Category Archives: dining

Another love story

Part II

Watching “Love Story” again, 50 years later, I found it terribly disappointing.

The film was an enormous hit at the box office, earning $130 million—the equivalent of $1 billion today.

It was a box-office phenomenon, a tearjerker that offered its audience a classic love story filled with amorous scenes and, ultimately, tragedy.

But….

Fifty years later, I found the two leads far less appealing than I remembered.  Ryan O’Neal, who plays highly-privileged Oliver Barrett IV, and Ali MacGraw, who plays Jenny, a super-smart girl from the wrong side of the tracks, encounter each other on the Harvard campus as undergrads.  After some sparring, they quickly fall into each other’s arms.  But I didn’t find either them or their relationship overwhelmingly endearing.

Ali MacGraw’s character, Jenny, strikes me now as borderline obnoxious.  She’s constantly smirking, overly impressed with her brain-power and witty repartee. 

Even Oliver, who falls madly in love with her, calls her “the supreme Radcliffe smart-ass” and a “conceited Radcliffe bitch.”  (As you probably know, Radcliffe was the women’s college affiliated with Harvard before Harvard College itself admitted women.)

Jenny would repeatedly retaliate, ridiculing Oliver by calling him “preppie,” a term used at the time by non-privileged students in an attempt to diminish the puffed-up opinion that privileged prep-school graduates had of themselves.

Jenny may have been Hollywood’s version of a sharp young college woman of her time, but 50 years later, I view her character as unrelatable and hard to take.

I received my own degrees at a rigorous college, a demanding grad school, and a world-renowned law school.  My classmates included some of the smartest women I’ve ever known.  But I don’t recall ever encountering any bright young women who exemplified the kind of “smart-ass” behavior Jenny displays.  If they existed, they clearly stayed out of my world.

The film has other flaws.  In one scene, filmed near a doorway to Langdell Hall (the still-imposing law school building that houses its vast law library), Jenny bicycles to where Oliver is perched and proceeds to make him a peanut butter sandwich while he is so engrossed in his recognizably red Little Brown casebook that he barely notices her presence. This scene is ludicrous.  Law students are traditionally super-focused on their studies.  Well, at least some of them are.  But Oliver’s ignoring a beloved spouse who’s gone out of her way to please him in this way is offensive and totally contrary to the “loving” tone in the rest of the film.  In short, ludicrous.

The movie also became famous for its often quoted line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  The absurdity of that line struck me back in 1970 and has stayed with me ever since.  I’ve never understood why it garnered so much attention.  Don’t we all say “I’m sorry” when we’ve done something hurtful?  Especially to someone we love?

Interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz in March 2021 (on CBS Sunday Morning), both Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal (still vibrant and still in touch with each other) confessed that they never understood the line either.  “What does it mean?” Mankiewicz asked.  MacGraw’s response:  “I don’t know.” 

One more thing about that famous line:  If you watch the hilarious 1972 screwball comedy “What’s Up, Doc?” you’ll probably get a kick out of a scene at the very end.  Barbra Streisand cleverly mocks the “Love means never…” line while traveling on a plane with her co-star (and “Love Story” lead) Ryan O’Neal.

Another line in the film, this one spoken by Oliver’s father, struck me as remarkable as I listened to it 50 years after the film first appeared.  When his father, played by veteran actor Ray Milland, learns that Oliver has been admitted to Harvard Law School, he tells Oliver that he’ll probably be “the first Barrett on the Supreme Court.”  Just think about this line.  Who could have predicted in 1970 that someone named Barrett would actually be appointed to the Supreme Court in 2020? (My opinion of that appointment?  No comment.)

One more thing about Jenny:  Yes, women used to give up great opportunities in order to marry Mr. Right, and many probably still do. But I was heartily disappointed that Jenny so casually gave up a scholarship to study music in Paris with Nadia Boulanger so she could stay in Cambridge while Oliver finished his law degree.

What’s worse, instead of insisting that she seize that opportunity, Oliver selfishly thought of himself first, begging her not to leave him.  Jenny winds up teaching at a children’s school instead of pursuing her undeniable musical talent.

I like to think that today (at least before the pandemic changed things) a smart young Jenny would tell Oliver, “I’m sorry, darling, but I really don’t want to give up this fabulous opportunity.  Why don’t you meet me in Paris?  Or wait for me here in Cambridge for a year or two?  We can then pick up where we left off.” 

But I’m probably being unfair to most of the young women of that era.  I’m certainly aware that the prevailing culture in 1970 did not encourage that sort of decision.

When I decided to marry Marv in 1971 and leave my job at UCLA to move with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan, I wasn’t giving up anything like Paris and Nadia Boulanger.  For one thing, I had had a perilous experience in LA with a major earthquake and its aftershocks.  [Please see my post, “I Felt the Earth Move under My Feet,” July 17, 2019.]  I was also aware of other negative features of life in LA.

And shortly after Marv asked me to marry him, we set off on an eight-day road trip from LA to San Francisco, via Route 1, along the spectacular California coast.  Spending every minute of those eight days together convinced me that Marv and I were truly meant to be together. (On one memorable occasion, while dining at The French Poodle restaurant in Carmel, Marv insisted that the server let me, not him, taste our wine before accepting it for our dinner. In 1971, this was absolutely stunning.) 

