Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category


December 13, 2012 Leave a comment

My old friend Sverre showed up today, in town to visit his in-laws for the holidays from Trondheim. Seeing him at my office door, I instinctively asked, “Hvordan stor det til?”, that representing 60% of my Norwegian. He responded in kind, then we switched to English and got caught up. I learned in particular about his experience this past fall teaching mathematics at The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania.

With Norway and Africa discussed, Sverre told me to go to my browser and find the Radi-Aid site, the home of Africa for Norway. Featured there is the music video you can watch above. Below the video are two links. To the left, under the headline, “Donate Your Radiator!”, is the text “Africans unite to save Norwegians from dying of frostbite. You too can donate your radiator and spread some warmth!” and a link with the text Yes I Can!. Click it and you’ll be taken to, well, see for yourself.

To the right, under the headline, “Why Radi-Aid”, is the text “Imagine if every person in Africa saw the ‘Africa for Norway’-video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?” Click on About Radi-Aid and you’ll be taken at last to a serious page that explains what’s up, including the following points:

  • Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
  • We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
  • Media: Show respect.
  • Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
  • Enjoy the video. It’s funny without context, interesting with context.

    Categories: Culture, Music


    December 9, 2012 Leave a comment


    What’s up with New York Times columnists? With David Brooks and Ross Douthat repeatedly on the decline-of-culture beat, why did Roger Cohen decide two days ago to jump in? He opened his latest column with news that “oversharing and status anxiety [are] the two great scourges of the modern world.” Cohen continues:

    So let us absorb the mass of unwanted shared personal information and images that wash over one, like some great viscous tide full of stuff one would rather not think about — other people’s need for Icelandic lumpfish caviar, their numb faces at the dentist, their waffles and sausage, their appointments with their therapists, their personal hygiene, their pimples and pets, their late babysitters, their grumpy starts to the day, their rude exchanges, their leaking roofs, their faith in homeopathy, their stressing out, and all the rest.

    Please, O wired humanity, spare me, and not only the details.

    It is tempting to call this unctuous ooze of status updates and vacation snaps seeping across Facebook and Twitter and the rest information overload. But that would be to debase the word “information.”

    Fortunately, the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal is on the case. He observes, “I’ve been on Twitter for a long time, Facebook even longer, though in a more limited capacity. And I’ve never noticed these topics permeating my timeline.” To demonstrate, he lists the first 20 tweets on his timeline, all of which sound interesting indeed. (You can follow the link and see for yourself.)

    Madrigal’s advice to Cohen:

    My diagnosis is simple, Roger: your friends and associates are terrible and boring. Being that you are a smart and interesting guy who would distill only the finest information from any social network, the problem is the garbage going into your feed, which can only come out as garbage in your column. And that garbage is being created by the people who you choose to follow and know.

    In the spirit of Madrigal’s post, I will now list the last 20 items on my Twitter timeline. You can decide for yourself if these are interesting. But as Madrigal explains, the point is that his 20 items are interesting to him. If you want to make good use of Twitter, follow people who interest you. No one forces you to follow John Boehner.

    Okay, here goes:

    1. Link to NYT article on how Tolkien’s manuscripts ended up at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

    2. Link to Lee Child piece in NYT on how to create suspense.

    3. Link to David Pogue CBS Sunday Morning video.

    4. Link to article on Coast Guard airlift to Florida of sea turtles stranded in Massachusetts.

    5. Comment on Washington Redskins’ defense (from a politics and technology writer who rarely comments on sports).

    6. Link to piece on militarization of domestic police forces, led by Homeland Security.

    7. Link to article on a graduate student’s experience as a mass media fellow at Scientific American under a program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    8. Um, well, I kind of love the Twitter feed of Miguel Bloombito, who admonishes his followers: “Don’t be un assholero. Givero up tu seat de subwayo to las womaño de pregnanto y los señor citizens.” (This feed is a running joke based on Mayor Bloomberg’s attempts to speak Spanish to summarize what he says in English in public announcements. See this article for background.)

    9. A comment on David Gregory’s insistence today on Meet the Press on framing question in the context of going over the cliff, with the observation that this is how false consciousness spreads.

    10. More from Miguel, getting into the Christmas spirit: “Doño mi ahora, el gay apparalo!”

    11. An excerpt from the diary of John Quincy Adams, from a feed that tells us his doings two hundred years ago to the day while serving abroad as an ambassador.

