Thursday, March 8, 2018

Trader Joe continued

Of course this fine retail establishment tries to be upright and careful about how it takes responsibility for products it sells. Nothing is made by them but nearly everything is labeled by them. Contracted out.
'Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala'.  (gluten free, if you care to note).
A well documented box of Indian spiced chicken pieces (so few!) in a partition next to the "cumin-flavored basmati rice" ( I quote from the box).  Made for a single serving. Calories 360 of which half come from Fat, also plainly stated.) The sodium content is way up - 24%, total rate is 22 %. List of ingredients are over the top, and few are visible on the plate.
Adjectives abound, the worst of which  is 'robust" - don't we see this everywhere today in political analyses. Here is goes with Robust Cream Sauce (though really not very far up on listing of ingredients).

My gripe is that a pretty package does not prepare one for a disappointing meal. Serving size is for a single but surely not anyone with an appetite. The rice has a few flecks of the promised cumin. I pick and swallow. I have a feeling of fulness if not of satisfaction. The box will go directly into the trash (cardboard with plastic, and I'll be pleased to have had a bit of protein in my system, plus the exalted (tiny) bit of turmeric (way down on the list). I'll call it dinner, more or less.

Friday, March 2, 2018

"New City' - What It Might Be

 Always a good topic for discussion. Extremely current in light of  unending squabbles over gentrification, traffic congestion, restoration and preservation issues. A New York Times essay  on Sunday February 25 took it on anew under the headline -Tech Eyes the Ultimate Start-Up: An Entire City. Utopian city building as only the talented Silicon Valley upstarts can imagine it. Worthwhile in every way as exploration if not illumination, beginning with admissions that  such schemes in the past rarely have succeeded. Every solution is a contradiction.  So Uber and other ride-sharing operations might start to work as delivery services, hand in hand with Amazon Prime.  Does that mean fewer people using their cars as delivery vans and thus takes more vehicles off the streets?
Or will that simply expand the number that clog arteries everywhere?

Another somewhat related article to recommend. An essay commenting on two books about Istanbul, in Feb. 22nd issue of New York Review of Books. All about the many quirks and wonders of that most incredible city, crossroads of two continents (Asia and Europe) and religions (Christian and Muslim), between two civilizations as well if East and West can be summarized so neatly.  A troubled place under its current leader/self-style sultan Racep Tayyip Erdogan whose latest scheme is to build this year a new $10 billion canal across the Bosphorus - how such  a project is both far-reaching and backward looking.  He already has managed to dig for an underwater tunnel across the Bosphorus. And always the story of a great migration building up a city - Turks from the countryside.

Some gorgeous city views figure as backdrop to a recent  violence-soaked movie  - 'Red Sparrow,' notably a few splendid hotel interiors and street scenes in London, Moscow and Budapest. But none of the exteriors make up for what seems like gross and gratuitous murder and mayhem in the plot. The only, slimmest excuse is  to show women characters behaving both absurdly well and badly - usually at the behest of men.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

DC the 'new' dining metropolis, etc.; an update on trends

The greater Washington area of late has been heralded as a major theater destination - witness the growing number of companies offering live entertainment on stages large and small. This was said to mirror the town as a 'vibrant' arts center, though much of this reputation stems from the existence of such  institutions of merit as the Smithsonian, the Corcoran and the Philips. But wait - look at recent developments : Discovery's plans to relocate from Silver Spring, Md., to New York; the sale of National Geographic's downtown headquarters.  Arts in a broad sense, claiming a local presence, seems to be declining. The Corcoran, of course, shut down years ago and merged uneasily with George Washington University. Few people ever felt pride and even claimed much participation in National Geographic - nothing compared to the loyalty inspired by the Nationals baseball team.

Another trend, often remarked upon, could be the emergence of DC (especially inner city and close-in suburbs) as a dining destination. Chefs are the new celebrities, replacing even politicians in their ability to capture audiences 'voters' competing for places at increasingly upscale tables.  How else explain a January 18, 2018, event called 'Live in D.C. With the New York Times' advertised in a full-length page, focused on current stars of the edible firmament in discussion of  - what else? - 'The Future of Restaurants.'
 Jose Andres (Puerto Rico's helpmate), New York's Danny Meyer (of a soon-to-be Union Square Cafe location), and local-boy-made-good Aaron Silverman. (The latter's empire is growing and who knows where next he might expand - a TV show, a documentary, etc.,  offshore sites beyond three stellar Capitol Hill emporiums that started with fabled Rose's Luxury?)