So I decided, on balance, that moving with Marv to Ann Arbor would mean moving to a tranquil, leafy-green, and non-shaky place where I could live with the man I adored.  The man who clearly adored me, too.

I was certain that I would find interesting and meaningful work to do, and I did.  

Both of us hoped to return to California after a few years in Ann Arbor, where Marv was a tenured member of the University of Michigan math faculty.  (He’d been at UCLA in a special one-year program and had to return to Ann Arbor in 1971.) 

But when that didn’t work out, and we jointly decided to leave Ann Arbor, we settled elsewhere—happily–because it meant that we could stay together.

I’ve made many unwise choices during my life.  The list is a long one.  But choosing to marry Marv, leave LA, and live with him for the rest of our gloriously happy married life was not one of them. 

The unwise choices were my own, and loving Marv was never the reason why I made any of them. 

On the contrary, life with Marv was in many ways the magical life I envisioned when we shared dinner for the first time at Le Cellier in Santa Monica in October 1970.

It was, in the end, and forever, another love story.

Postscript:  If Marv were still here, we’d be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary this month.

Hooray for Hollywood! Part II: I Love Your “Funny Face”

I’m continuing to focus on films that have been relevant to my life in some way.

The film I’m focusing on today is “Funny Face,” a 1957 film starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.

I first saw this film at Radio City Music Hall during a memorable trip to Washington DC and NYC, a trip made with my high school classmates, and one that represented the height of excitement in my life at that time.

It wasn’t my first visit to NYC and Radio City.  It also wasn’t my first trip to DC.

My parents had taken my sister and me on a road trip to the East Coast during the summer of 1950, when I was barely conscious and didn’t get a great deal out of it.  I did have a few notable experiences—staying at the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park West (how did we afford that?) and viewing some astounding sites in DC, mostly from a cab Daddy hired to show us around town. The place I remember most was an FBI museum, where I was frightened by a loud demonstration in which a gun was shot at targets to prove how the FBI dealt with crime. (Not a great choice for a young kid.)

Some other memories include our entering a DC restaurant where the tables were covered with pink “reserved” signs, and one sign was magically whisked away when we arrived.  I later learned that the restaurant used this ploy to prevent people of color from eating there.  The staff would refuse to seat them, telling them that all of the tables were reserved.  Even at a tender age, this struck me as wrong, although I was too young to fully understand the ugliness of this blatant form of discrimination, one I’d never encountered when we ate at restaurants in Chicago.

Another vivid memory:  Strolling through Central Park Zoo in NYC, I asked Daddy to buy me a balloon.  Daddy refused.  I didn’t view my request as unreasonable.  Looking around, I saw all those other kids who were holding balloons.  Why couldn’t I have one?  I was too young to grasp reality: My father was in NYC to search for a new job (which never materialized), and our family budget didn’t permit buying an overpriced balloon.  No doubt the balloon vendors catered to far more affluent families than mine.  But I remember crying my eyes out because of the balloon-deprivation, which seemed so unfair to me.

Finally, I remember viewing a film at Radio City.  It was a poor choice for a family film: “The Men,” starring Marlon Brandon as an injured war veteran.  It was a somber film, and the atmosphere was not made any cheerier by the newsreel (ubiquitous in movie theaters then), featuring the brand-new war in Korea, which had just begun in June.  The Rockettes probably did their thing, but I barely noticed them, too disturbed by the sad movie and the scary newsreel.

Fast forward a bunch of years, when I joined my high school classmates on a school-sponsored trip to DC and NYC, during which our group of rowdy teenagers disrupted life for countless locals.  Standing out in my memory is a concert held at the Pan American Union Building, a beautiful Beaux-Arts building in DC, where my silly friends and I began to stare at a mole on the back of a young woman sitting in front of us.  Our adolescent sense of humor led us to start laughing, and once we started, we of course couldn’t stop.  Other concert-goers were probably horrified.  But something else I can’t forget:  The concert included a brilliant rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” a piece I’ve loved ever since.

Moving on to NYC, where we were bused to an odd assortment of sites, we finally arrived at Radio City. The film that night was one of Hollywood’s new blockbusters, “Funny Face.”  Surrounded by my friends, whispering and laughing throughout, I barely focused on the film, certainly not enough to remember it very well.  But when I recently re-watched it on TCM, I found it completely delightful.  (Thanks, TCM, for all of the classic films I’ve watched on your channel.  Please keep showing them!)

In the film, which features a number of Gershwin tunes (including “Funny Face” and “S’wonderful”), Audrey Hepburn stands out as the radiant star she had become, while (in my view) Fred Astaire recedes into the background.

The movie’s storyline focuses on a NYC-based fashion magazine like Vogue, dominated by an aggressive editor played by Kay Thompson (much like the editor played by Meryl Streep years later in “The Devil Wears Prada”).  The editor (Kay) insists on major changes at the magazine and demands that her favored photographer, played by Astaire (Fred), help her effect those changes.  (His character is based on the renowned photographer Richard Avedon.)

Their search for a new look for the magazine improbably leads them to a bookstore in Greenwich Village, where Hepburn (Audrey) is the sole salesperson, the owner being off somewhere doing his own thing.  When Kay proposes that Audrey be the new face of her fashion magazine, Audrey—garbed in neutral black and gray– ridicules the whole concept of such a publication (it features, in her words, “silly women in silly dresses”).  But when Kay’s offer includes a trip for her to Paris, Audrey decides to go along with the idea.  She’s always wanted to see Paris!

