Archive for December, 2009

Paris Dinner x 2

December 30, 2009 1 comment

Frisée salad, Thoumieux

[Courtesy of Lonely Planet]

I suggested in my long-delayed post on Rome earlier today that I was ready at last to move on from our European trip. And I am. But not before saying a few words about the two dinners we had in Paris on the eve of our return to the US. I promised to say something about our Paris meals in my post a month ago on our overnight train ride from Milan to Paris. In fact, I started that post anticipating that I would discuss the meals, but instead got sidetracked by the exciting tale of our late evening wait in Milano Centrale for the train and the complications the next morning of reaching the Hotel Lancaster because the Champs-Elysées was closed to traffic so that Sarkozy and Merkel could jointly commemorate the 1918 armistice. (It was November 11.)

Let’s move ahead.
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Categories: Family, Food, Restaurants, Travel

Farewell, David Levine

December 30, 2009 Leave a comment

[David Levine, from the NYT, courtesy of Forum Gallery, New York]

We have spent the year with David Levine, thanks to The New York Review of Books‘s David Levine 2009 Calendar. Some months have been better than others. Eleanor Roosevelt April — good. Edouard Manet May — better. George W. Bush November — well, at least we were in Italy, Paris, New York, and Chicago through the evening of the 16th.

Our time with David was due to end tomorrow. But with his death yesterday, we must sadly say a double farewell.

Be sure to review the slide show that accompanies his NYT obituary.

Mr. Levine was as distinct an artist and commentator as any of his well-known contemporaries. His work was not only witty but serious, not only biting but deeply informed, and artful in a painterly sense as well as a literate one; he was, in fact, beyond his pen and ink drawings, an accomplished painter. Those qualities led many to suggest that he was the heir of the 19th-century masters of the illustration, Honoré Daumier and Thomas Nast.

Especially in his political work, his portraits betrayed the mind of an artist concerned, worriedly concerned, about the world in which he lived. Among his most famous images were those of President Lyndon B. Johnson pulling up his shirt to reveal that the scar from his gallbladder operation was in the precise shape of the boundaries of Vietnam … .

And see too the very short note at the website of his long-time home, the New York Review. I join many in missing his commentary and his vision.

Categories: Art, Magazines

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

December 30, 2009 1 comment

I started this post weeks ago, and even then I started it by observing that I should stop writing about our time in Europe already. With that in mind, I have let it sit, but now I will finish it and post it. Then I can move on.

One reason to push forward with it is that I can’t resist making use of the title. How often can one write “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and mean it literally? (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, of course, is the title of the great 1962 Broadway musical starring Zero Mostel, with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim — the first musical for which Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics. My parents saw it, as they saw many Broadway shows of the time, and brought home the Playbill, which I looked at, as I would do whenever they saw a show. I couldn’t make much sense of the title at the time.)

Our version of “A Funny Thing … ” revolves around something we did that was really stupid. I could blame those crazy Romans for being disorganized, or insufficiently clear in the information they provide. And they didn’t exactly help. But I’ll take responsibility.
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Categories: Stupidity, Travel


December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Three years ago tomorrow, I got a new car. Thus, today marks the end of three years of service. I got back an hour ago from a short outing with Joel, and I don’t anticipate going out again, so I can now calculate my annual — or monthly, or daily — usage over this time period. Yes, I know that this is of no interest to anyone else, but here goes.

The odometer reads 11,640. Dividing by 3, we find that I have averaged 3880 miles per year. And dividing that by 12, we find that I average 323 1/3 miles per month.

The thing is, I made a half-day round trip to Vancouver in the car’s first month, and since then two overnight round trips, all on university business at the University of British Columbia and each involving about 300 miles of driving. These trips distort the numbers. Subtracting 900 from the total, I find that I’ve done 10,740 miles of driving over three years, or 3580 per year, or 298 1/3 miles per month. That’s more like it.

