Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Hybrid Cucumber Sandwich

When we were in Bavaria, our friend Heidi gave us a humongous cucumber, organic, straight from her garden. We planned to eat it right away, didn't, and brought it along with us to France, where it dawned on me, as I was observing a huge edifice, the Palais Des Anglaise, near the Super U market, that I might as well make cucumber sandwiches. Why does a French supermarket have a big yellow curlicued English palace next door? I have yet to research the matter.
I have the perfect recipe at home in a little book, complete with pictures of the Ritz. All I could remember was a lot of salt and white vinegar. And on this occasion the net was no help. The net almost universally disapproves of the kind of cucumber sandwich I so enjoyed on my single trip to the Ritz, back in 1982. The net touts "healthier" versions without the vinegar but with a lot of herbs and, of all things, garlic powder.
No non noooooo! Not on cucumber sandwiches. Lemon. Check. Salt. Check! Industrial strength white vinegar. Check! Mix that up (juice of one whole lemon, handfuls of salt, around a cup of the vinegar, and add a bunch of thin slices of cucumber. One entire cucumber. Should soak in that mix for a while, at least an hour. Drain. Press between paper towels. Get out the nice, soft, incredibly flavorful French butter (that's the first part of hybrid). Then get out the baguette! Split the thing in half and schmear (now we're up to three ethnicities) it with butter. That French butter--it's thick and soulful and flavorful enough to be cream cheese. 
Note: The pure English 19th-century method would be to smooth, not schmear, the butter, so thinly that you'd think it was being rationed. Which maybe it was. 
Once you've got the bread ready: drain the cucumbers through a sieve, and again, don't forget to squeeze out the excess vinegar-lemon-salt juice. Then pile up the cucumbers on the baguette, and slice:
See? Looks like a sub, but tastes like a "hybrid cucumber sandwich." I know they'd be tearing out their hair at the Ritz, but instead they should just sit down with one of these and brew themselves a nice pot of Earl Grey tea. Pour it into a cup, add lots of sugar and cream, stir. Take a bite of sandwich. Sip. Yum.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Cote D'Azur: It's Really That Blue

Now that we're here--after a fourteen-hour drive broken by a night in Dijon (where we purchased, of course, mustard) I can tell you the sky and the sea area just as blue as their name. Azure. Yes, like lapis lazuli. The view alone is worth our astronomical rent. But we've saved on plane tickets and confidentially our rent is not as !@#$RTYUlly high as it would be in St. Tropez. Which is not far. The best supermarket's in Monaco, a fifteen-minute drive. But we went to the one that's only a ten-minute drive. Wine from Bergerac. The perfect poulet. Cheese, enough to plaster the house. A lovely pebble beach a short walk from the house. The sky, the sea, as blue as the Mac icons at the bottom of my computer screen, or as in the "fair use" photos of the region that decline to load. What more could we want? I wish I hadn't stubbed my toe. I wish we were all perfectly healthy. Other than that: swimming and books occupy me: David Sedaris, Tobias Wolff, Philip Lopate, Asne Seirstad. And more. 
I hadn't spent much time in France since the nineties--a trip to Euro Disney when the kids were little does not count--and back in the nineties, it was still impossible to find a bad meal. Now it's possible. What's different? Back then, the French were stylish, but unwashed. Now they're washed, but un-stylish, and they eat American fast food. Their supermarkets still boast the fantastic arrays of cheese, wine, and seafood for which we longed, but the French themselves? Here's the dirty little secret: I can't tell some of them from the Americans!
Makes me, well, a little blue.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Days in Bavaria: Gossiping with My Pals at a Barbecue

Bavaria: land of the flowing Weizen beer, the Lederhosen, the maypoles decked out in the blue-and-white checks of the Bavarian (national) flag, as the locals might tell you--and my husband would agree: whenever we drive from the wilds of Northwestern Germany to his Paradisiacal place of origin, a village decked out with a medieval monastery and a cathedral, he's so happy he's practically dancing the Schuhplattler Knee-slap dance, which you can see right here:
When we arrived for the yearly barbecue with the folks from our former English language class, our friend told us about her non-traditional Bavarian pals, Achmed and Jihad. Achmed and Jihad were arguing one morning, Achmed insisting Erdogan "is wonderful! The papers treat him badly! He's great! Anyone who says different is pushing fake news!" But Jihad--yes, his mother named him that--says the reverse: "Erdogan's what we know him to be: as bad as Trump, and worse."
"Did they say it in Bavarian dialect?" I asked my friend, Heidi.
"No!" she said, disapproving. "They speak in Hochdeutsch!"
 These gentlemen of bucolic Bavaria represent the Turkish population here; like the rest of the (mostly Catholic) Bavarians, they're divided. The Bavarian Turks are divided about Erdogan. The Bavarian Catholics are divided about the church. Many are leaving it. The latest? A local bishop in Eichstätt speculated, losing sixty million euros of the church's money--the kind of money that usually goes to orphans, museums, good deeds. But the very assimilated Mustapha, who speaks broad Bavarian, goes into a rage when another Bavarian of Turkish origin's parallel parking is not up to par: "These damn Turks!" yells Mustapha, frustrated because these folks have made it impossible for him to park, and shaking his fist. "They should go back where they came from!" Where they came from? That would be . . . .wait for it . . . beautiful, bucolic Bavaria

