Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Hiding on Halloween

It’s October 31. Halloween and I’m hiding out in my house. I have turned off the lights so it looks like no one is home. My friends think I’m ridiculous but that’s not true, I prefer to think of myself as ambivalent. I will explain.

I used to love Halloween. As a kid I was always thrilled about the prospect of a costume. Some of my friends would tell you that I no longer need Halloween to costume, that’s all there is in my clothes closet, but not the kind of costume one wears on Halloween. For example, I would not dress like a duck for a meeting downtown. Anyway, I loved to dress like a princess or a whore. Those were my two favorites. I never consulted my mother about the whore stuff, and if she happened to see what I was wearing, I think I told her that I was a beatnik or a nightclub singer. I can’t remember. But she was hardly ever around, so Tina (who always dressed in some horror theme) and I dressed unencumbered by parental supervision.

Boonton NJ was an amazing town in which to Trick or Treat. All the stores had glass fronts so the shop owners would paint elaborate murals on the windows. It was like NY at Christmas but instead of fantastic holiday scenes there were ghosts and goblins, witches and werewolves. We we would go from store to store before we went from house to house. And you didn’t just get candy from the owners. You got presents and money. (Except from the dentist who would give toothbrushes.) Some kids hated getting apples and pennies, they wanted candy, but not Tina. She loved the pennies because she always took a handful rather than just one. And I think there was one year she got a bra, a Tonka truck and a pack of Salem cigarettes. It was always colorful.

When Seth was little we would let him choose his costume and it was ordinarily a variation on the same music theme. One year he was Kiss, another he was a Rolling Stone and I think there was a time he was Curt Cobain—as a corpse. Jordan’s costumes were always colorful but not usually identifiable. But there was always make-up and a wig involved. I loved it when the kids were little—or big. I should say, I loved it when the kids were with me. Then there were friends to greet and games to play.

I stopped buying candy about 5 years ago. I gave little toys or puzzles or rings or fake tattoo’s. All stuff purchased at Oriental Trading. I would put on my witches hat and greet them with some frightening laugh. Then I would show them the big basket filled with Halloween crap and the kids would pick what they wanted. Jordan hated the toys. She wanted me to buy candy so we would have it for weeks after the holiday. “Too bad”, I told her “I think encouraging kids to eat so many sweets is a bad idea.” Then last year one mother lectured me about the fact that the toys were small and the kids could choke on them. “Supervision is not my job, Just don’t let them keep them.” I told her.

Anyway, that began my ambivalence. And I was torn about what to do this year. Then I thought about what had happened to the neighborhood in the last two or three years and why I was not excited about having people come to my door. It has become a Republican haven in the midst of Democratic Northern Virginia. After the “Washingtonian” designated Waverly Hills as one of the best places in the metropolitan area to live, new aspiring upscale Republican yuppies started to move in. They bought tiny houses, which five years ago would have sold for $250,000 but they paid over a half million dollars -- because it was the trendy place to live. I think I mentioned in a previous blob that they also felt entitled to take over the streets and let their dogs poop on property that was not their own. And now they have put signs on their yards which ask that you vote for George Allen, but worse than that, (if there can be a worse) there are signs that ask the voter to amend the constitution to prevent same sex marriage. And there isn’t just one on the WG’s lawn. (The WG is what the kids called the weird guy around the corner who was the only Republican within miles until 2004.) There are lots of them. Vote yes for Proposition one – one man, one woman, one marriage. In my neighborhood-- an anti human rights campaign. So the truth is, I don’t want to give the little Republicanettes any candy or toys or anything nice. I will not reward them for having parents with bad judgment and, I might add, bad haircuts. I will now keep my lights out and wait until 10:00 to take out the garbage. Then I will sneak downstairs, get myself a glass of wine, and revel in my memories of the good old days when we celebrated Halloween at Vice President Al Gores residence surrounded by people who would never vote yes on Proposition one. We’re Just Sayin...

Hair Gel as a Weapon

When Jordan called the other night she was on her way to Alabama to see her boyfriend who is performing in a touring company of “Bat Boy, the musical”. He is the Bat Boy. It is a wonderful show about a boy/bat who grows up in a cave but is discovered by some local townsfolk and, as you can imagine, the problems ensue. Anyway, Bat Boy, although it does rank as one of my ten favorite shows of all times, is not what I wanted to blob about.

When she called she had just passed through security at the airport in Boston. “Mom”, she cried, “I am going to Alabama and I am not going to have a good hair day. They took my hair gel. I told the guy that without my gel I would be in serious hair trouble, but he didn’t care. ”

“Well honey” I said, “ Last time I looked Alabama was part of the United States and I know for a fact that they have grits and I believe they will have a drug store or if you get really lucky, a Wal*Mart. You will be able to find hair gel and the security people at airports all over the country will rest easy. They can feel confident that without that hair gel you will not commandeer a plane and take hostages or destroy a national treasure or building with it."

I don’t mean to pick on the airlines, OK, I can’t resist picking on the airlines, but lets get real, should my kid's hair gel really be of concern — unless the security person is having a bad hair day and needs to confiscate some help.

I don’t know about you, but I do not feel any safer on a plane today then I did during the 80’s when Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers and we didn’t know what was going on in the skies. As shown by 9-11, we still don’t know what’s going on in the skies. When Soozie and I flew to Italy I got my passport out and asked the airline person if she didn’t agree that it was a great picture – and I had it taken at Costco. She hardly glanced up when she responded, “Oh I never look at the pictures."

We know that when the airlines determined that our pictures had to match the tickets, it was not for security reasons. People, rather than rescheduling and paying extra, were trading tickets to save money. We all know the airlines couldn’t deal with losing money or rather, not making money. So now they don’t feed us, they charge us extra for seats with more leg room, and they insist we use the bathroom in our own cabin. They talk about all of these changes as security issues, but we not it’s not true, and we know they know it’s just a ploy to make money or keep the people who are paying more money from having to use a toilet that was used by the airplane “trash”. 'Trash' is not a slur, I call people who come off yachts 'water trash' and excellent photographers are 'photo trash' — with me it’s a term of endearment. We also know that they know we often have limited alternatives. The trains are not much better and almost as expensive, and ships don’t go anywhere quickly. Oh well.

There is no romance in travel anymore. It’s hectic, inconvenient, and expensive. I have taken to driving from Washington to NY and Boston. Even with gas prices what they are (and they will be low until after the election), it’s still much more pleasant to leave when I’m ready, to stop where I want, and to listen to a book or sing at the top of my lungs – except when David is with me (proofreaders note: Why is it that she has NEVER sung when I am in the car, with the possible exception of "Need You" by Donny Owens?? Am I THAT bad a listener?). And most importantly I don’t have to think about what I have to “ put through” and what I can “take on” Only my driving is considered a dangerous weapon. I can take my lipstick, hand cream, medications and hair gel wherever I go. There’s a simplicity in this that makes that kind of travel almost romantic. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Me n' My Oscopy

We all have a number of things which remind us of the continuum along the life path. Seeing someone walk down the street in a Capt. Midnight jacket, the kind that forty jars of Ovaltine and $10 would have won in 1958, or maybe cruising along the hiway and be passed by a 1964 Chevy, all tweaked, tuned, painted and made to be joyful. Those are the kind of passages which lend themselves to, at the very least, a minor bit of introspection. Most folks tend to engage in introspection more as they age, I think: who ever heard of a 23 year old pondering the meaning of life unless it was in a Dylan song? I find the way to the future is sometimes paved with the cobble stones of yesterday.

