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Same As It Ever Was

October 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Fonthill Castle, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

[From the Mercer and Fonthill Museums website]

Another Sunday, another Vows column in the NYT. I’m addicted to them, as I have discussed before. One of the pleasures of reading them is letting the suspense build as I wonder whether this is the week the paper has chosen an ordinary couple as its newlyweds. Please, please, just a regular couple. Sometimes that hope is dashed the moment I see the couple’s names. Last week, for instance, the bride’s name — Allison Pataki — gave it all away. Yes, that Pataki, the daughter of the former governor of New York.

But this week looked promising, as I read about two physicists, a young American woman who went to Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy as a Yale undergraduate and met a Parisian who was then a postdoc at Brown. She’s now a postdoc at Harvard, studying neutrinos, he’s still at Brown, studying dark matter, and last Sunday they were married on the grounds of Fonthill Castle, pictured above.

Every Vows column comes with at least one outrageously silly line. This week’s was spoken by a colleague at Brown:

They are both cutting-edge physicists. They are so smart that, really, they can talk about things together that few people would even understand. I say that’s perfect.

We also learned that the “couple exchanged rings made of titanium (their favorite element),” the bridegroom’s sister “designed an invitation inspired by the freewheeling trajectory of subatomic particles in ‘bubble chamber’ experiments,” and the bride “left most of the planning of her wedding to her more humanities-minded mother, Rebecca Bushnell, the dean of the school of arts and sciences and an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania.”

The mother’s being Dean of A&S at Penn gave a hint that this might in fact not be all that ordinary a couple. But the punchline came when we learned that during the reception, updates were being given of the Jets-Patriots football game. It was explained that these updates were

meant particularly for Ms. Bushnell’s stepmother, Betty Wold Johnson, who is known as Granny to the bride and who is the 91-year-old mother of Woody Johnson, the Jets’ owner.

Some ordinary couple! The bride’s step-grandmother is a member of the Johnson & Johnson family, her step-uncle the wealthy owner of the Jets. And wasn’t it his daughters, the bride’s step-cousins, whom the NYT featured just three days ago in a big spread? Why yes it was!

Sigh.

Categories: Journalism, Society

Per Se

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment

[Daniel Krieger for The New York Times]

Whenever the NYT restaurant critic of the day offers a four-star review, I take note.

It’s take-note time! In tomorrow’s paper, Sam Sifton’s exalts Per Se. However tempted you are by his words, wait till you see the accompanying slide show, from which the photo above is taken. As for those words, Sifton gets right to the point, announcing, “So this is the best restaurant in New York City” and going on to say,

I make the argument unreservedly. I have eaten in restaurants five or more nights a week for the last two years, always in search of the best and most delectable, the most interesting and important. And I have come back again and again to Per Se to find it.

[snip]

[I]n recent years, and particularly under the kitchen command of Eli Kaimeh, who has been Per Se’s chef since early 2010, Per Se has matured. Its synthesis of culinary art and exquisite service is now complete. It represents the ideal of an American high-culture luxury restaurant.

There’s much more, including Sifton’s musings on the role of restaurants such as Per Se and the cost for such luxury. But you should read it all yourself, so I’ll quote no more.

Categories: Restaurants

Moroccan Fish Balls

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how much I’ll miss the Wall Street Journal’s arts/culture/wine/food/sports coverage when we soon stop taking the paper. (I won’t miss the rest and won’t miss Murdoch, the reason for canceling it.) Another gem appeared as the daily front-page feature (the A-Hed) a couple of days ago, Lucette Lagnado’s piece with news that fabled Jewish food producer Manischewitz was branching out from gefilte fish to Moroccan fish meatballs. Yes, the acme of Ashkenazi food was heading over to the wild Sephardic side.

For years, gefilte fish—plump little patties of minced fish—has been the Jewish holiday treat that some Jews love to hate.

[snip]

Even Paul Bensabat wasn’t that impressed when he tried it. “Boring,” he says. “Pretty bland.” And he’s co-CEO of Manischewitz Co., one of the largest producers of gefilte fish. When Mr. Bensabat and partners took over the 123-year-old company, they decided to spice things up. One idea: Moroccan fish balls.

[snip]

Mr. Bensabat, a Moroccan Jew born in Casablanca, had never tasted gefilte fish when he and his partner joined an investor who had acquired the company. Some Manischewitz fare hadn’t been a part of his upbringing. “I never grew up eating matzoh-ball soup,” he says. His childhood memories were of couscous and other dishes of the Mediterranean.

