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Archive for January, 2012

Baguette Justice

January 20, 2012 1 comment

I began 2011 with a post titled Food and Law, in which I referred to e-pal Leslie’s post on her dinner with Supreme Court justice Ruth Ginsburg. Leslie had a follow-up post yesterday regarding the “perfect baguette” recipe of Ruth’s late husband Marty.

It turns out that Marty Ginsburg was an excellent cook. Leslie was able to get Marty to reveal his baguette recipe over the phone, and she wrote it down for him to verify, which he did. That recipe, as then recorded by Leslie, was kept private at his request, but it has now appeared in Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, a book of Marty’s recipes assembled by other Supreme Court spouses. The book is published by the Supreme Court Historical Society and available at the Supreme Court gift shop.

Leslie has more about the Ginsburg baguettes in a post from three summers ago, where she describes them as “crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside … like the ones you get in France.” Indeed, she considers them “the best baguettes I have ever had outside of France.”

NPR featured the book in a piece a month ago with famed Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg, from whom we learn that

The idea for the cookbook, Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, came from Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Justice Samuel Alito. It hit her the day after Marty Ginsburg’s memorial service in 2010.

“One of my first conversations with Marty, in the fall of 2006, was about food and nourishment, and how satisfying an expression of love that it was for him,” she recalls. “And that, in part, led to the idea that we should put the cookbook together.”

The other Supreme spouses quickly agreed. They had often teamed up with Marty Ginsburg to provide the food for the monthly spouse lunches. But none of them had any idea what a large undertaking the cookbook would be.

First, a word about Marty Ginsburg’s love affair with cooking. It began, strangely enough, when he was in the army at Fort Sill, Okla., with his new bride, the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Neither of the Ginsburgs knew much about cooking then, but one of their wedding gifts was The Escoffier Cookbook, the bible of French cooking. And so Marty, a chemistry major, began at page one and worked his way through the entire volume. As he observed in a speech in 1996, there was method to his madness then and later.

“I learned very early on in our marriage that Ruth was a fairly terrible cook and, for lack of interest, unlikely to improve. This seemed to me comprehensible; my mother was a fairly terrible cook also. Out of self-preservation, I decided I had better learn to cook because Ruth, to quote her precisely, was expelled from the kitchen by her food-loving children nearly a quarter-century ago.”

Categories: Food, Law

Pieter Bruegel

January 19, 2012 3 comments

I mentioned throughout the fall that when the Wall Street Journal would finally stop being delivered (they kept delivering it long after I stopped paying), I would miss the book reviews, and the arts and culture coverage in general. Thanks to WSJ book reviews, I was led to two books that I would not have read otherwise, Robert P. Crease’s World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement and Max Egremont’s Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia. Add Larry Silver’s Pieter Bruegel to the list.

The last day the Wall Street Journal was delivered was December 23. A few days later, I used my iPad WSJ app to find out how much content was available, and sure enough, it knew I no longer had full privileges. But I discovered that I still had access to a significant amount, including most of the Saturday book reviews and the food-wine-auto coverage. On New Year’s Day, I checked online for the WSJ’s weekend reviews from the day before, and there was Jonathan Lopez’s review of Pieter Bruegel.

I can’t remember when I first became a Bruegel fan. One of his most famous paintings, The Harvesters, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — the cover of Silver’s book is a detail — but I can’t say I remember admiring it in my childhood. During a stay in Antwerp to attend a conference in 1978, with side trips to Bruges and Brussels, I fell in love with Flemish art. I began to read about it, made sure to stop by The Harvesters when in Manhattan, and checked out the Flemish paintings whenever passing through other major museums, such as the National Gallery in London. In 1983, I returned to Antwerp for another conference and spent more time in museums. In 1985, during our honeymoon, I arranged for us to pass through Antwerp for a couple of days between longer stays in Paris and Glasgow so Gail could share my little hobby. But I haven’t been back to Belgium since.