Your correspondent, in his medical gown,changing room
Thursday night at the HBO theater, on 42nd and 6th Ave., in the W R Grace building, or what used to be the Grace / NYU building, there was a presentation of a photographic award. The Eugene Smith Foundation was started after his death in the late 70s. Smith, a curmudgeon of a genius, worked for every great magazine from the 1930s, thru the 70s, but mostly he worked for himself. Even if you don’t know the name, you probably know his photographs (sound familiar?). The two children in a garden, from the back walking hand in hand in a moment of utterly perfect innocence. Sweaty, gritty soldiers in World War II, taken from a very up-close and personal point of view: for Smith there were no telephotos: there were subjects, their space, and the way he found himself inside their space. He did over 400 assignments for LIFE, and ended his career in the early 70s working on the first real pollution story of the modern age: Minimata. (a story of a Japanese town’s pollution and how people living there were trying to carry on their lives. When Smith passed away, the foundation was started to create a bourse for a young, working photographer. The past few years, the award has been $30000, a goodly sum for the most starving of free-lancers. Competiton is intense, but people are undivided about the value of, in the age of shrinking magazine budgets, letting a photographer stay in the field for three to six months or so..and to let them delve into their work with a bit more time and thus, depth.

It is also a gathering of those in the photojournalistic community and a chance to catch up, albeit briefly, with friends who you rarely see. Amongst the attendees last night, in the “Overflow Room” (I arrived later than the first two hundred people) was a woman who I had briefly known 25 years ago at the ICP (Int’l Center of Photography.) She was, at the time, a rather unhappy, 27ish woman who, in some kind of feigned attempt to become my pal, kept nuddgying up to me, asking me all sorts of questions, some of which even bordered on photography. I’m a pretty fair sport at these kind of public events, but it came to the point that each time I would go to the ICP for some soiree, she would pursue me to a point beyond anything fun or amusing.

For the next 25 years, she remained unseen by me, until Thursday. There she was, in the second to last row of the Overflow room, wrapped in her heavy coat, the same kind of sour face which had pursued me those years, looking perfectly unhappy. Now, rather like a deflating tire, she was shorter, wider, though perhaps slightly more stable. Our eyes never crossed, though I later saw her with a plate piled high with the cheeseredpeppercelery nibbles that are the mainstay of well attended, mildly underfunded events (Let the record show they did have Bass Ale and Urquell Pilsner, a shout out for the beverage committee!) I was reminded of stories my Uncle Jack Goodman, born & reared in Brooklyn but for 60+ years of Salt Lake City, whose used to recount to me stories of his first job, as a radio broadcaster on the scene for WNYC during the late years of the Depression, broadcasting from the New York piers, as luxury liners would leave for England the le Havre. Most of the time the departures were seen as big events: starlets, empresarios, tycoons, all went by boat, and they all walked the plank UP into the ship. The press room eats were very often the only thing which the sometime journos would get to eat all day, so covering the sailing of the Mauritania was more than news, it was dinner. Last night had that minor moment of desperation, when I wonder if the woman in question was otherwise going to eat. She was well turned out, wrapped against the cold (Editors note: she may very well earn half a million a year as a stock analyst, we just don’t know). Yet it was another of those momentary reminders that it was a Half a Life ago.

After the procedure, relaxing in the gurney.

The other reminder of that fact was this week’s trip to the doctor for a Colonoscopy. Since the death of Katie Couric’s husband 8 years ago, and her very public backing of early detection, the mere fact that we can mention such a word in polite company shows how the world has evolved. I almost feel like mentioning the word Colon Oscopy makes me part of the new Old generation. You don’t mind even using in polite conversation with total strangers. Ok, that sounds a little gross, but really it isn’t. In fact you might wonder, as I did in the waiting room, why a med student would jump into Gastro instead of Brain surgery or something else which might land a guest spot on House. What is the attraction to the digestive tract, other than we all have one, and we all hope it keeps operating ? Nominally, as NASA would say.

A Gurney-eye view of the overhead light

You wanna talk gross, forget the procedure: it’s the “Prep” which should be put on the Homeland Security shortlist. You mix 4 quarts of water in a gallon jug, with lots of electrolytes (I thought that was the stuff we used to clean silver dishes in chemistry class) and which has the effect of cleaning out your system. Having not eaten Monday (they have a 3 day prep, and my exam was Tuesday, so I was well ‘into’ it) I started drinking this stuff, flavored a little bit to the positive side with Crystal Light Iced Tea flavor mix. Well trust me, it doesn’t taste like any Iced Tea you want to get chummy with, but I was able to drink and drink and drink. You have to basically ask your body to just float down the hall. But it’s a challenge to drink that much. The only solution I could use to forget I was being pursured by the nausea monster, though, was to read, up close, a very nice recipe for slow-cooked Beef in the current issue of Cuisine at Home. Somehow, if I kept reading about the spices and slices, I could jug that awful liquid crap.

But we do what we need to do, and there I was, hours later, in the changing room ready to go. You realize that it’s not exactly a Given that there is nothing wrong with you. Ok, you feel good, no real physical oddities, nothing showing up on your own body radar. But you could always end up with one of those unfortunate results, the kind where the doctor turns the lights off to tell you so it doesn’t feel like youre such a spectacle. Then into the room, on your side, bingo, in goes a probe (can you find these used, on eBay?), make a few groggy (they zap you with drugs, of course) bad jokes asking the Doc to change the channel BACK to Espn…this Discovery Health Channel isn’t what its cracked up to be! Recovery, minutes later, is accompanied by some juice and two peanut butter crackers – and they taste, truly, like Manna, since you haven’t eaten anything for 40 hours.

Modern Manna, in the form of peanut butter crackers
But as this is only my second time on the Camera Wagon, (every five years, people, do it like clockwork!!) I was quite happy to dress again, and skip out, confident in the doctor’s reading of my lower tummy. It’s a nice tummy – OK, -- needs work, but it’s my very own, and for all over us, especially over 40, it’s time to acknowledge you’re a grown up, and get yourself checked. Next cocktail party maybe we can compare x-rays.
We’re just sayin… David

Imagine the Unimaginable

It was parents weekend. Michelle and her folks had spent a wonderful day. They had dinner and then Michelle left to spend the evening with her friends. The plan was to have a family breakfast the next morning. Only there was no next day for Michelle. She was kidnapped, beaten, sexually assaulted and murdered by some sick twisted pervert. Somehow she got separated from her friends and needed to borrow a cell phone. It was late. He was a stranger and I suppose he must have seemed nice enough. She made a terrible last decision.

We went to a memorial service for Michelle Gardner-Quinn this afternoon. It was a church service held at HB Woodlawn, the high school Michelle and Jordan Burnett attended. The murder was the elephant in the room. We wondered how they would talk about it. The Reverend said that Michelle suffered a horrific death but that she was a strong person and he was confident that while the horror was happening to her, she would have found a way to go deep inside herself to prevent the hurt to her soul. It was not exactly comforting, but it was a way to think about her death without thinking about how petrified and painful the end must have been.

There were the usual prayers but that was it for usual. After all, how can the brutal death of a wonderful young person be usual? Her sister and brother gave very moving accounts of the person they knew. And then they opened the mike to anyone who had something to say. That is always dangerous because, as was the case here, some nut is likely to show up. In this case it was a Cambodian refugee who didn’t know Michelle but she opined that Michelle’s death had touched her so deeply that she wanted to take pictures of things that were relevant. It was a totally inappropriate appearance but it didn’t go on too long so they never had to drag her off the stage. But then the young people who knew Michelle took the mike. The two remembrances I found most moving were by a young man, who had clearly been a high school geek. He remembered that Michele was so kind “she even smiled and said hello to me”. The other was a girl for whom Michelle babysat. She recounted a few stories and then ended by saying that she had been working on a project which she e-mailed to Michelle last week. But then she learned that Michelle couldn’t answer. David and I cried from the beginning until the end. We cried for Michelle, her parents and a world in which this kind of thing can happen—even in Vermont to a kid who was savvy and aware of the horrors of the world.

After the service there was a reception in the cafeteria. Lots of HB faculty and parents attended without their kids because the kids were away at school. But like Jordan, they wanted their folks to go in their stead. Once you are an HB parent, you are always an HB parent. It is a small community of people who have had a special relationship with their children’s education and one another. Some didn’t even know Michelle but it didn’t matter because she was all our children. If it could happen to her...