He started sampling jars of gefilte fish. Manischewitz makes more than 50 different kinds—sweet and not sweet, in jelly and in broth, to name a few.

His partner and co-CEO Alain Bankier, also Moroccan-Jewish and also from Casablanca, is more diplomatic. “It is an acquired taste,” he says.

They agreed Manischewitz needed to go beyond gefilte fish—and quickly. Sales of traditional gefilte fish in a jar were still a pillar of the business, but were steadily going down. Younger consumers favored other foods or brands. The company hadn’t produced new products in years when Messrs. Bensabat and Bankier joined it in 2008.

[snip]

Mr. Bensabat’s prescription was to branch out to Mediterranean fare—starting with his mother’s Moroccan fish balls.

The company’s food technologists at its headquarters in Newark, N.J., were mystified: They hadn’t a clue how to make Moroccan fish balls.

The solution: a cross-cultural, trans-Atlantic cuisine transplant, in which Mr. Bensabat would get the family recipe from his 83-year-old maman and Manischewitz’s cooks would translate it for large-scale production.

There were a few obstacles, starting with the fact that his mother, Claire Bensabat, lives 4,000 miles away in Nice. She speaks French and doesn’t use recipes or follow a cookbook to prepare her delicacies.

Her recipe for fish balls: Take a fish, and “add a little bit of cumin.”

Read the full story.

Now I’m eager to try the fish balls, or fish meatballs, as Manischewitz decided to call them. Manischewitz has a recipe for the meatballs at their website, along with the photo at the top of this post.

Also, accompanying the WSJ article is Mrs. Claire Bensabat’s Festive Sweet Couscous Recipe, along with this explanation: “Sweet couscous is a specialty of Mrs. Claire Bensabat, Paul Bensabat’s mother, that she loves to make; since she cooks by instinct, it was hard for her to come up with exact measures, but through the efforts of working together with her son, she produced the following recipe for The Journal.”

Gail, should we give it a try?

Categories: Food, Religion

Pan Am Clipper

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago, as an accompaniment to Nancy Franklin’s New Yorker review of ABC’s new TV show Pan Am, Jon Michaud posted a slide show of vintage airline ads. I looked at a couple, saved the link for later, and later came this morning. The ads date from 1947 to 1960 and are quite wonderful. I highly recommend a close look at all of them.

The Pan Am ad above, second in the slide show, is from 1949. So many details are worthy of a close look. Have a look also at the drawing below, which I found at the Pan Am Clipper Flying Boats site.

My first commercial flying experience would have been January or February of 1961. My father had a convention in Miami and decided we should all fly down from New York for a bit of vacation. I remember sitting by the pool at our hotel in Miami Beach and reading, of all things, John F. Kennedy’s Why England Slept. This is why it must have been 1961 — JFK had just been inaugurated and his books, re-issued, became best-sellers. Why England Slept was his Harvard senior thesis, written in 1940 about England’s failure to be ready for what became World War II. I found it incredibly dull, a combination of my being way too young and ignorant to read such books and, I suspect, the reality that the book really was incredibly dull. Not to mention that only a sucker or a child would believe JFK actually wrote the book.

Ever since, when I think of Miami Beach, I think of Why England Slept. As for the flight itself, what I remember was that we all dressed up for the occasion. The last ad in the New Yorker slide show, copied below, looks about right to me. And remained right some ways into the ’60s. Then it all changed. Fast.

Categories: Advertising, Clothing, Travel

Change We Can Believe In, XXIII

October 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Wall Street Tool

Sure, Obama’s a Wall Street tool. That’s not news. But this post isn’t about economic policy, banks, the relationship between Goldman Sachs and the Treasury Department, or any of that. It’s about education policy.

Four days ago I wrote about reading the third and latest of Martin Walker’s crime novels, Black Diamond, featuring that dear French police chief Bruno. Yet again, Walker connects life in a seemingly quaint rural village with the larger currents of national and international history and economy. It’s a wonderful book, and I eagerly await volume four.

But in the meantime, upon finishing the book this morning, I was free to get caught up on the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, which I proceeded to do by reading Diane Ravitch’s review of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools.

Ravitch takes strong exception to it, or rather to the “reform” efforts of Wall Street dandies that enthrall Brill.

Steven Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools celebrates the improbable consensus among conservative Republicans, major foundations, Wall Street financiers, and the Obama administration about school reform. …

Brill also lavishly praises the billionaire equity investors and hedge fund managers who have financed the reform movement, … .