Kay, Fred, and Audrey arrive in Paris about 15 years before my own first trip there.  But when the film begins to roam through the highlights of the city, I easily recognize the many breathtaking scenes I saw for the first time in 1972, including the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower.  (I’ve luckily returned to Paris many times, and the city and all that it offers still thrill me.)

As a teenager, I had a high regard for “fashion.”  My family’s business–women’s fashion-retailing–probably had something to do with it.  Peer pressure also played a role.  Some of my classmates were obsessed with pricey clothes, like cashmere sweaters with matching skirts, and even though I wasn’t in the same income bracket, their obsession couldn’t help rubbing off on me.  At least a little.  My place in the world just then probably accounts for my somewhat detached view of Audrey as someone who spoofs the fashion industry, at least at first.

Once the story gets underway, “Funny Face” offers a wealth of imaginative episodes.  The writer, Leonard Gershe, whose writing is clever and surprisingly not extremely dated, was Oscar-nominated for best writing, story, and screenplay.  Gershe came up with a whole lot of scenes that highlighted Paris.  A special scene takes place after Audrey goes off on her own, and Fred is sent out to track her down.  He finally finds her in a small café on the Left Bank, where she launches into a stunning dance set to jazz music.  (You may already know that Audrey had a background in dance.  She studied ballet as a teenager in Amsterdam and later studied it in London.  She then began performing in West End musical theater productions and went on to star on Broadway in a non-musical performance of Gigi in 1951.  She reportedly turned down the same role in the 1958 film.)

The jazz dance scene in “Funny Face” became famous a few years ago, when Gap used a portion of it in one of its TV commercials.  (As I recall, Gap was promoting the sort of black pants Audrey danced in.)  A controversy arose during the filming of this scene in “Funny Face.”  Audrey wanted to wear black socks while director Stanley Donen insisted that she wear white ones.  In an interview Donen gave shortly before his death, he explained why. The white socks would highlight her dancing feet while black ones would fade into the background.  Donen succeeded in persuading Audrey to see things his way, and the dance scene is now film history.

Without elaborating on the plot, I’ll point out that Audrey’s storyline has an interesting focus on “empathy,” a concept that has gained a foothold in popular culture in recent years.  (I attribute some of that to Barack Obama’s focus on it, something I picked up on when I first heard him speak to a group of lawyers in Chicago in 2002, when he was still an Illinois state senator.)

Dance highlights in the film include not only Audrey’s jazz dance scene in the Left Bank café but also Fred’s dance scene with an umbrella and a coat lining that transforms into a cape.  The two leads share at least two memorable dance scenes, including the closing scene set in a charming landscape outside a Paris church.

Notably, after Audrey leaves NYC for Paris, she poses all over the City of Light in clothes designed by Givenchy, who became her favorite designer, and whose designs for this film seem timeless.  Also notably, she wears shoes with heels, but they’re invariably very low heels.  These became her favorite style of footwear.  (For some of the “inside Audrey” comments made here, please see my earlier blog post, “Audrey Hepburn and Me,” published on August 14. 2013.)

Finally, the age difference between Audrey and Fred is stark.  She was 28 while he was 58—and looked it.  Despite his agile dancing, he was an unlikely man for her to fall in love with.  But then Hollywood often paired her with much older men.  The all-time creepiest example was Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon.  (You can find my earlier comment on this topic in my 2013 blog post.)

In sum, “Funny Face” is a glorious film, featuring a radiant Audrey Hepburn, a clever storyline, and countless scenes of Paris.  The Gershwin songs and the wonderful dancing, which blend almost seamlessly into the story, lead to a stunning result.  Even though I didn’t fully appreciate it in 1957, the memory of seeing it back then has stayed with me for the past six decades.  Seeing it again made me realize just how “’s’wonderful” it really is.

 

 

 

A new book you may want to know about

There’s one thing we can all agree on:  Trying to stay healthy.

That’s why you may want to know about a new book, Killer diseases, modern-day epidemics:  Keys to stopping heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity in their tracks, by Swarna Moldanado, PhD, MPH, and Alex Moldanado, MD.

In this extraordinary book, the authors have pulled together an invaluable compendium of both evidence and advice on how to stop the “killer diseases” they call “modern-day epidemics.”

First, using their accumulated wisdom and experience in public health, nursing science, and family medical practice, Swarna and Alex Moldanado offer the reader a wide array of scientific evidence.  Next, they present their well-thought-out conclusions on how this evidence supports their theories of how to combat the killer diseases that plague us today.

Their most compelling conclusion:  Lifestyle choices have an overwhelming impact on our health.  So although some individuals may suffer from diseases that are unavoidable, evidence points to the tremendous importance of lifestyle choices.

Specifically, the authors note that evidence “points to the fact that some of the most lethal cancers are attributable to lifestyle choices.”  Choosing to smoke tobacco or consume alcohol in excess are examples of the sort of risky lifestyle choices that can lead to this killer disease.

Similarly, cardiovascular diseases–diseases of the heart and blood vessels–share many common risk factors.  Clear evidence demonstrates that eating an unhealthy diet, a diet that includes too many saturated fats—fatty meats, baked goods, and certain dairy products—is a critical factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. The increasing size of food portions in our diet is another risk factor many people may not be aware of.