We stayed for a while, saw all Jordans friends and teachers and then we were just too sad to hang around anymore. We never saw Michelle’s parents. We didn’t need to. They saw the community of people who came to express their love and sorrow, and individual condolences were unnecessary. When we walked away we wanted to feel better but we couldn’t. We are still too angry. There are still too many unanswered questions. There is still no resolution. And we are still too frightened to imagine the unimaginable. It could happen to anyone anywhere. We’re just sayin....

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Happily ever afterlife

Love is a funny thing. Not like ha, ha, funny – except when some of us are having a bad day—but amazing in so many ways. We know that when a relationship begins, the overwhelming element is sexual attraction. We also know that after a while that seems to be replaced by other elements, such as sense of humor, like interests, compatibility, values, morals, religion, economic goals, and sometimes even politics. For the longest time David and I couldn’t talk about political issues because, although he was very vocal about the way he thought things should be, he didn’t vote. For a while he used the journalist excuse, but that doesn’t sell in the long term. And here was a guy that made harassing calls to television newsrooms when the anchor or reporter didn’t cover a story properly. I am a person that firmly believes (especially if you complain ad nauseum about it) that everyone has an obligation to participate in what happens to their government. And consequently, will have an impact on their lives. I think that if you don’t vote you allow other people to make the decision and additionally, if you don’t vote you have no right to bitch about the results. If you do vote I am willing to give free range on anything that is said. If I had my way, (which let’s be honest, makes so much more sense than other ways), I would do in the US what they do in Australia and I would fine anyone who refuses to cast a ballot. And say that knowing that there are people who are not going to vote the way in what I would call the right way.

But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. In order to work, marriage has to be a partnership. Nothing is ever going to be 50/50 but there is as much value in the attempt to participate equally as there is in actually doing it. I have been very lucky, especially where my children are concerned. In the 70’s, when Seth was born, we co-parented (that was the fashion). From middle of the night feedings, to discipline, to lessons on life, his father was always involved. If fact, when we got divorced, Seth lived with his dad because all the psychologists said it would be better for him to have a strong male role model 24/7. I didn’t agree then and probably still have issues, but there was never a question about both his parents being actively involved in his life. With Jordan it’s no different. It may be easier because we live in the same place but so many parents live in the same place and you still don’t see a connection between the child and one or more parents. This was never the case with us. Despite the demands of his life as a journalist, there has never been a time when he wasn’t available to her – whatever was happening in the world. He is involved with the discipline but also the cudo’s. He’s her biggest fan and strongest support. He adores her, and she him.

But marriage should not only be a partnership where children are concerned. It should affect all the parts of your life. Remember the marriage vows, in good weather and bad—or maybe that was the morning news. But sharing experiences, dreams, and the reality of loss should also be done together. One of our blobbees commented on the fact that when a man dies the woman gets his SS, but it is not the case in the reverse. I didn’t realize that, but certainly the same should be true for any spouse. When our partner dies, we suffer in so many parts of our life, that financial should not be one. But even more importantly, it means the husband will do just fine because the woman had no value. I guess if you can afford to buy life insurance, this is less of a problem, but who can afford anything anymore.

So, This took me back to thinking about same sex marriage. Not because of social security but because I believe that people have the right to make choices about their lives. What happens if the voters smartly reject the idea of amending state constitutions to prevent same sex marriage. Does it bring up social security questions like, what happens with the SS if the two partners are men. My reaction is, I guess they hit the jackpot!

This is a totally ridiculous conversation, but lawmakers who are always making ridiculous decisions to maintain the status quo so they don’t have to do much lawmaking, probably think about this stuff. I bet they have conversations where they wring their hands and pace and talk to themselves about what ‘if’s’. Like, “What if two women are married and one of them dies, does that mean the state benefits—well if it’s going to save the state $1.50, then considering same sex marriage is worth the effort.” The stupidity escalates from there. Like, what gender is really entitled to a happily ever afterlife?

Partnership is about choice, caring, love, concern and absence. It should not be about the way men and women make love. And I am hoping that my friends in NJ have the good sense to acknowledge that marital partnerships cannot be measured in gender. They should be measured in commitment. One of our friends said that everyone, regardless of sexual orientation should be allowed to make their partner miserable—without discrimination. That makes sense to me. We’re just sayin...

Monday, October 23, 2006

What About the Important Stuff?

David and I went to vote today. We never know where we are going to be, so we didn’t want to take the chance that we wouldn’t be in Virginia in order to cast our votes – especially in this election. We selected our candidates. We didn’t vote for George Allen because his commercials are so stupid, that even if we liked him, and he could ever overcome the macaca and Jewish slurs-- we still couldn’t vote for anyone who approved of such expensive and ridiculous public messages. My favorite is the one where he says he has the best record of any Senator in Virginia. I don't remember the issue but it seems that, in the ads, they are all the same. Duh, there are only two Senators in Virginia. Does he think his constituency doesn’t know that, and that the other Senator is Warner, who has reluctantly (how could it be enthusiastically) endorsed him despite the fact that Allen apparently did something better than the senior Senator.

Once we voted for the candidates there were the usual bond issues. Most of these are just another way to increase our taxes. Like building a brige accross Spout Run so ten people wouldn't have to cross an actual street. On those we voted no. One was for public schools and despite our lack of a child in the system we voted yes. We do care about schools, and property values.

We also were asked to select amendments to the Virginia constitution. The two that flashed neon warnings for us were the one forbidding same sex marriage and one that allows churches to incorporate.

It seems to me that same sex marriage is one of those issues about which uptight homophobes just can’t let go. I keep thinking that instead of worrying about people of the same sex, who love one another, and want to swear their allegiance in front of God, the homophobes should worry about smoking and obesity. They are far more dangerous to health of our nation than same sex marriage. Or maybe they could worry about terrorism, which will not end unless we develop a real policy toward terrorist nations. If the homophobes would focus on those three issues and leave loving couples alone, it would do far more good for thee nation. And what if the couples don’t love one another-- which seems to be one concern of the nay sayers. What if they, like those of us who are in two sex marriages, have motives that go beyond love. What if one wants to marry a rich person who can take care of them. Or needs the emotional security of being with someone else and they happen to be gay or a lesbian. Why should anyone care. To tell you the truth, unless we do something about the deficit, the war, the environment, education and health care, it really won’t matter (in the big USA picture) if two people, who happen to be the same sex are not allowed to make a lifetime commitment to one another. ,

It’s more of the same. The same people who make our laws and scream the loudest about the moral fabric of our nation are the same people who are writing obscene notes to young children. You remember when Shakespeare said, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Or perhaps it was something more fitting like, "Asses are made to bear, and so are you. " Never you mind, you get the point. People who have nothing better to do than look inside our bedrooms and our bodies to make a point about morality in a country that is making war on innocent civilians, are just not credible and shouldn’t be running the government.

I read through all the rest of the voting choices and while I was putting the X into the last 2 boxes I flashed to the new RNC ad. The one which suggests that the republicans will fight terrorism and the Democrats can’t. All I envisioned was a response ad, where you would see a stop light with five choices, ranging from red to orange to yellow to blue to green and you would hear someone ask, “I am not feeling safe. I need to be assured nothing terrible will happen. What color is the alert today? “ The ad would end with a simple printed tag line that says, “What more do you need to know?” We’re just sayin...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Can't They Find Someone or Something to Like

I have a few questions about media people and perhaps politics. Or maybe about what political people should think about when thinking about media people. Or what media people need to think about when they are questioning themselves about what they do? Is that clear? Probably not but my job is to blob not to oversee searches for the self.

If I were running a political campaign today the first call I would make is to the people who do the Geico commercials. Some are better than others but they are all clever and at the least, amusing. While I am hard pressed to find something good in bad things that happen, I am a big proponent of humor in politics and, in fact in life. You have to be able to find something to smile about in everything you do or you will lose perspective and start to take yourself too seriously. This is the first step to a nervous breakdown. I would take a look at the strengths of my candidate and design attractive, good natured, messages about why they should be elected. Something people will remember –like the early Paul Wellstone ads when he was running for Senate, and won. Even funny negative ads, like the ones where people are talking to a shrub, are more powerful and preferable to attacks. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about as you read in my introduction.