The financiers of public school reform described here live in a world of spectacular wealth. They believe in measurable outcomes; their faith in test scores is greater than that of most educators, who understand that standardized tests are not scientific instruments and that scores on the tests represent only a small part of what schools are expected to accomplish. The Wall Street men have found a cause that is both “exciting and fun” and, as Curry IV puts it, “because so many of us got interested in this at the same time, you get to work with people who are your friends.” It is unlikely that any of them have close personal connections to public education, yet they have made it their mission to change national education policy. School reform is their favorite cause, and they like to think of themselves as leaders in the civil rights movement of their day, something unusual for men of their wealth and social status.

In 2005, the financiers formed an organization called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) to promote ideas such as choice and accountability that were traditionally associated with the Republican Party. They set out to change Democratic Party policy, which in the past, as they saw it, was in thrall to the teachers’ unions and was committed to programs that funneled federal money by formula to the poorest children. DFER used its bountiful resources to underwrite a different agenda, one that was not beholden to the unions and that relied on competition, not equity.

While it was easy for the Wall Street tycoons to finance charter schools like KIPP and entrepreneurial ventures like Teach for America, what really excited them was using their money to alter the politics of education. The best way to leverage their investments, Brill tells us, was to identify and fund key Democrats who would share their agenda. One of them was a new senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, who helped launch DFER at its opening event on June 3, 2005. The evening began with a small dinner at the elegant Café Gray in the Time Warner Center in New York City, then moved to Curry’s nearby apartment on Central Park South, where an overflow crowd of 150 had gathered.

… Brill writes that DFER sent a memo to the Obama team immediately after the presidential election, naming its choice for each position. At the top of its list, for secretary of education, was Arne Duncan.

It’s a wonder that Obama and Duncan doubled down on the bet Bush made on accountability based reform through No Child Left Behind. Mind you, I’m no expert on public education policy, but I’m convinced by a decade of evidence that NCLB has been a disaster, with its reliance on standardized testing and severe penalties for failure. I could say more. However, why not turn again to Ravitch?

Brill believes that teachers are the primary reason for students’ failure or success. If students have great teachers, their test scores in reading and math will soar. If they don’t, it is their teachers’ fault. Reduce the power of the unions, he argues, and bad teachers could be quickly dismissed. Of course, bad teachers should be dismissed, and many are. Fifty percent of those who begin teaching are gone within five years. … .

Unfortunately, Brill is completely ignorant of a vast body of research literature about teaching. Economists agree that teachers are the most important influence on student test scores inside the school, but the influence of schools and teachers is dwarfed by nonschool factors, most especially by family income. The reformers like to say that poverty doesn’t make a difference, but they are wrong. Poverty matters. The achievement gap between children of affluence and children of poverty starts long before the first day of school. It reflects the nutrition and medical care available to pregnant women and their children, as well as the educational level of the children’s parents, the vocabulary they hear, and the experiences to which they are exposed.

Poor children can learn and excel, but the odds are against them. Reformers like to say that “demography is not destiny,” but saying so doesn’t make it true: demography is powerful. Every testing program shows a tight correlation between family income and test scores, whether it is the SAT, the ACT, the federal testing program, or state tests.

Blame the teachers. And the unions. It’s so much simpler that way. And it keeps the campaign contributions rolling in.

One last quote, emphasis mine:

Brill’s book is actually not about education or education research. He seems to know or care little about either subject. His book is about politics and power, about how a small group of extremely wealthy men have captured national education policy and have gained control over education in states such as Colorado and Florida, and, with the help of the Obama administration, are expanding their dominance to many more states. Brill sees this as a wonderful development. Others might see it as a dangerous corruption of the democratic process.

Categories: Education, Politics

Chloé

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

[From the Chloé website]

Still another restaurant post, but maybe the last one for a while.

Two nights ago we ate at Chloé, a self-described French bistrot. I had suggested to our friend Kai the day before that we attend an event the next night at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. A new exhibit, Carnaval, opened last week, an exhibit that “highlights eight Carnival celebrations from communities in Europe and the Americas.” Saturday night there was to be a celebration of the exhibit, with music and food and special guests. I also suggested that we might eat dinner nearby first, and Kai in turn proposed Chloé.

