2020 Reading Re-Cap: Lighten Up!

“Wow that year sure flew by” …said absolutely no one about 2020. Yet, somehow there were still more books than time. For the first time ever, I managed to fail my reading goal which makes absolutely no sense given that most of the year was spent with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I’ve heard the same story from other readers, though. Even if we dodged COVID, many of us seemed to suffer from the “can’t-get-anything-done malaise”.

I resolve every year to commit to a more challenging book list, but somehow the easier reads creep in, and thankfully so – these six provided a welcome escape:

Death on the Nile: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

by Agatha Christie

Published 1937

Audiobook, 352 pages (8 hours) narrated by David Suchet

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I read Agatha Christie for the first time a few years ago (And Then There Were None) and decided that the genre just wasn’t for me. Deep inward groan, then, when another was assigned as a book club choice. And while Death on the Nile didn’t exactly change my mind about Agatha Christie mysteries, it was at least geographically more interesting. It more or less held my interest and with David Suchet (who played Hercule Poirot in the film version) narrating, it was a more than bearable read. Lots of vapid people thrown together on a cruise, throw in a murder and make sure the sagacious Poirot on hand to tie up all the loose ends – a winning formula. I’ll give it 3 stars.

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall 1783 – 1787

by Winston Graham

Published 1945

Audiobook, 365 pages (14 hours 27 minutes) narrated by Oliver Hembrough

A group of my friends are avid fans of the Poldark series (which has twice been adapted to the screen, most recently in 2015 and is available on Netflix). After the umpteenth gathering where one friend mentioned Poldark and the rest emitted deep, admiring sighs and told me I HAVE to read it, I decided it was time to investigate further.

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I’ve only listened to the first book, but my hot take is that if Thomas Hardy had written soap operas they would have looked something like this. The character development is thorough, the 18th century Cornwall countryside is appealing and the attraction between strong silent type Ross Poldark and the servant girl Demelza is irresistible. I’ll give it 3 stars and I’ve got Book Two queued up in my Audible library.

City of Girls

by Elizabeth Gilbert

Published 2019

Audiobook, 496 pages (15 hours) narrated by Blair Brown

I’m a defender of Elizabeth Gilbert. I did not by any means hate Eat, Pray, Love and I thought The Signature of all Things was a truly fine novel. City of Girls, for me, falls somewhere in between.

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Sometimes I think Gilbert’s problem is that she is just too talented a writer. She’s witty and she thinks fast and it can come off as just a bit too glossy. This book was a little too loud that way and maybe a little too long for me. The setting – 1940’s New York City, specifically Broadway theatre life, was a big plus for me, though, since I was reading it after 2020 New York City and Broadway had gone totally dark.

Gilbert’s protagonist, Vivian, is a modern girl who flunks out of Vassar, moves to NYC and has lots and lots and lots of sex. For all that sex, she never marries, and, for all that sex (did I mention that there’s a lot of sex?) the most meaningful relationship she has with a man is a platonic one. Vivian grows up, and grows old. I liked this quote about aging: “After a certain age, time just drizzles down upon your head, like rain in the month of March. You’re always surprised at how much of it can accumulate, and how fast.” 3 stars, and yes, I’ll read whatever Gilbert writes next.

Penguin Bloom: the odd little bird who saved a family

by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive

Published 2017

Paperback, 152 pages

This is more of a booklet than a book, which does not lessen its appeal in any way. I had followed the Penguin Bloom account on Instagram so I knew a bit about the story when Angie gifted me the book. Australian couple Sam and Cameron Bloom and their three sons led the kind of joyful, adventurous life that us stick-in-the-muds can only dream of. They soaked up everything the world had to offer until one tragic moment changed everything: on a trip to Thailand, a balcony railing broke and Sam plummeted to the ground, suffering a T-level fracture and permanent paralysis.

