Saturday, October 10, 2015

Spanish Fly

Monday, October 5, 2015
This is the start of an interesting week for me.  Since the week begins on Sunday, my interesting started yesterday when Michael Ratner and I went to the last regular season Mets game.  With a start time of 3:10 PM, we were able to go to lunch at Ben’s Best Kosher Delicatessen, 96-40 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park (not to be confused with the half dozen Ben’s Kosher Delicatessens in New York and Florida).  Ben’s Best is the best, as I have insisted before.  Michael, who has eaten deli in at least half the countries that belong to the United Nations, agrees, although his name has been removed from one of their sandwiches after he relocated his business to Manhattan from a nearby Queens location.  

The baseball game was more interesting than expected, as the Mets, headed for the playoffs, brought players in and out to audition for the upcoming championship rounds.  The opponents, the Washington Nationals, might have been playing for pride, if they had any left after ending the season without moving into the playoffs when many picked them to go to the World Series.  Instead, the Nationals got 2 hits against 7 different Mets pitchers, lost 1-0, and fired their manager today, less than 24 hours later.  That’s the same manager voted the 2014 Manager of the Year.  

I probably won’t be seeing any more baseball live in person until next spring, but my anticipated absence from Chinese food should last far less.  We are going to Spain later this week, so I went to Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, for lunch to help ease the transition.  Most remarkably, they are continuing their lunch soup special, won ton, egg drop, egg drop with won ton, hot and sour, or chicken corn chowder, $1 small, $2 large.  This special was originally a summer mid-week deal, but now appears more often although not predictably.  Add Wo Hop’s crispy noodles, the very best known to humankind, and you have a great and filling treat.  Because I planned to order food as well, I had only a small bowl of won ton soup, no noodles.  The five won ton crowded the broth in the small bowl, making it such a deal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Last night, through no fault of my own, I had a central role in West End Synagogue’s Simchat Torah holiday celebration.  I got to read the last three sentences of Deuteronomy, ending the Bible (that’s the real Bible, the Hebrew Bible).  Unlike most Jewish holidays, Simchat Torah is free of murderous historic references or apocalyptic visions; it is a celebration of the Book – learning, knowledge, law by extension.  It is generally not celebrated by Republicans.

West End Synagogue takes an interesting twist to the occasion.  All in attendance, young and old, array themselves around the perimeter of the room, holding an unwound Torah scroll.  Recent Bar and Bat Mitzvahs chant a section of the Torah that was part of their service.  Then, the Groom and Bride of the Torah read the end of Deuteronomy and beginning of Genesis to continue the cycle of Torah study and observance for another year.  Besides the problem of reading the Hebrew out loud, I (the Groom) faced the challenge of reading the bottom lines of a scroll about one foot off the ground.  I had the unsightly and undignified choice of lying on the floor or, with the permission of our clergy, standing on my two hind legs and reading from a sheet of paper reproducing the Torah section.  It might have been wiser for me to lie on the floor to better justify my muffled, stumbling delivery in Hebrew of “And there was no other prophet who arose in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”  What I chanted actually sounded closer to the menu of a Tel Aviv falafel joint than holy writ.

I wish that the following was not the last thing that I read before packing my bag and heading overseas.  “In America, more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013), according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI.”  Nicholas Kristof, October 4, 2105.  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Intrepid traveling companions Jill and Steve are accompanying the Upper West Side’s Power Couple on our trip to Barcelona, Spain.  Our somewhat uneventful flight (details withheld for the time being) led to an uneventful taxi ride to our well-located hotel, where we took uneventful naps, followed by, in my case, an uneventful shave and an uneventful shower.  We ventured out through the Gothic quarter, past the main cathedral and over to La Rambla, where many more people were out for a stroll than I would have imagined on a Wednesday afternoon in early October.
Unfashionably early, we headed into dinner at Llamber, Taberna Gastronomica, Carrer Fusina 5, right around the corner from our hotel.  What luck.  Llamber specializes in tapas, and provided an assortment of highly imaginative dishes, accompanied by about 20 different wines by the glass, 3 to 4 euros each.  The memorable items that we consumed included eggplant cooked with honey and lemon juice (so much better than can be described), lighter-than-air cod fish fritters, very lightly cooked slices of tuna, fingerling potatoes topped with whipped local Asturian cheese (a combination of cow, sheep and goat cheese), and tomato bread (the local bruschetta, far better than any that I've ever had).  Did I say that I liked the meal?  Conscience made us walk a few blocks away before getting some gelato.

Thursday, October 8, 2015
We had a relatively active day today.  In the morning, we took a walking tour of Jewish sights/sites in Barcelona.  Or, rather where there were once or suspected Jewish sights/sites, since essentially nothing remains of a pre-Inquisition population of thousands of people.  There is a street name here, a notch on a doorpost where a mezuzah was once fixed, a small two room space which contained part of a synagogue -- the largest synagogue could not be larger than the smallest church. 

In the afternoon, we visited the Picasso museum, an impressive and popular destination.  Picasso lived in Barcelona for a few years at the turn of the 20th century, but not anywhere in the space now devoted to his work.  What surprised me was the enormous talent that he displayed as a young boy/man, remarkable, large, representational oil paintings created when he was 14 and 15 years old.  The collection on display was only a sample of his work, skipping the decades from before WWI to after WWII.  Yet, seeing his earlier art was revelatory to me, and elevated my view of what had evolved into the caricature of a dirty old man.

Friday, October 9, 2015
This is not meant to be a travel log, but we visited the most compelling attraction in Barcelona today,  Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, the immense cathedral designed by the brilliant Antoni Gaudi, an architect without peer.   If you have not seen it in person, please take a few minutes on the web site.
It's as if Gaudi was anticipating the pleasure of future generations of recreational drug users with this work.

At home, I almost never attend Friday synagogue services, but this is vacation and all the rules are suspended.  Also, we were curious as to what a local congregation would be like.  We chose a "liberal" synagogue, as opposed to one of the two Orthodox synagogues operating in Barcelona.  Because of security, our names were phones in by a trusted congregant and ID was checked at the door.  The building was unmarked, but the presence of police cars and armed cops at each nearby corner helped to point the way.

It was an interesting group of about 15 people at the service, one couple older than us, visiting from Puerto Rico, one 40ish woman from Paris, a couple of local men with gray in their beards, and about 10 kids -- college age, from Argentina, recently or originally.  Services were led by a 30ish woman, neither a rabbi not a canter, but very talented in directing the service, almost entirely sung in Hebrew.

Shortly after we arrived, another couple walked in, near our age.  Not only near our age, but Americans; not only Americans, but having lived on the Upper West Side for years; not only having lived on the Upper West Side for years, but members of West End Synagogue.  In fact, Jackie and Len Goldner had both served as president of our rag tag bunch of anarchic Jews.  You can run, but . . .


  1. .love following your travels. Missrd you both today.

  2. found this particularly interesting since Bert and I went to the 92 Olympics in Barcelona. We were there two weeks and found it as interesting as you apparently have. We also went to the synagogue. I knew Jackie and Lenny were in Barcelona, how fun that you all met up!
    Enjoy enjoy