Regarding The Harvesters, here is its reproduction at the Metropolitan’s website:

The Harvesters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

And here is what the gallery label says:

This panel is part of a series showing the seasons or times of the year, commissioned from Bruegel by the Antwerp merchant Niclaes Jongelinck. The series included six works, five of which survive. The other four are: “The Gloomy Day,” “Hunters in the Snow,” and “The Return of the Herd” (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna); and “Haymaking” (Lobkowicz Collections, Prague).

This remarkable group of pictures is a watershed in the history of Western art. The religious pretext for landscape painting has been suppressed in favor of a new humanism, and Bruegel’s unidealized description of the local scene is based on natural observations.

For years, those Bruegel seasons paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum made me eager to visit Vienna. Three decades later, I still haven’t made it, and the list of places Gail and I want to visit keeps growing. Some day. In the meantime, perhaps I can content myself with the book. In the WSJ review, Silver writes that

“Pieter Bruegel,” a superb and sumptuous monograph by the scholar Larry Silver, is an object of beauty in its own right. This large-format volume presents all 40 or so of Bruegel’s surviving paintings and a wide selection of his drawings and prints in color plates that render tone and hue with scrupulous accuracy. Mr. Silver’s text offers an indispensable introduction to Bruegel’s achievement—in Mr. Silver’s phrase, “the epitome of naturalism in art, the climax of the Netherlandish tradition.”

The book isn’t cheap. List price $150.00. But only $91.30 from Amazon, in stock, a lot cheaper than a trip to Vienna.

Categories: Art, Books

Could Be Worse

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Above is Ted Rall’s cartoon from today, with the title “More Coffee” and the question, “What will be Obama’s sales pitch for 2012?”

If I were choosing, I’d go for the one on the left. It’s irrefutable. Can you imagine a McCain presidency?  Would we already have begun a war with Iran?  I’ll give Obama that. He has tread carefully, ignoring the war-mongerers.  

Then again, Obama has signed a law allowing indefinite detention of US citizens; he has claimed and exercised the right to murder US citizens; he has waged undeclared war on Libya, not to mention Yemen and Pakistan (if you consider killing people with unmanned drones an act of war); he has institutionalized domestic spying.

I could go on. But however long the list, one can’t escape the logic of the argument that it could be worse, an argument the Republican candidates reinforce every time they speak. A winning sales pitch for sure.

Categories: Politics

Parks on Writing

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

There’s a great little piece by writer and translator Tim Parks (author of the book pictured above) at the New York Review blog site today about writing within, or without, a home culture. Of particular interest are the contrasting examples he gives of students in his creative writing class — one writing a historical thriller about a culture foreign to him in time and place, another writing about a group of family and friends in England now — and the relative merits of their work. Before introducing these examples, Parks writes that

For most of us, the set of behaviors we call personality, or self, forms initially in a family of three, four, or five individuals, then develops as it is exposed to the larger worlds of school and, in our teens perhaps, our town, our country. The richness of our individual personalities is a measure of the complexity of the relations that sustain us. A word spoken at home or school can be dense with nuance and shared knowledge in a way unlikely to occur in a casual exchange at rail station or airport, however fascinating and attractive an exotic traveling companion may be. This is not an argument for staying at home, but for having a home from which to set out.

Parks’ observation is loosely connected to a claim I have often made to Joel, that I am his working definition of a normal adult. He may, over time, revise this definition, but he’s stuck with me as his initial frame of reference.

Here I am presuming to trod on Parks’ turf. Sorry about that. Let me back off.

Parks picks up his theme again later with reference to the two students:

If there is a problem with the novel … the problem is rather a slow weakening of our sense of being inside a society with related and competing visions of the world to which we make our own urgent narrative contributions; this being replaced by the author who takes courses to learn how to create a product with universal appeal, something that can float in the world mix, rather than feed into the immediate experience of people in his own culture. That package may work for some, as I believe my student’s account of dramatic upheavals in the Mongol empire will work for many readers; it has its intellectual ideas and universal issues: but it doesn’t engage us deeply, as I believe my other student’s work might if only he could get it right. And this is not simply an issue of setting the book at home or abroad, but of having it spring from matters that genuinely concern the writer and the culture he’s working in.