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For a woman whose whole life revolved around physical activity and whose role as a mother and wife changed in an instant to a year-long hospital stay and a greatly altered future, things looked very grim indeed. Enter Penguin the magpie, who brought much-needed magic to the Bloom’s lives. Heart wrenching and heartwarming and I am guessing that proceeds from the book go to help keep the family afloat. Buy it for someone who needs encouragement (which is basically all of us these days…) 3 stars and 5 hearts.

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Final Diagnosis

Paperback, 296 pages

Published 2015

Spy Sub: A Top-Secret Mission to the Bottom of the Pacific

Paperback, 256 pages

both by Roger C. Dunham

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These books were truly genre-benders for me. If you’d told me I’d be reading a medical crime mystery and an account of a Cold War spy submarine mission in 2020 I would have laughed outright. However, there are a lot of things I wouldn’t believe could have happened in 2020 so I guess these books fit right in.

I was asked to write an article for a local magazine about a neighbor who has authored several books and decided I’d better read a few of them before I started writing about him. In Final Diagnosis, Roger Dunham turned his memorable stint as a medical resident at LA County + USC Medical Center into a medical crime mystery. And in Spy Sub, he chronicles his service in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear reactor operator on the spy submarine “Viperfish”. The name is in quotes because the 1960’s mission remains so highly classified that Dunham is not allowed to divulge the actual name of the sub. Retired now, Dunham spent more than three decades practicing internal medicine in Santa Barbara, and wrote these books in his “spare time”. He is currently writing a non-fiction book about the current trajectory of Western medicine. 3 stars each for two books I never thought I would read.

Happy week and happy reading! More 2020 re-cap next week…

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Canceling Culture.

Whew! We’ve finally boot-kicked 2020 to where it belongs – the rear view mirror. Everyone’s circumstances were different, and thus, one’s means of coping varied – (bourbon, anyone?) My personal long distance memory of it might eventually be summed up in the T.S. Eliot quote:

“Books. Cats. Life is good.”

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There were times so distracting this past year that I actually couldn’t read and had to settle for the therapy of petting cats. But eventually, books once again became the magic carpet ride that they’ve always been, transporting me to different times, different places, different ways of looking at the world. Books are, for me, truly a lifeline.

Thus, when the following tweet popped, unbidden, across my timeline, I could only think WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?

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I’m not one of the cool kids, so, while I’m familiar with cancel culture, #DisruptTexts had thus far mercifully eluded me. The gist of it seems to be that everything written prior to 2019 and lacking a woke label and especially a classic and most especially anything written by a “white” male, belongs in a great big bonfire. To Kill a Mockingbird was on the cancel list this year, as was Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Go figure. Twain’s stand against bigotry was compelling enough that he basically denounced his own father. It was Twain’s long friendship with John T. Lewis that inspired the character of Jim in the classic tale:

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But never mind that. While there might be hope on the horizon for COVID inoculation, there does not appear to be a vaccine for stupidity.

I understand that a great cheer will go up from high schoolers who will now be spared the punishment of Homer’s epic. I well remember the misery of my own high school years – in my case, torture was assigned in the form of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which, if I remember correctly, makes The Odyssey seem like light reading in comparison.

I re-read (voluntarily!) The Iliad and The Odyssey a few years back and found them to be absolutely transcendent. I do understand that they may not be everybody’s cup of tea. The Roman emperor Caligula was, in fact, the first to ban The Odyssey because it expressed “dangerous Greek ideals of freedom”. Well, there you go.

Caligula, like ourselves, was caught up in his cultural moment. It is inescapable. None of us can truly rise above it. The classics, I would argue though, might be one means of mitigating the most pernicious effects of the echo chamber each one of us – regardless of our mindset – inhabits. Maybe, just maybe that’s why “they” want to ban them?

More than one pundit, in response to the Odyssey kerfuffle, has admonished readers to invest in hardcover copies of classic history and fiction because, as the Twitter account @chigirl claims, “the internet is erasing history“. If you doubt the veracity of her words, you might want to read up on the ferocious and relentless ways in which Wikipedia editors are cutting, embroidering, slanting and essentially re-writing Western history. A 1990-era set of Encyclopedia Britannica might be an interesting acquisition to make right now. “Reference books” could take on a whole new meaning as we go forward.