    12. A link to a chart (a “conspectus”) from 1880 on the history of political parties.

    13. Sorry, it’s a Sunday. Not too many of the people I follow are active today. Miguel Bloombito again. I’ll skip the details.

    14. A retweet by an editor of a link to a blog post at Language Log that I had already read, on some nonsensical piece about alleged decline in vocabulary of students. I may write about this separately.

    15. A link to an ongoing discussion about raising the Medicare eligibility age.

    16. A retweet of a link to the latest piece by the NYT public editor, which I may also write about separately.

    17. Another link (from someone else I follow) to the work of the NYT public editor, sending us to her response to critics of another piece.

    18. And, from this same person, a link to the public editor’s latest.

    19. A link to The Economist’s best books of 2012.

    20. A link to a poll at The Guardian for person of the year. Darn. Too late to vote. It’s closed. The overwhelming winner is Bradley Manning.

    As I said, it’s Sunday. This isn’t entirely representative. But I see no evidence of oversharing. Oh, unless this post is itself evidence.

    Categories: Culture, Journalism

    A Typical Weekend

    October 4, 2012 Leave a comment

    Or not. I’ve been way behind in blogging, partly because of the start of school a week ago, and partly because of the whirlwind of events going back to early last week, which peaked on the weekend.

    Back in April, at the annual fundraiser for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, we successfully bid on two outings: the Walla Walla wine tour about which I wrote at length (starting with this post) and a single-day outing on Puget Sound. The second outing was scheduled for this past Saturday, which was also day two of the biannual Ryder Cup golf competition between the US and Europe. Had we been aware of this conflict, we might have passed on bidding. But we weren’t aware, we did bid, and we won the trip.

    Last week, a more pressing conflict emerged. Perhaps it’s as well not to go into the details, but we found ourselves with a most unwelcome event to attend that would take precedence over the boat outing: a memorial service. When we found that the service would begin at 3:00, and not far from the marina where the boat would drop us off, we realized it would be possible to go through with a truncated version of the outing and then make it to the service.

    A further complication was that Gail had offered to help with a post-memorial reception, which meant she would spend Friday cooking, we would drop some food off early Saturday morning, board the boat, return to shore, go to the church, attend the service and the reception at the church, then leave the church reception in time to set up at the house for the smaller family reception. Sunday we would have free to catch up on the Ryder Cup, watching the third and concluding day of golf.

    Or so we thought, until Gail’s old high school friend Randy emailed. He lives in Albuquerque and is a member of the Jemez Pueblo. Thursday night he wrote to say he’d be passing through on Sunday on the way to Alaska. She hadn’t seen him for over 30 years prior to our 2008 New Mexico trip, when we had the good fortune to reconnect and spend time with him, his wife, his sister, his father, and children. They turned what would have been a wonderful trip into something even more magical. We were excited at the prospect of seeing him again, and we soon learned that the timing would allow us to watch the conclusion of the Ryder Cup before meeting up.

    Everything had fallen into place. Oh, there was also the 70th birthday party of an old friend on Saturday night, if we could fit that in. Our weekend would be full.

    We had a quick takeout dinner Friday in order to allow Gail to concentrate on her cooking. Just after 8:00 PM, I was sitting at my desk contemplating writing a post when Gail came in to announce, with deceptive calm, that we needed to go to the emergency room. She had cut her finger while doing some prep work. Off we went. Five stitches and two-and-a-half hours later, we were home. So much for cooking. Fortunately, while in the exam room waiting for the doctor, we had come up with an alternative plan for the hot dish. We would order enchiladas from El Ranchon, one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, near both the church and the reception home.

    Saturday we loaded up the car and headed to Elliott Bay Marina. (Downtown Seattle sits on the eastern edge of Elliott Bay, an inlet from Puget Sound. The marina is on the north side, at the bottom of the Magnolia neighborhood where we would be spending the latter part of the day.) We met up with the other guests and our two Burke Museum hosts — archaeologist, museum director, and friend Julie plus Native American art curator Robin. Soon Bruce, the boat owner who had generously donated his boat and time for the day, moored the Escapade, came ashore to greet us, and brought us on board.