On the other hand, most of us are aware of the dangers of physical inactivity.  But knowledge of these dangers is not enough.  Many of us must change our lifestyle choices.  Those of us in sedentary careers, for example, must become much more physically active than our lifestyles lend themselves to.

Yes, the basics of this information appear frequently in the media.  But the Moldanados reveal a great deal of scientific evidence you might not know about.

Even more importantly, in Chapter 8, “Making and Keeping the Right Lifestyle Choices,” the authors step up to the plate in a big way.  Here they clearly and forcefully state their specific recommendations for succeeding in the fight against killer diseases.

Following these recommendations could lead all of us to a healthier and brighter outcome.

Kudos to the authors for collecting an enormous volume of evidence, clearly presenting it to us, and concluding with their invaluable recommendations.

No more excuses!  Let’s resolve to follow their advice and move in the right direction to help ensure our good health.

 

 

 

 

The Last Straw(s)

A crusade against plastic drinking straws?  Huh?

At first glance, it may strike you as frivolous.  But it’s not.  In fact, it’s pretty darned serious.

In California, the city of Berkeley may kick off such a crusade.   In June, the city council directed its staff to research what would be California’s first city ordinance prohibiting the use of plastic drinking straws in bars, restaurants, and coffee shops.

Berkeley is responding to efforts by nonprofit groups like the Surfrider Foundation that want to eliminate a significant source of pollution in our oceans, lakes, and other bodies of water. According to the conservation group Save the Bay, the annual cleanup days held on California beaches have found that plastic straws and stirrers are the sixth most common kind of litter.  If they’re on our beaches, they’re flowing into the San Francisco Bay, into the Pacific Ocean, and ultimately into oceans all over the world.

As City Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, a co-author of the proposal to study the ban, has noted, “They are not biodegradable, and there are alternatives.”

I’ve been told that plastic straws aren’t recyclable, either.  So whenever I find myself using a plastic straw to slurp my drink, I conscientiously separate my waste:  my can of Coke Zero goes into the recycling bin; my plastic straw goes into the landfill bin.  This is nuts.  Banning plastic straws in favor of paper ones is the answer.

Realistically, it may be a tough fight to ban plastic straws because business interests (like the Monster Straw Co. in Laguna Beach) want to keep making and selling them.  And business owners claim that they’re more cost-effective, leading customers to prefer them.  As Monster’s founder and owner, Natalie Buketov, told the SF Chronicle, “right now the public wants cheap plastic straws.”

Berkeley could vote on a ban by early 2018.

On the restaurant front, some chefs would like to see the end of plastic straws.  Spearheading a growing movement to steer eateries away from serving straws is Marcel Vigneron, owner-chef of Wolf Restaurant on Melrose Avenue in L.A.  Vigneron, who’s appeared on TV’s “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef,” is also an enthusiastic surfer, and he’s seen the impact of straw-pollution on the beaches and marine wildlife.  He likes the moniker “Straws Suck” to promote his effort to move away from straws, especially the play on words:  “You actually use straws to suck, and they suck because they pollute the oceans,” he told CBS in July.

Vigneron added that if a customer wants a straw, his restaurant has them.  But servers ask customers whether they want a straw instead of automatically putting them into customers’ drinks.  He notes that every day, 500 million straws are used in the U.S., and they could “fill up 127 school buses.”  He wants to change all that.

Drinking straws have a long history.  Their origins were apparently actual straw, or other straw-like grasses and plants.  The first paper straw, made from paper coated with paraffin wax, was patented in 1888 by Marvin Stone, who didn’t like the flavor of a rye grass straw added to his mint julep.  The “bendy” paper straw was patented in 1937.  But the plastic straw took off, along with many other plastic innovations, in the 1960s, and nowadays they’re difficult to avoid.

Campaigns like Surfrider’s have taken off because of mounting concern with plastic pollution.  Surfrider, which has also campaigned against other threats to our oceans, like plastic bags and cigarette butts, supports the “Straws Suck” effort, and according to author David Suzuki, Bacardi has joined with Surfrider in the movement to ban plastic straws.

Our neighbors to the north have already leaped ahead of California.  The town of Tofino in British Columbia claims that it mounted the very first “Straws Suck” campaign in 2016.  By Earth Day in April that year, almost every local business had banned plastic straws.  A fascinating story describing this effort appeared in the Vancouver Sun on April 22, 2016.

All of us in the U.S., indeed the world, need to pay attention to what plastic is doing to our environment.  “At the current rate, we are really headed toward a plastic planet,” according to the author of a study reported in the journal Science Advances, reported by AP in July.  Roland Geyer, an industrial ecologist at UC Santa Barbara, noted that there’s enough discarded plastic to bury Manhattan under more than 2 miles of trash.

Geyer used the plastics industry’s own data to find that the amount of plastics made and thrown out is accelerating.  In 2015, the world created more than twice as much as it made in 1998.

The plastics industry has fought back, relying on the standard of cost-effectiveness.  It claims that alternatives to plastic, like glass, paper, or aluminum, would require more energy to produce.  But even if that’s true, the energy difference in the case of items like drinking straws would probably be minimal.  If we substitute paper straws for plastic ones, the cost difference would likely be negligible, while the difference for our environment—eliminating all those plastic straws floating around in our waterways–could be significant.