Next week I’ll begin the annual reading retrospective, but of course I’m already looking forward to the delicious “menu” of books to read in this new year. You can bet that a re-read of The Odyssey is on it, thanks to Ms. Heather Levine. If you wish to join me, I recommend the Fagles translation. Buy the paperback, just in case…

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My other reading goals are to scoop up more and more “classic” works because I truly believe they matter. Just as we all should be exposed to books that take us out of our echo chambers – aren’t we all guilty of seeking more and more of what aligns with our world view? – we benefit by reading the works that, sifting down through time, have earned the stamp of a “classic”. Because we are simply fools if we make the mistake of thinking our “cultural moment” is culture.

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Family Album: Joy to the World!

This year they came from near and not so far – you may have noticed the ground tilting a bit now that all our kids are residing on the West Coast. Certainly made it easier to be together for Christmas, although we missed the family members who couldn’t be with us. Hope Granny, Gail, Mark and Jean and this crew will be with us next year:

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Those who made the trek arrived laden with gifts and various levels of trepidation. Low expectations all around given that we are on a lockdown that meant no dining out, no going to church and no getting away from one another for um, about a solid week

And, oh, did I mention that everyone brought their pets?

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It was a little like a holiday Noah’s Ark, totaling up to nine humans, four cats, two dogs and a cheeky little conure. But only The Countess gets to roam the kitchen table:

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She helped Taylor tune his guitar when he arrived:

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First things first and that means the traditional holiday spaghetti dinner:

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And then the first of many family game nights. Daniel’s high school friend, Christian, who, lucky for us, was stranded in SB for Christmas, stayed with us and excelled as game show host every evening:

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And Lily and Moo took us on a flashlight walk each night:

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Every day was sunny and beautiful and every night was perfect.

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There was even a visit from Claire and John Henry, who brought Oliver’s Santa suit as a bequest to Lily:

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Since we couldn’t go to church on Christmas Eve, we had our own brief service outside. Isaiah 9:6, Luke 2:1-20, Joy to the World and then we all held candles and sang Silent Night before the CE said grace before dinner. My favorite moment of Christmas.

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On Christmas morning, we discovered that even COVID couldn’t keep Santa away:

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Memorable gift: the alpaca that Daniel gave Taylor:

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And we will always remember James’ Christmas sweater!

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Of course the most memorable holiday moment of all is always the annual unveiling, for better or worse, of the three-layer jello salad. Angie and Daniel continue to rule as the official jello team:

As you can see, we specialize in drama.

This year it was just a little rough around the edges (aren’t we all…) but tasted as great as ever.

And just like that, Christmas started winding down. Daniel is off to a Mexican vacation this morning so he packed up his cats and he and Christian headed to LA.

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We still have a crowd, and plenty of leftover turkey, but Christmas 2020 is already almost in the rear view mirror. And everyone said – amazingly – that it was one of the best Christmases ever. How, I do not know. Maybe it was a Christmas miracle. Maybe it is simply that God’s light at Christmas shines through all the world’s darkness. As it always has and always will.

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We wish you a Merry Christmas

It was just about this time last year when I woke up one morning with a heavy head and a stuffy nose. Oh no! I had the dreaded Christmas cold. My holiday was ruined! Every person I encountered was warded off with “Don’t come near me, I have the plague!”

Well. Fast forward to 2020, and, as the saying goes, “Hold my beer”.

Who knew that “Don’t come near me” would become the mantra for the year. And talk about ruined holidays…

I don’t have a cold this year but there does seem to be a plague going around. A “perfect Christmas” means something entirely different than it ever has in the past.

Who knows what next Christmas will look like? It seems we can’t count on anything to be as it was before. Only one thing is for certain:

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Wishing everyone the healthiest and happiest holiday possible!

Merry Christmas from me, the CE, the chickens, the silly cats and, of course, