December 29, 2008

food recollections or ‘what would Jesus eat?’

When I first started to travel in the States, I was dazzled by the food I found when venturing into unlikely restaurants in small towns and off two lane highways. My transportation was a series of foreign sports cars guaranteed to raise suspicion among Detroit centric drivers everywhere. They always seemed to break down in some place like Uncertain, Texas, or Enigma, Georgia, where the mechanics regarded my car far-fetched exotic and I got all kinds of advise about investing in a reasonable vehicle, such as a Ford pickup.

Despite the exotic wheels, I grew to feel that the road was where I belonged. Invariably, after a few months of being stationary, my feet itched to see more of the country I was falling in love with. I then traveled with a journal. Today it is a notebook computer and a cell phone. When I started, being in rural America felt like traveling to the dark side of the moon.

The American landscape was very different from what it is today. I feel 150 years old to admit that there were no Wal-Marts, no Kmart’s, no Home Depots, no Targets, no Outback’s, no Olive Gardens, no Red Lobsters, and no Starbuckses. There was fast food, but it was not everywhere. This was a good thing.

Every place I went looked different. Today, Connecticut looks like Arizona, which looks like North Carolina, which looks like Oregon. It is possible to crisscross this country and never eat, shop, or stay in a strange place. This is not a good thing.

In my early days of travel, I rarely stayed in chain motels. They simply did not exist in the small towns and on the back roads. More typical were mom-and-pop places, dirt cheap and with amenities to match, none.
As basic as those accommodations had been, it was eclipsed by the joys I found in non-chain restaurants. Before fast food muscled its way into town, every place had at least one good café.

From the beginning, I was charmed by the South. The South has a reputation for hospitality, and despite being an oddball, I felt welcomed there. I was always struck by the signs and billboards that welcomed everyone who passes to churches usually Baptist but often something strange and exiting, like African Apostolic or Snake-handling Charismatic. Signs that read ‘Fun in the Son’ or, ‘I will be back to get you soon. Love. Jesus.’ Moreover, what was one to make of a poster inviting everyone to an ‘Antiabortion and Fish-Fry Rally’?

A great cafeteria could vastly enhance the joy of supper. All top-notch cafeteria-style restaurants, had dessert at the head of the line. Then the ‘salads’. Finally the big decision, the entrée, and if it was Sunday, a huge ham and a steamship round of beef stood ready to be carved by the chef at the cutting board.
Aside from how wonderful the food was, what amazed most was their cost. For enough food to feed a small village, I paid $3.00 mid-1970. Today the bill is $7.50 – not much more than you would pay for a Mc-Something-or-others handed to you in a paper bag.

Rules to finding road food in the South: There is a direct correlation between the excellence of the food and the number of pictures of Jesus on the wall. This is true of all kinds of restaurants, but especially in barbecues, where the Lord frequently shares wall space with pictures of pigs.

Of course, pigs are not worshipped in the South, but the image of the pig in and around barbecue restaurants provides comfort, security, and joy, which dovetails with similar feelings instilled by religious belief.

I felt irreverent making note of this fact until I walked into a Bar-B-Q restaurant one day and watched a waitress setting up tables. Oblivious of my presence she was exuberantly singing the soprano part of ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, no doubt something she performed with a church choir. On the walls were several portraits of a crowned, cape wearing oinker carrying a fork like a royal scepter along with signs reminding customers that JESUS IS LORD. When the woman noticed me, she smiled, walked to a counter, picked-up a menu, pointed to a table, and joined me there, never once missing a word or note of her hymn. She handed me the menu just when she reached the last line – ‘His kingdom is forever’ – her voice hitting a crescendo nearly high enough to crack every coffee cup in the joint. As I opened the menu, she made me jump with her ‘Amen!’

As I see it, the art of smoke-cooking meat and an honest devotion to God depends on similar qualities of character. Making great barbecue is a slow and simple process that requires faith more than showboat technique. Those who tend the smoke pit never tell you that they are the ones who make the magic happen.

Long before GPS and MapQuest, getting lost was my lifestyle. It is how I found the most colorful people and eateries.
My first encounter with a restaurant where religion is always the special of the day was a tiny café I discovered during an early cross-country trip, when road food was only a notion. I was still debating if indeed there really was anything interesting about American eats. This place turned out to be incontrovertible evidence that a whole world of good food and fascinating people was out there, ready to be discovered.