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Now She's a Lucifer to Light Her Fire: The Guinea Pig Romance

Lily the guinea pig has been leading a lonely life; her longtime companion, Scarlet, died of various tumors and an apparent infection a few months ago, so Lily's been moping around her cage and actually starting conversations with me, paws on plastic wall, rather than ignoring all humans, as is her normal modus operandi. My husband drove me to an animal shelter in the neighborhood that had guinea pigs but declined to let us know anything about their gender. Since we needed a male companion with no reproductive capabilities, we could not take the girls in the pen. Lily always fights with girls. She did not play nicely with the ones with whom she was once sent to live--when she returned, she gave me a baleful look--why had I sent her away? And to live with other chicks? Really. So we bided our time. I thought maybe she was the Greta Garbo of piggies, content to live on her own. Little signs of loneliness appeared--the odd, plaintive squeak, the signs, despite her efforts to be cool, that she had missed me when I was gone.
Yesterday, we got a call from another animal shelter. Yes, they had a young male, (tricolor in the video below) and yes, that young male had been rendered infertile. You'd never know from his reactions to Lily. He's clearly under the impression that he still has all his junk. She didn't rip his head off or, in fact, draw blood, as far as I could tell, although she affected to complain when he single-mindedly turned his attentions to her, waggling his hips, growling, and then clicking his teeth when she did not immediately agree to his terms. That teeth-clicking has stopped, as of today--it sounded like "helicopters" according to my son; I considered it saber-rattling. Today, things seem smoother. He chases her--he is, alas, only a fourth of her age: it's the middle-aged lady (Lily's four or five) and the young buck (Lucifer's one) scenario. But hey, how cool is that? Here are scenes from their courtship:
Three days later, they do not appear to agree about everything, but nobody's screaming. Dare I saw they seem rather fond of each other?
Down at the animal shelter, they'd named him, of all things, "Troll." A troll is a nudnik who  emerges from his cave only to be turned to stone. Or, in the Harry Potter version of things, to be felled by his own club. So I have re-named our little guy Lucifer. Besides--as he's nosing around her (Lily calmly snatching a carrot) doesn't he remind us all just a tiny bit of Tom Ellis?

Friday, July 20, 2018

My Life as a Dope Fiend: Me and Lance Armstrong

Imagine my surprise when my oncologist suggested, as she put it, "a little doping" to take care of my anemia. 
The spectacle of my scholarly, prim, stereotypically cautious German oncologist suggesting I inject the stuff that propelled Lance Armstrong first to temporary stardom and then to disgrace, plus cancer of the testicles, gave me pause.
"But he has cancer of the testicles!" I said. I didn't add that one testicle has been gathered to its fathers. But being Lance Armstrong, he's squeezed enough juice out of the other to father children.
"Yes," agreed my oncologist, ever calm, "but you don't have testosterone, so this is not a problem."
I wanted to say I had enough to sprout chin hairs, the kind I pluck with special tweezers marketed just to menopausal women. I have enough to feel energetic and like sex. That's another worry, when you have estrogen-positive cancer. They're injecting stuff into you to banish the estrogen, naturally. But every time you eat broccoli, drink a glass of wine, or have an orgasm, your estrogen levels go up.
"Should I give up broccoli, wine, and orgasms?" I asked. Apparently not, though her explanation was too technical for me. I still don't like the idea of taking a drug that gives you energy. Well, what it really does is make your bone marrow produce more red blood cells, without which you feel exceptionally tired, and pant while walking up the hill to the tram stop.
"Can't I just eat liver and onions?" 
She shook her head.
"But I really like liver and onions!" And I do. Especially with broccoli, red wine, and . . . oh, you know.
Apparently no intensification of my liver consumption will suffice. My cancer drug, Palbociclib, so effective in banishing cancer cells, also banishes white and red blood cells. That's why the very same dope--technically, it's called Aranesp--that Lance Armstrong pumped into his veins to steal the Tour de France is the one she wants to give me.
The necessary side effects having been detailed (thrombosis, but you're probably okay since you don't smoke and you do exercise) and, prescription in hand, I can feel much better. Soon. The Palbociclib leaves me really tired by the end of the 21-day cycle; after a week off the stuff, I feel almost normal. Scuttling all meds would leave me feeling great--until the emperor of all maladies, as Siddhartha Mukherjee put it, returns.
Now that I've doped twice, I can tell you I never had the experience of feeling high. I just no longer feel like I have to nap all the time. Shreds of the normal hang about the middle-aged lady.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Trumpsplaining: When Ondold Rump Misspoke

Our Great Leader, Ondold Rump meant to tell us that Vladimir Putin is a really mean guy, only he just accidentally said he was a really nice guy, mommy. Here's the transcript: "I don't know what you're talking about and it's sick to make such a big fuss. It's real news I mean it's fake news. Fake news! I misspoke and a guy's got to live, he's got so much to do. I'm dumping the country I mean I'm running the country. NBC I mean CNN tells lies. Flox I mean Fox is goodish. Good. You're all supposed to tell me how wonderful I am right about now. I'm waiting. I'm waiting. Maybe I'll just take a very long vacation. My daughter, I mean my wife, says I need a vacation. Ivankamelamawhatever. Commere. So the FBI is a fine institution and that's my people working there and yeah, maybe Putin misspoke too. You don't see his people, the KGB people, bothering anyone. For crying out loud, what I put up with. You should be ashamed. You too. And you. I'm the greatest thing that ever happened to this country. I am. I said so. You should listen to me. You too. I think we're done. I'm ready for my close-up now!"

