Sunday, May 1, 2022


  The sun will shine, the world will recoup. Anything can happen to the mind in good weather..

Even so, I keep returning to the compulsion for reading, even sometimes, trying recipes put out by the New York Times on what seems a daily basis. A complete escape and total immersion in the contemplation of sensuous living. After many attempts and failures, I still can't resist trying again. Which may be the point. Trying yet another involved dish meant for 4 or 6 when I'm only one not very often a very hungry soul.  Because I know I will lose does not seem to phase me. And I also know that, in the right mood, I'm an able cook using nothing but spontaneity with a few less ingredients.

The above photo is reason for cheer - leftover from the April notes.

Whenever there is an upper, there comes a downer. Abortion, not reform or building up the infrastructure, now takes center stage in the US political scene. And lack of trust and faith abounds in lesser ways. Each of two trips on Metro today I saw random customers - young and middle-aged - opening gates or leaping over entry gates without paying, with nary a shameful face in sight. I asked the attendant in the booth why he didn't at least try to stop them, even try calling them out. 

What can you do? he replied. Everyone does what they want. The system is broken.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

April means renewal, doesn't it?


    That question doesn't get answered easily, given the fraught times we are in. Maybe the best we can do is hope for change. And meanwhile  hope to stay well enough to avoid total isolation on a run from something invisible.

    Still, a little walk can be uplifting in unexpected ways. Seeing unlikely signs of charm and humor posted occasionally on the front yards of private property. 'We Support Ukraine' sort of signs aren't exactly what I mean, since they read 'impersonal' without a name.  Today I unexpectedly came across the written verse of a lovely Louis Armstrong melody laboriously hand printed on a white board tacked up to a black stand near the sidewalk and was immediately cheered. I remembered the day in New York when I went with a friend to see the musician's home down an ordinary residential street in Queens, not far from a subway stop. This was before the site had become an education center, a well publicized homage to the great man who lived humbly among the gold spigots chosen for his bathroom. How simple and how real it was, and how strange so few people knew about it back then.

    Coming later from a visit to the nearest Safeway, I was still smiling. All the more reason at that moment because a policeman or security guard in the store had handed over to me quite spontaneously a single red balloon on a long red string. How can I fail to mention that I had gone to the section in the store in search of a single flower to go atop a wee pastry I had bought as a birthday present for a  young friend? Seeing no such lonesome bud, I laughed and asked if I could have a balloon - one of the bunch the man was holding, curiously enough. (My last trip to that same store I saw a much fancier balloon with a price tag of $17.95; astronomical I thought, until a local retailer who sells such notions said there was a helium storage....a statement I knew not how to refute. Possibly he was joking...)

    With that red balloon in hand, I walked home in a strong wind that made the thing twirl and whirl. A tiny brown dog coming towards me was cowed by the sight. It immediately went into a barking frenzy. And no wonder.  He/she doesn't often see a dancing balloon on a walk. A few blocks on I encountered an older couple emerging onto the sidewalk from their house. They smiled at the sight, incongruous enough, of a neighbor carrying a balloon in the middle of the day. 'The Red Balloon - the story,' the woman laughed, when I asked if perhaps she was having a birthday of her own. If so, I would have handed it over on the spot ...

    A recurring theme for the determinedly mobile is how often a person can be surprised on a street.

    A Metro ride and then short walk to a shoe store in Dupont Circle produced a timely encounter - though rare enough on its own. Two young men in bright yellow vests stood outside the store on a corner to waylay passersby and ask them to contribute to the International Rescue Committee - for Ukrainian refugees now pouring into Poland. The two were refugees themselves after a fashion. Each had come from Kabul a few years earlier to start new lives when they felt they could not advance at home. The one was a pilot in training most recently in Slovakia...

     Which reminds me to mention why I was in that particular Safeway that day. I had judged a quiet Thursday to be the perfect time for a second required shingles vaccine - the shringrix or whatever it is called to protect from insanely annoying and painful rashes caused by, of all things, leftover chicken virus in an older person's blood. I can't explain the science only the reaction I had was nothing like any vaccine I can remember ever. Easygoing at first, then slowly the swelling, redness, tenderness and soon the exhaustion. All a tiresome nuisance as I had big plans for Friday and I had to struggle to stay upright, intact. Soreness way beyond any memory. No way to predict such things, no way to deal with it except sleep and any artificial balm around. It took three days for normality = or what passes for that these days - to return.

March Madness Indeed

 Enough said. A month of ups and downs by almost any measure. Use weather as a chart. Up to 70s and down to 20s, a roller coaster drumbeat. Covid hits home everywhere with a new variant. I try to rally a first cousin into some awareness of why she should not doubt the value of the vaccine. She "doesn't trust the government" and won't say more, except that she was hospitalized at some point with the virus. The son who lives with her and her husband (husband has had a stroke of unknown origin) had forcibly removed her from the hospital on grounds she 'wasn't getting any better,' taking her home and watching over her. Presumably with more attention (i.e. the loving medicine..) than what she could get among other patients. Did she not receive the treatment drugs authorized? She doesn't know, doesn't question her son's move, when she tells me on the phone how her memory has changed. She can't find the letters to spell out the name of the small Indiana town where she lives. I decide not to go after her anti-government stand, not on the phone when she is so obviously suffering from the disease. She is cheerful, repeating much of what she has told me before about her family - she is now a great grandmother. She laughs. Humor is what we have, she says, and an occasional visit from a friend basically involves laughing.

I commend her spirit and withhold any sense of shame of blame on her behalf. She lives on 100 plus acres in country where cell phone service is rare.  She can't quite explain why. Nor does wifi work. I had been sending emails to an old address that never made the target. She keeps saying how she had 'got along' before with a massage business, the comfort of helping people be more comfortable. She is pleased with the photographs I sent her in a Christmas card - when the only reply I received was a note saying she was unable to send cards this year. She didn't mention Covid then.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

February Follies


        Not exactly a folly to feel captivated by the New York Times cooking column. (see previous notes) The almost-daily review of their editorial suggestions on recipes and assorted cultural artifacts online is comforting, even at a distance. There is the  thrill of imagining the results should you, eager reader whether hungry or not, seek to bring forth by creative action something both visually and sensually stimulating. Often that is enough to mend the day's listless mood. The mind's eye takes over from descriptions (and photographs) on the page.  Long live vicarious living and all that. Such are the needs of pandemic days when everyone, each in his/her own way, feels trapped in a lull:  past, present, future. Where do we invest our energy? 

Bring on the wintry chill, then get to love: French Union-Braised Lamb Shanks with Barley and Greens and/or Roasted Orange Chicken

Take refuge/heart from whatever is near.

It isn't a mystery why an obsession with recipes is so strong, especially during pandemic light (or whatever the current phase should be called).  It gives the feel of connection - with lovely and varied tastes, and with others equally engaged in productive efforts.

Friday, January 7, 2022

A January Thaw?


    A thaw  would be a relief from many things, for many reasons.

    What else can one expect after two snowfalls in four days (counting the nights)?  This is a month that is best lived day-to-day in search of sun and anything else conductive to good health and personal welfare. The country now more than ever is in search of its  democratic foundations  and a way out of the misinformation tide threatening to drown all civility.

    I had, for a while, at the top of a list of notably negative signs the titles of notably popular books (at least on one December poll). 'The Bitch Is Back.' "Thug Matrimony' and 'Empire of Pain,' plus Congress member Robert F Kennedy's anti-Fauci rants.  But there is only so much ill will a person can absorb before rejecting omens of any kind.

    Especially when one's birthday falls on the date of the Christian Orthodox Christmas. Bring on the lights and flowers and celebrate.

    At this point in the pandemic (capitalized or not?) it makes sense to identify the many different emotions and patterns of daily living can be attributed to what for most people is a very attenuated life. At least a life lived to the fullest. Lessons or habits learned throughout a seesaw nearly-two-year scourge?