Is there anyone that Maureen Dowd likes? My mother would say, “She’s such a pretty girl with such a ‘febisina punam’,” that means sour face. And why would she have a loving kind appearance—there is no one that she likes. Can you imagine going through life having to find something horrible in everyone you write about? And it probably becomes a way of life. I understand that it’s difficult to be an important voice—although I have never actually been recognized as such. And I know it’s not her job to make friends or take sides, but does her perspective have to be mean spirited? Can't she be an independent thinker without being an exceedingly negative liberal or conservative.

Is there anyone who Chris Matthews doesn’t scream at? Do you think he’s just hard of hearing? Maybe he grew up with lots of siblings and never had a chance to talk so he’s overreacting. Before he became the super television talking head he is today, I actually spent social time with he and Kathleen. When we were at small dinner parties he used a soft voice-- if not hushed tones. It is not unpleasant, and in the studio he does have microphones, so why he feels it’s necessary to shouts is a puzzle, and I might add, very rude.

How did Wolf Blitzer get to be a senior international news correspondent with his own program? Do you think he could pass the Foreign Service exam? Do you think he could pass a high school government test? Remember when he was a reporter and couldn’t do that very well. Have you ever listened to his news reports? He doesn’t actually seem to know about anything substantive. I get the feeling that if he didn’t have a teleprompter he wouldn’t be able to get through a sentence. And let’s be honest, he is not a pretty face.

And speaking of pretty faces, if the news is supposed to be serious, why has Katie Couric changed her looks from someone with whom normal people could identify to movie star beautiful. Are we going to believe what she says if the first thing we look at is her eye make-up and what she’s wearing. I have liked Katie since I first met her as a reporter in Washington. God knows, she has had a fine professional career but her personal life has not been without difficulty. But I guess if someone pays you enough money to be pretty and being smart is not a priority, you are likely to hunt for an extraordinary make-up person.

Why do local news anchors all around the nation think that they have to position themselves as if their professional colleagues were their family. And worse, as if they were our family. We know none of them are related. We sense that like family, they are forced to ‘like’ one another, but they don’t have to sit by a hospital bedside if one of their co-hosts gets sick, or get invited to holiday dinners. Doesn’t it piss you off when they pretend to feel a subject’s pain or wish them a speedy resolution to a problem. Is it too much to ask for them just to report the issues without comment. Why don’t they try to be reporters instead of the social directors?

And why is anyone paying Ann Coulter to say anything. It’s kind of been there done that. We know how she feels about everything. She hates liberals, democrats and women—she’s a self loathing woman. It’s the same story over and over—or as some people in her party would say, déjà vu all over again. In last months Vanity Fair she confessed that she just writes stuff which she knows is horrible, not truthful and confrontational because that’s what pays her salary. She is not attractive, not young anymore, is fairly vacuous, and has nothing of substance to add to the conversation so she would rather not have a conversation and just go right to the screaming match. What more do you need to know?

Maybe I’m just tired of people (media or otherwise) who can’t be nice. People who are rude and have to shout or interrupt or make up information to prove a point. People who degrade women, demean anything which is not the status quo or debase lifestyles not like their own. I want people who come into my living room every night to do it honestly (without cosmetic surgery or enhancement), have good manners, and use their indoor voices. We’re just sayin...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hushed Tones.....

Over the last few weeks I have become especially aware of people speaking in hushed tones. I am not sure why, but when we were in Italy we found ourselves explaining the concept to our English and non-English speaking Italian friends. And although they did not necessarily understand the concept, they loved to repeat the words.

What exactly are hushed tones? It’s not a whisper –that’s a whisper. And it’s not modulated voice. I guess the best way to explain the concept is through illustration. Kind of like when you explain to your kids the difference between using an outdoor or an indoor voice. One of those voices is much more subdued, but not necessarily hushed.

Perhaps the best illustration is what we experienced at a place called Kripalu last week.

Kripalu: Center of Hushed Tones

Perhaps the best illustration is what we experienced at a place called Kripalu last week.
Don’t ask what we were doing there -- it doesn’t add to the blob. Some people call Kripalu an Ashram, and in fact it was originally built as a Jesuit monastery, but I prefer to think of it as a place where people try or think they are supposed to speak in hushed tones. I don’t know why. Maybe they think being hushed is an element in being stoic, and that will bring them peace. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

Even the Ducks paddle in Hushed Tones

When Seth was about 5, and we (children are always suffer a good deal of the pain), were going through a difficult divorce, we fled to Woodstock NY where my nursery school friend Pam, lived in a Sufi community. Sufi’s are a sect of the Whirling Dervishes, and no, they are not some whacky group who solicits money in airports. It was a physically beautiful place -- and post the infamous Woodstock concert -- so while quiet, it was not unknown. I was happy to finally get to Woodstock because we had intended to go to the concert but the traffic was so backed up on the Thruway exit, we decided to forgo the event and drive to Madison Wisconsin. Not as historic a trip but great fun. Anyway, in those days, Woodstock was a place where a person could find support from the community of generous loving people and peace through music and dance. Seth learned all the words and motions (yes, there were hand movements) to Rock My Soul. He sang it without stopping until it made me crazy. It luckily became only intermittent when we left three days later. Although Woodstock was a place where infused by people seeking a plethora of spiritual connection, we never spoke in hushed tones. No one thought a normal voice would interfere with the spirit.

The first and last Fall Leaf

This was not the case at Kripalu. It is supposed to be a place where people become healthy. I simply don’t know how eating boiled or steamed Kale, fried tofu crap, and different shades of beige food stuffs, can make you healthy. Meals were served buffet style so you could eat all you wanted, and some big girls, who were there to learn about controlling their diet, didn’t even bother to use plates, they just piled green and brown upon their trays. And I guess people thought they were getting healthy or becoming at one with their spirits, because they spoke in hushed tones. In fact, in the morning the dining room was silent, so there were no tones, save for the jangle and clanging of silverware on ceramic plates, not unlike what you might hear in a penitentiary dining hall.

Iris,reading in hushed tones in room 286

We, not being people of the hushed tones persuasion, found alternative locations in which to eat – and I found a hard boiled egg. Just in case you can’t wait to get there, the grounds are spectacular, but our room was sparse. This would not have been a problem except that tons of little Styrofoam balls kept falling from the insulation in the ceiling. When we indicated to the staff that breathing Styrofoam was certainly not healthy -- so could they fix it -- they apologized but alas, there were no repairman working. So we fixed the leaks with masking tape.

The Hushed Ceiling Tiles

Today I am waiting for my mother to be released from a same-day surgery. She actually didn’t have surgery just a botox shot in her bladder, I guess it won’t be wrinkled anymore. And surprisingly, people are watching CNN and not speaking in hushed tones. So when do people actually use hushed tones (if you elongated the ‘sh‘ and slide it into the ‘to’, it’s a nice sounding phrase, gentle and soothing)? In ashrams for sure, maybe at church, at a funeral, the breakfast room of a 3rd rate London B&B, hopefully in a movie or show, and in Italy when you’re trying to make a point. I find speaking in hushed tones or repeating the phrase three times slowly, quite calming. If you don’t have a mantra, you should give it a try. Hussssshed Tonnnnnnnes. We’re just sayin... Iris.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Don't Talk to Strangers!

Don’t stay out past midnight. Never walk alone at night. And don’t talk to strangers. Michelle Gardner-Quinn, the Vermont student whose body was found yesterday, went to high school with Jordan. These college student stories are always horrible and terrifying but when you know the child it really it certainly rings the parental “there but for God go I” bell.

When I arrived in Boston on Monday Jordan told me that she had received a call from an old friend who told her that Michelle was missing. ‘Missing’ can mean so many different things. But it was parents weekend and her parents were in Burlington. So where would she have gone? Missing, abducted, lost, mislaid, gone... Michelle had traveled to many different places. She was worldly by young people standards. We all want our kids to have good experiences and become independent. Does it ever occur to us that they will become so comfortable with their independence that they will become careless or worse, helpless.

