.  Shh!  Don’t tell the guys on Madison Avenue, but they were on sale at $73.50 each, 25% off the regular price of $98.  If you’d like to go to the source, try, offering Cambridge University scarves at £22 each; or for Oxford University at £24.99.  An excellent selection on this side of the Atlantic at $59 is available at, and, in the spirit of democracy, it includes schools in Scotland, Wales and Ireland.    

Tuesday, October 15, 2012
It’s a beautiful day to enter a plea in federal court on terrorism charges, it seems, as Abu Anas al-Libi, a Libyan suspected as an al Qaeda leader, was brought into the Moynihan courthouse next door, attracting over 2 dozen reporters and cameramen.  I fully support prosecuting such suspects here, rather than at some obscure military facility, as we barely cling to the concept of an open society governed civilly by civilians.  Additionally, the food here, bordering Chinatown, has to be so much better than Guantanamo.  

I stopped to talk to the manager of the just-opened Beautiful Memory Desserts, 67A Bayard Street, in front of its very attractive front window display.  It’s the offshoot of a place in Flushing, Queens, which has a large Chinatown just one subway stop beyond the Mets home field and the United States Tennis Center.  I didn’t go in to eat because it only serves desserts and none of them are chocolate.  It has an interesting, extensive menu, though, including durian pancakes, toddy palm tofu pudding, grass jelly & red bean soup with green tea ice cream, and sweet ball in sweet ginger soup.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Yesterday, I stopped to talk to the manager of the brand new Beautiful Memory Desserts, 67A Bayard Street,.  Today, I put my money where my mouth was and sat down for dessert after having a bowl of soup next door at 69 Bayard Restaurant.  At first, I ordered something that I understood, but I quickly changed my mind and got into the spirit of this (ad)venture, and ordered “Black Pearl” in Vanilla Sauce with Green Tea Ice Cream ($4.50).  The manager, who was glad to see me again, told me that they were out of Black Pearls (whatever they are) and he was substituting green apple jelly.  Sure, why not?  The vanilla sauce was  milky, vanilla-flavored shaved ice; the green tea ice cream was unsweet; the green apple jelly looked and tasted like Gummi Bear shavings.  All in all, the $4.50 might be better invested in a pint of Häagen-Dazs.

Thursday, October 17, 2013
I had the pleasure of meeting Danny Macaroons last evening, right after work, at a food and crafts show in the Great Hall of Grand Central Station.  Danny, who has managed to overcome his upbringing in Great Neck, has established an elite macaroon baking business.  Understand, that’s macaroons, not macarons. Macaroons are based on egg whites, sugar and coconut, while macarons are based on whole eggs, sugar and almond powder or ground almonds.  Even at a distance, you'll have no problem distinguishing them, because macarons, shaped like puffy sandwich cookies, are usually vividly colored, while naturally-colored macaroons are shaped like corrugated cones.

I bought a package of four macaroons as a love offering for America's Favorite Epidemiologist. You will have to go to to find your local outlet, or order on line.  I strongly urge you to patronize this talented young man's efforts and keep him in the baking business and away from the banking business, which was the sad fate for so many of his friends and classmates.  By the way, as a form of renewing our vows, my young bride gave me two of the macaroons and they were outstanding.

I sought a new restaurant, not just a new dessert/beverage shop today, and I thought that I found one at Division 31 Restaurant, 31 Division Street.  It was brand new, the gift potted plants standing by the door.  The doors were open; the tables were all set, but empty.  The restaurant’s extensive take-out menu is in English and includes about 35 lunch specials, all at $5.50, although many of them would not be found at your typical neighborhood Chinese restaurant, to wit, Water Spinach w. Fermented Bean Curd Over White Rice, Sour Veg. w. Intestine Over White Rice, Squid w. Black Bean Sauce.  No one was visible at first, but my cheery greeting brought forth a young Chinese woman.  “Food, eat, lunch,” I said, getting right to the point.  “No,” she replied.  “Later?”  “No.”  “Never?” I parted with, knowing that that was not the last word.

