Monthly Archives: January 2012

If you ask who cut the cheese in the kitchen — it might have been me

“You won’t like this dish because it has cheese in it and you hate cheese.”

That’s a favorite line from Miss Wendy mainly because I foolishly once told her early in our relationship, that ‘as a child’ I hated cheese and my mother couldn’t get me to eat anything cheese-like.

Of course, as a kid the only thing I knew from cheese was crappy orange cheddar. And cheddar remains my least favorite in the whole fromage pantheon. That’s mainly because parents in those days were inclined to foist dry and unappetizing cheese sandwiches on an unsuspecting kid. For me, I’d have rather gone hungry.

As time passed and I developed more mature tastes I came to appreciate the virtues of the grilled-cheese sandwich – “Hmm, this crap isn’t bad if it’s melted,” and, of course, the cheeseburger. But, raw cheddar? Not at all.

And my childhood and youth remained largely cheeseless and I didn’t really mind. While I could tolerate the aforementioned cheese concoctions I never did, as the good old boys say, “hanker after it.” I just didn’t get why people actually ‘wanted’ it when there were so many nice things to want.

And then I became more worldly and urbane (actually I think that’s redundant) and in my early 20s I went to Europe. Europeans crave cheese and the varieties are mammoth. It has been part of European culture since the earliest days and I think it was either Rousseau or Voltaire who first posed the philosophical query: Qui a coupe la fromage?

So, on my travels an early stop was Amsterdam. Now the Dutch are absolute cheese fanatics. I mean they have great beer, too, but cheese seem to be a mainstay delight for those clog-hoppers. I mean, so much so that they even have it for breakfast. That took a little getting used to. They also boasted shops that sold nothing but cheese. Little goudas and edams all in a row on shelf-after-shelf.

After Europe I changed my views on cheese since I’d actually consumed considerable quantities and I found I could differentiate different types from different cultures. I’d come a long way since crappy old cheddar sangies by that point. I even went so far as to use various cheeses in my culinary concoctions.

Today I love such ‘confections’ in the fromage sense as brie and camembert, as well as gruyere (a particular favorite), mozzarella, havarti, and I’m brave enough to tackle Roquefort and other blue cheeses and if I’m feeling especially dauntless, I’ll even take on gorgonzola.

But, I have my limits. I unequivocally do not like feta (I detest the crumbly texture), I have never been a favorer of cheesecake – cheese as dessert doesn’t work for me – and orange cheddar is not a purchase I ever make unless it’s going into a cheese sauce or on a burger.

And so-called ‘processed cheese?’ Well, that’s only a cheese-like substance.

But, I’ll never go as far as a former partner who once suggested she’d take cheese over sex any old day. The statement spoke volumes in many respects.

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I truly hope it wouldn’t be a matter of ‘See ya, hon’, I am so out of here!’

I have never been in the terrifying position of the passengers on the Costa Concordia that was permitted to rip out its bowels a few metres off a small island on the beautiful Tuscan coast.

Ironically, perhaps, the mishap which has cost 17 lives at latest count since the horrifying events of January 14th this year came about almost exactly a century after the sinking of the RMS Titanic in the brutal North Atlantic

I hope I never am in such a situation. I don’t know if I ever want to be forced to test my mettle to that degree.

Needless to say, as is so often the case in such horrific situations, the ‘blame-game’ has been rampant and the arch-villain allegedly is the ‘cowardly’ captain Schettino, who was down in the bar playing snuggle-bunnies with a comely babe when those who thought maybe he should have been on the bridge taking extra precautions since they were passing sooooooooooo close to that island thought he was doing just that rather looking for nookie.

But, who am I to judge? A judicial inquiry will handle that stuff. And I am not about to be a hypocrite since I’ve been guilty of some questionable behavior myself in the past – though not when I was expected to be in charge of a mammoth cruise liner.

In the weeks that have followed the disaster involving a ship, the name of which translates to ‘Peaceful Coast’, in another irony, the mopping up is continuing and tales of both derring-do and disgracefully cowardly behavior on the part of assorted passengers have come to light. Some did all that protocols demanded – you know, the traditional women and children first – while others were simply: “I’m outa here, honey, so screw you and your bambino!” Some leapt into the water (at great risk, and others, tragically, ended up trapped in their staterooms as the listing became too pronounced and they were unable to navigate to the deck.

It has been reported that the ship listed too greatly too rapidly to effectively lower lifeboats, and what has astonished many cruise ship aficionados was how quickly the behemoth turned turtle. In the case of the aforementioned Titanic there were literally hours to sort things out.

But, for various reasons the Titanic’s toll was much greater and there, too, there were all the (by now legendary, and in some cases false) tales of craven cowardice and “me before the broads and brats” behaviors.