Aside from city bans and eco-conscious restaurateurs, we need to challenge entities like Starbucks.  The mega-coffee-company and coffeehouse-chain prominently offers, even flaunts, brightly-colored plastic straws for customers sipping its cold drinks.  What’s worse:  they happily sell them to others!  Just check out the Starbucks straws for sale on Amazon.com.  Knowing what we know about plastic pollution, I think Starbucks’s choice to further pollute our environment by selling its plastic straws on the Internet is unforgivable.

At the end of the day, isn’t this really the last straw?

 

Munching on Meatloaf

Meatloaf, that old standby, has just acquired a new cachet.  Or has it?

A recent column by Frank Bruni in The New York Times focused on food snobs, in particular their ridicule of Donald Trump’s love of meatloaf.  Weeks earlier, Trump had “forced Chris Christie to follow his lead at a White House lunch and eat meatloaf, which the president praised as his favorite item on the menu.”

According to Bruni, a former restaurant critic, news coverage of the lunch “hinted that Trump wasn’t merely a bully but also a rube.  What grown-up could possibly be so fond of this retro, frumpy dish?”

Bruni’s answer:  “Um, me.  I serve meatloaf at dinner parties.  I devoted a whole cookbook to it.”

Allow me to join forces with Frank Bruni.  Putting aside my general negativity towards all things Trump, I have to admit I’m fond of meatloaf, too.

My recollections of eating meatloaf go back to the dining-room table in our West Rogers Park apartment in the 1950s.  My mother was never an enthusiastic cook.  She prepared meals for us with a minimal degree of joy, no doubt wishing she could spend her time on other pursuits.  It was simply expected of her, as the wife and mother in our mid-century American family, to come up with some sort of breakfast, lunch, and dinner nearly every day.

Breakfasts rarely featured much more than packaged cereal and milk.  I remember putting a dusting of sugar on corn flakes—something I haven’t done since childhood.  Did we add fresh fruit to our cereal?  Not very often.  We might have added raisins.   But fresh fruit, like the abundant blueberries and strawberries we can now purchase all year long, wasn’t available in Chicago grocery stores during our long cold ‘50s winters.  At least not in our income bracket.

Daddy occasionally made breakfast on the weekends.  I remember watching him standing in front of our ‘30s-style mint green enamel-covered stove, whipping up his specialty, onions and eggs, with aplomb.  But those highly-anticipated breakfasts were rare.

[I recently discovered that stoves like that one are still available.  They’re advertised online by a “retro décor lover’s dream resource” in Burbank, as well as on eBay, where an updated model is currently listed for $4,495.]

As for lunch, my public grade school compelled us to walk home for lunch every day.  Only a handful of sub-zero days broke that mold.  Our school had no cafeteria, or even a lunchroom, where kids could eat in frigid weather.  Only on alarmingly cold days were we permitted to bring a lunch from home and eat it in the school auditorium.  If we pleaded convincingly enough, our parents might let us buy greasy hamburgers at Miller’s School Store.

Most days I’d walk home, trudging the six long blocks from school to home and back within an hour. Mom would have lunch waiting for me on our breakfast-room table, mostly sandwiches and the occasional soup.  Mom rarely made her own soup.  She generally opened cans of Campbell’s “vegetable vegetarian,” eschewing canned soups that included any possibility of unknown meat.

Mom’s dinner specialties included iceberg-lettuce salads, cooked veggies and/or potatoes, and a protein of some kind.  Because of her upbringing, she invariably chose fish, poultry, or cuts of meats like ground beef, beef brisket, and lamb chops.

Which brings us to meatloaf.

I must have liked Mom’s meatloaf because I don’t have a single negative memory associated with it.  And when I got married and began preparing meals for my own family, I never hesitated to make meatloaf myself.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to prepare dinner every night.  I was immensely lucky to marry a man who actually enjoyed cooking.  Although I inherited my mother’s reluctance to spend much time in the kitchen, Herb relished preparing elaborate gourmet dishes á la Julia Child—in fact, he often used her cookbook—and proudly presenting them to our daughters and me whenever his schedule allowed.

But when I was the cook, meatloaf was one of my favorite choices.  I’d buy lean ground beef, add breadcrumbs, ketchup, and assorted herbs and spices, mix it all together with my bare hands, and heat the finished product until it was just right.  Aware by then of warnings about high-fat red meat, I’d carefully remove my loaf pan from the oven and scrupulously drain as much fat from the pan as I could.  The result?  A tasty and relatively low-fat dish.  My family loved it.

At some point I discovered the glories of leftover meatloaf.  Chilled in the fridge overnight, it made a toothsome sandwich the next day.  It was especially good on rye bread and loaded with ketchup.  Wrapped in a plastic baggie, it would go from home to wherever I traveled to work, and I had to use my most stalwart powers of self-discipline to wait till lunchtime to bite into its deliciousness.

Those days are sadly over.  I rarely prepare dinner for my family anymore, and my consumption of meat products has gone way down.  Most days, when I reflect on what I’ve eaten, I realize that, more often than not, I’ve unknowingly eaten a wholly vegetarian diet.

I haven’t eaten meatloaf in years.  But hearing about Trump’s penchant for it has awakened my tastebuds.  If I could just get my hands on a tasty low-fat version like the one I used to make, my long meatloaf-drought might finally be over.