Michelle and Jordan performed together in a few high school plays. I didn’t remember who she was until I saw her picture. And then, in my mind, I saw her as 13 years old running down the halls at HB Woodlawn, just beginning her unique high school experience. Kids at HB, an alternative 6-12 public school in Arlington Virginia, have a special education. The school is based on trust and honesty. The kids, along with the teachers, make all kinds of policy decisions. They are permitted to leave the grounds when they are in 8th grade and if they don’t have classes they don’t have to be in the building. The school teaches them to use good judgment and make their own sensible decisions. When HB kids leave for college their parents don’t worry about them going wild because they are on their own tasting some autonomy, they have already tasted freedom and learned how to be responsible about it. There are no downsides to this, but learning to trust doesn’t prepare them to deal with a maniac or a predator.

Two years ago when Jordan was driving some friends home at 2:30am, she was rear ended by two drunks. The drunks stopped but when Jordan, who was hysterical, had her friend Alex call the police, the drunks fled. They called David and along with the police trached down the vehicle and consequently the drunks. It went to court and the drunks claimed it was a case of mistaken identity and the charges were dismissed. What crap! But that’s not my point. The police officer told Jordan that she really needed to be careful about staying out after midnight because that’s when she was likely to find trouble and that's when the creeps were on the prowl.

Kids never listen. Parents always worry. My heart goes out to Michelle’s parents. They are living our worst nightmare. My heart also goes out to our children, who can too easily become victims. What is the answer? I guess the best we can do is buy them some pepper spray, just remind them not to be alone if they are out late, and for Gods sake, don’t talk to strangers. We’re just sayin...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Are You Kidding?

We are happily back in the US of A, which means reality has smacked us in our relaxed wine ridden bodies. It also means that we have started to watch TV and read the newspaper—something we hadn’t done for over two weeks. Last Sunday the New York Times “Week in Review” section presented a range of pretty comprehensive views about how the political parties can have victories in November. The pieces written by political people were predictably more ‘big picture’ than specific in terms of suggestion. The pieces crafted by operatives were written as if they were doing job interviews for the campaigns, and the academic ideas were heady but a little out of touch with what is practical in designing a campaign. This is not meant as a criticism. They were all correct in their lists of what should work, but there were only a few that I thought went beyond merely a rhetorical presentation.

To be honest,and why wouldn’t I be with people who actually have taken the time to read this blob which David says is “unencumbered by niceties”, when I finished reading the Times, I thought the best way for Democrats to win was with a strategy I call “Are you kidding?” With the exception of my old friend Rich Bond, who talks about the important matchbook cover tactic, Republican ideas are still based on fear and, you should excuse the expression, lies. I don’t want Republicans to win, not because I am a democrat but because I am tired of their assumptions that people are stupid and will continue to separate what is really going on (how we have to live our lives ) from what they say is going on – i.e. the war, the economy and energy issues.

Near the top of the list of “Are you kidding?” is the sudden drop in gas prices. Here we are, six weeks before the mid terms and like magic, fuel prices are dropping, the stock market is rising and Dennis Hassert has said he will fire anyone who covered up Foley’s foibles. I hope you all saw Mike Peters cartoon in the Times on Sunday. (I also read the NY Post so don’t think my reading is all one sided). Is it possible that big oil companies want to help their rich friends get reelected so they can continue to get richer while at the same time discourage the exploration of alternative fuel supplies? You have to agree that it’s possibly more than possible. (To get you to agree is a successful rhetorical technique often used by political people in hopes that you will remember the agreement rather than thinking about the issue.).

Also near the top of the list is the conversation about what to do with that pesky situation in Iraq. I don’t know about you but for me “There have been no terrorist attacks in the US” and “We really get it, but we can’t cut and run” aren’t good enough reasons to continue to support this international fiasco.

Oh I could go on—so I will. There are actually Republicans who claim that the new drug program for the elderly is popular and working. Do these people have parents? And speaking of parents, do they ‘get’ that baby boomers are facing an epidemic in providing care for aging and infirmed family members, with women bearing the bulk of the burden. Do they think that regular folks from both parties don’t understand the consequences that huge deficits will have on their children and the future.

When I was in school majoring in communication arts we learned numerous rhetorical techniques. They worked when I rode my dinosaur over to debate class and continue to work today. Among many ways to win an argument (or election), is answering only the questions for which you have some made up good sounding facts and substantiation, getting the audience to agree with you, speaking only about that which makes your arguments seem sound, and using appealing, yet simple analogies,and the art of repetition is very powerful. For many reasons, if you keep repeating a statement eventually the audience will begin to think that they have heard the statement so many times it must be true. These have worked especially well for the Bush administration, but I think people are finally starting to believe what they see rather than what they hear.

So how do the Democrats win the elections. I say just keep responding to Republican rhetoric with the question, “Are you kidding?” We’re just sayin…

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Roamin' Holiday

Remember, “Three Coins in the Fountain”, “Roman Holiday”, “Ben Hur,” -- well maybe not Ben Hur, but romance and Rome always seem synonymous. And so we decided we would spend our last vacation day and night, in Rome. Just us kidz, tooling around the ruins, relaxing at some outdoor cafe’s, eating gelato at the Piazza Navona, and waving goodbye to this country we love from the confines of our airplane. Let me just say that the Hotel Napoleon has a great photographer working on their web site. You would never recognize it in person. It wasn’t really that bad, just a smidge seedier than expected, a bit farther from the action than you want, and with a bellman who calls you ‘punta’ (yes – even in Spanish it means whore), even before you get ready to tip him.

A funny thing happened on the way to.....

Whenever we drive into Rome we make it almost to the center of the city before we realize we are lost. This time wasn’t quite as horrific as other times – like when we got so lost we had to hire a cab to lead us to the train station to return the car—but it was harrowing because the horn on the rental car (dear, sweet Pablo, the Citroen “Picasso” van, a name which, by the way, bears no relation to anything the great artist ever did) didn’t work, so none of the Roman drivers (bobbing and weaving in the traffic) were aware of our presence. Actually, harrowing doesn’t come close to describing what we experienced. But we made it to the hotel without either having a road accident or killing each other. The latter was clearly a more likely outcome, after the 34th map reading, and realization that we were nowhere near where Mapquest had told us we should be.

Our plan was to arrive in Rome with plenty of time to make our lunch reservation at Da Gino, another of our favorite Italian eateries. Da Gino is close to Parliament so it is a place that politicians and journalists frequent. If you’re cool you don’t look at the menu. A waiter or Gino will decide what you should eat and what wine will go with the meal—it’s always house red or white. If you look like a tourist, arrive without reservations, and don’t have a political credential, you will not get seated. They will let you wait but they will not ever feed you. It is not a snob thing, it’s just how they run the place – so if you’re going, call ahead. (It’s in a tiny walking street just off Campo Marzo.)

Gino and his two fave lunch companions

After lunch we walked the ruins. The old never gets old. They remain breathtakingly beautiful which is eerie since horrible things took place in so many of them. It’s hard not to be moved and emotionally exhausted by the impact, so we walked back to the hotel, stopped at a cafe, rested and set out for Pizza and gelato in any Piazza that felt welcoming.

David was flying home Continental and we were flying American, or as I now refer to it, American’t airlines. We were supposed to take off three hours before David—it didn’t happen. When the pilot came on to announce that they found something dripping from an engine and they weren’t sure if it was water or oil, I knew we were in trouble. If they can’t smell the difference between water and oil, can you imagine they would know the difference between up and down. Anyway, we were down for the day and night.

By popular demand this shot of Soozie and the Tuscan trees...