Chloé occupies the space that for over two decades was the home of the popular Union Bay Cafe. We hadn’t paid much attention to its replacement until driving by last spring, when we caught its name and agreed that we should try it. We made a reservation for some upcoming occasion, perhaps Mother’s Day, then found ourselves needing to cancel. Thus, Kai’s proposal was a welcome one.

Given the museum event, we had to eat early. When we arrived at 5:30, we had the place to ourselves. That would change. It was nearly full on our departure at 7:15. The menu is a small one, faithful as best we could tell to the mission of duplicating a French bistrot. There’s a section given over to mussels. The entrées include trout amandine with haricots verts, poulet rôti, hanger steak, steak frites (or, more precisely, medallions of beef in a green peppercorn sauce with french fries). Appetizers include a duck leg confit and frogs legs.

The soup of the day Saturday was potato leek. Kai and I had that while Gail had the onion soup. Kai and I agreed that our soup was excellent. Gail seemed pretty happy with hers. For dinner, Gail ordered one of the specials, lamb chops with potatoes au gratin. I was tempted, but went instead with the medallions of beef. What did Kai have? I’m picturing something pink, like a beet risotto, with scallops on top. Maybe so. It would have been the other special entrée.

Once again, we were all happy with our selections. I hadn’t had french fries in a while. I loved mine. And the beef was good too, in a delightful peppercorn sauce. I don’t know where they get their bread, but it was fabulous.

The museum and its off-season celebration of Carnaval beckoned. No crème brûlée for me. But not to worry. We’ll be back. I remarked to Gail as we got into the car that if Chloé were in our neighborhood, I’d eat there all the time.

By the way — funny thing about that. We have more than our share of French restaurants in the commercial strip of the nearby neighborhood known as Madison Valley, just over a mile’s walk away from here. I have written often about Rover’s, perhaps the best French restaurant in Seattle, and its newer, simpler sibling Luc, Chef Thierry Rautureau’s take on French bistros. Across the street from them are two more French restaurants, La Côte Crêperie and Voilà. I have written about La Côte Crêperie, though not lately.

Voilà? I never wrote about it, for the good reason that I’ve never been there. Gail has urged me to try it. I figured I was happy enough with the other three. I didn’t need to. Not a very intelligent response. Plus, if we don’t want to walk, it can be hard to park in that neighborhood, a fact that doesn’t seem to stand in the way of our getting to Rover’s, Luc, or La Côte Crêperie.

Why have I resisted eating at Voilà? I have no idea. But guess what? It is in fact the older sibling to Chloé. The menu doesn’t look a whole lot different from Chloé’s. Several choices of mussels. Two steak frites options, the hanger steak or a New York strip. Duck leg confit. The menus are different, for sure, but with plenty of overlap.

Silly me — it would seem that Voilà is the answer to my pronouncement to Gail Saturday that I would eat at Chloé all the time if it were in our neighborhood. You may be seeing me at Voilà regularly now.

Categories: Restaurants

Poppy

October 2, 2011 2 comments

[From Poppy’s website]

Wednesday night was the start of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Normally, even the most minimally observant of Jews would go to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. I suppose I qualify as minimally observant. But over a decade ago, we began a variant tradition. We had already begun to celebrate assorted Jewish holidays with our friends Cynthia, Andy, and their family. One year, we were having Rosh Hashanah dinner at their house, welcoming the new year, when it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to both finish dinner and get to evening services. We went with finishing dinner. So began the tradition of eating dinner in lieu of services, then attending services the next morning.

We don’t adhere to this tradition every year, sometimes because travel intervenes. Last year, for instance, Rosh Hashanah came early (as part of the continuing back-and-forth drift between the lunar-based Jewish calendar and the solar-based calendar of our daily lives), so early that we were still on vacation in Nantucket. Gail and I attended the Rosh Hashanah evening services of Congregation Shirat Ha Yam, held in Nantucket’s historic Unitarian church, then grabbed a couple of slices of pizza for holiday dinner at Steamboat Pizza.

Which brings us to this year. The powers that be decided we would return to the tradition of building our Rosh Hashanah evening celebration around dinner. And rather than a traditional Jewish holiday dinner, we would open with ceremonial challah, apples, and honey at our house, then head to a restaurant.

So it was that we headed up to Poppy, where Gail had eaten before, but not the rest of us. What’s Poppy? According to its website,

jerry traunfeld’s capitol hill restaurant brings a new style of dining to the northwest. jerry’s inspiration comes from the “thali,” a platter served to each guest holding a variety of small dishes. poppy’s menu borrows the idea of the thali to present jerry’s own style of northwest cooking, highlighting seasonal ingredients, fresh herbs, and spices. it’s a modern northwest tasting menu served all at once.