Notably current, too, in line with this sold-out ninety-minute show is the Women's Voices Theater Festival happening in Washington that has Hollywood's own Allison Janney (she of the Golden Globes win) as honorary chair.  Three cheers for inspirational experiences such as Mosaic's one-woman "Queens Girl in Africa" starring Erika Rose and  Folger Shakespeare's update of the Way of the World.'  Writer-director Theresa Rebeck does a no-holds-barred revision to bring contemporary events into the classic Restoration comedy. (Drinks rather than food play a minor role, featuring celebrity cocktail lure of the moment.)  How curious to see an insert in Folger's program an auxiliary offering on three Friday nights of the Festival hosted by Chef Jamie Leeds after 10 p.m. at Hank's Oyster Bar in Dupont Circle. "Stimulating conversation, drink specials, and appetizers" -  and a chance to "mix and mingle' with Festival casts and crews.
Eat your heart out. That's the new way of Washington's old world.

Speaking out is certainly trendy, too, especially among women whose versatile multiple voices were heard across the ages during the festival. Doubtless, the youngest among them were the teenage  characters portrayed in Studio Theatre's sold-out production of "The Wolves."  The  ribald talk-a-thon was a captivating show of emotional split ends, the enduring angst of late adolescence. A hip-hop over-the-top representation of a team of high school indoor soccer players by playwright Sarah Delappe at just one of 25 theaters in the region taking part this year in the month-long festival. The cast not only had to learn fast-paced lines but learn to stay within artificial turf lines that separated them from the audience seated on either side of the 'field.' Only one member ever had played the game before so the University of Maryland women's team pitched in as coach.  Skills that acting school never taught you...dribbling a ball with your feet while your mouth is moving a mile a minute.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Eve: 2017 sliding into 2018

Of all the improbable encounters, I get into a taxi with a "Cash Preferred" sign strapped to the back of the front seat facing the passenger. A call to arms: independent minded driver here, one with a passion to play word games with strangers.
We have already established a sense of humor between us when, at the airport taxi stand, I hand him my heavy bag and say I will keep the smaller one - containing my laptop - with me.  I don't want to risk having the big one topple onto the smaller. No problem, he replies; your choice.
We move along quite friskily, a bit of small talk about weather conditions and his observation that business is down in spite of the crowded airplanes. Hardly anyone was in line waiting. But he must be bored with the usual chitchat. He drives mercilessly.
What is the meaning of spat? he  calls out suddenly in a heavy accent that may or may not be Italian.
I say that the word has two meanings and  ask which  does he prefer.
Aha, he gloats. You know! (I offer 'argument' and 'article of man's clothing in olden days'.)
He doesn't concede if he knows whether I am right of not. Maybe he is taking a casual vocabulary course, by way of entertaining himself.
What about dissident?
The word comes out sounding slightly dizzy - like indigent. But I guess that he has a personal interest here - that he may have been or even now be one.
Again, his voice lights up in approval.
Nobody knows these words, he says. Nobody ever seems to know them when I ask at random. He is pleased to meet a word fiend. He never has found anyone who has had the right answer.
How about: lucrative?
I tell him he is probably going to find me a lucrative ride since I may honor his request for cash.
He hits his hand on the steering wheel in surprise. I've won the contest. He wins the prize.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Customers' Custom Service

Oh hail the notion of personal service - any kind, anywhere. Motives to provide satisfaction may vary but consider the alternative: no connection with the human being buying your goods, especially in the retail arena.
Retail is suffering mightily in the face of express digital services, the story goes. At the same time, people are again drawn to buying books - clinging to ownership of physical goods for their very ephemeral value. Maybe the seesaw is becoming balanced: more appreciation of such items to make a person feel more grounded, less ephemeral than the slippery act of tapping some keys. And don't forget the value of face-to-face (not with the intolerably impersonal Facebook) - people talking to one another, using our instinctual senses that come out of a different part of the brain. The positive sense of 'making contact' using eye, ear, nose and 'gut.'
The very real value of engaging a very real human. Avatars may have their place - seemingly best for shut-ins.
It's difficult bargaining down a giant such as Comcast using algorithms the company had designed, compared to diligently, patiently discussing that last outrageously high bill..Far better to impress with a stern tone of voice, the voice of reason emphatically expressed so that one's determination can be more instantly understood. Just try it and see the price drop. (Something a friend of mind did recently over two days taking on a Best Buy clerk and then the Customer Service Agent or whatever they are called at Comcast.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

City Girl's Gardener's Guide

Yes, it exists - a fine commercial-free booklet from Baer's 'Agricultural Almanac & Gardener's Guide,' just what the compensatory would-be outdoors woman needs: all the information required to live a second life indoors as a successful outdoors person. The latest 2018 edition is out in its 193rd year, from its original home in Lancaster, Pa. The tips and blips are more than worth the $6 price. Fine reading, too. Who doesn't want to know the best dates for killing briars (not bears, not a misprint), poison ivy, weeds and pests. How surprising to learn the dates to come of such practical wisdom. Little bits of history and handsome black and white illustrations, who wouldn't love to be distracted by the basics of how to grown Zinnias in space. (Ask Astronaut Mark Kelly, who flew high and wide in 2015.) January Lore includes a weather summary by region. Cold in the East, normal (whatever that is these days) west of the Continental Divide.
A perfect Christmas gift for anyone devoted to distraction in the midst of political pollution.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Hither and Yon

Within less than a half mile of my house, not far from the U.S. Capitol, some memorable scenes  unfold that speak in different ways  to the variety that is the spice of city living. Not always uplifting but always energizing.