Saturday, July 14, 2018

That Trump Baby Blimp--Bob on, Blimpies, Bob On

Piers Morgan, whom I normally admire, tweeted his outrage about the blimp, complaining that it was disgraceful--we wouldn't have allowed such a display during Obama's presidency, would we? Of course we wouldn't--Obama behaved in a presidential manner. Trump acts like a tantrum-throwing baby in a diaper--the blimp depicted him perfectly. Of course such a man should be ridiculed--not because "we have free speech" but because ridicule is, at the moment, our only real weapon against that juggernaut of catastrophe that is Donald Trump. 
Daily, I receive numerous inflammatory messages about Trump from do-gooder political organizations: adjectives like "outrageous," phrases like "battle for the soul of America" abound. 
Outrage doesn't cut it. Remember, Trump won by getting people outraged. Yes, by cheating and bribing and all sorts of skulduggery, we know--but he maintains his power by keeping his base outraged and frightened--outraged about all the injustices he says are being done to them, frightened of the terrified people crossing American borders, to whom Trump refers as "infestations" or "criminals." 
The person who gets Trump's base to laugh at him gets my eternal gratitude plus a  home-baked apple pie or batch of Tollhouse chocolate-chip cookies. American sweets to the sweet! Who will fly the next blimp? Who will Saturday-Night-Live the next remark? Keep laughing. That's all we have at the moment as ammunition. Don't forget, the man said he didn't feel welcome in London. That blimp does appear to have wormed its way under his hide, a hide known to be lacking in sensitivity. Never underestimate the power of ridicule. 
And don't forget that today is Bastille Day in France:  On July 14, 1789, troops stormed the prison known as the Bastille, spurring the French on to their rejection of, dare I say, Trumplike monarchs (but that insults the French--we know the American president to be much worse). After the Bastille was stormed, the French revolution ignited, the French found their way to the political values that now inform their happy land and used to inform the politics of the United States, namely, "liberté, egalité, fraternité." Trump tramples repeatedly on these values. I'd prefer laughter to heads rolling, and I think that if enough people really laugh at Donald Trump, laugh hard, in his face and often, he really will just fall down dead. And in that way, we will have the bloodless revolution we so desire. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

It's the Fourth of July: Let's Have a Funeral

Three thumbs down for the red, white and blue. I am so blue. Barry Blitt's July 2 New Yorker cover, "Yearning to Breathe Free" says it all: frightened Hispanic immigrant children peek out from the folds of the Statue of Liberty's skirts. She's not allowed to protect them. We are the land of the caught-out. We are the home of the cowards. I send my three dollar, my five dollar, my ten dollar, sometimes my thirty-dollar contributions to Cynthia Nixon and politicians defending Roe v. Wade, with the nagging feeling that (1) I ought to be in the middle of a refugee center handing out clothes and food and drumming up lawyers and (2) I'm no match for the Koch brothers and their pals.
What follows, below, is the kind of spirit we need (but without the doomed outcome): 

There's also 1776, the musical. Not quite as stirring, but love that folksy faux-New England accent: 

We need every man, woman and child to remember that America is a place that can so easily absorb the people coming across the borders. We need every man, woman and child in America to remember their own immigrant roots. Where ego lurks, let heart invade. As long as Trump is in office, fly your flags at half-mast.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Lone Star State and Lone Children

A Texan with a large ranch bordering Mexico said he supported Trump's policy of separating migrant children from their parents: "These people are criminals," he said. "In the United States, citizens who commit crimes are separated from their children." He said he wept for those children--American children--not those who cross American borders illegally. Democrats, the argument continues, care more about these migrants than they do about Americans.
What would the Texan rancher do if he found himself suddenly unable to feed his family or pay his bills? If his children were crying from hunger, if rats were invading the baby's crib, if a drug lord put a price on his head? Would he steal food and fuel for his family? Poverty makes criminals of us all. Australia, the noted historian Niall Ferguson has observed, was a nation founded by shoplifters. British persons convicted of stealing stockings or food got put on ships and deported there--at a time when most transportees initially regarded the region as alien as the planet Mars is to us.
I live in a nation with great health care and reasonable food prices. I'm easily able to feed my family well-balanced, nutritious meals and I don't have to worry about robbery or crime in my neighborhood. Once in a while everything stops while a bomb from the Second World War is found and defused--that happened at our local main train station today--but otherwise, life goes on, with the many, many refugees Germany has absorbed. 
The realities--that the vast majority, if not all, migrants coming across the border are both harmless and easy to help, that the richest of nations can easily afford to help these poor people, is not something the Trump administration cares about. Might I persuade the Texan rancher? Somebody tell me how. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Zero Tolerance and the American Heart

Our former students left East Germany before the wall fell—the husband by masquerading as a businessman from another part of Germany, counterfeiting an accent unlike his own. The wife followed under mysterious circumstances she’s never explained. The children, both under the age of four, were left with grandparents. At the time our friends left, they had no idea the wall would come down a few months later. They were willing to leave their children behind for an indefinite period. I understood how desperate they were when the husband, a builder, revealed he’d had a friend at a construction site pull out a splinter that had landed in his eye. They'd been “borrowing” materials from the site. Being blind in that eye saved him from going to the hospital, where the doctors would have been too scared not to turn him over to the authorities for stealing.