Traunfeld is one of the northwest’s most famous chefs, thanks largely to his years at The Herbfarm. A visit to Poppy was long overdue.

I understood from studying the menu ahead of time that one chooses either a 7-item or 10-item thali. What I didn’t understand was how large each item was and whether diners were encouraged to share with others at the table or focus on their own thalis. Our server explained that we should each just choose our own thali. As for portion size, the 7-item thali has one primary dish, the 10-item two, and these are modest sized entrees, the other items serving as smaller complements.

The menu keeps changing. What you see online differs from what we had, though the current listing is close. There is also a selection under the heading to start. Each of us chose a starter from the list below:

spice crispies

eggplant fries with sea salt & honey

spiced fig, onion, blue cheese and sage tart

batata wada (potato fritters) with cilantro lime sauce

heirloom tomato, herb, feta and olive salad

little lobster roll fines herbes

lightly fried mussels with lovage

poached oysters with sorrel sauce and bacon

*half-shell kumomoto oysters with anise hyssop ice

lavender duck, radicchio, blackberry and hazelnut salad

washington farmstead cheeses with rye-thyme crackers

three spreads with naan

grilled monterey bay squid with arugula, walnut, peppers and orange

Namely, the eggplant fries, spiced fig tart, potato fritters, and lobster roll. We then shared a bit. I chose the potato fritters, anticipating that they might be like samosa, which they were, though much smaller, little balls. They were perfect. I had two of the four. And I had lots of eggplant fries, which were astonishingly good.

As for thalis, here are the current online choices.

10-item thali

king salmon with chanterelles, bacon and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce
grilled waygu beef with tomato, capers and fingerlings
red-pepper apricot soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
local roots carrots with fresh fennel seed
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn basil spoonbread
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

10-item vegetarian thali
cauliflower agnolotti with lobster mushrooms
quinoa cakes with goat cheese, squash blossoms, fillet beans and tomato
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn and basil spoonbread
sprouting broccoli with oregano
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

7-item thalis

king salmon with chantarelles, bacon and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
local roots carrots with fresh fennel seed
corn and basil spoonbread
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

tandoori poussin with fresh figs and huckleberries
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn and basil spoonbread
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

grilled wagyu beef with tomato, capers and fingerlings
red-pepper apricot soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
sprouting broccoli with oregano
golden beets with spice bread and mint
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

The first two items in the 10-item thalis are the main dishes, the first one in the 7-item the lone main dish. Wednesday, the actual main dishes in the 10-item non-vegetarian thali were the salmon, as listed, and the poussin, shown above as a 7-item main dish. I wanted to try the beef, and wanted some of the 10-item accompaniments, so I was stuck until the server said we could swap the beef salmon or poussin. That made it easy. I had the 10-item. Gail had the 7-item with beef. Andy and Cynthia chose 7-items with salmon.

It turns out that a 10-item thali is a lot of food. I should have copied Gail and chosen the 7-item beef thali. I somehow missed that the beef doesn’t come alone. As you see on the menu, it has its own accompaniments, the tomato, capers, and fingerlings. It is a min-meal by itself. Similarly with the salmon.

When the server brought our thalis, she explained that we should rotate among the dishes, using the pickle item as a palate cleanser. As listed above, I had peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle as my cleanser, but I only occasionally followed instructions. I did rotate. I only occasionally went to the pickle as an intermediary.

So many delicious items. The soup. The corn and basil spoon bread. The beets, and I don’t even like beets. The carrots. The naan. Everything was so good. I can’t wait to return.

And then there’s the garden, which is just outside the back door, between the building and a parking lot. Below is one image of it. See the website for more.

If I had gotten this post written more quickly (but, you know, it was Rosh Hashanah, and also I had a new book to read), you might be thinking, let’s see, Wednesday night, Wednesday night … wasn’t that the night when all those amazing baseball games were played, the night that will go down in history? You mean to say you were sitting in a restaurant instead of watching them all?

Yes, that’s right. The only consolation is that if we weren’t out to dinner, I would have been at services. Then again, we might instead have been eating dinner at one of our homes, in which case we surely would have switched over to watching the games in time for their dramatic ends.

Andy and I did get to check the scores on our phones. We did have some idea of the flow of the games. But we didn’t realize that Papelbon had two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, or that Dan Johnson hit his game-tying home run in Tampa with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. We didn’t really understand the extraordinary events unfolding while we were eating our thalis.