Punting on the Cam

The keys to my front door reside on a key ring I bought in Cambridge, England, on a magical day in September 1986.  It’s one of the souvenir key rings you used to find in Britain (and maybe still can, though I didn’t see any during a visit in 2012).  They were fashioned in leather and emblazoned in gold leaf with the name and design of a notable site.

During trips to London and elsewhere in Britain during the 1980s and ‘90s, I acquired a host of these key rings. One of my favorites was a bright red one purchased at Cardiff Castle in Wales in 1995.  I would carry one of them in my purse until the gold design wore off and the leather became so worn that it began to fall apart.

Until recently, I thought I had used every one of these leather key rings.  But recently, in a bag filled with souvenir key rings, I came across the one I bought in Cambridge in 1986.  There it was, in all of its splendor:  Black leather emblazoned with the gold-leaf crest of King’s College, Cambridge.

I began using it right away, and the gold design is already fading.  But my memories of that day in Cambridge will never fade.

My husband Herb had gone off to Germany to attend a math conference while I remained at home with our two young daughters.  But we excitedly planned to rendezvous in London, one of our favorite cities, when his conference was over.

Happily for us, Grandma agreed to stay with our daughters while I traveled to meet Herb, and on a rainy September morning I arrived in London and checked into our Bloomsbury hotel.  Soon I set off in the rain to find theater tickets for that evening, and in Leicester Square I bought half-price tickets for a comedy I knew nothing about, “Lend Me a Tenor.”  Stopping afterwards for tea at Fortnum and Mason’s eased the pain of trekking through the rain.

When Herb and I finally met up, we dined at an Italian restaurant and headed for the theater. “Lend Me a Tenor” was hilarious and set the tone for a wonderful week together.

We covered a lot of ground in London that week, including a visit to Carlyle’s house in Chelsea, a sunny boat trip to Greenwich, viewing notable Brits on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery, tramping around Bloomsbury and Hampstead, and lunching with a British lawyer (a law-school friend) at The Temple, an Inn of Court made famous by our favorite TV barrister, Rumpole (of the Bailey), whose chambers were allegedly in The Temple.

Other highlights were our evenings at the theater. Thanks to advice from my sister, who’d just been in London, we ordered tickets before leaving home for the new smash musical, “Les Miserables” (which hadn’t yet hit Broadway). It was worth every penny of the $75 we paid per ticket (a pricey sum in 1986) to see Colm Wilkinson portray Jean Valjean on the stage of the Palace Theatre.  We also loved seeing a fresh interpretation of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” at the Barbican and Alan Ayckbourn’s poignant comedy “A Chorus of Disapproval” at the Lyric.  Although “Mutiny!”–a musical based on “Mutiny on the Bounty”–was disappointing, we relished a concert at South Bank’s Royal Festival Hall, where I kept expecting the Queen to enter and unceremoniously plop herself down in one of the hall’s many boxes.

But it was our day trip to Cambridge that was the centerpiece of our week.  On Friday, September 19th, we set out by train from King’s Cross Station and arrived at Cambridge in just over an hour.  We immediately reveled in the array of beautiful sites leaping out at us on the university campus nestled along the Cam River.  Our first stop was Queens’ College and its remarkable Mathematical Bridge.  The college spans both sides of the river (students jokingly refer to the newer half as the “light side” and the older half as the “dark side”), and the world-famous bridge connects the two.  The legend goes that the bridge was designed and built by Cambridge scholar Sir Isaac Newton without the use of nuts or bolts. But in fact it was built with nuts and bolts in 1749, 22 years after Newton died, and rebuilt in 1905.

Our next must-see site was King’s College.  During my college years at Washington University in St. Louis, I learned that Graham Chapel, our strikingly beautiful chapel–built in 1909 and the site of many exhilarating lectures and concerts (in which I often sang)–shared its design with that of King’s College, Cambridge.  So we headed right for it.  (Graham Chapel’s architect never maintained that it was an exact copy but was only partly modeled after King’s College Chapel, which is far larger.)

Entering the huge and impressive Cambridge version, we were suitably awed by its magnificence.  Begun by King Henry VI in 1446, it features the largest “fan vault” in the world and astonishingly beautiful medieval stained glass.  (A fan vault? It’s a Gothic vault in which the ribs are all curved the same and spaced evenly, resembling a fan.)

As we left the chapel, still reeling from all the stunning places we’d just seen, we noticed signs pointing us in the direction of punts available for a ride on the Cam.  The idea of “punting on the Cam”—riding down the river on one of the flat-bottomed boats that have been around since 1902–sounded wonderful.  We didn’t hesitate to pay the fare and immediately seated ourselves in one of the boats.

The river was serene, with only a few other boats floating nearby, and our punter, a charming young man in a straw boater hat, provided intelligent narration as we floated past the campus buildings stretched out along the river.  He propelled the boat by pushing against the river bed with a long pole.  His charm and good looks enhanced our ride enormously.

The boat wasn’t crowded.  An older British couple sat directly across from us, and we chatted amiably about Britain and the United States, finding commonality where we could.

The sun was shining, and the 70-degree temperature was perfect.  Beautiful old trees dotted the riverbanks, providing shade as we floated by, admiring the exquisite college buildings.

What’s punting like?  Ideally, it’s a calm, soothing boat ride on a river like the Cam.  Something like riding in a gondola in Venice, except that gondolas are propelled by oars instead of poles. (I rush to add that the gondola I rode in Venice had a much less attractive and charming oarsman.)