OK. We were happy they found a problem before we were in the air. But we either were all adults or accompanied by adults and some simple truth would have made a big attitude difference. And speaking of attitude, the crew of flight 285 was the nastiest group of staff people I have ever experienced and that includes political campaign staff. Once they took us off the plane and put us on a bus to some obscure hotel halfway between the airport and the city (without access to computers and only one phone call permitted), we never saw an American’t representative again. We had no idea what they were going to do with us—how we would be rescheduled, how long we would be delayed, where we would find the duty free they had confiscated before we left the airport, nothing important, nothing. In addition, their customer relations office was closed and there was no one at the airport. I kept trying to call because I left my old tape cassette recorder on the plane and was in the middle of listening to a book on tape, but could never reach anyone: they were very Lost at Lost and Found. At about 7:00 the hotel posted a notice that informed people that most of us would be picked up at 9am to go back to the airport for a flight at 12:30 However, Burnett and MacNelly (along with about 20 other people) would have to leave at 5, 6 or 7am. We were on the 5am list, but we had no idea why and there was no one to ask. So I waited until I knew David would be back in the US and I asked him what was going on. As you know, David is not an American’t Airline employee. From about 12-4am he tried to find out why and what was going on. He finally discovered that we were double booked on a 7am flight to Zurich then NY and the 12:30 Rome nonstop to NY—which meant if we got to the airport and didn’t want to go to Zurich, we would have to wait in the airport for 7 hours. We decided to cancel Zurich, take the 12:30 to NY, deep six the 5am bus and sleep until 9.

Once on the plane, which was the same equipment and the same snotty crew, we prayed for a timely takeoff. But they couldn’t find the headphones (the plane had been there, been cleaned and serviced—someone stole my tape and recorder—for at least 24 hours) AND SO WE WERE DELAYED FOR ANOTHER HOUR, which in the overall bleak picture was nothing. But it was especially annoying because, being the observant person I am, I saw they couldn’t find the headphones, but the pilot came on to announce that we would be delayed for additional safety concerns. You can imagine how we all felt about this plane and safety.

We were determined not to let this dreadful departure impact in any way on our wonderful trip, and it didn’t. But I can tell you there were many people who did wait seven hours for the flight, there were some who were rescheduled to places they did not want to go and there were a number who were bumped from Business to Coach and they were busily writing to the airline customer service people, canceling their American’t credit cards and looking for alternative airlines for future trips. We are probably among the latter. Bottom line: See Rome the day you arrive in Italy, or skip it altogether. Get up early in (say….) San Casciano.. drive to the airport, turn in the car, leave. Rome has it’s charms, yes, but the level of tension is that of a big city, not a little country village. Go for the Village, and you’ll never go wrong. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, October 09, 2006

Be Still My Heart!

It’s hard to believe that you can feel at home halfway around the world in a totally different culture, but that’s the way we feel about San Casciano dei Bagni. As I mentioned in my last blob (you do have to keep up to feel well informed!), it is the other place where I want my ashes scattered—but here, if you disperse them over the wall, the wind will take them to the hills of Tuscany—so there is no bumper sticker issue.

We found San ‘Cash’ because we were looking for a house in Tuscany and David Fisher had been at a party with a chef who went to Tuscany to cook for some rich people, and they had stayed at ‘Ambra’s house’-- which is the place we rented. The house was great but certainly not elegant or the kind of place you would bring a chef. It was a farm house with a few bedrooms and baths, a vine-covered outdoor dining table, and a pool. And why you would bring a chef to Tuscany, to a town with three sensational restaurants (one in partnership with Joe Allen) remains a mystery to me. But that doesn’t matter. We rented the house and tried to become part of the community. We were unsuccessful until we met Gianna Bologna.

Gianna and DB in San Cash

On paper she is a real estate agent, but in reality her family owns the local castle and she is Italian royalty. She wanted her daughter, Federica, to learn to speak English and we thought it would be great for Jordan to learn some Italian.

San Casciano from the Ramparts (this is where DB gets to start pouring the boiling Oil over the side)

(Jordan spoke English with a perfect Italian accent but we wanted more.) Anyway, we thought it would be great for the kids to bond – which they did, but neither learned one word of the others language. It was astounding to see the physical contortions they went through to communicate, but they managed to make clear what they wanted and we all became friends. Now the girls are 20, and Federica has spent a year

Fede and Iris

in San Diego, so it was a wonderful surprize to hear the nearly perfect English pour forth from her. She has her father’s magical smile, and her mother’s illuminated eyes.

The village of San Casciano is perhaps typical of your small Tuscan hill top village in many ways. There are hundreds of years of history in the walls of this town. For the past few years the townsfolk have celebrated some of that history with their own version of the famous Paleo. The Paleo, the twice-a-year horse race which takes place in the main square of Siena every summer, is a tradition which has captivated Italians for centuries. The various “contrado” or neighborhoods each sponsor their own horse and rider, bedeck them in gorgeous brightly colored silks, and race for their lives. (It is said that losing riders, fearing the wrath of their supporters, sometimes just keep riding out of town at the end of the race to avoid being pummeled by disappointed fans.) In San Casciano, whose piazza is perhaps a bit tiny for such a race, they have altered the art-form. Instead of a dozen horses racing up the windy stone road, a half dozen men, dressed in the traditional silks from their ‘contrado’ each push a wheel barrow with a live frog perched on a mound of dirt. The crowds, we are assured, go wild, cheering their favorite frog and runner, hopeful that the frog won’t freak out, and leap OUT of the wheelbarrow, forcing the runner to stop his ascent, grab the reptile, and replace him on his ride.

We found a ceramic frog in the Crocetta garden, and while he won’t be riding in the San Cash Paleo anytime soon, his mere presence was an inspiration to us all.

On that same first trip we met Andrea and Christina Leotti. They owned a small B&B and restaurant close to our villa.

A foggy morning view from La Crocetta

The first time we went Jordan had pici Bolognese (pici is that great Tuscan rough hewn spagetti like pasta) for dinner, and a second plate for dessert. Needless to say, that endeared her to them forever.

The curtains in Room 8, La Crocetta

Their B&B simply cannot be described as just a B&B. Over the last twelve years we have not only stayed there, Andrea and Christina have crafted cooking classes for us, and they have become a part of our family.

The Palace Guard at the Crocetta kitchen

(Note to cat lovers: You know who you are -- the Crocetta Cats, all eleventeen of them may actually deign to let you pet them. Not assured, but it ‘s possible. Let the record show that on our departure, Celestino – a semi Siamese – leapt into Pablo the van, and had to be coaxed outside by no less than Iris herself.

Celestino trying to make his escape to Rome

He would NOT have been happy in Rome.) We adore them. If you want a real Tuscan experience they will teach you how to cook but they will also show you how the olives are pressed for oil, how the grapes are stomped for wine and how cheese was made in the 15th century.

Cristina & Andrea & the 'traveling squad'

If you are planning a trip anywhere between Florence and Rome La Crochetta should be on your list for places to stay. [agriturismolacrocetta@virgilio.it ]

Whenever we are in Italy we make it a point to see our friends in San Cash. We were especially fortunate this trip because Gianna, Giorgio (her handsome and charming husband ,) Federica and Francesca (the brillant and gorgeous daughters), were in San Cash. So we got to see all our friends during the three days we were there. Did I mention that they own a castle and a twenty by forty foot thermal bath (the castle being the priority in this sentence)? Well they do and that’s probably part of the reason we were accepted by the community; during our first visit some twelve years ago. If the people in town know that the people who have occupied the castle for a couple of hundred years, think you’re OK, then you’re probably OK. It is amazing what ‘who you know‘ can mean in a rural village—but as I said, Joe Allen is the only other American that has been somewhat welcomed in the community and that’s because of business. I like to think we’re part of the in crowd because of love and respect.

We spent days luxuriating in the beauty of the area with one day spent trying to take pictures in Foiano at the Monday market. Last year, when we went to the market in Foiano (we had been there five years before and found a wonderful bakery) David decided the faces of the old men would make a terrific story. So we convinced Andrea he should come (he’s a great sport and was happily convinced to join us for an adventure) and off we went to do the ultimate portraits of Tuscany story –“The Faces of Foiano”. It was a total bust. None of the faces wanted to be on film. People in small towns don’t trust anyone they don’t know. He did get a couple of nice pictures of a fat cat, but that was about all he shot. It didn’t matter. We bought salt bread (fried) from the bakery, found a few good bargains, and went back to San Cash having learned some valuable lessons about what doesn’t work in a photo shoot. One of those lessons is: always encourage Andrea go directly to the kitchen and do his magic. Our photographic disappointment was leavened by some wonderful cheese crepes which came leaping out of a wonderfully aged black pan.