    I write in haste, the two that occur to me: how important it is to keep a schedule - but not too perfectly; and the necessity of reading at least one book a week. Book titles are my diary of sorts. The object of holding on to some sort of daily schedule is to know how and when to break it. Finally late January 2022, I do just : I become a tourist in New York City - traveling by train to Manhattan and staying two nights in a hotel while visiting friends whom I have not seen and barely talked with in two years. In normal times such a trip would involve theater and some semblance of social life.  For one couple who are keeping strict discipline to be apart from strangers inside a building, this involves dinner outside under a plastic tent. A single heater bar overhead sustains us - barely - along with the handout plastic packet revealing a sheet of shiny silver mylar to cover our legs. A compromise, always the compromise. To enter museums it is necessary to order a  visiting period ahead online and to give proof of ID and vaccinations at the door. The upside is fewer people around, a less crowded city, and a vague sense of time suspended. I miss the absence of spontaneity: strangers communicating. The mandated mask policy inhibits such a thing. 

    As for getting through ordinary days, I am not the only person I'm sure to fall prey to addiction to New York Times cooking column or App or whatever comes with my print subscription. Sam Sifton is my guide most of the time. I ignore the lures of games and crosswords in favor of parsing recipes and treating them as treasure hunts: do I/will I have the ingredients to try this or that new or familiar challenge and what will happen as I must boldly reduce each one by three-quarters.  (The live-alone syndrome.) Mainly I fail in the attempt, being an impatient soul, but I end up with some sense of being on a journey that substitutes in some small way, for being out in the world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

December Decides


About our pandemic future. Will we be able to adjust to future requests (demands) for protection? Boosters forever?

Saturday, November 6, 2021

November brrrrr

     Ideally, relief. The autumn chill removes the growling sound of the feisty ground level AC compressor that my California neighbors use most of the year. The autumn leaves turn red and gold for the longest time - right outside my door, on one of the busiest streets in town. (Meaning, my part of town, a sort of village known as Easter Market.)

    And I no longer fret about cooking recipes ideally served warm or more.  So at 50 plus degrees, a group could sit outside near a charcoal grill and take an long length of time to prepare paella while gradually forgetting that night is coming on....

    And I find it no problem to enjoy mixing and matching a round of stuffed peppers done with custom blends of no-beans, no-wheat, no-carbs etc. Suiting tastes of my neighbor family whose parents are either lactose intolerant and keto happy. 

    Thus, the upside of oncoming return to regular 'standard time' with an extra hour along with the downside of adjusting to nightfall at 5 pm. onward...

    So what did you do during the pandemic, grandma? The question I expect my two granddaughters one day to ask. Expect and hope they will be curious enough even though their own lives will (god hope etc.) not be touched by the most dangerous virus in their own world to date. How to answer? Well, I read 64 books in 2020 and am working on my 2021 list, now about 40. It's not likely I will get to finish 20-some more in six weeks to match my old record. What have the books taught me, now that's a question to avoid. I can also tell them I was busy translating New York Times  Cooking columns into a fake copy that might pass as food.

    'Explain please:'   So when I download a recipe such as Roasted Salmon With Miso Rice and Ginger-Scallion Vinaigrette ( 8 words), I must account for 11 ingredients that are given for 4 people. I am only a one with no hope of sharing since the outcome will be muddled even if I do follow exact instructions. Do I do a dance in the kitchen, open a bottle of wine, pretend to divide the four into one number - and take my chances. Likely I fail since I'm impatient. I want to hurry up the process, argue with the suggested time involved of 30 minutes - presumably the total between assembly and finale. It's a game, I tell myself. Just produce something that is colorful enough so I want to eat it: cabbage and  sweet miso flavored rice atop a skinny salmon filet. Usually I'll manage a few bites, depending on whether the radio offers me a program worth chewing to...

    Image shown is a Statement - about how weary we have grown with the pandemic rules. A mask thrown off or lost in the weeds by a busy city street. Bedraggled as we all often are...

On to December and then?