It had been a long morning drive, when I saw a sign on the outskirts of a town that said CITY CAFÉ – CHRISTIAN ATMOSPHERE.
I found the place around noontime. It was surrounded by cars. One booth was open, but before I sat down, I walked to the cash register and picked up a brochure written by the owner, Iola Burgraff. It was titled ‘Angels singing to Iola’ and was headlined ‘Giant Angel Speaks to Rev. Burgraff Concerning Nixon, June 3, 1973.’ Ms. Rev. Burgraff was the cook, the owner, and a Christian visionary. She was also ‘in touch’ with multitudes of dead people, she has seen coming into her café. It seemed that even death could not keep loyal customers away from her lemon icebox pie. Near the cash register was a picture of Nixon standing in the palm of the Lord.
‘Have you seen him?’ ask a man sitting in the booth next to mine.
‘Er, umm, yes.’ I answered, not certain whether the man meant
Richard Nixon, the Lord Jesus, or the busboy. The man smiled and turned away, apparently satisfied.
I could smell fried chicken sizzling in iron skillets, saw plates of baked ham with macaroni salad, snow slaw, and corn bread being served on other tables. I consulted with the waitress, Zelda, who had the whole dining room to serve all by herself. ‘It’s hard to get Christian help,’ she said, explaining why she was alone.
‘Which should I get?’ I ask. ‘chicken or ham?’
She paused and seemed truly to consider my quandary, then offered this advice. ‘Do you know what I do when I face a question and I don’t know the answer?’ she said. ‘I reflect and I ask myself, ‘what would Jesus do?’ Chicken or ham? I do not know. What would Jesus eat?

My thoughts, sitting in the departure lounge finishing off my roast pork sandwich and the umpteenth cup of Cuban coffee.

December 28, 2008

Favorite islands…

Apropos nothing, just sitting and gazing in to the blue the question arose.

For Mona that is Martinique it suits her temperament to a ‘T’. She loves everything about it. The modest display of money, the apparent sophistication of its inhabitants. Small houses with never ending views and above all, no snow.

Charles is not partial,
as long it is surrounded by a rough sea to sail.

Peter, my brother, escapes to Samos.
Lives high up on a hill with access to the sea to sail the Turkish coast.
He enjoys straddling the dividing line between East and West.

Sylvia is permanently anchored to the Black Forest
and nothing and no one can extricate her from there.
Amazing. Neither sea, nor air can entice her.

For Brigitte it had been Ibiza. She called it the greatest escape island in the world. Whenever she needed some place to go to forget her trouble Ibiza was the place for her to go. She said it seized her soul. The natives have a saying: ‘Leave Ibiza at ones or stay forever’.

As for me, I am not partial either.
I am also lucky to live but a short trip of the island of Catalina, which I visit often.
I have drifted through the holidays on the island of Kauai. Explored on foot its wild northwestern shore and sailed the islands.

However, my heart belongs to the blue Adriatic and the islands of the coast of Dalmatia; Pula, Rabac, Lovran, Opatija, Rijeka, Pag, Trogir, Vis, my personal favorite Hvar, Brela, Mljet, Korcula, just to name a few. Those I began to explore during my married years. Rene had spent all his summers during his school years sailing up and down the Dalmatian coast. He had intimate knowledge of the Adriatic her moods good and bad. I learned her winds the Bura, Jugo, Maestral and the Tramontana. The towns and cities of Dalmatia, strung out along the whole length of the Adriatic Cost. From graceful, Renaissance Koper down to the ghostly, menacing fangs of Stari Bar and Ulcinj, the hideout of Utudz Alija, crazy admiral of the Islam pirates, who made war against all the navies of the Mediterranean. Each of them has its special history, thousands of years of it. It is impossible to travel without coming across stone monuments recalling events past, from antiquity to recent past.

Dubrovnik is only the best known. But there is Trogir, Split, Pula, Porec, Zadar and Rab entire chains of towns, large and small, with Gothic and Renaissance buildings, religious and secular alike, equally lovely and restrained, and all skirted and surrounded by the blue mantle and white lace of the sea, the warm, sunlit sea, which has provided a way of life for so many nations, has been the meeting place of so many cultures.

The sea is not for the summer months only. It is perhaps even more so when modern nomads depart and leave only the stubbornly incurable romantics. Then, for the lonely walker the shore puts on a special and magnificent performance. The air becomes heavy, full of the smell of rotting leaves, and the warm, damp, southern wind comes, driving heavy, thirty meter long waves to break on rocks pounded by centuries of braking waves. And nostalgia sets in, that quiet, consoling, Chateaubriand nostalgia that merges into the mood of the white foam under the heavy, grey southern clouds. Then a frozen blue sky opens up, and snow covers the ridges of the endless, high mountain chains, the sharp, dry northern wind, the Bura, begins to blow, and we can sit in our lair, sheltered from the wind and look out at the sea with waves dashing on the shore like scattered pearls.