A: A disheveled  mentally disturbed woman 'of a certain age' (is a man ever that same age, I wonder) walks out suddenly to a popular street corner near Pennsylvania Avenue SE and begins shedding her clothes. All of them. It is a warm day for sure but one that hardly calls for going naked in the streets. She chooses - of all places - a spot opposite young Marines who are guarding their base, home of the Marine Corps commandant. Two witnesses reported this to me - and how quickly one of them dialed 911 to alert police, or an ambulance. Doubtless, she was quickly hustled into a private space and either taken away for confinement (i.e. an examination) or simply told to dress. These same witnesses now see her frequently roaming the streets - it is autumn now - mostly covered. Freedom from constraining garments must have felt wonderful while it lasted.

B: An Eastern Market vendor  regularly hauls a load of every imaginable sort of goods for sale in his tent along 7th Street SE, closed off to traffic on weekends. On this particular day, he brought used furniture that caught the eye of a strolling shopper (i.e. tourist) who inquired about prices. Savvy vendor saw the chance to bargain - if only to be able to sell off heavy items he would then not have to pack up and take back to storage. His customer, eyes brightening, loved the deal and asked if vendor had more of the same to bring him the next week and possibly deliver the goods to an address on Chain Bridge Road, just the other side of the Potomac River, in Virginia. That section is known for extremely lavish and expensive homes. Lo and behold, a large amount of cash was paid; a personal card produced - exciting the vendor who recognized the place. What he didn't at first realize that the man was likely a Saudi Arabian prince, if not the ambassador himself, whose wife and friends were seen, well covered, farther  up 7th Street.  On delivery day, vendor passed through two gates manned by guards with guns who then escorted him up to the front of the mansion.
Vendor now awaits - perhaps - an invitation to tea.

C: At a recent open house sponsored by my local Firehouse (Truck No. something, I forget), coaches stood outside the open door hailing passersby to learn 'Hands-Only CPR For Witnessed Sudden Collapse." First on the (English and Spanish) printed list of instructions was a warning to 'check the scene' - ie. be careful you, the observer, are not part of some personal feud that might involve bodily harm to yourself. Only then, check the person. Ask/shout 'Are you okay?' after a shoulder tap. Next, if no response, call 9-1-1. (This supposes your own emotional and mental state equips you to do so...) Ask others to help call. The Chest Compression lesson most surprising of all: Remove all clothes from the person, including underclothes Yes, a bra or whatever conceals the center of the chest above the heart. No more offering mouth-to-mouth. Keep arms straight, intertwine fingers and push down hard and fast - at least two inches. At least 100 times a minute. Keep going until the professionals arrive. If the patient shows signs of life and starts breathing, turn him/her over on his side away from you.
 Good luck is you are inebriated yourself when you come across this stricken soul.
Oh, and try to have some disposable gloves handy for the procedure.
Modern living is so very complicated.

Famed architect Rem Koolhaaas - a true urbanista (male division),in his perch called Office for Metropolitan Architecture, is as cool as they come. His latest definition posted of the countryside is 'anything that is not the city.' Trendy guy, yes? Seems he has caught up with the populist movement, for better and worse, how small-town America (try defining that one) made such  a difference in the last American election.

Consider another definition: The city is a place where public libraries post Behavior Rules - 10 pages in booklet form - as the DC public library did this past August.  DCPL feels the need to say that no bare feet or bare chests are allowed on the premises. Large bags in excess of 9/14/22 inches are not permitted. And prohibits 'odorous' patrons who annoy others from six feet or more away.

And then, and then: perhaps we are too often eager to draw lessons from the mix of people and backgrounds that get thrown together in a city. Today (apologies to participants), I had the son of New York cops over for Irish coffee with the emigrant wife of an entrepreneurial El Salvador  husband, sitting together and - in a way - comparing notes. Notes on how to make your way and sustain your goals in a chaotic indeterminate political scene. Patricia, smart and self-effacing, across from Sean,  talented garden expert. What decisions for each of them justify staying on in America? How else would either of them ever have met, since she is in Virginia and he makes a base in Maryland for clients in DC. Her husband's business has been suffering, she says (dump trucks); his choices narrowing by virtue of a deadline for health insurance application. How to move, what to do? Each with barriers in a way.She never would return home to El Salvator where gangs extract   protection money; he thinks moving to Ireland an option. The insecurity is frightening for both. Sean worries about health insurance in the future; Patricia, for the welfare of her grown children.