Friday, October 18, 2013
I realize that some of my advice is subject to the statute of limitations and has outlived its usefulness to you even before you get to read it.  However, when I inform you that delicious Champagne mangos were on sale at 3 for $2 on Canal Street several days ago, I am also building a historical record to help future scholars understand our lives and times.  Right now, though, I can hip you to an event that will be available for months to come.  The New York Public Library has just opened an exhibition on Al Hirschfeld, the master caricaturist, who lived to be 99 ½ years old.  I own several Hirschfeld drawings and met him a number of times when he autographed books, postage stamps, placards and other material for me.  The exhibition, at the magnificent Fifth Avenue building, will run until January 4, 2014, so you have no excuse to miss it as long as you are within the sound of my pen.

Since never is a long time, I went back to Division 31 Restaurant today.  There were still no other customers, but one neatly-dressed man was sitting at a table examining some papers.  When he stood up to greet me, I asked if they were serving lunch.  “Hot pot,” he said, a term that appears in the restaurant’s window, but not on the take-out menu, which is perfectly understandable since carrying a lit Sterno can under a pot of bubbling oil any distance is hardly a prudent measure.  The large round tabletops had holes to place the apparatus in proper positions. When I showed the young man the menu with its several dozen lunch specials, he indicated that that is still on their to-do list.  While yesterday I was barred from any food, today it was hot pot or nothing.  Since I wasn’t so hot for hot pot, I promised to return soon again for a regular lunch.  Don’t worry, I ate.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Sicilia Due

Monday, October 7, 2013
Yesterday, we relocated from Palermo to Catania, Sicily's second largest city, situated on the eastern coast of the island.  On the way, we stopped in Cefalù, a pretty beach town along the northern coast.  A rainstorm cleared the beach and curbed our venturing down souvenir shop-laden streets.  So, we proceeded to the Villa del Casale, a fabulous 3rd-4th century estate, that had been covered in mud until the 19th century, located outside Piazza Armerina, a town near the center of the island.  The villa was the home of a major Roman venture capitalist, who apparently went into witness protection once his prevarications became known.  However, his ill-gotten gains did not go entirely up his nose or towards the purchase of gilded chariots.  Essentially every floor of this expansive residence is covered with beautiful mosaics, ranging from pure geometrics in working areas to elaborate, hundred-foot long hunting scenes in public spaces.  On the whole, the art is remarkably intact, preserved by the mud, and certainly worth the side trip crossing the island.

While Catania is a busy urban setting, we found a free parking space directly in front of our hotel, so we only had to step outside this morning to drive to Mt. Etna, the most famous geographic feature of Sicily.  We drove 30-40 minutes up the mountain to a large staging area where individual travel ends.  There, I thought that a choice of rugged vehicles, e.g., Land Rovers or Jeeps, carried you to the top.  Not the case.  From the staging area you have to take a six-passenger cable car to a higher staging area.  Then, mini-buses with a guide aboard drove to and around the still-active volcano's rim.  At least, that's what I'm told took place, because in the continuing war of Grandpa Alan vs. the environment, the environment won again, as it had at Erice, where I felt that I had encountered the inspiration for Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven."  Now, as we stood waiting to get into a swaying cable car for a ride up the mountain, I heard my heart telling me that we will part company if forced to hang hundreds of meters (when in Rome) above the lava-filled slopes.  So, while my adventurous head yearned to reach the top, my chicken heart kept me on the ground.  Fortunately, I had the latest issue of the New Yorker with me and I sat in the car reading about Philip Roth, Egyptian preachers, the breaking of the NSA spying story and other matters usually paid little attention on the slopes of Mt. Etna.

