Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Monday, November 18, 2019

Window Shopping: Rue du Bac

Despite the rain and overcast skies, Paris always bursts with color. This morning, after four consecutive days of what sometimes resembled a forced march, my legs warned me at dawn that if I tried to ramble through the Louvre today I'd be rumbling tomorrow and miss Versailles. So I sent my friend on her way alone and took a leisurely amble a block down the Rue du Bac.

Our boutique hotel, Saint-Germaine, offers such warm hospitality that I'd recommend it to anybody who wanted a break from the hustle of the city. We wake up to colorful and plentiful breakfast, with a lovely fresh fruit compote and various yogurts, in addition to boiled eggs and cheeses. We can sit there anywhere between 7 and 11 a.m., sipping coffee au lait, watching our neighbors and fellow travelers wander in and out of the lobby, plan our daily itineraries and get the latest news from the concierge. The desk clerks warn us of police/"yellow jacket" protests and inclement weather, as well as providing first-hand information on the nearby restaurants. They know the area well, and are solidly reliable.

On my way to the CIC automated teller, I took in how Parisian bistros invite patrons to sit outside, despite the cold. What could be more Parisian hospitality, I thought, than how Le Flores, on the corner of Rue du Bac and Rue du Grenelle, provides warm ruby red lap robes for those who want their meal outdoors. We elected to dine inside the other evening, on onion soup and a shrimp and avocado salad. Not only had there been rain, there'd also been snowflakes.

Arrived a week ago, right after the shopkeepers began putting up their Christmas decorations. Look how inviting our neighborhood windows are. My youngest granddaughter has outgown the teddy bear stage, at ten, but nonetheless I lingered to think about how delighted I would have been 75 years ago to find one of these sweet animals parked under my childhood's Christmas trees.

I'd passed the next-door pharmacy several times, stopping to gaze at the toiletries. A few days ago, I had entered and tested the Fleur d'Oranger sampler. This morning I surrendered and treated myself to a holiday present. I saved myself a trip across the Seine to the Galeries Lafayette, shopping right in the neighborhood.

Not all the displays promoted holiday shopping, though. This mannequin is parked right next to a small cafe, and I concluded it advertised a lingerie shop...but who knows, this is Paris, ooh-la-la.

Friday, November 8, 2019

A Swinging Day in Orange County

I'd been to Orange Coast College before, several times to see plays and once even to sit in on a lecture given by a friend who was a faculty member. I'd no idea, however, what services some of its departments provide our community. Yesterday I went with a group from my AAUW (American Association of University Women) branch to see a show at its new planetarium and to dine at The Captain's Table, a lab for culinary arts students. Wow...what a double treat in one outing.

You don't  have to be a primary school student to be thrilled when the Foucault Pendulum's swinging
sphere knocks over a pin, though the guide told us that the kids cheer when that happens, as delightedly as if they were acknowledging a grand slam homer. The first one I ever saw was at Golden State Park, back in the early '50reds. No science whiz, I simply stared in amazement at this proof that the earth rotated. Since then, I've been fortunate to be mesmerized by pendulums all over the globe. The earth still turns, despite the planet's recent turmoil.

The featured show yesterday, "Phantom of the Universe," tended to be seasonably spooky, featuring Tilda Swinton explaining what we know and, maybe more importantly, what we don't know, about dark matter, which apparently is everywhere and somehow holds everything together. 

On Saturdays the Planetarium couples talks about constellations with popular sci fi films of the past. The schedule of events is here: Parking and dropoff for the Planetarium are located in Parking Lot E, off of Merrimac Way.

Then our group moved on, to become lab rats for the Culinary Arts Department students at The Captain's Table. No, we weren't offered stale cubes of cheddar. Instead we were treated to a sit down served banquet with choices of appetizer and entree. In the fall semester, the Culinary Principle 3 class is learning "banquet-style" service in the context of American Regional Cuisine. The menu changes weekly, spotlighting regional favorites from sections of the United States.

Yesterday each course reflected the southwest states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah or Nevada. So we all enjoyed an hor d'oeuvre of chile con queso with blue corn chips. We had an appetizer choice of bbq duck tamale red chili or a romaine salad with jicama, avocado and warm black bean cake. My entree choice was an ancho chili braised lamb shank while others opted for bacon-wrapped southwest
spice rubbed turkey tenderloin with green chili sauce. Both entrees were served with sauteed squash, Nevada corn cake, Jerusalem artichokes and yam fries. The "milk and cookie" dessert was a tiny cup of hot minted chocolate, with four different cookies. We also had baskets of flour tortillas and tubs of honey butter.

Both lunch and dinner are open to the public, with reservations strongly suggested. The seating schedules and meal offerings are listed here: Captains Table Fall 2019 Flyer.docx

Why anybody who lives in Southern California could complain that there's never anything worth seeing or doing remains a mystery to me. I concluded the day by meeting a friend for a Happy Hour margarita at El Torito, a longtime favorite chain and then a dress rehearsal preview of "A Nice Family
Gathering," at Westminster Community Playhouse. A comedy, this story features the ghost of a gentleman who neglected to tell his wife during the 41 years of their marriage that he loved her. To reverse an axiom, he died to regret it.

He comes back Thanksgiving day to visit his former family and to try to make amends. Mrs. Lundeen, his grieving widow, serves a strange holiday meal..."tuna tango" appetizers and turkey dogs with cheeze whiz. You can't blame the poor soul. She's been "going downhill" according to all three of her adult children, since Dad died following an attack of either bacon or pork chops...still unclear which part of the porker done him in.

The play's terrifically funny and well-acted, but I think I'd rather sit down to supper at Orange Coast College. Here's where you can get tickets for the Westminster performance:

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Witches of Westminster are Completely Fine

Barbara and the Bookies
We weren't the witches of Eastwick. No, just the witches of AAUW book review as our little coven of literary ladies gathered the other night to discuss Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. We munched on cheese and crackers, rather than frozen pizza or pasta with pesto and sipped wine, rather than vodka, Eleanor's favored food and drink choices. But because our hostess was Barbara, who always decorates for the season and dons costumes extraordinaire,  we borrowed her witch hats and cuddled spiders as we chatted about the cobwebs of Eleanor's mind.
No spoilers here. No big reveals. I'll simply say that since I read this novel a few months ago I've been haunted by Eleanor. She's soared right up there in my cast of unforgettable characters. She's  huddled next to Mr. Klepper of Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, the second Mrs. de Winter of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and Jo of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. She might as well have stepped out of the pages of a 21st century novel imagined by Charles Dickens, so idiosyncratic is her behavior and her quirkiness.

Eleanor's not completely fine, not in many ways. As our group traded opinions the other night, I once again am so glad that discussing such book allows us to learn so much about each other, as well as the chance to learn about the author and the themes of the selected work.

Reese Witherspoon has optioned the film rights to this book. I'm already wondering who will be cast as the huge-hearted, if unhygienic Raymond. It may be hard to think of Reese as transforming into Eleanor, but I didn't believe Renee Zellweger could become Judy Garland. Until she did.

Eleanor's "lesson learned"?

The only way to survive is to open your heart. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Pure as the Driven Snow

When I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic I befriended a young vegan woman from Colorado. We both lived near the Haitian border where fresh vegetables rarely could be found. We'd go to the local open air market and she'd snag what few gnarled carrots and shriveled green beans she could find.

"I just make do with bananas and peanut butter and I'm grateful that rice and beans together make a complete protein," she explained.

I admired her fortitude. A lifelong vegan, raised by vegan parents, she didn't make a fetish of her eating nor did she sneer at me when I stopped at the local ice cream store for a chocolate chip cone.

She'd just have a glass of fresh guanabana juice and keep me company. I never heard her comment on her purity or the impurity of others. She simply didn't eat meat or dairy products. 

Yesterday, at the Orange County fairgrounds, I overheard some conversations and saw some displays that reminded me of why eating disorder treatment clinics are burgeoning in the United States. 

I enjoyed the fresh pineapple juice I ordered to accompany my vegan tacos, but found it overly sugary. I don't have any food allergies or taboos, but keep sugar to a minimum. Nonetheless, I didn't feel that I'd ruined my efforts to lose the weight I gained during my Grand Jury duty by sipping about a quarter of the huge cup I'd bought. It only had been offered in one size: gargantuan. 

That wasn't the case of the three people I overheard standing by the coconut vegan ice cream booth. They were nattering about sugar, fats, sodium, GMOs, and complaining about not seeing all the ingredients listed on some of the booths featuring so-called healthy foods. 

"Well, at least we're better than those fools who buy funnel cakes and those slider towers at the Orange County Fair," one said.

It was the word "better" that made my ears prick up like my late, great Akita, Tsunami's, when I mentioned treats. I surveyed the booths and the displays. Mentally,  I pictured a 1940s flashing neon sign,"orthorexia, orthorexia, orthorexia"  
Certainly a desire to improve one's health by a vegetarian or vegan diet is not a mental health disorder.  But feeling purer or better than those who do not follow similar diets might well be a sign of obsessive thoughts that can lead to an eating disorder. 

Back in the 1980s when I worked as a supervising psychotherapist at a Southern California HMO, I had many patients who were anorexic or bulimic. It wasn't until around 2005 I first heard of orthorexia nervosa. No, that particularly eating disorder cannot yet be found per se in the DSM5. But it well falls under Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) which is.  
The doctor in NE WA who first discussed orthorexia with me had a daughter who was severely malnourished because of it. When her application to join the Peace Corps had been rejected, she had become both severely depressed and obsessed with pure eating. She'd systematically eliminated so many foods from her diet that she practically subsisted on celery and bottled water, which she consumed by the liter. 

"She claims it flushes the poisons from her body," the physician said. "She's having kidney issues and the renal specialist has warned her that she is dangerously close to  hyponatremia."
"Hypo what?" I asked.
"Hyponatremia. It's overhydration. Your kidneys can't flush out all the water you've consumed."
Now I looked around the VegFest and noted that nearly everybody was toting a plastic bottled water in addition to whatever vegan or vegetarian dish they were consuming. I thought about Orange County's landfills and the floating plastic islands in the ocean.
This morning I Googled "Orange County treatment centers orthorexia nervosa." Twenty-six names of clinics came up. It's quite an industry. So how do you find a happy medium? What is the Golden Mean? It's the obsessive thinking and the sense of being purer than others that's the tipoff.

I consulted the National Eating Disorders website for these warning signs and symptoms of orthorexia. 
  • Compulsive checking of ingredient lists and nutritional labels
  • An increase in concern about the health of ingredients
  • Cutting out an increasing number of food groups (all sugar, all carbs, all dairy, all meat, all animal products)
  • An inability to eat anything but a narrow group of foods that are deemed ‘healthy’ or ‘pure’
  • Unusual interest in the health of what others are eating
  • Spending hours per day thinking about what food might be served at upcoming events
  • Showing high levels of distress when ‘safe’ or ‘healthy’ foods aren’t available
  • Obsessive following of food and ‘healthy lifestyle’ blogs on Twitter and Instagram
  • Body image concerns may or may not be present

Basically, it's good to maintain good health. But to feel superior to others because of our exercise program or food choices may be a mistake. We need to ask our guardian angels to not let us become so pure that we mistake ourselves to be angels in a world full of sinners.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Best Things in Life Mostly Free

 Booker T. Jones
Thanks to Chapman University in nearby Orange, yesterday a friend and I were able to treat ourselves to a free afternoon of blues. Chapman has billed this as its "inaugural" event, so already I'm looking forward to an encore next autumn. And what a trio of acts they provided.

Leading off, Aki Kuman, a Silicon Valley engineer turned Bollywood blues star, electrified Aitken Plaza with his harmonica, his singing and his unique fusion of retro Indian pop and earthy blues. I'd never heard a harmonica that sounded quite like his and became an instant fan. Give a listen. This lad's fresh and freakily intriguing.