    At the south end of Elliott Bay is the Port of Seattle and the mouth of the Duwamish River. The plan for the first half of the cruise was to head south across Elliott Bay parallel to downtown, enter the Duwamish, cruise upriver for a ways to see the industrial and archaeological sites that line it, reverse course and return to Elliott Bay, then turn southwest, cross Puget Sound, and arrive at Blake Island, home of a state park and Tillicum Village. As explained at the Tillicum Village website,

    the island was named after Captain George Blake, commander of the US Coast Survey vessel in 1837. Blake Island State Park was an ancestral campground of the Suquamish and Duwamish Indian Tribes and is believed to be the birthplace of Chief Seattle. The island is densely wooded with many forested walking and hiking trails and 5 miles of beaches. Vegetation on the island includes native Northwest trees and shrubs. Wildlife on the island includes deer, chipmunks, otters, squirrels, mink and many types of birds. As a state park, the island also offers the opportunity for camping.

    Also on the island is the village itself, a commercial venture normally acceptable from the downtown waterfront by boat as part of a package tour:

    Begin your 4-hour escape with a narrated cruise from downtown Seattle, Pier 55 to Blake Island State Park. Upon arrival to Tillicum Village, you are greeted with steamed clams in nectar. Make your way into the longhouse and watch as whole salmon are cooked in a traditional Northwest Coast Indian style. Enjoy a fabulous salmon buffet meal followed by a show that highlights the Coast Salish tribes through storytelling and symbolism. Afterward, you’ll have free time to explore the grounds and gift shop before returning to Seattle.

    Tillicum Village

    We would cross in Bruce’s boat, tie up more or less when the tour boat arrived, and join the crowd for the meal and show. On leaving the island, we would have time to cruise as we saw fit, suggested routes being circumnavigations of Bainbridge Island or Vashon Island. This is where our truncation plan came into play. We anticipated staying at Tillicum Village for lunch and the show, leaving mid-show if necessary, and heading straight back to Elliott Bay Marina.

    That was the plan. Now the actual outing.

    On boarding the boat, we were treated to a tour of its various levels, cabins, and amenities. You can perhaps get a sense of its comforts from the photos at top and below.

    Then we were off. I have often left or come into downtown via ferry, a treat in its own right, but riding parallel to shore from north to south offered new perspectives and astonishing views. The Olympic Sculpture Park. The Space Needle. Jessica’s condo building. The cranes of the port looming in the distance, slowly growing, then rising above us. The stacks of freight containers. As we approached the Duwamish, Julie gathered us in the pilot room, opened up some maps, and gave us an overview of Seattle geological history, with special attention to the Seattle Fault and the earthquake circa 900 CE that explains so much of the local topography. She also discussed some of the important Native settlements and archaeological sites along the Duwamish. Up we cruised, past the port, under the West Seattle Bridge and the 1st Avenue Bridge, barges, industrial sites, industrial wastelands, occasional residential homes, boat moorage. Then down we cruised, back out to Elliott Bay, turning to port and heading west, then southwest, past Alki Beach, Alki Point and off toward Blake Island.

    Robin stepped in at this point to tell us a bit of the history of Native settlements on Blake Island, and the background on Tillicum Village. We were behind schedule, but it turned out that the tour boat from downtown was even later, so that we arrived on the island 15 minutes before it. This gave us temporary free run of the village, its exhibits, and its gift shop. Once the other boat docked and guests began coming up the hill, the staff handed out mugs with clams in broth, instructing us to eat the clams then drop the shells on the ground and crunch them underfoot.

    Once we were invited to enter the dining room, we went straight to our table, in order to stay on schedule. The dining room/theater is a sloped room with the stage in the front below and buffet tables on a level floor behind. We were seated near the buffet tables in order to escape easily. The food was excellent. Salad greens with a variety of vegetables, dressings, and toppings to add according to taste. Rice. A stew of beef, venison, and bison. Slices of the Tillicum bread featured in the gift shop. And the salmon cooked on the open fires outside the dining room.

    Drinks are served at the table, then once the plates are removed, an apple pastry is brought to the table. Once we finished dessert, departure time had arrived. We would miss the show in its entirety, since it was apparently running behind schedule due to the late arrival of the main boat. But we were content. We had quite enjoyed lunch and were ready to move on.

    Once out of Blake Island’s harbor, we were presented with a dramatic view of Mount Rainier, the upper half of which was rising dramatically above some lower clouds. The masts of Elliott Bay Marina boats were visible across the Sound in the distance, making steering easy for us amateurs, whom Bruce allowed to take turns at the helm. I say easy in the sense that one always knew where to head, but at least when I was in charge, I had to keep correcting and overcorrecting. A little to port, back to starboard. Oops, port again. Starboard. Port. Starboard. I never did get the hang of it. Bruce and I discussed what I was doing wrong. Basically, the boat just isn’t as quick to respond as a car, so once one turns, one needs to be ready to straighten up, even before the boat appears to have found the proper heading.