When I try to imagine conditions that would make me willing to risk death or eternal separation from my children, the families pouring into detention centers in Texas come to mind. They have some idea of the cruel deal imposed upon them by the Trump administration. They are fleeing conditions that make the unwelcome ones they encounter luxurious. Better to be deprived of your children but know they will be fed and clothed; better to be stuck in a cage lying on a pallet in a former WalMart than killed by drug lord, chewed by rats, or starving. I listen to the Pro Publica recording of weeping children begging for their parents and try to imagine what Emma Lazarus would write. Her “New Colossus” sonnet is affixed to the base of our national monument, the statue of liberty,

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We might as well tear down the statue of liberty. She's no longer allowed to lift her lamp and welcome the "wretched refuse"  because our president insists on blocking refugees from what he's infamously called "shit hole countries." 
 Trump’s business is to separate. He’s separating parents from children, he’s separating citizen from citizen, party from party—his immigration policy is the logical extension of his lifelong mission to divide and conquer. He’s saying and doing things that make us angry. In spite of him we should—as the German comedian Jan Böhmermann said in his “Be Deutsch” video, “hold together, try to be nice.” Ignore the haters—or laugh at them. Volunteer for groups that help get those children reunited with their parents. Speak up, Republicans, and remember Abraham Lincoln’s vision for your party.

When our East German friends settled in a Western German state, they decorated a hallway in their home with a placard purloined from an East German tunnel: “You are now leaving East Germany.” Let us leave behind those who separate; let us pull together and re-make America. On the (1999-2006) TV series The West Wing, the fictional president played by Martin Sheen solved an illegal Chinese immigrant crisis by looking the other way so that detainees could melt into the population. A president with a heart would do this.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Dotard and the Rocket Man

The sun was shining on the nukes
Shining with all his might
He did his very best to make
The mass destroyers bright
And this was very odd because
The men weren’t there to fight.

The dotard and the rocket man
Were walking side by side
They smiled like anything to see
What other folks had tried
We’ll pile up nukes and dough, both said
And slapped their bellies wide.

The dotard showed the rocket man
A film of future days
One man, one choice, big trains, hotels
On beaches cannons graced.
"Take money, try my brand he said
I’d never be two-faced."

His chain-saw signature poked at
The missile-launching scrawl
Their loose-fit trousers swished and sagged
But signatures stood tall
Each smiled and saw he’d bulldozed fast
And had the other bagged.

“The time has come," the dotard said,
To talk of many things:
Of power, threats, fake news and tax
Of dominance and things
And why those climate changers plot
And damn, we pigs have wings.”