Fortunately, a half hour or so after we got home, I got on the treadmill and turned on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight just as they started a recap of the four crucial games. At least I got summaries and understood what we had missed. And it was my holiday. One must have priorities.

But Andy, I’m sorry. You sacrificed too much. There’s no way to make it up. Thank you for choosing Rosh Hashanah dinner over baseball.

Categories: Baseball, Restaurants

Black Diamond

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I wrote in mid-September about my discovery of the Bruno crime novels, written by Martin Walker. Marilyn Stasio reviewed the latest one in her Sunday NYT roundup of mysteries that appeared four weeks ago. We were at the start of our New York/Nantucket trip that weekend. When I finished Tripwire (part of my program of remedial reading of old Jack Reacher thrillers) on Nantucket a few days later, tempted as I was to read the third and newest Bruno novel, I turned instead to the first one, Bruno, Chief of Police. This is, of course, one of the benefits of e-books. All I had to do was look up the title, and a minute later I was reading it.

Bruno is not just chief, he is the entire police force in the small village of St. Denis. St. Denis lies in the Dordogne region, home of cave paintings, wines, truffles, and so much else that makes France France. He is also a man with a past, a veteran of the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. And he’s good company, both for the townsfolk and us readers.

No sooner did I finish Bruno, Chief of Police than I started in on The Dark Vineyard, the second of the series. I finished it two Wednesdays ago and was eager to start in on the latest one, Black Diamond, the one Stasio had reviewed a month ago. But I restrained myself, both because I had other things that needed doing and because the newest Jack Reacher thriller, The Affair, would be available the following Tuesday. Maybe it would make more sense to take a break from Bruno and read that first.

Which I did. As I reported here and here, I couldn’t put it down, finishing it last night. At which point I wasted no time downloading Black Diamond. After a night’s sleep, I started in on it this morning.

Black diamonds, it turns out, are truffles. Bruno has a keen interest in them, not only as a consumer, but also as a grower, and after just a couple of chapters of the new book, as an investigator of the local truffle market. I won’t say more about the plot. I don’t want to spoil anything.

The transition from Bruno to Reacher and back is not a smooth one. They do share many traits, most notably their mysterious pasts, their sharp intelligence, and the tendency of others to underestimate them. But Reacher is always drifting on, while Bruno has settled into life in St. Denis and become a part of the community. He takes time for some of the basics, like conversations with neighbors, cooking the most extraordinary meals, long lunches with wine. Not that there’s anything wrong with Reacher’s preference for diners and basic food. I just wouldn’t describe Reacher as good company. I’d be honored to know him. But I don’t see us hanging out much. Bruno — maybe we’d hang a bit.

Categories: Books

The Affair, II

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I agonized Tuesday night about whether to start Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher thriller, The Affair. I knew that once I did start, I wouldn’t want to stop. But I had far too many other things to do and couldn’t afford to let Reacher consume my life.

Well, I sort of handled it, for a while. I did start the book, reading just a little Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and a little more Thursday night, getting me about 1/5th through. I looked forward to reading a larger chunk Friday, but when I finally did turn to it, I fell asleep after a few pages, what with rising early and having a long day. It was just a nap. After awaking, I read another fifth.

That brought me to yesterday, a day in principle of chores, social events, and possibly blog writing. And more of the same today. I was calculating that I’d read maybe additional fifths each day and finish tomorrow night.

Reacher had other ideas. Like some of the book’s characters, I found him grabbing me by the throat and not letting go. I read some in the morning, went on some errands with Gail, read a lot more in the afternoon, and then we had to go out for a previously arranged dinner and museum event. I considered asking Gail if she thought I could bring the book to dinner, but I knew the answer.

Fortunately, Reacher relaxed his grip just long enough for our outing. On our return, I didn’t give him a chance to do any further damage. I dutifully read the book to its conclusion.

What a puzzle! I can’t figure out how Lee Child is so good at drawing the reader in. There’s the suspense, of course. There’s also something about getting to listen in on Reacher’s thought processes, watching as he struggles to make sense of the data and as he takes in clues you would surely have missed. How he developed unsurpassed skill in both logic and brawl continues to be a mystery, even in this 16th edition of the series, in which we learn at last about the end of Reacher’s military career and the start of the path we have followed him on for years since.

At least I have my life back. But I won’t complain when Jack grabs me again.

Categories: Books