Our hotel is near the center of Catania's business and entertainment area, but is firmly embedded in a semi-motley residential neighborhood containing many modest restaurants.  We've had two dinners so far, from menus that were quite similar, yet with a notable distinction from Palermo's cuisine.  Catania seems to be Sicily's center of horsemeat consumption.  Not only did the two restaurants that we visited offer horsemeat chopped, grilled, in sausages, and meatballs, but many others that we passed had horsey names or signs announcing horsemeat dishes (carne equine).  In case you are wondering, I stuck to pasta, veal and sea food, which was no more daring than what my companions ate.

Tuesday, October 8, 2012
We drove the one hour or so to Siracusa (Syracuse), one of the most historic cities in Italy, which, even as I write it, I realize is as stupid as saying that LeBron James is one of the tallest players in the National Basketball Association.  They're all freaking tall.  It really doesn't matter at a certain point to compare the height of one professional basketball player to another.  Every inch of Sicily seems historic, so let's leave it that we went to Siracusa.  Before leaving the good old USA, I had arranged for a guide to show us around for the afternoon.  However, the booking agent was very slow and imprecise in his communications.  He did arrange for our informative Palermo guide, but his promised message about the Siracusa guide only appeared at our hotel desk just before we left to drive to Siracusa.  He instructed us meet Attilio in front of the Santuario Madonna della Lacrime.  The Santuario turned out to be a beautiful, modern church, shaped like a cone, about 260 feet tall, which could be seen from almost anywhere in the city.  We arrived in Siracusa about 2 hours early, so we walked about, had a snack and waited in front of the Santuario.

About 2 PM, the appointed hour, Jill got a text message that the guide is waiting for us at the roundabout in front of the church.  So, Steve and I walked back to the circle skirting the building and looked around, which is very easy anywhere in Sicily around 2 PM because the siesta seems to still be the modus operandi for the average Sicilian, leaving the streets quite empty.  Empty included no Attilio.  We walked back and called the person, not Attilio himself, who sent the text message.  He gave us a story about losing phone contact with the guide and told us to drive to some other spot to look for him.  I took the mobile phone, and living up to my nickmame of "High Dudgeon," told this middleman that we were at the right place at the right time and he had five minutes to produce Attilio.  In a couple of minutes, a slightly-bedraggled man, dressed in black, with blondish dreads, approached us.  I got up and said "Attilio?"  "Si," he responded.  When I told him how happy we were to see him, at last, he said that his English wasn't so good, but he spoke French and German.  Concerned, I repeated, "Attilio?"  "Si, Italiano."  Then, he asked me for 50 euro cents, which I quickly gave him and wished him bonna fortuna in his future endeavors.

With that, we decided to use the street map which we picked up from a very friendly, older gentleman named Armando, who operates a travel agency on via Luigi Cadorna that we walked by, and make our own tour.  We circled the church and turned down a main street that would lead us to some important archaeological ruins.  Just then, a man in a straw fedora called to us, and asked if we were looking for the catacombs.  No, but are you Attilio, by any chance?  Indeed, he had been directed to the back of the Santuario, while we were waiting in front.  After that rocky start, we got along swell and spent about 3 1/2 hours together retracing the essentially invisible footprints of Jewish life in Siracusa centuries ago.  

I certainly don't take vacations abroad to check out television coverage, but, I've found that in those parts of Asia, the Middle East, Western and Eastern Europe that I've visited, you can expect to find BBC World, CNN International and possibly Sky TV, Bloomberg, or CNBC broadcasting in English, maybe even American English.  But, it was not to be in the Liberty Hotel, rated #1 in Catania, otherwise offering exemplary service, but not English language television programs.  Trawling through the 100 or so available channels, English could be heard only on some music videos.  The best that I could find, and it was pretty good after a fashion, was a live broadcast of the Sunday night Denver Broncos/Dallas Cowboys football game entirely in Italian.  Since that game started about 11 PM Sicily time, I did not stay up until the end, but I was heartened the next day to learn that Dallas lost, which is all the pleasure that I can find in professional football now with the Giants losing their first five games of the season so far.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013
By any measure, this was the best day of our trip, although the last, usually a time of deflation in anticipation of the return to normal.  However, we drove to Taormina, the very popular town perched high over the Mediterranean, about 30 miles north of Catania.  Within moments of arriving and leaving the car, as tourists must, at a garage below the top, you face beautiful sights from the high elevation.  Then, despite the presence of hordes of tourists and the shops only they would enter, you are won over by the utter charm of the narrow streets and alleys.  In fact, an occasional left or right turn takes you into quieter residential areas where even some real people live.  Through good coincidence, Jill knew a shopkeeper who directed us to Trattoria Don Ciccio, via Damiano Rosso 19, an excellent restaurant, steps away from the crowds, where we sat outdoors and had the best meal of our vacation, so far.  I had fish carpaccio, thin slices of raw tuna, swordfish and octopus, dressed lightly with olive oil, and then tagliatelle with mushrooms in a creamy, cheesy sauce, not overly thick, full of flavor.

Back in Catania, Francesca, the charming desk clerk, recommended Ciciulena, via Antonio di Sangiuliano 207, for dinner.  Even as she did so, another hotel guest, a friendly Brazilian, who had been there for lunch, eagerly endorsed her choice.  We could not have done better for our last dinner in Sicily.  Ciciulena, meaning sesame seed, aims quite successfully to update Sicilian cuisine.  We ate outdoors, but not on the sidewalk.  Eight tables are set out on via Sant’Orsola, which remains open to traffic until about 8 o’clock, providing a not-entirely comfortable breeze as cars and motorbikes rush right behind you.  I ate only beef carpaccio dressed in a light, orange-infused oil, over greens.  As good as it was, and in spite of the raves from my more anhedonic companions about their food, I had nothing more, because I was still pretty full from lunch, and I made a solemn oath to end the evening with gelato.  Francesca had also recommended Scardaci Ice Café, via Etnea 158, and she got it right again, as I managed to have tre gusti, three flavors.

Thursday, October 10, 2013
Yesterday, on the way to Taormina, we passed the exit to the airport about 15 minutes after leaving the hotel.  Today, after 45 minutes, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist and I (Jill and Steve had left for an earlier flight to Naples), found ourselves about three blocks from where we started.  I stopped frequently for directions (that’s how desperate I was) because the GPS became dysfunctional with separation anxiety.  I had to stop frequently, because every friendly Sicilian said straight ahead, which meant that every several blocks I ran into a pedestrian-only zone or the street reversing direction, one way against me.  The ample time to catch our 11:45 AM flight was swiftly dwindling down to a precious few minutes.  Again I pulled to an abrupt halt and asked a very distinguished, mustachioed gentleman, wearing a handsome gray suit and carrying a briefcase, for directions.  Good luck, bad luck.  He was a senior police officer, but he didn’t speak English.  “Momento, signor,” he said, as he walked back into the guarded compound he had just emerged from.  I became impatient as I waited for him to return, especially as I saw, for the first time, a sign that said Aeroporto right in front of us.  Just before I drove off, he came walking back, but I tried to wave him off, pointing to the sign in plain sight.  “No, signor,” he said with a sad shake of his head, “indicazioni sono deficiente.”  I got the message without benefit of translation.  He handed me a ticket, a receipt from a parking facility, and pointed to the guarded gate of whatever we were in front of.  I drove up and a uniformed officer opened the gate and told me, in reasonable English, to drive through this secured area, even as he was describing, in Italian over his phone, my car and its strange driver.  Okay, what else could we do?  I drove for a couple of minutes to the other end, where a man listening on his phone accepted the ticket, opened the gate and pointed up the main road outside.  Boom!  Aeroporto!  Right down the road.  I dropped my young bride at the terminal and spent a few more harrowing minutes getting back to the rental car return, but I got to Alitalia check-in with time to spare.