Friday, June 1, 2018

Symmetry in Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry

When I want cleverness, I go to Renaissance poetry with its puzzles and paradoxes. Or I go to T.S. Eliot with his puzzles and paradoxes. Give me George Herbert's pruning poem or "I saw a peacock with a fiery tail" or John Donne's "nor ever chaste except you ravish me" or the humdinger, attributed to Nicholas of Cusa, Empedocles, and Voltaire: "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."
I'm not looking for a story when I'm looking for cleverness. I'm looking to be amused, enlightened,  thrust into a philosophic mood, and startled by the beauty of language.
When I read a novel or a short story or a memoir--a narrative of any kind--I'm looking for something different, something that makes me, I am sure, the wrong reader for Lisa Halliday's experimental Asymmetry. When I read a novel I don't want puzzles and paradoxes: I want to know what happened, meaning, how the central conflicts get resolved. I want to know whether Snape is a good guy; I want to know what makes Anna jump; I want to know--and Lewis Carroll will tell you--how Alice got through the looking glass and made it home.
Halliday's Alice neither gets through the looking glass nor back home again. She's stuck between the float glass and the aluminum powder within three narratives bereft of resolution. 
The tricks--spoiler alert ahead--don't do it for me, because the characters created (and apparently remembered) are so extremely well-drawn, their worlds so anthropologically accurate (how I admire the way Halliday's created the neighborhoods of my youth in New York!) that we want to know what happens to them. We never do.
In part one, "Folly," Mary-Alice, who like Lewis Carroll's Alice is getting bored, meets Ezra Blazer, the pewter-haired stand-in for Philip Roth. She's a grown-up, unlike Alice Liddell, but the pedophilic implications play over the scene nonetheless. The two remark on their relationship as it develops in lovely ways, he wondering whether it's tragic, she conceding it is "around the edges." At the end of "Folly," Ezra's in the hospital and Alice is thinking of leaving him. Then I turn the page to the "Madness" section and find myself alone with Amar Jaafari, a young Iraqi-American inexplicably detained at Heathrow, clearly on charges of flying while Arab. He has something to do with Alice's story only in the sense that she's been reading about Iraq, longing to be a writer, longing to write about people more important than herself, trying to imagine the mind of the "Muslim hot dog seller" and whether she, a choir girl from the midwest, could ever do so. 
We learn all about Amar's life and his tragedies, and toward the end of this section, we're treated to a view of a young blond woman weeping in the holding area across from him--and we know she's Alice because she's wearing the same Searle coat with the black fur around the hood that Ezra bought her back when the two of them were a thing in "Folly." But we don't find out why she's there--except that we're supposed to see her as a character in Jaafari's story, the author of it? Or he is the author of her story? Keep 'em guessing. The final clue comes not in the "Madness" section--which leaves both Alice and Jaafari in a Kafkaesque lack of closure--but in the "Ezra Blazer's Desert Island Discs" section. There, we're treated to Ezra's ramble about the two or three or "all right, maybe four" times that depression hit, when women left him and his brother died. Then the kicker, at least it's supposed to be the kicker, on p. 260-261 of the British edition: "Our military might is unmatched and in any case the madness is at least an ocean away. And then all of a sudden we look up from ordering paper towels online to find ourselves delivered right into the madness." [Get it? Amar's madness, the war madness, Iraq and Middle East madness.] Ezra goes on: "And we wonder: How did this happen? . . . what good will it do, the willful and belated broadening of my imagination? A young friend of mine has written a rather surprising little novel about this, in its way. About the extent to which we're able to penetrate the looking-glass and imagine a life, indeed a consciousness, that goes some way to reduce the blind spots in our own. It's a novel that on the surface would seem to have nothing to do with its author . . . " 
So now it's confirmed that his young friend, Lisa Halliday or Alice, wrote Asymmetry.
I am one of those readers who feels cheated. Especially because we're getting slammed with that overused "looking glass" metaphor again. No, we did not get through the looking glass. If we had, we'd have learned how Ezra and Alice's relationship ended, what happened to Amar and whether he ever got out of the airport to see Alistair, and what Ezra thinks about Alice's novel--much more of what Ezra thinks of Alice's novel! And then you'd have three novels. Three very long novels. Instead of one skinny, clever novel--too clever by half. I can't help but think this novelist chose not to go through the agony of living through Alice's and Amar's states of mind when they're thrust into the dramas she creates. The ending is a clever deus ex machina rendered popular by the death of my hero, Philip Roth--I think of the miraculous voice of Portnoy and the scintillating plotting--not to mention the panorama of America's race, politics, and gender issues in The Human Stain--and conclude that Asymmetry is a footnote to the life of a genius. 
But more: Lisa Halliday is, I persist in feeling, cheating herself as a novelist. She's selling herself short. Her gifts are considerable--she can create endings, but perversely (it must be that--it could be a desire to be mathematically precise--it can't be laziness) she won't. 
The question of whether the choir girl can imagine the mind of the Muslim hot dog seller--of course she can. Of course he can imagine her mind, too. Literature abounds with unlikely narrators: how did he think of her? Vice versa? One example will suffice: In Thomas Mann's Schwarze Schwäne ("The Black Swan" in English) a menopausal woman who has inexplicably begun, apparently, to bleed again, argues with her daughter, who has cramps, insisting menstruation is a wonderful experience the daughter ought to appreciate.  I first read this story in a graduate seminar with the late lamented and brilliant Steven Marcus--who, and this is the only time I ever saw this happen, didn't get it. He began the class by saying, "this mother and daughter are having a wonderful, loving conversation." Both I and another women sprang to our feet--I think we did, at least we interrupted him, which none had ever dared to do--and informed him that this mother was anything but loving--she was jealous. How, I later wondered, had Mann gotten so far inside the mind of women that even Steven Marcus didn't understand--when any woman would?
So the answer to Lisa Halliday's Alice is: Of course you can imagine. So imagine. And then imagine Amar's fate--imagine how he does nor does not get out of that airport. Imagine Alice's fate: what are her last romantic moments with Ezra, and why?
Plotting. The hardest part of all. Mastery lies in plots that wind up the reader, moving so smoothly that you can't imagine how the author agonized his or her way through them.
Ms. Halliday: please agonize--tell us the rest of the story. I don't want the symmetries: Oh, look, here's Alice, and here's Alice imagining Amar, or vice versa, and here's Blazer imagining both. I want to know what happened.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What's With Moses Farrow?