Parks’ article is provocative. And short. I suggest reading it in full.

Categories: Culture, Writing

Snowed In

January 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Our spruce tree

I don’t want to make too big a deal about the weather here this week. It’s not like we’ve gotten all that much snow, though other parts of western Washington did. And it’s not like getting snow is all that unusual, though some winters we don’t get any. (It’s typical when the colder winter storms move through that temperatures hover right at the rain/snow line, bringing snow to higher elevations or to areas a little outside Seattle that lack the dual moderating influences of Puget Sound and Lake Washington, with just traces of snow falling within Seattle.) But I have to say, it’s unusual to have six consecutive days of snow. And today’s sleet/ice/snow caught the forecasters by surprise.

I should explain or remind readers that snow tends to stop traffic in Seattle, especially when it turns to ice, because we’re a city of hills but not a city of plows. When I first moved here, roads just didn’t get plowed. Now the major roads do. But when snow is followed by falling temperatures and ice, the city comes to a standstill.

I wrote on Sunday about the early stages of this unexpected weather. On Saturday, it snowed briefly. I got in the car, dashed down to the local commercial neighborhood, and took care of some errands, but the snow had stopped before I got home. Sunday brought big snow in some areas, 3-4 inches here. Monday was cooler. Not too bad a day. No significant accumulations. The snow on the roads was packed hard and we kept the cars in. We walked down to the commercial neighborhood for lunch and to buy provisions. (Monday was a holiday, so getting to work wasn’t an issue.)

Tuesday was supposed to be the calm before the big storm on Wednesday. I drove to school, with temperatures in the high 30s. To my surprise, it was precipitating when I arrived, a sleety snow. By noon it was flat out snowing, and did so for a couple of hours. Very light, and with the temperatures still well above freezing, nothing stuck. From late afternoon through the evening, there was lots of melting. The drive home was easy, and at home I could hear melting water pouring through the downspouts.

The Wednesday storm (yesterday) was initially predicted, days ago, to be part of a big warm front with early snow followed by heavy rain and melting. Then it appeared that the storm would come through farther south, bringing very heavy snow here, on the order of a foot. By Tuesday night, the prediction was downgraded to 2-5 inches here, and that turned out to be about right. The big issue was whether I should get up early and walk in to school for class. Or could I drive? Or would school shut down, something it never used to do, but has in recent years in order to keep thousands of commuters off the roads? By 10:20 PM Tuesday there was no closure announcement, so I went to bed ready to get up early. But I awoke around 12:45 AM, reached for my iPad, and discovered I had missed the closure announcement, which had come through around 10:45 PM. No school. I shut the alarm.

The snow didn’t start yesterday until 4:00 AM, and never fell heavily here in Seattle, but didn’t stop until early afternoon, leaving another 3-4 inches on the ground. As predicted, snow was much heavier to the south, as much as 12-15 inches over southwest Washington. And still farther south, in Oregon, the warm front we were supposed to get had arrived, with temperatures of 50 degrees. An icy precipitation continued to fall later in the day, but nothing significant. Nonetheless, at 8:50 last night, the university announced a closure for today too. Today was supposed to be a transitional day, cold but with little precipitation, with warm air and rain finally arriving tomorrow.

Well, that didn’t happen. As local weather expert Cliff Mass explained this morning, everyone got the prediction wrong. What we got instead was an ice storm. Real bad to the south, where there are power outages. Not too bad here. But a complete surprise based on last night’s outlook. Still, as of this morning, the sleet was to stop by 1:00 PM this afternoon. Instead, it turned to snow, which is still falling. Gail and I walked down to the stores again a couple of hours ago, got some lunch, bought some food. It wasn’t too bad. Packed snow on the roads, crunchy snow where no one had driven or walked. The snow still falling is light.