After that, spring, early spring almost in the middle of the inland winter. Everything changes again, now it is all white from the thousands of flowering trees and the Mediterranean fruit trees, and beyond this white the cobalt blue sea and overhead the deep blue sky. And peace, a splendid feeling of endless peace. These shores have the power of imparting peace. At all times of the day, at all times of the year, these are the shores of tranquility.

December 27, 2008

Charting the Caribbean (the way I remember it)

If you were to close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine the West Indies, what would you see? The sun rising blearily on an unruffled blue ocean? Timeless beaches of inviolate yellow sand, with the slight violet hue of colored shells? Long fringes of palm trees shaking of their sleep in the gentlest of breezes? Or mornings of bustling activity, as markets spring into life, with the first sunny voices echoing sonorously in the clearings down innumerable goat tracks as people throw out greetings to neighbors or acquaintances, and converge on the towns with their wares borne aloft, bringing yet more color to color? More down to earth, perhaps, you might think of awaking to a dazzling sun, emerging onto the terrace to a breakfast of mango or papaya in the still, warm air, and contemplating the ocean with the yachts basking contentedly in the harbor, awaiting their next port of call, that island in the distant haze…

Life in the Caribbean is this, all of this, certainly - but not only this. Each island provides a variation on the theme, a different note; each has its own personality. There are hectic islands like Trinidad, just as there are island, like Dominica, of deep mystery and peace, where nature still dominates man, where the great forests, rivers and eerie landscapes have barely changed in five centuries, and much of the terrain has scarcely been explored. Some islands are mere specks above sea level, figuring on mariners’ charts; others, those to the north, Jamaica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, are almost continents unto themselves. Uniting them all, is something languorous, carefree and anarchic in the atmosphere, difficult to pinpoint but recognizable as Caribbean.
There are islands and peoples which have been so marked by their colonial history that they have come to resemble their occupants’ lands: Barbados, as English as pudding in outlook, behavior, almost in landscape; St. Barthelemy, a Norman island in a Creole sea where the inhabitants still wear eighteen century costume; Willemstad could be nowhere but in the Dutch provinces. The sophisticated elite of Haiti manipulate French as though in an eighteen century Paris salon. All the islands have changed hands several times, Dominica no less than ten, to the consternation of the Caribs, who were never sure who the ruling party was.

Wherever one goes and whatever former colonial power put its stamp on the land, the Caribbean welcome is one of lighthearted abandon. Whether in the patter of Creole, the strident overtones of Spanish, or the lilting rhythm of English, with outrageous images from any source, the message invites one to loosen up. The West Indian himself has superb self confidence that is unprickable; prove him wrong, by sheer talk, he’ll prove he’s at least half-right.

It’s hard sometimes to put one’s finger on what is typically West Indian; one thinks one found it, only to see it vanish. But occasionally a scene appears to seize its essence. In the centre of a town, a slight scrape between a taxi and another vehicle. Both drivers emerge, rolling their eyes. The crowd gathers, curious. Will things turn nasty? Each driver unites his audience, turns his back on his adversary, and, disregarding him, harangues his followers. ‘Naw, I ain’t saying he wasn’t looking, mon, ar’m saying he wasn’t looking enough. I’m saying he wasn’t looking enough, not he wasn’t looking,’ and so on. From the movement of the crowd, one can feel the tug of the rhetoric. Soon one driver is left high and dry, and, with tail between his legs, addresses his adversary, who ‘nobly’ forgives him. As so often, the Caribbean solution has no need of the law.

To many travelers, the great charm of the West Indies is the complete aimlessness; one can sail from port to port, bath and lounge beside the beaches, without the slightest pang of conscience.

Because West Indian art is virtually nonexistent, it is all the more pleasurable to notice the use made of imagination all around one: the surrounds to doors, the ingenious use of hencoops, and the improvisation of everything from household utensils to means of transport. And the colors! Colors with everything.
Flowers everywhere, tropical shapes, tropical colors, and tropical smells.
And always, everywhere, the sound of music. At the drop of a hat, feet start tapping, bottoms wriggle, hands clap, music takes over. Music has more than once been called the disaster of the Antilles. But try to stop it! A stick, a bottle, a tin, a comb, some saucepans, and a band is formed. An occasion? Anything goes…

The soul of the West Indies speaks in the evening, when the sun goes down, the warm breeze brings with it smells, balms that one hadn’t noticed by day; the bays light up. Houses come to life, the rum begins to take effect, voices rise to rhetorical peaks-speeches that should have made history, and the sheer, unadulterated delight of talk for talk’s sake…outrageous hyperbole!