    I gave up the helm in time to go below deck and change into my memorial service attire. Bruce handled the final navigational chores, bringing us into the dock in plenty of time. Heartfelt thank yous and goodbyes, back to the car, and off to church.

    As for the rest of the weekend, all went to plan. El Ranchon had 80 enchiladas waiting for us. The reception guests enjoyed them, even complimenting Gail on her cooking. Sunday we saw our Albuquerque friend Randy. I had suggested dinner at the venerable Seattle restaurant Ivar’s Salmon House, primarily for its convenient location to the north of downtown, easy to get to from the airport, from our house, and from the homes in the northern suburbs of Gail’s high school friends who would be joining us. I did have some trepidation that dragging a Native to a mock-Native restaurant might not be so wise. But on arrival, Randy couldn’t wait to tell me how thrilled he was by the choice: his favorite Seattle restaurant, and one where he worked during high school. He and I both ordered the Alaskan Salmon Sampler: King, Sockeye, and Coho. I know I was happy, and he seemed to be as well. As fascinating as the dinner conversation was, I had to head home early to get ready for Monday’s class.

    Meanwhile, Gail’s finger continues to heal. Stitches out next Monday. I didn’t even mention how fascinating our Friday night emergency room outing was, with the many people we got to meet and chat with. The health care staff, that is. Not that I would recommend this as a way to widen your circle of acquaintances, but if you have to spend the evening in the hospital, you may as well enjoy what you can. And we did.

    This weekend we’ll aim for something quieter.

    Categories: Culture, Travel

    Line of the Day

    July 31, 2012 1 comment

    Stonehenge jump

    [Tom Jenkins for The Guardian]

    Guardian columnist Marina Hyde had a hilarious piece yesterday from the Olympic equestrian venue in Greenwich. Mind you, I understood only about half of it, between obscure references best understood by residents of the UK and obscure references best understood by the horse set. At least I know that wellies are Wellingtons, the famed rubber boot of British country life, and that Hunter has made them for decades. That got me started in the passage below. You’ll find my chosen line of the day in the third paragraph, but it’s all well done. (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford.)

    To Greenwich Park, home of the prime meridian line, where it was officially Country O’Clock for the equestrianism on Monday. To give you a handle on the crowd, no one was wearing the wrong shoes. During Sunday’s rains at the Olympic Park, all manner of error-strewn urban footwear planning was on show, with punters slipping and slopping around in sandals and flip flops.

    At Greenwich, despite the sunny skies, there were innumerable pairs of Hunter wellies, for the simple reason that you never know how it’s going to turn out. Empty seats scandal in the morning, shepherd’s warning.

    Even more clearly in evidence were the hundreds wearing riding boots – a bit like those spectators who wear golf shoes to championships, giving them the air of people who imagine they might be called on to the greens at any time and asked to replace Tiger Woods if he goes to pieces.

    Then again, Greenwich feels like a more-than-usually expert crowd. “Those surface changes made a big difference to the arena at the weekend,” one man was observing to his neighbour as they watched the cross country, which saw horses clearing jumps shaped like tractors, in a park from which you can see the City of London.

    Where many 2012 venues give the impression of a mixed crowd of sport-watching novices, dedicated tourists, and diehard fans, much of Monday’s Greenwich bunch seemed like they knew each other instinctively – and possibly socially.

    And speaking of the equestrian events, the hurdles for the jumping competition are a wonderful bit of whimsy. Be sure to see the Guardian’s slide show here.

    [Andrew Boyers/Action Images]

    Categories: Culture, Humor, Sports

    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

    Husky Harbor

    October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

    [Stuart Isett for The New York Times]

    I’m a little late on this one, but I don’t want the NYT’s coverage of University of Washington football culture to go unmentioned. Not that I care all that much about UW football. Let’s be clear about that. Yet the intersection of UW football and the Puget Sound-Lake Washington boating scene, as depicted above and in the accompanying slideshow, is pretty special.

    On fall Saturdays, like this fall Saturday, when Washington plays at home, the occupants of Husky Harbor emerge near the stadium’s east end like some sort of tailgate flotilla. They come on charters, luxury yachts and smaller vessels, in sailboats, motorboats and speedboats, even boats coated in purple paint, to the same docks where Rick Neuheisel, a former coach, once drew N.C.A.A. scrutiny for boosters ferrying recruits to the university at below cost.