Debating whether we'd take a break for a late afternoon meal or stick around for the next act, the Iguanas, we agreed that the late afternoon sun had shifted so we were no longer protected by the shade of the trees beside our bench. Besides, the allure of nearby Rutabegorz in Old Towne and our rumbling tummies convinced us to stroll a couple of blocks to feast on pumpkin hummus and a couple of the restaurant's featured vegetarian dishes. I'd not had the
quinoa "twocos" there before, but may order it again soon. The pumpkin hummus wasn't free...but nearly so. It's the chain's seasonal specialty and the hefty bowl with accompanying pita chips set us back only a buck. What a bargain.

We got back, plunked ourselves down on a shady spot on the grass and began to drift back to the '60s as Booker T. Jones, master instrumentalist, took the stage with his current quartet. For the next hour and half I couldn't stop bobbing my head to the persistent distinctive beat of this remarkable group.

How could anybody ever forget "Green Onions"? If you have, here it is:

I could listen all afternoon to Booker T. but I have places to be, friends to see, but if you've got spare time, here's his Greatest Hits. I think we heard them all yesterday afternoon, thanks to Chapman University. Greatest Hits

Blue skies, blowsy pumpkin hummus? Who says the best things in life take bundles of bucks?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

They Can't Take That Away From Me

Gershwin, 9/26/1898-7/11/1937
Like many an insatiably curious egocentric adolescent, I latched on to certain celebrities. I sought personal paladins, persons I could respect and hope to emulate. I hungered to identify with genius, dedication, talent, creativity. On Saturday mornings I'd haunt the .92 Biograpahy shelves at the John Muir Branch Library at 64th and Vermont in what then was known as southwest Los Angeles. Louisa May Alcott. Maria Tallchief. Christy Mathewson. Rosa Bonheur. Cole Porter. John Steinbeck. Amelia Earhart. George Gershwin.

Earhart, 7/24/97-disappeared 7/2/37
In my egocentrism, the last two idols particularly caught my attention. Both born in the waning years of the 19th century, both departed shortly after I was born on June 28,1937. Amelia disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, en route to Howland Island from Papua New Guinea on July 2, George Gershwin of a brain tumor right in my hometown, Los Angeles, on July 11. Obsessively over the decades I've read every new article or book about either that came my way. Often I'd lament that I didn't get the chance to become a fan while they were still around.

This September has turned out to be a tumultuous one for me, peppered with many challenges. Offsetting the headaches and heartaches, though, has been the bonus that September shined a spotlight on Gershwin...all month long. So even if my Gibraltar crumbled, I still have the music. Thanks for the memories, George Gershwin. They can't take that away from me.

Early in September as I headed for Lake Swanzey, NH, I began to read a paperback I had picked up in Portland's Powells Books two years ago, Wilfred Sheed's The House that George Built, a history of the titans of Tin Pan Alley who contributed to what's commonly called The Great American Songbook. I belong to CalJas, the California Jazz Arts Society, so after the past four years I've become familiar with many of these standards that remain the favorites of current jazz musicians. What's surprising is that even now, so many of these tunes written nearly a hundred years ago, still swing. Surprisingly, many of the songs I still love were composed by Gershwin, including "Someone to Watch Over Me." Here it is, sung by the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald.

She enunciates the verse so elegantly, it's worth a listen over and over again.

My week at the Road Scholar retreat, "Birth of Cool Jazz: Jazz Steps into a New Groove," introduced me to some Gershwin jazz versions I'd not heard before, such as Charlie Parker on "Oh, Lady Be Good."  This was recorded live in Los Angeles in 1946, with Dizzy Gillespsie.

September 12 I went with a group of AAUW music lovers for my annual sojourn to the Hollywood Bowl, this time for the screening of the Leslie Caron/Gene Kelly/Oscar Levant film, "An American in Paris," accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While in the  museum, I opened a drawer and spied a copy of the original program of the Gershwin Memorial Concert staged there the week following his death. Here's the program from memorable event that featured Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Oscar Levant:

My favorite paragraph from the liner notes:
The hit of the evening was Oscar Levant’s rendition of the Concerto in F. Levant, an intimate of George’s, had perhaps a better understanding of serious Gershwin than anyone. George had asked Levant to play the Concerto in a Lewisohn Stadium concert in 1930s, as he had taken on the chore of performing his two Rhapsodies for piano and concerto, and left a bit overtaxed to handle the Concerto as well. After that Lewisohn Stadium concert, George’s mother strolled over to Oscar, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Promise me you won’t get any better.” Promise or not promise, we are fortunate that Levant adopted the Concerto and Rhapsody in Blue in the years following George’s death, and became their supreme interpreter.