The flights were pleasant and comfortable, which was a blessing because we were in the air about 9 hours total.  Which leads me to a confession.  During the long transatlantic leg, I spent 100 minutes watching “Parental Guidance,” with Billy Crystal and Bette Midler.  After several hours reading and doing crossword puzzles, I felt very tired, but could not fall asleep.  So, I chose a movie that promised to be free of car chases and/or warring robots.  Almost one-third of the movie was worth watching, contrasting the tightly-wound parenting style of a young family against the loosey-goosey approach of the grandparents, Billy/Bette.  What intrigued me most was a brief scene where the grandparents, left alone with the three children, play Kick-the-Can, or what they called Kick-the-Can.  I played Kick-the-Can, and certainly not in a well-manicured suburban backyard, but I could not, and still cannot, remember the rules.

What many of you may not realize, having been deprived a childhood on the streets of Brooklyn, was that our games had Rules, and I mean RULES.  Whether stoop ball, Three Feet Over Germany, or pitching pennies, we did not act randomly, slogging through some meaningless universe, waiting for the Sun to heat up and burn the Earth to a crisp.  We had RULES, and, well before his Bar Mitzvah, a boy made his rite of passage by mastering them.  In fact, I am certain that so many of my young friends, neighbors and relatives grew up to be either lawyers or professors because of their time spent learning and explaining the RULES.

Friday, October 11, 2013
Up at 3:30 AM, ready to face another exciting day in Sicily where it is 9:30 AM.  That gives me time to comment briefly on a article that several of you sent me while I was away,  It deals with the ancestry of Eastern and Central European Jews, the Ashkenazi, my tribe.  DNA testing has established, with reasonable certainty, that “the women who founded the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Europe were not from the Near East, as previously supposed, and reinforces the idea that many Jewish communities outside Israel were founded by single men who married and converted local women.”  In other words, many of us are descendants of Hymie Hebrewseed.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sicilia Uno

Monday, September 30, 2013
The Sunday's Times has an article on students who don’t go very far away when they go away to college. boundaries.html?_r =0  The article discusses several college students who live near their family as they attend college.  Examples include a Macalester College student who has half an hour walk from her parents in St. Paul, MN; a Columbia University woman whose mother in Brooklyn is only a subway ride away; a Princeton University student with a family in Princeton, NJ. 

I couldn't help thinking back to the Golden Oldie days when Grandpa Alan first rode the Q-11 bus up Woodhaven Boulvevard to the subway station on Queens Boulevard of the (then) GG local for three stops to Jackson Heights/Roosevelt Avenue getting on the E train express to Seventh Avenue then changing to the D train uptown to 145th Street for a short stroll to CCNY's North Campus.  Note, on days when I headed to South Campus, I got off at 125th Street instead.  There was no route more direct.  

This inconvenience was not a factor in my choice of institution or residence.  CCNY was tuition-free then, as it had been for generations, until the Republicans took control of Albany.  My family simply could not afford even modest tuition for me, no less room and board anywhere except Skid Row.  Home it was, therefore, for the next four years, sharing a bedroom with my brother as he completed his senior year at CCNY and then went to Columbia University for graduate school.  It seemed to make little difference to him; he always was a much more conscientious student than I was.  He probably spent time at Columbia’s library, while I recall holding my calculus textbook on my lap sitting in front of the (one and only) family TV set, black-and-white for sure.  

I can’t muster any sentiment about those days.  My parents were decent people who had little to communicate to their uncommunicative sons.  Neither of us had cars. In fact, I did not get my driver’s license until I graduated college.  Dating was fitful and frustrating, with more time spent on subways with strangers than in the dark with a girl.  Part-time and summer jobs provided pocket money.  I guess trust funds hadn’t been invented yet.  

What if?  No doubt I missed a lot by living at home.  I left college no more emotionally developed than I had been as a high school sophomore.  I’m not sure whether my infamous graduate school career at Cornell proved that I wasn’t ready for non loco parentis even into my 20s, or that the hormones, energy, anxieties and lusts that should have been dissipated as an undergraduate emerged even more vigorously once unleashed in Ithaca.  Go know.     

I met another good duck today at Ping’s Seafood, 22 Mott Street, one of Chinatown’s best “nice” restaurants.  The plate holding half a Peking duck ($25) was quite full.  The whole half was served up, cut into manageable pieces, along with slivers of cucumber and scallions, hoisin sauce and six flat pancakes.  However, not all the pieces of duck on the plate made it into a pancake because many still had bones.  By the fifth pancake I was peeling meat off the bone to build my duck sandwich/roll/burrito/blintz/gyro/crêpe.  All I could do with the sixth pancake was wipe up the remaining hoisin sauce.  The meat itself was only mildly fatty, leaner than not.  In all a good, slightly over-priced duck.  Charging $1 for tea was unnecessary.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Zagat's released the results of its annual survey of 48,114 regular restaurant patrons.  It reported that the average dinner in New York City, including entree, drink and tip, cost $48.56 - about 20 percent more than the national average.  I'm in no position to question this, because most of my meals outside the Palazzo di Gotthelf are lunches, usually in Chinatown, far below what my friends and colleagues in midtown are paying.  In fact, while I am a regular contributor to Zagat's surveys, I often feel thwarted because they ask for Dinner prices, when I have acquired a large inventory of lunch experiences.  My numbers, therefore, are skewed to the low side, since a plate of Singapore chow fun may prove more delightful than a glass of house red and a plate of mushy pasta, it will almost never exceed them in cost.

Today, our department is having a rare general meeting, only the second that I can recall in my near four years here.  It took up most of lunch time, so I fueled myself in advance with a combo over rice, lots of white sauce, some red sauce with a pita on the side ($7) from a Halal food sidewalk cart.  We’re not sure of what this meeting will entail, but, since we are employees of New York State, not the federal government, we don’t expect to be placed on furlough until Lee’s surrender at Appomattox is reversed.

Skipping Chinatown today is appropriate as I set my sights on Sicily where we should be able to have a late lunch tomorrow.  So, it will be spaghetti, not lo mein, vermicelli, not mei fun, fettuccine, not chow fun.  I’m ready for the challenge.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Our flights went well.  Moving the Alitalia plane away from its parking spot in the Rome airport in order to fly to Palermo took an extra hour, however, while they repaired the little truck that couldn't.  So, we arrived in Palermo a bit later than expected, but that made little difference.  A walk around the the old part of town where our hotel was located, followed by a nap, got us ready for a hearty dinner.  Except the restaurants recommended at the hotel desk and others on the way were all closed.  We thought that we might have landed on a fast day devoted to a Sicilain saint unknown to our quartet of New York-area Jews.  Instead, it was the clock, not the calendar that frustrated us.  It was before 7 PM, too early for dinner.  Fortunately, we stumbled into the front door of Le Delizie di Cagliosto, via Vittorio Emanuele 150, just as the clock struck seven, and were rewarded with a very good meal.  We (four) ate variously spaghetti with anchovies, fried cheese ball, spaghetti with sardines, macaroni with egg plant, steamed mussels, fried calamari, maybe something else, veal scallopini in lemon sauce, pistachio semifreddo, a little wine, aqua frizzante (seltzer) and spent under 70 euros. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013
Giuseppina Fiamingo was our guide for four hours on foot in the old city.  It turns out that the neighborhood of our hotel contains many of the most notable sights, so we saw a lot as we went rambling.  A few times, this lovely 35 year old suggested a pause, but us old folks wanted to push on and we did.  On the other hand, the nap later this afternoon was especially welcome.  We knew to wait until after 7 PM to find a restaurant, and had no trouble but less satisfation than last night.  However, we returned to Al Cassarta, Gelateria Artigianale, via Vittorio Emanuele 214, for gelato, not daring to take a risk with such a vital matter.  We had only sampled their wares last night, but tonight we jumped in with all our taste buds. A wise decision.