We’re still supposed to get warmer weather starting tomorrow. Days of it, 40s and rain. This will all be gone quickly. The big question is whether the roads will be safe in the morning, before the warming and rain do their work. In particular, will the university close again? If it doesn’t, will anyone besides me show up to my class? It’s a disaster either way — missing yet another class, or holding a class to which few people come. With the Monday holiday, this whole week is turning into a disaster, making a mess of the start of the term.

I took the photo at the top with my iPhone on our return from this afternoon’s outing. Just for the heck of it, I offer a contrast below, a shot of Sankaty Head lighthouse in Nantucket taken last September as we cycled back from ‘Sconset to Wauwinet. I would say I’d rather be there, but, you know, it’s actually quite lovely here.

Categories: House, Weather

Forgotten Land and Bloodlands

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Europe in 1933

[Map credit: Mike King, in New York Review of Books]

I finished Max Egremont’s Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia two Saturdays ago and have intended to write about it since, but I’m struggling with what to say. I first wrote about it at the end of November, having been inspired to order it earlier in the month because of Andrew Stuttaford’s Wall Street Journal review, in which he wrote:

Max Egremont’s idiosyncratic, disjointed and beautifully written volume makes an ideal guide to this shifting, shadowy realm. In part a piecemeal history of the final half-century of German East Prussia, in part a travelogue through what was left behind, “Forgotten Land” is gently elegiac. Shifting constantly between present and a variety of pasts, it is as wistful as a flick-through of an old photo album, as melancholy as a rain-spattered northern autumn afternoon.

I commented at the time that I was “some 70 pages into Egremont’s book and thoroughly enjoying it.” But I then became distracted by a sequence of other books, returning to it intermittently but not making further progress until late December, at which point I wrote:

I’ve been slowly working my way through Egremont’s Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia in recent days, reaching not quite the halfway point yesterday. And what do you know? It’s reviewed by Richard Eder today in the NYT, not entirely flatteringly. I’ve been convincing myself that I enjoy Egremont’s meandering approach. A little World War I history here, a little World War II history there. A few words about one historical figure, then another. It’s not entirely clear why we spend so many pages in Ypres reading about British World War I war dead. Belgium’s a long way from East Prussia. But that’s the journey we sign up for when we read the book. Eder clearly has less patience for it than I do.

Will I make it to the end?

That Eder review almost stopped me in my tracks, given my eagerness to get to the books I had lined up to read next. Fortunately, I kept going — fortunately because of the astonishing tales that awaited me. In the latter stages of the book, the focus is on the lives of selected residents of East Prussia in the buildup to World War II, during the war itself, and in its immediate aftermath. We’re talking about land that passed back and forth in complicated ways between Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and the Soviet Union.

A chapter is devoted to the historic German city of Memel, now the Lithuanian city of Klaipėda. A recurring character in several chapters is Walter Frevert, an East Prussian forester who becomes the head forest master for Hermann Göring. Göring, of course, would become the head of the German Air Force, but when the Nazis initially came to power in 1933, he was put in charge of Prussia, coming often to East Prussia to hunt. As we learn, Frevert’s responsibilities grew as Göring expanded the forest holdings in Germany’s eastern lands. Expansion might mean, for instance, forcibly moving Poles from their villages to be re-settled farther east and then razing the villages, an operation Frevert oversaw. Frevert would take on forest duties in West Germany after the war and become a popular figure, through radio and TV programs and his memoir Rominten, about the hunting preserve in East Prussia that he once ran.

Egremont tells these stories in an understated manner that allows the details to speak for themselves, which they do quite powerfully. Another example is the story of the last Jews left in Königsberg in January 1945, whom the Germans decide to move westward before the inevitable arrival of the Red Army. They are forcibly marched to the Baltic town of Palmnicken. Two thousand die or are killed along the way. The survivors were driven down to the beach, into the frozen sea, and shot. The details of the march are described from the perspective of some of the East Prussian natives, some of whom would go through their own hell when the Russians arrived.