    Once docked or anchored, they tailgate with a twist, a practice the locals have alternately called boatgating, sailgating and sterngating. Here, all of the captains hope Coach Steve Sarkisian and the 4-1 Huskies can, well, continue to right the ship.


    At Washington and at Tennessee, they can choose to arrive by boat. Yet Huskies fans view their harbor as unparalleled, based on surrounding views (Cascade Mountains to the east, Olympic Mountains to the west), water color (blue as opposed to brown) and proximity (closer to the stadium).

    Husky Stadium opened in 1920, and soon after, the boat tradition started, with fans stashing vessels in tall grass not 200 yards from the end zone. Docks were built around 1960, according to Dave Torrell, the curator of the university’s hall of fame, and early transportation from anchored boats often came from members of the rowing teams in exchange for tips.

    I’ve been to my share of Husky football games. I’ve never arrived by boat though. Of course, we can see the stadium from our house and walk there easily enough, so there’s no obvious reason why we’d boat over, assuming we had a boat.

    No doubt I’m missing the point. (When it comes to fun I often do.) The ride might be an adventure in itself, even if I can get to the stadium more easily on foot. Why, just two days ago, my friend Russ and his family got to the Colorado game by boat. They took the Ivar’s Salmon House brunch cruise.

    Gail is surely thinking, “What can be better than that?” The merger of multiple Seattle traditions that she grew up with: Husky football, boating, salmon, Norwegian culture, and northwest coast native culture. Well, some day. Maybe.

    Categories: Culture, Sports

    Mexican Delights

    April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

    This morning, I picked up the current issue of The New York Review of Books and discovered Alma Guillermoprieto’s The High Art of the Tamale, as fine a piece of food writing as one could ask for. In reviewing Diana Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy , Guillermoprieto tempts the reader to book flights southward immediately, out of excitement for the described delights.

    [Kennedy] was coming from the drab kitchens of postwar England, and in Mexico City just a short walk through any neighborhood market was enough to make her swoon: armfuls of blossoms the color of gold, the smoky perfume of dried chiles gusting through the corridors, the racket of a dozen vendors vying for her attention, waist-high pyramids of unheard-of vegetables, pumpkins of every description, gourds, melons, purple amaranth plants, shocking-pink cactus fruit, blood-red hibiscus flowers, and, above the general din, the metallic cries of the vendors…¡cómpreme, marchantita! Buy here! Buy here!

    And then to huddle at a market stall and wait for an industrious woman in braids to chop up some barbacoa and onion and cilantro and spoon it all over a tortilla and hand the steaming morsel into her eager hands…Heaven.

    And Guillermoprieto tempts the reader to book flights southward immediately, also, in fear that these delights won’t last long.

    . . . the ecological and cultural devastation Mexico has been undergoing. I could go on at some length about our garbage-lined highways, the almost daily loss of native species, the forests logged by lumber black marketeers, drug traffickers, and landless settlers, the slow attrition of our beautiful markets thanks to the likes of Wal-Mart, and the takeover in local Wal-Marts of everything fresh by everything processed—for one small example, the replacement of locally grown raisins by imported dried cranberries—but I won’t.

    Read it all. And book your flights.

    Categories: Culture, Food, Writing

    Jason Robert Brown on Copyright

    July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

    [Photo from Jason Robert Brown website]

    Jason Robert Brown is one of the leading musical theater composer-lyricists of our time. I realize that may not be saying much, since so few contemporary musical theater composers are known at all. But they’re out there. Brown is one of them, and he’s marvelous.

    Perhaps best known of his songs is Stars and the Moon from the 1995 show Songs for a New World. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend going to iTunes (or some other legal source) to download one of the many versions. (I have those by Audra McDonald, whom you can see below singing it, and Betty Buckley.)

    A tweet from David Pogue this afternoon pointed me to Jason Robert Brown’s blog, where last week he had a fascinating post discussing (and providing) the correspondence he had recently with a teenager regarding the legality and morality of downloading sheet music for free, without the composer’s permission.

    I couldn’t possibly do the post justice by quoting from it. You should read it in full. To get you started, here’s how it begins:

    I have known for a while that there are websites where you can essentially download sheet music for free, and I am certainly aware that a lot of the sheet music being downloaded in that manner was written by me. While my wife Georgia has written extensively about this problem, I have tended to sit back, certain that anything I do would just be the tiniest drop in a very large bucket. But about a month ago, I was seized by the idea to try an experiment.