Not all went as smoothly as the gelato.  Earlier, I walked over to Avis to pick up the car we would usefor the next 6 days.  I decided to take it this evening rather than wait for the morning and possibly rush our drive to Agrigento, which would take at least two hours.  Agrigento is the major archaelogical site in Sicily, loaded with Greek temples and ancient ruins.  
Now, read this wording carefully:
"An international driving license is required if the license is printed with nonRoman Alphabet.  An international driving license is required for drivers outside the European Union." 

Last year, I rented a car in Israel, and, in the past, I've rented in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain only using my New York State driver's license, clean as a whistle, by the way.  Today, however, Avis insisted on an international license and wouldn't budge.  Many hours later spent on the telephone with the booking agent, I got a temporary commitment from Thrifty for a car tomorrow.

Friday, October 4, 2013
The Thrifty office in downtown Palermo had no cars, but just a 60 euro taxicab ride to the airport took us to the Thrifty office there, in a bank of other rent-a-car companies.  Thrifty was happy to accept my NY license, but, after all the paperwork was done, they announced that they had no GPS, in spite of my explicit request for one to the, otherwise very cooperative, booking agent.  No GPS, no car, announced Grandpa Alan.  I had already seen the chaos of Palermo driving on the taxi rides from and to the airport, and as we walked around the downtown.  Not just the driving, but the absence, ambiguity and/or illegibility of street signs.  No GPS, no car.  Immediately, cool and calm Steve, a traveling companion, slid right over to the Enterprise counter and asked for a NY-compatible car with GPS.  Presto, prego, gesundeheit.  For only 300 euros more than the Avis or Thrifty reservation, we had ourselves a VW Golf with automatic transmission, which allowed others to drive.  Normally, European rental cars come with stick shift as do many family cars. It was too late to go to Agrigento, but we headed to the scenic mountain town of Erice, a recommended site/sight, about 45 minutes from the airport, further east from Palermo.  The guide books omitted a critical fact.  Erice is inhabited only by goats and people who get a heart attack or stroke from climbing the extremely-sloped, perilous mountain road to the top and spend their waning days looking down over Sicily, the Mediterranean, Northern Africa, Italy until the outskirts of Rome, and east to  Iraq.  Thanks to the wise counsel of America's Favorite Epidemiologist, we stopped several miles above sea level and managed to turn around without falling over the edge of the road, thus avoiding recuperation and retirement in Erice.  In fact, Steve drove down as I recovered in the back seat, mildly hyperventilating. 
I'm sure that I'll recover my equilibrium in time to start negotiating for recovery of my complete advance payment for the Avis/Thrifty rental.

Saturday, October 5, 2013
We got back on schedule and drove the almost two hours to Agrigento, on the south coast of Sicily.  It is home to the Valley of the Temples, which some of you thought was located in Great Neck.  Agrigento contains ten Greek temples, ranging from rubble to recognizable.  We had a good guide, an absolute necessity for all but post-graduate archaelogists.  We had lunch nearby, antipasti all around, and headed back to Palermo.  Jill had the very good idea of stopping in a random small town on the way back to see a side of Sicily away from other tourists.  By chance, we chose Bolognetta (could it really mean small baloney?), right off the highway, and found two treats, of a sort.  The first was a first-class bakery that made, and was willing to sell us, excellent cookies and pastries as an afternoon snack.  While we were sitting on a bench on Bolognetta's main street, via Roma I think it was called, always a good guess in Italy, a funeral procession came from the church one block away.  The priest walked in front of the slow-moving hearse and a van with bouquets of flowers on its roof, followed by all the mourners on foot.  No limos, no Escalades, no Mercedes, no SUVs.  Other townpeople stood on the curb as the procession passed.  It was very moving and dignifed.  Riposa in pace, Sicilian friend.