Let’s just call it 300 miles of driving per month, or about 10 miles per day. Not much, huh? It helps that my drive to school is just over 2 miles. And it would be less if I didn’t have to drive all the way past campus to get to the appropriate entrance, then double back to get to the parking lot. At this rate, my car should last, well, I suppose pretty much forever. Its predecessor lasted two months short of 15 years, at which point it had about 76,000 miles on it. It could have kept going, but for the first time, it required an expensive set of repairs, and it had only one airbag, the standard driver’s airbag. I missed out on a front passenger airbag by one model year. Gail reminded me of its absence regularly. That car too might have lasted forever, but we decided to replace it. Maybe when my current car hits 15 years, there will be some standard and obvious safety feature that it will be missing.

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate the car’s third birthday. We have no special plans for it. Perhaps we’ll get a cake for ourselves.

Categories: Automobiles

Highway 443

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Route 443

[Ariel Jerozolimski, Jerusalem Post]

I’m on unfamiliar ground in this post, given my limited familiarity with the background, but I was heartened when I read Ethan Bronner’s report in the NYT this morning on the Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling today that Highway 443, “a major access highway to Jerusalem running through the occupied West Bank[,] could no longer be closed to most Palestinian traffic. In a 2-to-1 decision, the court said the military overstepped its authority when it closed the road to non-Israeli cars in 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian uprising. The justices gave the military five months to come up with another means of ensuring the security of Israelis that permitted broad Palestinian use of the road.”

It turns out that the road was built on land taken from Palestinian villages three decades ago. At the time, “the villages objected, saying they had no interest in a new road. But the military contended that the villages would be the main beneficiaries of the highway, and the court yielded to that argument, saying occupied land could be developed for the benefit of those living there, not for the occupiers.” Yet, since 2002, the presumed beneficiaries were barred from using the road.

The Jerusalem Post article on the decision quotes Justice Uzi Fogleman, who explains, “I was not convinced that the sweeping denial of the right of protected persons [i.e., Palestinians living in the West Bank under belligerent occupation] to use the highway, under the particular circumstances in this case, and especially given that the highway is primarily used for ‘internal’ Israeli use, properly balances the harm to human rights and security needs. The additional security achieved by the total prohibition is outweighed by the total denial of the right of protected persons to travel on the highway, which was [originally] planned for their needs, and paved in part on land expropriated from them.”

The case was argued on behalf of the Palestinian villages by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “Israel’s oldest and largest human rights organization and the only one that deals with the entire spectrum of human rights and civil liberties issues in Israel and the Occupied Territories.”

If you’re looking to make additional end-of-year contributions to worthy organizations, you might consider ACRI, to whom one can give directly or through the New Israel Fund. We did exactly that this afternoon.

Categories: Israel

Journalist Imprisonment

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

The New York Review of Books has a review by Louis Menand of the new Arthur Koestler biography “Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic” by Michael Scammell. (It was also the lead review in the NYT Sunday book review two days ago.) I read Menand’s review on the same day last week that Brian Stelter had a feature article in the NYT on the one journalist imprisoned at Guantanamo, Sami al-Hajj. This set up an interesting contrast, as I will explain.
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Categories: Journalism, Torture

Joel’s Arrival

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Joel landed in Seattle a week ago almost to the minute, ending a 48-hour journey from Grenoble. I wrote about the first half of the journey eight days ago in a post about his program in Grenoble’s having come to an end. But I never finished the story, and I also didn’t fill in some details Joel provided after he got here. Let me do so now.
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Categories: Language, Travel

Up in the Air

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

It’s hardly news that we don’t get out to the movies much. But we did yesterday. We saw Up in the Air. And it was superb, the rare movie we see that I feel good about seeing when we walk out.

I wasn’t too happy about seeing it when we walked in. We went to one of the downtown multiplexes and found ourselves in a small screening room. I didn’t imagine that a highly regarded movie in its third week of release would be relegated to such a small room. I didn’t count, but in picturing the room now, I figure there were about 8 rows. We sat in row 4 on the aisle. If we wanted to sit off the aisle, we would have had to sit in row 2. And when the ads came on, they were blasting. You know Dennis Haysbert, the actor who played President Palmer in 24 and was the lead in The Unit? He appeared in one of those Allstate Insurance ads, 10 feet high, just 20 feet away, and shouting at us. It remains a mystery to me why we have to watch ads at the movie theater. I remember seeing Taxi Driver at a movie theater in downtown Leeds in the summer of 1977, but only after sitting through ad after ad. I didn’t realize I was seeing our future. I just thought it was one of the oddities of those quirky English.