As I suggest, and I must be honest, I do not know how I might respond in such a situation. Nobly, I hope. But maybe don’t do a cruise with me, just in case.

I still want to spend time with you but the bastards won’t let me

Taking a page from the fine onionskin paper, leather-bound book of Jazz, I too would like to take a moment to indict the pissy attitude of the Blogger people and to apologize to the proprietors of some favorite blogs for having left no comments of late.

I have left no comment due to the fact that Blogger, which has a propensity to not play nicely in the blogsphere playground, is up to its old tricks.

If you are a subscriber to Blogger and your comment area does not ask for word verification, then we’re laughing and I can come in – as the bishop said to the actress – but if you are looking for WV, we’re hooped.

What happens is I fastidiously and painstakingly type in the letters being sought and I then get a message telling me they are ‘wrong’. I can follow this process 5, 10 or even 2,346 times, and they will persistently tell me they do not work. In a horse’s patoot, as Archie Bunker used to say. They just don’t want me, as a WordPress renegade, to have access to your blog in terms of comment.

Well, I’ll tell Blogger why I switched to WordPress. I switched because a few years ago you screwed me around completely. For reasons best known to you (though never to me) you quite simply froze access to my Blogger blog. A nice blog it was, too. So, confused and angered, I switched over to the WordPress folks and am happy as the proverbial with them.

After stifling my Blogger blog for six full months, suddenly with no reason given, it was again accessible. Well, sorry. I’d moved on. In the words of Carole King: “It’s too late, baby, now it’s too late. Too late for us to make it …”

I hope they drop their word verification BS, in which case I shall return and leave comment.

There’s room in this world for Volvos and Pippa’s bum, and other points to ponder

So, if schoolteachers are now driving BMWs and Audis (and I know you are via good authority) what has happened to all the old clapped-out Volvo station wagons with a top speed 30 percent slower than that which was posted. They are the vehicles that teachers almost exclusively used to drive?

Just one of those imponderables that has visited my fevered brain. Volvo. When I was a less-than-sensitive adolescent male (less-than-sensitive and adolescent male are redundancies, actually) and we learned the clinical term for female nether parts we immediately applied it to that Swedish car. Of course, teen boys find ‘all’ sexual anatomical references dirty, even the clinical appellations so it was all a laff riot. Actually, judging by TV sitcoms, even grown males don’t move beyond this. Yes, there is gratuitous ‘male bashing’ in the sitcom world.

Moving along, I’m going to posit an observation that flies in the face of the findings of the otherwise much-admired late Chris Hitchens, who once opined in a Vanity Fair essay that females weren’t funny. I beg to differ, late Chris.

Most of my favorite ‘funny’ bloggers are female and some of them are downright hilarious. They are funny because their blogs tackle ‘life’ issues in a droll and often highly original manner that I can only envy. Male bloggers tend to focus more on ‘big’ stuff and miss the elements of our days that make life more tolerable. Indeed some of the finest humor writers at the commercial level were also female such as Dorothy Parker, Betty MacDonald or currently Cody Diablo. Yeah, well there was always dull-dull-dull Virginia Woolf to provide balance, but you get my drift.

There is a kid in the ballpark across the street who is having his daily batting practice. He does it virtually any day it’s clement. He tosses the ball into the air and hits it. Periodically his dad is out there on weekends lobbing him balls – but never another kid. I don’t know why that is. It’s kind of sad.

An elderly female friend – a lovely 85-year-old possessed of that wisdom and candor that comes from being nearly four-score – turned to me earlier today and asked: “Are you happy?” I was nonplused. How was I to answer? I mumbled something about “as far as I know.” And that set me to thinking. But I’ve reached no conclusion. It’s such a big subject with so many variables.

We know the world isn’t generally speaking a sane place when you consider the nonsensical existence of Pippa Middleton as camera and tabloid fodder. Yes, she’s got a cute caboose. So do countless females, some of whom I even know. Why do we care about this creature? It isn’t as if she’s done anything actually worthy. She’s the kid sister of another tolerable looking female who is married to somebody a little more noteworthy and who might some day be King of England if there is still an England to be king of.

We furthermore know the world isn’t exactly a sane place when we consider the South Carolina Republican Primary and the players therein. That effort also makes the world seem like a less safe place.

Is beauty just in the eye of the beholder — or is it an absolute?

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’
John Keats

What Keats doesn’t mention, however, is that sometimes there is too much beauty to fully take in, so does that mean some of the truth is lost?

I think it was my tendency to posit such irritating questions many years ago that kept me at a lowly C-plus level in my university philosophy course.

