Friday, January 2, 2015

Out With The Old

Monday, December 29, 2014
The New York Times Sunday Magazine had a 16-page insert from Google, reflecting on its year, or actually our year as Googlers.  The most frequently asked question worldwide, far outstripping anything else, was “What is love?”  I think that’s sad.

If you have read any of my prior musings, you know that I am obsessed with ethnicity and the role that it plays in my life and society at large.  Well, for the next several weeks, I have another obsession, renovations at Palazzo di Gotthelf.  On August 17th, we returned from an inspection tour of our grandchildren to find our entranceway, kitchen and parts of our living room and dining room under a couple of inches of water.  The insurance adjuster pronounced our entire wood parquet flooring a loss and authorized total replacement within a few days.  That was the easy part.  Getting the contractors to return our telephone calls (actually, America’s Favorite Epidemiologist stepped right up as project manager and handled almost all the ensuing and exhausting details), to appear as scheduled, to provide written estimates, to submit the paperwork required by local authorities, and to commit to a start date took months.  So, today, hundreds of feet of new wood flooring was delivered for installation beginning one week from today.  The project is estimated to last up to two weeks.  Accordingly, next Sunday, we will relocate to a hotel nearby, paid for by our insurer under the terms of our homeowners’ policy. 

I don’t believe that I will be able to endure the next few weeks without some additional display of grumpiness, although eating dinner out 7 nights a week, having my bed made and the linen changed everyday, while living in a suite with two large screen television sets, should breed some tranquility.  On the other hand, throughout this period, we will be denied the secret of our marital bliss – separate bathrooms.  

Getting to the courthouse late today, after waiting for the lumber delivery, allowed me to enjoy one of the great advantages of my job, aside from the obvious virtues of being employed and collecting a paycheck: tourists.  Located adjacent to Chinatown (the greatest advantage), Little Italy, the Lower East Side, the Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall and awfully close to Wall Street, Ground Zero and Ground Discount (Century 21 Department Store), the courthouse area attracts tourists from all over the world.  This morning, as I walked up the steps (the familiar setting for so many scenes from Law & Order), I espied a man in a cowboy hat with tzitzit dangling from under his coat.  Tzitzit are knotted fringes on the edges of prayer shawls, worn by most male Jews at synagogue services (and many women in our congregation of anarchic Jews), and on the edges of an undergarment worn by many Orthodox Jews at all times, predating Mormon underwear by a couple of millennia. 

The man, I soon learned, was from Dallas, and he was leading a group of 23 Texas Jewish high school kids.  A few of the boys were also wearing cowboy hats.  I realized that these observant Jews, holding to the customary (not legal) requirement of keeping their head covered, wore cowboy hats in order to fit in better with their local community where a yarmulke (Yiddish) or kippah (Hebrew) would be viewed as quite eccentric.  However, here they were in New York City where yarmulkes abound and the nearest Stetson is on the Naked Cowboy in Times Square.  

I recognized Anna and Thomas Fiamingo as tourists by the travel guide next to their tray at Tasty Dumpling, 28 Mott Street, when I sat down to share the table with them, at lunchtime.  They are both lawyers in Milan, Italy, on vacation.  I expressed my admiration for almost things Italian, politicians aside, and briefly listed the various cities and regions that I enjoyed visiting over the decades.  This was not their first trip to America, and they had their favorite places, as well.  You might not want to tell Chris Christie, but I discouraged them from visiting Atlantic City, even for a day, because it is a sad place pockmarked with bankrupt casinos.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
The tourist parade continues.  This morning, I got into a crowded, but immobile, elevator in the courthouse and said to the group of young people patiently standing there that, around here, you have to push a button to get the elevator to move.  With that, I learned that these dozen kids were law students from France.  I took them up to the fifth floor, where I perch, and explained that, in this holiday period, nothing was happening in any of the courtrooms in this large building.  I tried to  explain briefly, as I also tried yesterday to the Fiamingos, that almost every building in sight was a courthouse at some level of authority, federal, state, city or county, a multi-tiered approach that inevitably confuses professionals from other venues, which may be its purpose.  Combining my native English language facility with the command of French that earned me a 71 on the high school regents exam during the Eisenhower administration, I directed them to the criminal courthouse at 100 Centre Street, where arraignments take place on something approaching a 24/7 basis.  I also suggested a stroll on the nearby Brooklyn Bridge, affording a great few of the harbor and part of the skyline, then bade them “au revoir et bonne chance.”

Vietnam’s former status as a French colony had no influence on my choice of Thanh Hoai 1 (sometimes Pho Thanh Hoai 1), 73 Mulberry Street, for lunch.  When I went there last week (December 24, 2014), just days after it opened, the joint was empty when I walked in and I ordered only a big bowl of Pho, the signature Vietnamese beef noodle soup, in response to the cold, wet weather.  Today, it was even colder, but dry.  About 2/3 of the many tables were occupied, and I moved a step into the menu, ordering Com Ga Xao Cari, curry chicken on fried rice ($8.95, $2 more than with white rice).  The two medium mounds of food made one large and very tasty pile when mushed together.  The thick threads of chicken were cooked with green peppers, red, green and yellow onions in a sauce that was more spicy than curried.  With a pot of hot tea, I felt well warmed and nourished.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Wednesdays, the New York Times includes a section on food and dining.  Today, at year’s end, it has an article on the10 best new restaurants –
My excuse for not having been to any of them is fairly credible; none are Chinese or on the Upper West Side where I live.  But, don’t let that stop you.

Thursday, January 1, 2015
A map-publishing subsidiary of HarperCollins decided that including Israel in its “Collins Primary Geography Atlas For The Middle East” would have been “unacceptable” to their Arab customers and that leaving Israel off the maps incorporated “local preferences.”  That’s one way to solve a problem.  

There's emergency surgery and there's elective surgery.  Today, I underwent a painful session of let's-make-it-a-bit-easier-for-the-carpenters-and-painters-who-start-work-on-Monday-and-do-I-really-need-all-that-stuff surgery, which cut deeply into my heart and soul.  Removed were 200-300 books, monographs, novels, biographies, travel guides and collections going back to my college days.  I've purged before, but, in the past, I was moving on, literally and figuratively, which offered practical and symbolic justification for my divestment.  Now, however, I expect to return in a few weeks to our renovated premises, nicer looking no doubt, but displaying a much less interesting and idiosyncratic picture of one of its inhabitants, at least, as afforded by the bookshelves.  

Also, jettisoned was a random collection of street and road maps to places that I have visited over the last four decades -- Napa Valley, Brussels, Arizona, Coventry, Buenos Aires, New Orleans, Sicily, Shanghai, Amboise, Prague. I made sure not to linger over this material, else I would never get to the bottom of the pile.  Instead, I need time to allow the wounds to heal.

Friday, January 2, 2015
One might think that staying home would be more therapeutic than going to work, but it wasn’t for me.  Even before a scab could form over my surgical scar, the wound was ripped wide open.  We had a group (engaged by the insurance company) to pack up our belongings to allow the carpenters and painters to move around the estate freely.  First they* came for the books, then they came for the maps.  Today, they came for all the programs for plays, concerts, dance performances, talks and any other gathering memorialized in print that I attended since 1980.  It was the proverbial five foot shelf, representing hundreds of evenings sitting in the dark.  No doubt, there is a collector somewhere who seeks such memorabilia and I shall direct him or her to the proper bin behind the Palazzo di Gotthelf, if I can bear the pain of standing upright.

*Poetic license; I did all the trashing myself.

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