December 26, 2008

Reunion at last.

I am sitting here looking out to the ocean; this is as I remember it. The breeze has remained the same. Everything else has changed. The Island now resembles a suburb of ‘Anywhere’, same everything.
Here we are, twenty some years later, vertical, self supporting, self sufficient and ‘virtually’ normal. How fortunate for us to find the good doctor. FDA you blew it, big time! One beneficial side effect of MS, you age slower (you also live less). Small consolation, but a consolation. We analyzed the state of our world, and consider ourselves very, very lucky indeed. We share memories and catch-up.

Question: ‘Doris, how do you do it?’

-back to the opening paragraph. I am sitting here trying to unlock the Doris Code. Well, I do not take myself that seriously, but at the same time, I have figured some things out. After age 60, most things become obvious, I am sure that is true off all of us. I laugh at myself all the time - and I am self-deprecating. I have a black sense of humor about my life, the good and the bad.

As for Doris’ Code, it is a satirical commentary on women’s magazines, fashions, beauty, diet, health tips – the whole nine yards.
Usually, that stuff is treated so terribly seriously, and it is all very repetitive – we all know what diet’s about, we all know what we are supposed to do. How do you get to benefit from your personal experience? That is what I am talking about.

At a certain age, you stop wondering what is in style and you figured out what you can get away with. Purple socks! Indeed. I have stopped caring what people might think. With age comes the liberty to be you.

Oh yes, MS and the weight issue. We became liberated in the ‘60’s, I discovered dance, hiking, and other ways to be physical. In my twenties, I settled down with a husband in California. I started cooking for fun and gained plenty of pounds! I started to run and it worked. (I later found out that the neighbors were betting on my times around the lake – just like a horse!) Then, post MS diagnosis and treatment, it was possible for me to stay active. It was move or perish. I stayed mobile and retained lots of energy. If you are not naturally athletic, you will find it more of a challenge to stay fit. To stave off total deterioration, walking is best. In addition, forget about age being a negative factor. If you are walking and breathing then there is hope for you. You do not have to be perky, sporty, or politically correct to be in shape; you can be bohemian, eccentric, artistic, intellectual, left wing, right wing, or even existentially alienated and still benefit from being fit.

Keeping partners post diagnosis is a painful and private subject. Let us keep it private. I can be demanding (so I have been told). Not to tolerant of laziness. I have been through some rough periods, black moods, and excesses (no details). However, I now can access my ideas faster and my vision is clearer. It is all in there. A lifetime of acquiring knowledge, whether I knew it or not. I select what I am taking in, so as not to be controlled by it. I like to produce a body of work that makes sense to me and that says something positive as well.

We have lived a whole life already, and we are still here. Breathing, moving, with an incredible resource within us. We are the children of the post-war generation. We became the ’60’s generation, a unique group. Baby boomers worldwide tried to change everything. I meet people in their twenties who say ‘You are so lucky you were young during the 1960’s’. The post war period was an incredible sterile shutdown, driven by a crazed economic striving – and a sanitized, smug view of life. We rebelled against all that in the most violent way. Living through all that and surviving is the story of my generation. Many young people now look at us for inspiration; we are back in the ‘50’s again. We just do not learn from history (are you paying attention Clive?).

That’s it, so far-

December 20, 2008

Tales from cyberspace

Slowly without thinking, I have become married to my computer operating system. There are only six degrees of separation between Microsoft and all the other faceless corporations I am married too. I submit blindly to those corporations because they provide ‘essential services’. Now your business depends on the reliable functioning of the computer operating system so that is an ‘essential service’.

Microsoft is my gateway to cyberspace, they bill the gates, so to speak, and, after you become used to it, you go through those gates fearlessly, as if they were the gates to your own house.

Of course, you don’t have to pay when you pass through the gates of your own house, or I hope you don’t. Over the gates of your house, there is no inscription, or if there is, it’s usually your name.

The gates of Microsoft are more like the gates of hell, over which it says, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’

And you do, abandon hope, that is.