Back to my premise. Sometimes beauty can be too great to handle by conventional means. I remember reading once that the late Elizabeth Taylor went dateless for much of her teens because males found her so beautiful that they were afraid to ask her out since they knew instinctively they would be rejected.

I have met women who will virtually take one’s breath away and it is difficult to describe the sort of psycho-physiological awe that sort of beauty can evoke. I mean, some people are just dazzling. This, no doubt, applies to very handsome men, too, though I don’t waste a lot of time looking at males, and cannot really judge them with esthetic regard.

Places can have similar effect. Human sensory equipment can seem too limited to embrace superlatives in scenery. Many of us have dreamt of being in an Eden-like spot (as many of us might have indeed dreamt of encountering an Eve-like woman; not me, of course) that would fulfill a realm of fantasies. For me, such a spot involves tropicality and all the lushness and pulchritude that might be evoked by an accident of climate and geography.

Once, standing on a white sand beach of a tiny islet on the far side of Muri Lagoon on Rarotonga and looking towards the palms and flowers of the islet that was fringed by the azure waters of the crystalline lagoon, I was struck dumb and could only utter a banality like: “Hey, it doesn’t get better than this,” or something equally lame. You see, I wasn’t in possession of adjectives sufficient to describe what lay before us. Wordsworth wouldn’t have been. “Yep, this is a damn nice spot, all right,” might have been the best he could’ve mustered, too.

The Hawaiian Islands, as another example, have too much staggering scenery. Oh yeah, there are dirt backroads with derelict cars cluttering the seedy verges, and the bad neighborhoods of Honolulu are as crummy as in any large city. But, then you get to a place like Waimea Canyon, or the streaming verdancy of the Hanalei Valley, or the almost orgasmic splendor of the Napali Coast and all you can muster is a kind of inadequate and profane, “Holy fuck, is that amazing, or what?” Again, you have been stuck by too much beauty. You can’t handle the onslaught. Hawaii is filled with such bits of fabulousness, as are so many other parts of the world. The mountain panorama before my front window is virtually unexcelled, but I can’t really describe it and do it justice.

A friend once told me the first glimpse he had of the Himalayas from a spot in northern India could only tell him he had never actually seen mountains before because he was dumbfounded by their size. This was a guy who had grown up in the shadow of our own Rockies.

I cannot begin to describe the verdure of the Irish countryside in springtime. ‘Green’ just doesn’t cut it. “A terrible beauty,” as Yeats called it, referencing both Ireland’s phyical magnificence and its bloody history. When I first saw Niagara Falls, I was far from disappointed. I was a bit incredulous, despite the tacky tourist crap around me. The falls themselves? Staggering.  “Them puppies is ginormous,” I would have said to myself if I talked like a hayseed.

I could go on, but won’t. Have you ever been struck dumb by a scene before you that excelled your expectations so much you couldn’t describe it? Let me know where. Was it only when you looked at your photographs later that you really saw what it was; yet it wasn’t quite the same because you weren’t there?

And when I speak of a surfeit of beauty trumping truth, I mean that even if you can muster words to describe the scene, can you muster words to describe the emotional impact of the scene? I’m guessing not.

 

To have had such a friend even once in a lifetime was a huge privilege

Dave:

I would like to take this opportunity to render my sincere gratitude.

(Signed) Ian

The brief note is in cursive script in a handwriting style I haven’t used since early university days – before massive notetaking corrupted my writing forevermore – and it is contained on a little commercial ‘Thank you’ card. I know no more about it than that.

What was I grateful for? I have no idea. I know now what I am grateful for as pertains to Dave, but I’m not sure what the deal was then.

The note, contained inside the double cover of a record album – Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – that I must have given to Dave as a further testament to my gratitude — for something.

It was sent to me by Dave’s wife, Janet (a dear friend of very long duration) last week. She has no idea what it means, either. She was doing a major housecleaning and happened upon it. And knowing how much I valued my friendship with Dave, she thought I’d like to have it.

Janet, you see, is not just Dave’s wife –she is his widow.

Dave died in the spring of 1981 in a tragic boat explosion in Vancouver Harbor. He and a number of other people were setting off on a scuba trip to BC’s Gulf Islands. The boat was fueling when the awfulness happened. He didn’t stand a chance.

I was living in England at the time and got a message, replete with newspaper clippings, from my late mother-in-law. It was one of those things in which, as a protective device, you enter a refusal-to-accept-reality denial mode. “How could that be? That couldn’t be? There’s a mistake. It’s somebody else. He was my friend. He had a young family. Etc. Etc. Etc.”

Dave was my friend. An absolutely cherished friend, and a man of integrity whom I respected hugely. He was a graduate engineer and a man who was impressively environmentally aware long before it became fashionable or trendy. He cared deeply about the ball of mud on which we live and did what he could to help out. He did a lot.