I'd enjoyed Levant earlier in his droll role in "An American in Paris," and am so glad he had remained friends with Gershwin, even though he complained that George always made him take the upper bunk when they traveled together on the train. Gershwin had explained his prerogative to his friend, "That's the difference between genius and talent."

On the 121st anniversary of Gershwin's birth, September 26, Larry Maurer, who hosts a series of retrospects on movies and music from the early years of the 20th century, returned to Bowers Museum in Santa Ana with a Gershwin retrospective. I enjoyed clips I'd never seen before, including the hilarious dance duet between Eleanor Powell and a talented sidekick, to "Oh, Lady Be Good," in the 1941 movie of the same name:

Eleanor Powell, "Lady Be Good"
 My tribute to Mr. Gershwin...yes, my love for you is here to stay.
It's very clear, our love is here to stay
Not for a year but ever and a day
The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go
But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay
Together we're going a long, long way
In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble
They're only made of clay
But our love is here to stay
In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble
They're only made of clay
But our love is here to stay

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin

Sunday, September 22, 2019

September at the Lake

Keith and Nanette, with Jim backing up on drums.
This past year started out with a bang. My little Nissan got t-boned by a truck that had parked illegally in the right hand lane of Beach Blvd., with its red flashers on. I'd been in that same lane, readying to turn into the Kaiser parking lot for a blood pressure check. I slowed to a stop behind the disabled vehicle and then signaled left and slowly proceeded around the truck and made my right hand turn. Turns out that wasn't a disabled vehicle after all.

Apparently the driver had pulled over to scout out possible billboards for the company he worked for, then got busy texting and started up the car to proceed without looking up to see I had made a turn into the parking lot entrance that he had nearly blocked.

That started a long series of mishaps, involving both me and some of the people closest to me. In May, my little recently-repaired Nissan was totaled in another collision as I as on my way to the Orange County courthouse where I'd been serving on the Grand Jury.

Finally late this summer I realized I had to run away from home (my apartment complex just has been sold out from under me, so hardly feels like "home" anymore). I didn't head for the
Lake Swanzey, NH
hills...instead I booked a flight to Logan Airport, rented a car and proceeded to wend my way across Massachusetts up into New Hampshire's Lake Swanzey's Pilgrim Pines and a restorative Road Scholar jazz seminar, "Birth of Cool Jazz: Jazz Steps into a New Groove."

This particular week focused on small jazz groups, rather than the Big Band sound. Nonetheless, we had plenty of time to examine the role of the Tin Pan Alley composers, from Gershwin and Berlin, yes, that Berlin, who besides the treacly "Easter Parade," also gave us such classic jazz tunes as "Be Careful, It's My Heart."

My favorite segment of the week? The Wednesday evening concert that featured vocalist Nanette Perrote, her pianist, Keith Kirkpatrick and one of our own Road Scholars who had brought his drums, Jim Davey.

Take a peek at the playlist and you'll see these great jazz standards, with exception of a couple of Joni Mitchell songs, all came from the Great American Songbook:

"Satin Doll," "Paper Moon," "Stars Fell on Alabama," "A Case of You," "Killing Me Softly," "Skylark," "Lullaby of Birdland," "Let's Fall in Love," "What is This Thing Called Love," "Miss Otis Regrets," "Amelia," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Take the A Train," "Beginning to See the Light," "Route 66," "Straighten Up and Fly Right." And the encore...."Georgia on My Mind."

This Thursday I'm celebrating George Gershwin's birthday, September 26, 1898, at our own Orange County's Bower Museum.

George Gershwin
Of all the film clips and videos we saw featuring the great jazz musicians of the last half century, this one will stick with me the longest...and I can recall today, the vernal equinox, when I fell in love with this tune, standing outside the old Balboa ballroom in 1952. Take a listen to George Shearing, with the incredible Margie Hayams on vibes, "September in the Rain."

Happy jazz autumn, everyone!