An article in the Wall Street Journal in November described recent problems caused by punting’s growing popularity.  Increased congestion in the Cam has led to safety rules and regulations never needed in the past.  According to the Journal, “punt wars” have divided the city of Cambridge, with traditional boats required to follow the new rules while upstart self-hire boats, which have created most of the problems, are not.

But luckily for Herb and me, problems like those didn’t exist in 1986.  Not at all.  Back then, floating along the river with my adored husband by my side was an idyllic experience that has a special place in my memory.

I don’t recall where I bought my leather key ring.  Perhaps in a small shop somewhere in Cambridge.  But no matter where I bought it, it remains a happy reminder of a truly extraordinary day.

 

Down and Hot in Paris and London (with apologies to George Orwell)

This post is something of a departure from my earlier ones. It’s the record of a family trip to Paris, London, and elsewhere in France and the U.K. during the summer of 1995. My family that summer included my husband Herb; our two college-aged daughters, Meredith and Leslie; and me. Our home was in a suburb of Chicago.

I originally drafted this piece in 1995, shortly after we returned from our trip. I focused on how we survived the intense heat we’d encountered. Now, nearly 20 years later, the cities we visited may respond to hot weather differently than they did back then. But my post may nevertheless serve as a cautionary tale for anyone traveling anywhere during hot weather, even today.

Please don’t conclude that this trip was a disaster. It wasn’t! Even though we continually confronted the challenges of hot-weather travel, we nevertheless had a marvelous time. We laughed through all of our travails and mishaps, and they quickly became family legends that we’ve treasured ever since.

Because of its overall length, I’ve divided it into four separate posts, beginning with Part I.

PART I

In a sweltering summer when temperatures in Chicago soared to record-breaking highs, we took off for Paris and London. When Herb and I made our travel plans, it seemed like a great idea. For one thing, Northern Europe almost never had the high summer temperatures we usually had in Chicago. Besides, our older daughter, Meredith, was spending the summer doing research in Paris. What better excuse for the rest of us to fly there, meet up with her, then travel together in France and the U.K.?

In May, we booked our airline tickets, planning to depart for Paris in mid-July. By June, I began to get glimmers that all was not well. Meredith was reporting unusually hot weather in Paris, and media dispatches from Wimbledon noted London temperatures in the 90s.

It can’t last, I thought. This is freakish weather for Paris and London, and by the time we get there, things will have cooled off.

But by the time we got there, it was just as hot.

Younger daughter Leslie, Herb, and I arrived in Paris early Friday morning and headed for the taxi stand at Orly Airport. The air was shimmering with heat–at 8 a.m.–and we were grateful to grab a taxi with air-conditioning. We arrived at our modest hotel near the Luxembourg Gardens and found our chambre, a good-sized room with one double bed and two twins. Heavy curtains on the French windows were fending off the sun, but when we opened them to see our view, the sun hit the room, and the already-high temperature shot up even more. We rushed to close the curtains. Then, exhausted from our trip, we collapsed on our sagging mattresses.

Meredith met up with us later that morning, and we all set out for the Luxembourg Gardens, where we found chairs in a shady spot and pondered how to spend the rest of the day. A museum would surely be cool; protecting all that priceless artwork required air-conditioning. We couldn’t face the cavernous Louvre, so we headed for the Musée d’Orsay.

Hot and sleep-deprived, we dragged ourselves up the Boulevard St-Michel to the Metro, and took a sizzling subway car to the museum. Surprise! Once inside, having paid a hefty entrance fee, we were shocked to find the air-conditioning barely functioning. Weren’t Parisians worried about all those precious Monets, Manets, and Van Goghs?

We forced ourselves to look at a few galleries but eventually collapsed in some comfy wicker chairs, where we dozed off for the next half-hour. Other museum-goers stared, but we were too hot and sleepy to care. We finally made our way to the museum café, where we ate a light lunch and consumed a large quantity of liquid refreshment.

After searching for an air-conditioned restaurant near our hotel–and finding none–we dined outside on the Rue Soufflot and headed for bed, only to discover another problem: mosquitoes! Our beautiful French windows had no screens, and if we opened the windows with the lights on, mosquitoes attacked us from every direction. We decided to leave the windows closed till it was time to turn out the lights.

Once we turned off the lights and opened the windows, a delicious breeze entered the room, cooling us off for the night. But the mosquitoes still targeted us, even in the dark, and traffic noise kept us from having a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, we awoke to a rainy Paris sky. In my lifetime of traveling, I’d never before been so happy to see rain! The gray sky meant lower temperatures, and we happily set out for another museum (the Musée d’Art Moderne, then featuring an impressive exhibit of Chagall paintings) without the threat of soaring temperatures and a merciless sun.

But as the day progressed, things got a lot steamier, and we decided to leave Paris a day earlier than planned. We would pick up our rental car and head for Rouen one day sooner. After dinner on the Rue du Pot de Fer, a pedestrian street a few steps from the busy Rue Mouffetard, we walked back to our hotel, prepared to be unwilling mosquito-targets one more night.

By now, we were all covered with bites, and the torment of itching had begun. Applying hydrocortisone cream helped, but not nearly enough. Meredith bought a more powerful French ointment formulated to ease insect bites, so we tried that, too. But those Parisian bugs were potent, and we proceeded to scratch their bites for days. (The bites on our feet created a special torment. Encased in heavy-duty athletic shoes–the better to walk in, my dear–our feet were not only piping-hot but also covered with bites that never stopped itching!)