Anyway, after 25 minutes of ads and previews, the movie did start, and what a joy it was! George Clooney was wonderful, of course, but so too were his two co-stars, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. And he was almost always on screen with one or the other of them, ensuring one great moment after another. I will happily see it again. As an added bonus, the movie makes me eager to get on a plane.

Categories: Movies

Rock Band

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

With Joel home again, his video game platforms are back in operation. And with his receipt on Thursday of one of the versions of Rock Band for the Xbox 360 — The Beatles: Rock Band — we can now pretend to be John, Paul, George, and Ringo. I had never played Guitar Hero or Rock Band or whatever other variants there are before. I wasn’t entirely clear on what it is one does when playing them.

I know now. I’ve played the drums on the easy level on several Beatles songs, the guitar on easy level for a couple of songs, and the drums on the next level up from easy once. I failed miserably at that one non-easy experience. I don’t see myself participating too much. I doubt I’ll be cranking it up to play with Gail when Joel’s out of the house. But I’m sure I’ll be playing more, especially once we move beyond the Beatles. Some of these songs I’ve listened to enough for this lifetime, and maybe for the next one as well. Let’s bring on the Stones. Or for that matter, Led Zeppelin, whom I was just reading about in Rick Moody’s review in today’s NYT of Mick Wall’s new book, When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page I’m not. Obviously. But I’m ready to give Whole Lotta Love a try.

Categories: Music, Video Games

Chocolate Gourmet

December 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Controlling Coconut

In the NYT last month, Marian Burros had her annual list of ten recommended ideas for food gifts available online or by mail order. (To my immense annoyance, I can’t only find a link at the moment to an all-text version of the article, here. What I’m not seeing is the version with a photo of each recommended item and a link to it. In any case … ) One of the items was an “assortment of aptly described ”damn good cookies” with silly names: overprotective pecans, material macadamia, chubby wubby chocolate, etc.” from Chocolate Gourmet in Chicago. On further investigation, I learned that Chocolate Gourmet offers three lines of product: cookies, truffles, and rugelach. Moreover, by ordering the show them you care more assortment — or the still larger show them you care a lot! and show off assortments — you can get samples of each of the different cookies, truffles, and rugelach they make. They can all be viewed by going to the site and clicking on any of the cookies. For instance, go here, and once there, click on any item to read more about it.

We didn’t want to be show offs, so we ordered show them you care more for my parents. Based on their response, and the pointlessness of showing off to ourselves, whom we already care about a lot, we ordered the same package for ourselves. It should have come Wednesday, but the snow in the midwest must have delayed it. Tracking on FedEx showed that it arrived in Indianapolis Tuesday night and didn’t leave until late Wednesday afternoon. Fortunately, it arrived Thursday morning, so we have been able to enjoy its offerings through the weekend.

We’ve had other chocolate around the house. Perhaps for that reason I have confined my research to the damn good cookies rather than the ugly truffles or the rugelach. I’ve tried them all now. My favorites are the controlling coconut, described at the website as “crisp coconut encrusted cookie rolled in powder sugar.” They are probably the simplest of the bunch, but sometimes simple is all one needs. Honorable mention to overprotective pecan: “cookie coated pecan halves and bittersweet chocolate chips.” The chubby wubby chocolate might be a little too rich for me. They are “bittersweet ganache sandwiched by two soft, bittersweet chocolate cookies each studded with bittersweet chocolate chips.”

The only truffle I can remember trying so far is the hairy coconut: “creamy coconut ganache encased in white chocolate and rolled in toasted coconut.” Excellent. I have somehow resisted the gordito picante, whose description is the most intriguing: “smooth cinnamony Mexican chocolate warmed with chili spices and surrounded in milk chocolate and toasted corn tortillas.” Tonight.

If you’re looking for a New Year’s treat, give them a try.

Categories: Today's News