I have accepted all of this with weary resignation. When the operating system disintegrated the first time, I wanted to believe that it was an accident. I resurrected the station, and no sooner was I finished, when the operating system self-destroyed again. This time, I suspected something structurally wrong in the very gut of the giant. Losing your operating system is tragic; you feel alone in the world, just a flesh critter with no cyber-connections. It becomes an emergency.

I called Microsoft and wandered through Voice Mail Hell until Karl answered.
He admitted that there were problems.
‘What happens?’ I ask.
It gets corrupted,’ said Karl sternly, as if that ‘it’ had somehow been my fault.
I like to get precise answers from people that work in the field of technology; I am not holding a séance. I guess, I believe, could be and it’s are not terms associated with a straight forward subject.
‘What do you mean ‘it’? ‘It’ must be some flaw in the operating system.
Karl’s voice really hardened now: ‘There is no flaw in the Microsoft operating system!’ he answered officially, ‘It’ just corrupted, that’s all.’
‘Karl’, I said, ‘I do not want to spend every month diddling with the operating systems. There has to be a better way.’
Karl snickered; he has a sense of humor, and said, ‘I guess so!’
I guess, from Microsoft is not reassuring.
‘Karl, just tell me how does the Microsoft operating system become corrupted?’
Microsoft Karl ask if I would like to speak to a supervisor.
I hung up and found a better way.
I got divorced, and now live in sin with another operating system.

December 03, 2008

ALL RIGHT, its OFFICIAL…. this, that and everything else’s playmate of the year

The votes are in; we have our ‘Miss 2008’ (circa 1669)

A HIGH-FLYING BIRD (with apologies to you-know-hugh)

Noses as always to the grindstone, all of us went peeping high and then some, because our toothsome titian-haired trove, pick of the pix Sansbra La Nuit, actually lives right up atop the ceiling of Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau! Lives? Lives it up all right, for sultry snoresome Sansbra just adores nightlife, and still loves to adorn her luxureferous locks with plenty of Flower Power. Talking of power, Sansbra’s sometime hobby was lovely-amateur-lady-pilot. Amateur lady or amateur pilot is anyone’s guess - but Sansbra certainly got her wings! ‘After which’, avers our languorous come-hitter houri,’I thought I’d take a nap.’ Forty hundred thousand winks haven’t paled that roses-‘n’-cream complexion, and the concerted opinion of her many admirers - and what a concert, ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ isn’t in it - is that a great future still yawns before her.

Hiding our blushes under a handy bushel in the formal park outside, we undertook to ask beauteous, somnolent Sansbra about her love life. Highflying' miss though she be, those cupidextrous lips certainly were not ceiled. Seems that after a first mordant never-to-be-forgotten date with the Sandman, she has spent most of her time in the arms of Morpheus. ‘He thimply won’t lethe me alone’ lisps our throttlesome odalisque. However, Sansbra’s really living for the day when she falls for, or on, Mr. Right. C’me up and see me s’metime, the air high around her seems to whisper, and don’t forget your ladder, daddy-boy.

Sansbra, 36-32-48, loves sports, ‘specially playing’possum – and best when that long feather duster comes ticklin’ around. But Mlle. La Nuit – Nightie Night to her best buddies – isn’t averse to intellectual pursuits too. She’s a ceiling wide authority on top-of-the-top-gear, that’s to say the three H’s, heads, hair and hats – from right up there she can tell a passing toupee from a purple rinse with her eyes closed. Talking of which, the only thing that really gets in Sansbra’s own hair is the perish-the-thought of whitewash – a real nightmare, she says, and enough even to disturb her Land of pulchritudinous Nod. ‘I well remember the day, comments languid Sansbra with a fetching little shudder, ‘when a lot of men came along with all the pots and ladders you ever saw. I thought then, ‘Sansie, this is it! The KO. Curtains, girlie, and great big dirty white ones at that!’ But it all turned out to be one of the biggest thrills of Sansbra’s whole life! The men were restorers! ‘Lovely gentlemen,’ cordially confirmed the sumbrous swanlet to our relieved ears, ‘and the feel of their camel’s-hair-brushes-mmmmmmmmmm! As much varnish as you liked too – bottles of it.’ Varnish is Sansbra’s favourite drink – ‘leaves you with a lovely clear head,’ she says. And her favourite cuisine, we ask? ‘Haute,’ of course, and her best- ever dish of all is a lovely big hairy spider, something outsize and on the bone of course, with lashings of cobweb ‘ a l’ancienne,’ please. No flies on Mlle. La Nuit!