The next morning dawned sunny but cooler. Miraculous! Did we really want to leave Paris a day early? Taking advantage of the cooler air, we set out on foot for the Marais, by way of the bouquinistes along the Seine, the Ile de la Cité, and the Ile St-Louis. By the time we arrived at the Rue des Rosiers, where we consumed kosher panini, the sun had become more intense, and the air was growing hot.

At the Musée Carnavalet, the displays of Parisian history and culture were fascinating, but the increasing heat and the enormous collection finally wore us down. Drained of energy, we spent the next hour sitting in the shade, zombie-like, in a small park just outside the museum.

Later, we walked to the Place des Vosges, where we sat for a while once again in the shade. The search for shade had become a rallying cry that resounded throughout the trip. “Shade!” I would shout, and the rest of our little group would hurry after me to reach the nearest patch of shade.

After another excellent dinner on the Rue du Pot de Fer, enjoying the sensory delights of a delicious breeze, I wondered whether we were right to leave Paris one day early. But the next morning, the sun was blazing with a vengeance, and all of us were grateful to pile into our rented Peugeot and head north to Normandy, where cooler temperatures awaited–or so we hoped!

Sharing Old Clothes in Panama City

The term “old clothes” has a brand new meaning for me.   In Panama City, I recently shared not just one but two different kinds of old clothes.

A culinary standby in Panama is “ropa vieja,” a traditional dish of spicy shredded beef and rice.   “Ropa vieja” translates as “old clothes.”   The name stems from a cook’s inclination to use up whatever is left over in the kitchen, just as all of us grab our old clothes whenever we’re at a loss for something to wear.  Somehow Panamanian cooks got in the habit of throwing together shredded beef (often leftover steak) with rice and tomato sauce, plus some spices to perk it all up.

When I read a description of this spicy bit of local cuisine in a couple of guidebooks, it sounded like a dish I’d relish.  So, from the moment I landed in Panama City, I couldn’t wait to try it.  When I discovered El Trapiche, a restaurant featuring local dishes like ropa vieja, I wasn’t disappointed.  The dish came steaming hot, and the meat tasted a lot like juicy brisket to me.  Along with a hearty portion of rice, it was both filling and delicioso.

El Trapiche sits on Calle Argentina, not far from a number of other restaurants in the area called El Cangrejo.   The décor is basic, and our fellow patrons were mostly city residents who’d come to indulge in local specialties like ropa vieja, sancocho (a traditional soup made from chicken and the popular yucca plant), tamales, arroz con pollo, and mondongo (tripe).  The price was right:  $6 for a large helping of ropa vieja, $4.50 for my companion’s order of arroz con pollo, and $4 for a large bowl of sancocho.  We shared all three dishes, thereby sampling three different kinds of local cuisine.  (A “tipico” platter featuring samples of a variety of things was available for $11.)  A scoop of ice cream for dessert added a minimal $2.

After this hearty, totally satisfying meal, we walked to a nearby corner, flagged one of the city’s ubiquitous yellow taxis, and secured a ride back to our hotel for $3 (no tip required).

Sharing old clothes turned out to have a whole other meaning for me in Panama.  As a frugal and immensely practical traveler, I like to pack well-worn clothes that I’m prepared to jettison either during or at the end of my trip.  All year long, I look through my closet for things that no longer fit well or are somewhat out of date.  I put these into my “jettison pile.”  Then, when I pack for a trip, I peruse the pile and select those items that strike me as both appropriate and acceptable for the destinations I’m heading to.

For a trip to a location where most travelers wear casual garb, I’ll choose old t-shirts and pants that are now a bit baggy but will do just fine at my destination.            For a trip to colder climes, I dig through my pile for sweaters and warm slacks I rarely wear now (I still harbor a collection of these items from my years in Chicago).

Another item I jettison is shoes that have seen better days.  They tend to be a bit scuffed but still wearable.

One goal of this process is to carve out room in my suitcase for new purchases, like clothes or souvenirs that might otherwise require  another bag.

If I need more items to wear and later jettison (to make room for new purchases), I scour local charity shops and frequently hit pay dirt.  Before leaving for Panama City, I headed to a local shop that perennially features a $1 rack.  I found a treasure trove of men’s white dress shirts and bought several to wear over my t-shirts to protect me from the hot sun while hiking or taking a boat trip.  I happily left these behind, knowing I can always find more.

Who’s on the receiving end of my jettisoned items?  I generally leave them behind in hotel rooms, hoping that the cleaning staff will make good use of them.  I always leave a note (in the local language if I can manage it) specifically stating that I no longer want these items and the staff is welcome to them.  (For example, in basic Spanish I’ve written:  “Usted puede tener estas cosas.  No quiero estas.”)   Even if my Spanish or French isn’t perfect, I think I get my message across.  I don’t want anyone at the hotel to think I left these things behind by mistake and send them back to me!

Of course, when my travels include seeing people I know or attending an event like a wedding, I eschew my jettison pile and instead pack flattering, current clothes and shoes.  The jettison pile is reserved for trips, like my recent trip to Panama, when most of my encounters will be with total strangers–or close friends who already know my predilection for sharing old clothes.