My first thought, reading Moses Farrow's blog post: it must be difficult to be Ronan Farrow's brother. Ronan, much younger, much more talented, much more good-looking (he is, after all, the son of Ol' Blue Eyes) and in the opposite corner, skinny Moses Farrow, inelegantly sporting his cerebral palsy. Then there's Moses's opening line: "I’m a very private person and not at all interested in public attention." Why say that, unless you are trying to convince yourself? The chief claim made is: the relationship [between Soon Yi and Woody] itself was not nearly as devastating to our family as my mother’s insistence on making this betrayal the center of all our lives from then on." Is that true? This part of the story sounds real. A raging Mia Farrow screeching is believable. A four-year-old Satchel, later renamed Ronan, repeating “My sister is fucking my father," rings true, too.  Moses Farrow does not seem inclined to invent, and the tales of being slapped, of being yelled at, accused of stealing when he hadn't done anything, of being forced to stand naked in a corner as a punishment for cutting the belt loops off his new jeans because he thought the jeans would look cool that way--all that sounds real. Besides, take a long look at that kid's face with that sombre expression and those big black glasses. The child Moses looks like an Asian version of Woody Allen. If he reminded Farrow of Allen, she may have bullied him. She wouldn't be the first divorcée to hit a child because he resembled her ex.
I can't doubt that Mia Farrow had some mighty meltdowns. But I think of Mary Ann Hoberman's rhyming children's book, The Seven Silly Eaters, in which a mother of seven, trying to make everything perfect, fix everyone's meal, do all the laundry and clean-up and still get to play her cello once in a blue moon, has a complete freak-out. I love that scene: the dad and the kids are peeking into the kitchen from outside, wondering when Mommy will calm down. How many kids did Mia Farrow have? I lost track long ago. There's the ones she had and the ones she adopted--enough for a small boarding school. Did she lose it from time to time? Did she hit and scream at Moses more than she hit and screamed at the others? I wouldn't be surprised. Is she downright crazy, coaching her kids to hate Woody Allen and inventing the abuse story just to get even? That's possible too.
Even assuming all of the above--that Mia Farrow had total meltdowns, hit and humiliated Moses and other children, coached them all to say Woody Allen was evil--does all that add up to Allen being innocent of molesting Dylan Farrow? Dylan says she remembers. A seven-year-old does remember. I do have clear memories of my father's bedtime behavior. My mother never coached me to say anything--she was either oblivious or she looked the other way. Maybe both. Mia is accused of coaching Dylan.
I'm trying to imagine whether I'd have told a whopping lie about my father if my mother had told seven-year-old me to do so. It seems to me I would not have done so. I grew up with immense lies: both parents pretended to get along; my mother lied about her relationship with my father, insisting the two were happy. I could see they were not. I saw this at seven, and long before, and long after. 
Moses Farrow wants to defend his father. But how can he be so sure he saw everything? How can he think he knows Woody Allen never managed to get Dylan alone in a room? How can Moses Farrow think that his sister, at seven, was so malleable as to be forced into a lie--and then to want to continue to tell that lie twenty-one years later? That's hard to imagine. It's hard for me to imagine a twenty-eight-year-old woman with a husband and a life still wanting to please her mother  by dredging up a lie. 
I think Dylan Farrow remembers, because you do remember these things. You can't forget.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How To Get Lymph Drainage Paid For in Germany

You're a cancer patient. You've had surgery. Your leg swells up, or your arm, or you find numb inflated areas where they removed the lymph nodes in your armpit. You realize the condition could worsen, become permanent. You start phoning around for an appointment and find nothing but waiting lists.

Pause to define lymph drainage, which your doctor has mentioned, but not defined: it's not something involving blood, tubes, puncturing, pumping out fluid. Which is what I imagined, and hence did not want. But lymph drainage is only a very gentle form massage to get the fluid making your leg swell up go away, or disperse through the body.

If you want this kind of help, you have to use either the word "oncology" or the word "cancer," so that you're not waiting around weeks while the condition gets worse. If you can't get an appointment two days from now, you haven't said the magic words: "I am a cancer patient." Bother your gynecologist for a prescription first--if she says no, head for the Hausarzt, that is, the internist, the one you go to for flu and shots. If you can't get it from that doctor, grab your oncologist by the lapels and beg. Once you've got a prescription, find the best place in town. Try to get at least ten 60-minute sessions.

And don't be surprised. I went for lymph drainage on my leg, which continues to look like Frankenstein's forehead. Until recently, I couldn't bend my knee, but I started stretching and bending a great deal on the day my Russian radiologist told me things would never get any better--I was stuck with this crummy leg for life. 

"Well, you could put a pillow under it when you sleep," said she, shaking her head over the notion that lymph drainage would do much. There's nothing like Russian gloom to galvanize an American. Instinctively, I rebelled against her pessimism with my outrageous optimism. 

"Oh, yeah?" I thought. "I'll show you!" 

In my first lymph drainage session, the therapist started massaging an area right under my collarbone. I wondered what the Sam Hill he was doing. I was about to say something, when my foot started tingling, as if something were moving around. The feeling was like the one I have when I hold my legs in the air to get the fluid to drain from my ankles to my legs. So the guy knew what he was doing. He worked on the leg, too, of course. 

I have nine more sessions, and this treatment is expensive. So I'll ask the gynecologist for more--I'm not shy. Then I'll ask the internist. Then the oncologist. In other words, I'll be persistent. This is cancer. Just when you want everyone hovering around you asking what you need, you'll have to be running around demanding exactly that. But take heart--keeping active that way is probably good for you.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Pumpkin's Theory of Harry and Meghan: Ten Clues

She's great, he's gorgeous, they're in love--I take all this for granted. But  from the sour Germaine Greer to Meghan's wicked-half sister, screeched off the screen by Piers Morgan, everyone's got a theory. Before turning into a pumpkin, way past this midnight hour, I thought I'd observe rather than predict, but spoiler alert: my predictions lead up to happily ever after:

(1) Meghan's a tall, dark outsider 

(2) Like Dodi Al Fayad

(3) She's nicer

(4) Refreshingly like Diana, Meghan's exactly the age at which Harry last knew his mother.