Two of these fixes just about anything

Lets’ get back to the successes. The meals were sensational. Daniela, who owns the Bar Centrale (there is also a “Bar Centrale” in NY on West 46th street as part of the Joe Allen complex) has opened a pizzeria which is terrific.

Even without a plate (draw your own) it's delicious
The stylish new hall of ‘za is centered around an amazing wood burning oven, and produces that thin, crunchy, crispy, minimalist pizza which makes you wonder if there isn’t a Billion dollar business in the states trying to make pies like this. Pizza Hut, watch out! Even without a plate, a slice of this pizza is a creation to behold.

La Crochetta remains one of the best unacclaimed kitchens in Italy. The magic that Andrea does with his fried whole sage leaves is sublime. And there is no shortage of good roadside eateries (and a place to buy truffles), in Fabro and Montepulchiano (the Fattore – a huge bbq style place with wonderful hillside views, and chicken squished by a truck. Well not exactly squished, but… pressed, and delicious.) The wine – house variety, without a label - anywhere you go. And that seems to work for us. (Although we still love the Lungaratti wines, which are Umbrian not Tuscan).

Suzie, Federica, Iris, Francesca, Gianna

I could go on and on, which in fact I have. But whenever I think about going back to this miraculous place I simply feel, San Casciano di Bagni, be still my heart! We’re just sayin...Iris/David

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Just Like Romeo and Juliet

There are only a few places where I would like David to scatter my ashes – after I die. Two of them are in Italy. Making the decision about what you want done with your body, when you finally expire—as opposed to everyday, is not an easy task. I told my beloved that I want to be cremated and then have half my ashes divided into little film cannisters (if they are even available in a few years), give each canister to a friend and let them scatter me in a place where they have a fond memory of me. The other half should be divided among family and places I loved. One of those should be Pienza, where they filmed Romeo and Juliet, and another should be San Casciano dei Bagni in Tuscany. I will talk about the latter, later.

Your humble Authors on the Ramparts of Pienza

We discovered Pienza on our first trip to Italy as a family. We rented a house with six friends. The house was on a farm in San Casciano on the Tuscany-Umbria border. Jordan was eight. Everyday we would awaken at about 9 and look for a new adventure. Sometimes that meant we would drive to a new village to see a simple but majestic Duomo or we would find an outdoor market or a few nice indoor shops. Sometimes we would hop on a train for Rome or Florence. If the weather permitted a few days were spent just searching out the best sunflower field. The rest of the time was used touring a local winery or drinking a latte. If we were driving we would usually have yet another lunch at a roadside café and then head back to the house for a nap and a swim. We discovered Pienza on one of those adventures.

When you walk through the stone gates it’s like going back to the 14th century. You can almost see the Capulets and the Montagues walking about, pontificating about some silly thing-- like why their fifteen year olds had to be pledged in marriage to people other than Romeo or Juliet. Let’s be honest, if they had encouraged the kids to be together they would have hated each other. Has anyone ever had a kid who did what their parents wanted them to do? Of course not, but where’s the romance in a successful teenage marriage?

Anyway, it’s a wondrous place; cool and misty in the morning, sunshiny bright during the day, orange and glowing at sunset, and starlit in the evening. The best part is that it doesn’t feel like it belongs to today. Despite the hundreds of tourists who swoop into town everyday, it still feels like what we think a medieval town should feel like. Despite the crowds it feels quiet, it feels like yesteryear. It is a tiny walled city with narrow streets and not very tall buildings – most of which are now occupied with cheese or chatchka shops.

Soozie and Iris at the overlook bar..below: the parking lot
There are a few terrific places to eat, my favorite being the Latte di Luna restaurant. First course was pici (the local fresh pasta) with truffles.

a plate of truffled pici (partially attacked already)
This was followed by a crispy roast pig and completed with panna cotta for dessert. We drank house white, red, and vin santo, but I almost can’t remember in what order because it was the encore to our sun setting wine indulging event.

Soozie and D. having a glass at sundown
Which brings me back to the ashes, because I thought that at the end of the via Della Amore, which is on the village ramparts, was where I wanted to be scattered. But it overlooks a parking area and I don’t want to be carried away on a bumper sticker. So we scoped out a new place, and I feel much more relaxed about the plan.

In all the years we had been visiting Pienza we had never stayed overnight so we had missed the silence of the night and the tranquility of the morning. Both were a treat.

the trees of Pienza at the end of a day
We stayed at Arca di Pienza, a lovely B&B right outside the gates. The proprietors were gracious and treated us like family—but without the yelling. When we were ready to leave the 94 year old tio came outside to supervise the packing of the car and to offer words of wisdom. When Soozie told him he looked wonderful for a man of his age he agreed and thanked God for the blessing of life, family, and tourists. It is a place not to be missed, or for that matter, to be scattered. We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A? Q? M? ah, they're all the same..

Where Eez Zee @ Booton?

Go Ahead, just try and type 40 wpm on this!!

A major story carrying its weight on paper and screen this week in Europe has been the announcement of yet another delay in the delivery date for the giant Euro plane known as the Airbus 380. This double-deckered advancement in technology and marketing will ferry upwards of 650 back and forth to Mecca, Burbank, or even Toulouse. To my thinking (I’m writing this in 16B – a bulkhead thank goodness – of a Delta flight from Rome to Kennedy) an addition of another 350 international travelers to the mess already surrounding me wouldn’t necessarily count as a move in the right direction. Tech problems seem to be slowing the delivery of the plane down (for one thing, they have to remember that, as in New York apartments, one persons foot fall is another persons rattle in the attic) threatening the sales program already in place. Emirates Air is thinking about dumping half their order of 45 planes in favor of the new version of the 747, Boeing being only too happy to try and slide a banana peel under the feet of the Airbus folks. If that happens, well, there could be a rush to the door. For most of us, it won’t be much of a big deal. Getting on a plane these days which is mostly full is no picnic under any circumstance. But I wonder if there isn’t something which has been overlooked in all this tumult about the A380.

Last week we were in Langon, a small Southwestern village on the Garonne river – near Bordeaux - which bears the notoriety of being the last place that Airbus parts arrive by water. Since it IS a Euro project, everyone gets a piece of the pie. Wings built in one place, fuselage another, tailplanes in yet a third. Wales, France, Germany and who knows who else all get into the act. Then, in what must be quite a sight, the separate bits are put on barges and floated up the Garonne, en route to the final assembly plant in Toulouse. (Toulouse was conveniently chosen because it has no port, nor inland waterway access. But the Cassoulet is fantastic.) In Langon, they are taken off the barges, mounted on giant trucks, and driven late at night on roads closed to the public for the occasion. Doling out the work isn’t a bad idea, but you sure have to hope the parts fit when they get to Toulouse. I suspect there has been at least once when an overly tight landing gear fitting had to be greased with the bottom of a confit de canard jar. A little cassoulet schmear, and those parts will glide together better than a shot glass of WD-40. But I suspect there may be another culprit in this episode of technological challenge.