The closing chapters of the book reminded me that last year I had thought of reading Timothy Snyder’s 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, which was widely and well reviewed. Anne Applebaum’s review in the New York Review of Books (from which the map at the top is taken) had especially gotten my attention. As Applebaum explains,

Snyder’s ambition is to persuade the West—and the rest of the world—to see the war in a broader perspective. He does so by disputing popular assumptions about victims, death tolls, and killing methods—of which more in a moment—but above all about dates and geography. The title of this book, Bloodlands, is not a metaphor. Snyder’s “bloodlands,” which others have called “borderlands,” run from Poznan in the West to Smolensk in the East, encompassing modern Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, and the edge of western Russia (see map [above]). This is the region that experienced not one but two—and sometimes three—wartime occupations. This is also the region that suffered the most casualties and endured the worst physical destruction.

More to the point, this is the region that experienced the worst of both Stalin’s and Hitler’s ideological madness. During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, the lethal armies and vicious secret policemen of two totalitarian states marched back and forth across these territories, each time bringing about profound ethnic and political changes. In this period, the city of Lwów was occupied twice by the Red Army and once by the Wehrmacht. After the war ended it was called L’viv, not Lwów, it was no longer in eastern Poland but in western Ukraine, and its Polish and Jewish pre-war population had been murdered or deported and replaced by ethnic Ukrainians from the surrounding countryside. In this same period, the Ukrainian city of Odessa was occupied first by the Romanian army and then by the Wehrmacht before being reoccupied by the Soviet Union. Each time power changed hands there were battles and sieges, and each time an army retreated from the city it blew up the harbor or massacred Jews. Similar stories can be told about almost any place in the region.

This region was also the site of most of the politically motivated killing in Europe—killing that began not in 1939 with the invasion of Poland, but in 1933, with the famine in Ukraine. Between 1933 and 1945, fourteen million people died there, not in combat but because someone made a deliberate decision to murder them. These deaths took place in the bloodlands, and not accidentally so: “Hitler and Stalin rose to power in Berlin and Moscow,” writes Snyder, “but their visions of transformation concerned above all the lands between.”

Egremont, of course, is not writing a comprehensive history. He is examining a handful of people who are victims, collaborators, or perpetrators in one region, East Prussia, that forms part of Snyder’s larger bloodlands story. When I set Egremont’s haunting book aside, I was tempted to turn directly to Bloodlands to better understand that larger story. I haven’t yet, for fear that it will keep me from other books and other projects. But yesterday I downloaded the opening portion that Amazon makes available as a Kindle sample. It won’t be long before I buy and download the entire book. Perhaps I’ll have more to say after reading it.

Categories: Books, History

Carmine Smeraldo

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

[From the website]

Gail and I were sad to learn of the death of Carmine Smeraldo, the founder-owner of the Seattle restaurant Il Terrazzo Carmine. I have written about Carmine’s many times, most recently after we ate there in November to celebrate Gail’s birthday. We have celebrated many birthdays there in recent years, and always wonder why we don’t go more often. I love their cannelloni, their rigatoni, their constantly changing risotto specials, their lamb, their green peppercorn steak. Gail’s partial to their ossobuco. But more than that, it’s such a warm and welcoming place. Carmine will be greatly missed.

Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s Seattle Times obituary.

The food is one thing at Il Terrazzo Carmine.

Then there was the man.

Carmine Smeraldo would greet customers at his Pioneer Square restaurant with warmth, offering a handshake, or oftentimes, a hug. He knew loyal crowds turned up for perfectly smoked salmon dishes and handmade ravioli stuffed with bursts of wild mushroom.

But he also knew his customers wanted more. They came for an experience, an escape, a desire to envelop their senses and return to their lives a little happier than how they felt an hour — or two, or three — before.

At this, Mr. Smeraldo was the master.

[snip]

The interior summoned Mr. Smeraldo’s homeland with its terra cotta floors, rustic chandeliers and high ceilings. It conveyed a feeling of “old-school romance,” said Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson.

Categories: Obituary, Restaurants