(5) But saner

(6) Diana wanted to escape with Dodi

(7) Meghan offers escape, too--from dullness, stuffiness, dreary royalness

(8) Harry is delighted to have this woman who offers a host of familiar traits that remain among the last he associated with his late mother.

(9) Meghan is maternal and

(10) Her prince has come

Friday, May 11, 2018

On Being Spammed: Does that Escort Service in Bangalore Know They're Cozying Up To Cancer?

For weeks now, ladies and gentleman, a single post of my almost-unread blog has been spammed by  an outfit that calls itself "Rakhisen Bangalore Escorts" and whose website, picturing a languid beauty in reflector shades sunning herself in a place seemingly more Caribbean than Bangalorean, urges me to call "right away." No matter how many times I hit the permanent delete key, their ads pop up again and again, like weeds, or, well, unwanted cancer calls, the kind that turn into big fat cancer tumors when you have the kind of wonky genes sported by yours truly, as proved by my FoundationOne test. Now, FoundationOne could spam me all they like, if they want to, but I'd just like to point out they're too classy to do so. Eventually their tests will save lives, but I would enjoy letting the many Escort Services In Bangalore who dump their ads on a blog post concerning a clinical trial for cancer that they're associating cancer with their escort service. That's entirely appropriate, clinically speaking (but maybe not from a business point of view?)
I'm sure my readers remain aware that they can get the HPV virus from sexual contact, also that sexual contact is generally speaking what escort services offer, and I'm sure you all know that this particular virus can cause uterine cancer and girls, believe me, you don't want to deal with uterine cancer. I'm dealing with breast cancer metastasized to the bone right now, and when I go in for my monthly Fulvestrant shots, I never know whether I'm going to get the short, slim nurse with the tattoos who knows now to give the shot painlessly or the last idiot I had, whose method resulted in my nearly blacking out--thanks to the idiot's technique, I think I know what it must feel like to be beaten, because these shots are given in the gluteus maxiumus, the last place you'd want an injection if you had a choice in the matter. Which I don't. Another thing about so-called escort services: they tend, oh, in my opinion, to exploit young, often underage girls who have no way to make a living other than to hang on the arm of and be sexually abused by the sort of man who needs an escort service because he has no idea how to fall in love. I've now deleted ads for escorts in Bangalore about ten times from the very same post. I wonder how persistently they will continue to spam me, now that I've made it clear that every single ad they lob to my blog--and on a post about the cancer drug Palbociclib, no less--associates their product with an incurable and exceedingly unpleasant disease. Will this be curtains for those Bangalore escort ads? Gee, I really hope so. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Easy, Spicy Hummus

If you love garlic and Middle-Eastern flavors, this one's for you:

Assemble the following: 

800 grams (for Americans, that is about 5 cups, but net equivalents are contradictory) of canned or bottled chick peas. If you want to go really pioneer, soak dry chick peas overnight with about two teaspoons of baking soda--then you'd have to drain and cook them--yes, you can do all this, but why bother?)

Tahini or Sesame paste (about six tablespoons--or more!)

Six or eight cloves of garlic

A big, preferably organic, lemon

A teaspoon (or more) of cumin

Olive oil--about a third of a cup

Salt and pepper, to taste.

Parsley OR paprika, to taste (optional)

Pour the chick peas into a sieve. Rinse them in cool water, let them drain, and dump them into your food processor. If you don't have a food processor handy, one of those electric wands will do--my old food processor died as I was trying to make this).

Peel and add the garlic and the cumin. Squeeze the lemon juice through a sieve into the mix. Add olive oil and shake in pepper and salt. Process. When you are done, add as garnish either chopped fresh parsley or paprika.

You can dip crudités into this hummus, eat it with a spoon, or spread it, as I did, on a slightly warmed lavash, adding lots of small chopped tomatoes, then roll up the lavash and eat it. Tortillas would work too.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Fabulously Easy Pork Shoulder

The kids were sick of chicken; they didn't go for my curry either. It was time to try something new, and though we'd had many a pork roast, they were sick of that, too. I tried Jamie Oliver's recipe but it was too complicated for me; I whizzed through a number of others, and have now experienced the truth of the single most frequently appearing insight: the longer you bake it at a low temperature, the better it is.

Assemble the following ingredients:

Big hunk of pork (three and a half American pounds, or 1.718 kilos)
Olive oil (a good one!)
Balsamic vinegar
Dry red wine 
Onions (preferably red ones)
Potatoes and, if you're feeling ambitious,
Sweet potatoes

Step one: Mix up the honey, mustard, olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar in proportions that please you--I go heavy on the honey and mustard, easy on the balsamic vinegar. With your garlic press, crush about eight cloves and add to the mix. Stir or beat well with a whisk. The mix should smell good; taste it to make sure.

Step two: Coat the hunk of pork (should have a bone in it somewhere--adds flavor) with the mix, put it in a zip lock bag, and leave it in the fridge overnight.

Step three: Pre-heat the oven to 220º C (428ºF).  Take your favorite huge pot with a lid--we just decided we were grown-ups and deserved a set of Le Creuset and are painstakingly, one piece at a time, acquiring it: so I used the classic orange (which the company now calls "iconic flame") dutch oven. 