Dave was one of the most intelligent men I have ever known. But, he was more than that. He was my primo university friend and we had great times together. We drank a lot of beer, we ogled a lot of coeds and we had girlfriends (later our wives) who were old friends and across-the-street neighbors. It was all good.

Dave and I did a lot of things together. At the end of each summer we’d take a trip to Saltspring Island, ostensibly to fish (largely unsuccessfully) and mainly to drink a lot of beer and to just hang like cherished buddies do. The photo above is of Dave and that was on one of our fishing expeditions. We had a big simpatico and markedly similar senses of humor and we could put each other into tears-down-your cheek laughter. Not always ‘delicate’ humor, but always funny. To us at least.

After we graduated we both left the conurbation of Vancouver and headed off to smaller towns. But, we always kept in touch and saw each other at Christmas and other times for many years. We certainly never grew apart. Besties for life. You know.

Well, we’re still besties, in my esteem, but on a slightly different plane in his case.

A few weeks before his awful demise he sent me a chatty letter to my English residence. I always recall a quote of his in which he said: “I guess things are really shaking in Beccles and Bungay these days.” Beccles and Bungay were two small towns within the proximity of where we were in Great Yarmouth. I’d never heard of them before we moved there, and I’m sure most others have never heard of them, either.

But that was Dave. He would have taken the trouble to check out a map of ‘my’ area just so he could touch base with a bit of familiarity.

I know I’ll always miss him but in, I think, a healthy way and I am grateful for the few years I got with such a friend.

 

 

 

 

I like to think of it as sneezing in a ‘time-honored’ manner

I thought for sure I was coming down with a cold this morning. This was a chilling prospect. Not that I necessarily get ‘Man Colds’ ala the wonderful YouTube offering, but what I get is a representation of ‘My Cold’ and my cold is much more important than anyone else’s. Mainly because it’s mine.

I don’t get a lot of colds, and for that I am grateful to God and my brilliant immune system. But, when I do get one I know how it will play out. I’ll start by sneezing my damnfool head off. And then my nose will run. And then it will continue to run and I’ll go through boxes of tissues to stem the flow. You know how it works. I imagine some of you have colds that resemble the uniqueness of mine.

Following that I get my most dreaded manifestation – I plug up. I plug up like concrete. In order to combat that manifestation I must use nasal spray. I can’t use antihistamines because they are evil. To me they are. I have never shot up heroin but the consumption of a lone antihistamine leads me to suspect that must be just what it’s like to crank smack.

Nasal sprays have a drawback, however. They have a charming rebound effect if used for too long, which means I awaken in the middle of the night with a mouth that feels like the Mojave Desert. A few years ago I got me a prescription nasal spray called Fluticasone (which sounds a bit like an item of baroque music – “Hey, Hans, did you hear that new Fluticasone by that Mozart fella?”) which works like a hot damn. It’s a corticosteroid, though it has had no effect on my pecs or (ahem) ‘manhood’ that I’ve noticed. But, it does clear up the nasal passages brilliantly. It costs about $500,000 an ounce, but we have a good medical plan.

But then, when I think it’s over, the most charming manifestation, well, manifests. That’s called ‘post-nasal drip’, which isn’t as icky as it sounds. What PND does is make me cough – and cough, and cough, and cough, after I’ve undergone even the mildest physical exertion. That can last for about three months.

And that brings me to what I feel is the crux of the issue here and that is a situation in which my cold cannot be left in peace by the forces of political correctness. You see, I shield my coughs and sneezes wrong.

I was raised to be polite, and for that area of strictness I am grateful to my parents. And I was taught to cough or sneeze into my hand to avoid the spreading of germs amongst innocent bystanders. It’s a nice touch, even though it’s clinical bullshit.

So, I went all my life thinking I was being a fine fellow at virus time. I thought that a hand sneeze or cough was good enough – but Noooooooo – it’s not good enough. You must cough or sneeze into your elbow. For some reason that’s better – though it’s still bullshit because that’s not how colds are spread.

Well, my point about that is, if I feel a sneeze coming on I don’t really stop and think about it. I go to my default, which is to sneeze into my hand. “You didn’t sneeze into your elbow, you bastard,” I can now imagine some bystander saying as he/she turns away in disgust at my crassness.

It’s that goddamn imposed metric system all over again. Fine for young people, who don’t think in miles, feet or Fahrenheit, to sneeze into the old elbow, but for a buzzard like me, it’s just too much of a challenge to remember.

Maybe I should just stay home and eat chicken soup just in case. On the other hand, the cold doesn’t seem to have quite kicked in yet, so I’ll welcome prayers for my mortal body — oh, and ‘soul’ too, just in case I get a really bad one.