    I signed on to the website that is most offensive to me, got an account, and typed my name into the Search box. I got 4,000 hits. Four thousand copies of my music were being offered for “trade.” (I put “trade” in quotes because of course it’s not really a trade, since nobody’s giving anything up in exchange for what they get. It’s just making illegal unauthorized copies, and calling it “trade” legitimizes it in an utterly fraudulent way.) I clicked on the most recent addition, and I sent the user who was offering that music an email. This is what I wrote:

    Hey there! Can I get you to stop trading my stuff? It’s totally not cool with me. Write me if you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you about this.


    Categories: Culture, Law, Music

    National Museum of American History

    May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

    Julia Child's kitchen, National Museum of American History

    [Gail Irving]

    In yesterday’s post on our Civil War trip, I concluded with our departure from the Gettysburg Friendly’s after lunch (a week ago yesterday) to drive to Washington, D.C. Here I will describe the remainder of the day, featuring a way-too-brief visit to the National Museum of American History. Read more…

    Categories: Culture, History, Travel

    More on Real Deli

    October 7, 2009 Leave a comment


    [Richard Perry, New York Times]

    A month ago, when I was back in New York, I wrote about Ben’s, a deli that started on Long Island but now has additional locations in Queens, Manhattan, and even Boca. As I wrote then, it’s not the greatest, but it’s sure better than anything around here. Today, Joan Nathan has a piece in the food section of the NYT on the lost art of Jewish deli food and the steady disappearance of the delis themselves. Sad reading.

    Nathan opens her article by introducing the Brummers.

    Hobby’s Delicatessen & Restaurant in downtown Newark may have lost much of its more traditional clientele over the years, but it has held on to tradition. The corned beef and the tongue are cured for 14 days in stainless steel bins in the basement. The salamis hanging on the wall look as if they’ve been drying there, their flavor intensifying, since the Brummer family bought the place in 1962.

    Samuel Brummer and his sons, Michael and Marc, even make their own matzo ball soup and potato pancakes.
    But in Newark, as in so many cities, holding on has been tough for delis.

    “In 1945, there were 12 delis in Newark,” said Samuel Brummer, 86. “Now we are only two.”

    Read the article, but also I recommend watching the accompanying video, in which Brummer father and sons talk about the business.

    Nathan’s article also introduces us to Save the Deli blogger David Sax*, who observes that “the best delis have a master cutter, not a slicing machine. When you steam a piece of meat for a long time, as with a good piece of pastrami once it has been cured and smoked, it will tear apart if it isn’t cut by hand.” Marc Singer of Irving’s [no relation] Delicatessen in Livingston, New Jersey, adds that “Hebrew National pastramis are a round cut intended for machine slicing at the local deli.”

    This got me to thinking of how special Hebrew National once was, before it became part of ConAgra Foods and lost its identity. (See here for its self-provided history.) Growing up on Long Island, I didn’t know there was any kind of salami besides Hebrew National. We would always have the yard-long ones at home. At least I remember them as being about a yard long. Thirty inches at least. My father was in the food business, and Sonny, one of the salesmen in the company, would stop by the Hebrew National plant every week or two to pick up supplies on his way home from the city. Out on the Island, he would make another stop, at our house, appearing at the kitchen door with a box holding our share: a salami or two, maybe a tongue, and a line of franks all curled up like a snake. For years I had the mistaken impression that Sonny was a Hebrew National employee. The idea that Hebrew National delivered straight to our home didn’t yet strike me as odd.

    My childhood summers were spent at camp in the Berkshires, close to the Massachusetts-New York state line near West Stockbridge. When my parents came to visit, they would bring a Hebrew National salami. Maybe they brought three, one for each of us. I would share mine with my fellow campers and it would disappear pretty quickly. Camp food wasn’t the greatest. The salami sustained me. (Well, what was great at camp was the corn from the adjacent cornfields. Once a week it would be picked in the morning and we’d eat it at lunch. Just corn. Lots of it. Best corn I ever ate. I learned that corn and salami make for a complete diet, when supplemented by cookies and milk.)

    In recent years, I’ve come to find Hebrew National salami a little on the sweet side. I wonder if it always was. What I’d really like to eat right now is some of Hobby’s 14-day-cured corned beef. Too bad I won’t be getting to Newark in the near future.

    *I need to give credit to my cousin John for pointing out Sax’s blog in an email this morning before I stumbled on it in my own reading of the NYT.

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