A word, quite a long one before we get to Step Four: a thing that made me fall in love with Le Creuset, apart from its wonderful quality and color, is that one of my favorite writers, Alexandra Fuller, describes how her completely insane snob of a mother (not Fuller's way of describing her, just mine) carried her own set of Le Creuset everywhere the family went during the Rhodesian bush war. A few years ago, Fuller penned, going into uncharacteristically romantic details, a  depiction of her mom (but she'd say "Mum") :  "suddenly I found myself in unexpected tears thinking about what those pots represented: Cooking pots on the top of a tiny bundle of other belongings seems to be the universal image of women fleeing war across Europe in the 1930s and 1940s; women leaving the Dustbowl of Oklahoma during the Depression; women escaping post-election violence in Zimbabwe in 2008; women displaced by the current violence in Congo and Sudan. Pots are like the external expression of a woman’s womb, the way in which she can continue to nurture and protect her family, even when the land beneath her feet has been torn from her and all real hope has been lost."

That's all very lovely, but has nothing to do with why her mother saved those pots. If I know her mother, the woman saved those pots for exactly the reasons I, a not-so-secret social climber, would save mine: because they are so damn beautiful, so breathtakingly classy, a sign that, as her mother would say, "we have breeding."

Now, I don't have a damn bit of breeding and I'm not sure her mother did either, at least not in the sense of being up there by having any relatives born above the rank of "Laird." Hey, she did better than me. We're peasants to the marrow, although one of my really horrible ancestors was a U.S. president who grabbed the Northern half of Mexico, adding it on to Texas and California. 

Step 4: Remove the pork from the fridge. Keeping it in its zip lock bag, let it cool its heels on your counter until it seems at room temperature.

Step 5: Rub some extra-virgin, incredibly expensive, super-classy olive oil into the bottom of your Le Creuset Dutch oven. Slice five or six big red or white onions, core and slice the same number of apples. If you've had time to boil a few carrots for ten minutes, add them. Pour in a cup of dry red wine. Undo the zip lock bag and dump the pork, marinade and all, on top of the apple-onion-carrot mix. Put in oven UNCOVERED for about forty minutes. 

Step 6: While the pork is in the oven, boil some potatoes--any kind; I used plain white potatoes the first time around but think sweet potatoes would be good--for about ten minutes, until you can poke a fork in, but they should be firm. Drain them and slice them, add to pot.

Step 7: Cover the pork. Turn the heat down to 170º C (338ºF). Go away and do anything you like for five hours. 

The truth is, I intended to return after three and a half hours, but an event at my child's school went on and on and on. Finally we left early, because I was afraid the pork would be all dried out and burned up, the house along with it. 

But guess what? The pork was perfect. Perfect "pulled pork." Yum. Serve with a mixed salad and a dry red wine.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Once and Future Trump (with apologies to Yertle the Turtle)

In the far-away mansion of Mar-a-lago
America’s President’s counting his dough
A nicely huge mansion, baroque and outré
Where Trumpety Dumpety gets his own way.
He tweets up a storm; our boy’s busy indeed
He yawns and he wonders who next to mislead.
He goes with the flow and he hires and he fires
When he can squeeze time from fulfilling desires
With prostitutes, pee, kinky sexual positions
He’s managing mergers and yes, acquisitions
Glad-hands North Korea while tickling Putin
Though Stormy’s tough lawyer’s gone all highfalutin’
“Why won’t they just see that the girl’s just a ho?”
The world is against me! Hey, go with my flow!”
That is what the Trump said when he fell on his head
But Fox News wouldn’t say that he actually bled.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Stormy Daniels, Lies, and Pee Tapes . . . oh, and taxes. P.S. Comey

It's a measure of humanity that we don't want to know what we don't want to know. Trump's base is solid even though or maybe because he did it with Stormy Daniels--he's just a man, after all, and the Lord will forgive him. She's a tempter, like Eve, and the Lord will punish her. And those tapes of him with Russian prostitutes peeing on the bed the Obamas had slept in? That's just a nasty story. Shhh. Don't say such things around children. His taxes? What taxes? He's just like us, only he has more money. He makes it okay not to pay your taxes. That Michael Wolff, he's a scandal-monger, and we don't like them. Same for that James Comey. Don't need their books--it's all gossip.

And in the opposite corner, people like me who read both, who would rather have books that at least record, for posterity, the fall of American civilization. Who listen to Madeleine Albright. Who can't believe any of this is happening as it unfolds before us, the forest fire that is the Trump presidency, as Comey put it.  I consider the Declaration of Independence, the founding belief that "all men are created equal." Back in 1776, "all men" did not include women or anyone whose skin wasn't white. "All men" meant men with money and power; "all men" meant men with land. Jefferson owned about 200 slaves. Over time, the original meaning changed, and it's clear from Jefferson's letters that he wanted an aristocracy of "talent and virtue" not one of "birth and wealth." But in today's American oligarchy, "all men are created equal" if they are men, like Donald Trump, and rich, like Donald Trump, and willing to support him, so he increases their wealth. Perhaps, as a young student remarked, "all men are created evil." Maybe we should listen to Dee Dee Myers, an American political analyst who, after distinguished service as the White House Press Secretary during the first two years of the Clinton administration, wrote Why Women Should Rule The World (2009). Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Dee Dee Myers, Oprah, women of Hollywood, women in business, anybody but Ivanka: save us. At any rate, restore democracy.