Unless you have spent an unfortunate few minutes at a French “Internet Point”, you probably have no idea what a disadvantage awaits the Gallic engineer. The keyboard, drawn from the design of French typewriters, is an absolute mystery. Yes, each time I sit at a French set of keys, I can see Geoffrey Rush’s character from Shakespeare in Love, skulking around in a feathered hat a la 3 Musketeers, whispering…. “it’s a mystery…it’s a mystery.” For indeed it is. Most of us live in an QWERTY or ASDF world, those being the first keys on the left side of the keyboard. Those of us old enough to have learned typing on a typewriter, made a pretty snappy transition to the computer, where you never have to hit unless it’s a new paragraph. And for the most part, the places where your fingers rest prepare them for the work at hand. Most of the popular keys are easily found, and easily struck. But on a French keyboard, you take your sanity into your hands. Literally. Just a couple of examples. Our “A” key is a “Q” on the French keys. I don’t know about you, but I use A much more than Q. Of course we aren’t always asking Quand, Quelle, or Qu’est ce Que, I agree. But still, I vote for “A”. And don’t ASK about the simple Period. It requires Shifting to hit a simple DOT, as in DotCom. And should you be left wondering how to address an email, the @ -- well that one I never did figure out. It shares the ‘ and “ key – nestled in the lower right hand corner of that key, but with no obvious way of making actually appear on screen. I think there is probably some combination of ALT , Control, and Option, but I found it easier to get into an email, and just copy the @ symbol from the address. Now really. It’s no wonder they can’t figure out where the cassoulet grease goes, they’re so busy trying to figure out how to describe it on their keyboard, waiting for another of the Euro barges to float a proper keyboard on a barge up the Garonne, transfer it to a 40 ton Iveco truck, and drive the damn thing to Toulouse. If they want to keep the Emirates order, they ought to do just that. We’re just sayin. David

Buon Giorno, Italia

The driving always takes longer than you think it’s going to take. We figured it would take us about six hours to get to Verona. It didn’t. In fact, we never got to Verona. We had been driving about four hours when we passed over the border into Italy. It is impossible for me to be in Italy for more than an hour without having something to eat and a glass of wine.

Iris and Soozie at a typical Cinque Terre sunset

I should confess that although I think the wine in both France and Italy are delicious, I’m an Italian wine kind of girl. I’ll explain that after also admitting that an overall generalization covering wines from two fairly large nations does sound a bit superficial—OK stupid. But I am an Italian wine kind of girl because drinking Italian wine, especially in Italy seems a whole lot less complicated. Here’s what I mean. When you tour a small winemaking village in France you hear about all the subtleties of the taste and they charge great sums of money. When you visit a small winemaking village in Italy they tell you the cost is reasonable and you should drink as much as you want.

Our first stop in Italy was for lunch at restaurant in Arma Di Taggia, which is very close to San Remo. The restaurant is owned by friends who had a place in Hudson, New York and decided to relocate to the village where Franco grew up. We arrived a little after lunchtime which was terrific because we had a chance to catch up with Franco and his wife Sharon. (near San Remo, it’s called “ ristorante Giuan – www.giuan.it) Of course we ordered before we talked and had fish, pasta, salad and some of that simple Italian wine about which I spoke. It’s hard to tell you what it was because we always order the local wine which comes in a glass or hardly elegant carafe.

We had gotten a late start out of Provence and David was too tired to drive much further. When David gets behind the wheel in Europe he becomes “macho macho man” and the girls are relegated to being passengers and navigators—I am an excellent navigator and am thinking of it if my writing doesn’t become profitable. We called Verona and although very disappointed, realized any attempt to get there would be futile. With apologies to our generous cousin Joe we decided to look for a place that was closer and we had never been. We decided to look for a place in the Cinque Terre region, five towns where people hike up and down very steep hills.

GianLuca with morning coffee at the Giada della Mesca in Levanto..
Very steep. As in, “don’t lose your footing or you’ll slide back to town #1” steep. Hiking was not exactly on our agenda, so we stayed in the sixth town, charming hillside, seaside place called Levanto and took the train from town to town.

Unadvertised Special: Popeye turned up in the rail station at Monterosso. Looking for Olive, no doubt

And speaking of the train, it was filled with Americans—it’s October for Gods sake, don’t people have to go to work? There we were, chatting blithely about not hiking and to which town we would take the next train, when there appeared two rather hefty women who we will call the Lee sisters (Ugh and Beast, Mot was in another car). They swooped into the car and landed on two seats across from us. There was a man sitting in the third of a four seat arrangement. When he felt them sit down, (he had closed his eyes and was clearly praying they wouldn’t) he shmushed himself against the window and almost disappeared. They hardly noticed his demeanor and turned their attention to us. For whatever reason Ugh Lee felt it was important to share a story about how, when she was somewhere in France, she knew a bathroom was an immediate necessity and she raced into the most elegant restaurant where a waiter, all in white with napkin over arm, rushed her to the immaculate toilette. TMI (too much info) doesn’t begin to describe our reaction. All we could picture was this enormous American screaming about a bathroom and a terrified French waiter hoping she would not run him over.

Sunrise thru the terrace doors, Levanto

We visited a few towns and walked a few hills but never over exercised – or broke a sweat. We did run into the Lee’s getting off an elevator which, they informed us, was much preferred to walking up any hills. It reminded me of when Joyce Kravitz and I visited the Great Wall in China. About 12 guys with rickshaws followed us up the thousands of steps, hoping we would relent and let them carry us. It never happened and when they realized they weren’t going to make any money and had wasted their time they screamed about us about being foreign pigs. We were happy we walked. I guess that is why it reminded me of that episode – who can figure what goes on in my addled brain.

One of those sunsets: did someone say "Three white wines??"

We had great sunsets and a wonderful balcony to see them. Although it was out of town they provided an ‘at your service shuttle back and forth into town. It was the best of both worlds and if we didn’t have a million other places to see we would absolutely go back.
www.lagiadadelmeso.it. We’re just sayin…

A Week in Provence

The trip from our meal in Bordeaux to our next meal in Carcasonne, was somewhat without incident. David, having been there in 1960 remembered that Carcasonne, a 13th century walled city was quite extraordinary. So we doubled back from the highway, parked the car in a lot not unlike Arlington National Cemetery, and began to search for some chow. It was about 2:00 and we were starved and just wanted a quick bite. But it was France and not uncomplicated. The omelet place we stopped at first did not serve omelets after one. The second place was about as unfriendly a tourist dive as we had ever visited. After years of travel and eating out we have learned that if the Karma is bad the food can’t be good so get out. But we waited and waited and until we got up to leave, the waitress failed to acknowledge that we were sitting at a table she was supposed to serve. As we walked out she attacked David to see if he was Spanish or German (surprisingly she listed 3 or four countries and never mentioned the U.S). He was just short of asking her if she were the Gestapo, but we were too hungry to start a war. Finally, we spotted a raggedy guy eating a pizza in the middle of a courtyard and figured that was where we wanted to be.

After lunch we trekked on to our next meal, which was to be with new friends, Michael and Sarah Brown. They run a program for would be chefs and aspiring historians called, “A Week in Provence.” (http://www.week-in-provence.com )Sarah is not only a gourmet chef and brilliant historian, she is also and engineer and has a PHD in archeology. Michael, who was a pal of Soozies when she worked as a bartender (a few years ago), was a successful Washington lobbyist gone good. And he too, has a most interesting background. Back to the important stuff.

With Michael and Sarah at Les Martins
You will note that in order of our priorities gourmet chef is right at the top. Despite both their laudable accomplishments, they are ‘just plain folks’ who are enormous fun.

Misa, the Browns ever faithful dog, attending a lunch in La Fontaine
Their program, which is housed in a wonderful farmhouse surrounded but their vineyards, cherry trees and an olive grove, includes touring the magnificent countryside and learning the simplicities of Provencal cooking.

An Almond Joy of a different kind

It’s a great place to take a break, eat wonderful food, drink plenty of their wine and relax.

Lavander, for sale by the Cartful, in La Fontaine
We only spent two nights, which was not enough time but was packed with non stop chewing, conversation and laughter. Sarah whipped up some of the greatest meals we have ever experienced, (she insisted some were merely leftovers), including a winter salad with homemade mayonnaise topping the hard cooked eggs and the largest selection of cheese I have ever seen served on a platter.

Le Mayonaisse (or is it La?)
You are probably wondering if we will need extra seats to fit on the plane.

Michael amid the smoke of a Lamb-roasting set of coals

Well, thank God Soozie and I are traveling on free business tickets and David can disappear anywhere.

An actual duck moment in La Fontaine: No Photoshop used in this picture!

And speaking of God, La shana tova for all you who understand what that means. The two days passed too quickly after a teary au revoir we headed out for our next meal. We’re Just Sayin…Iris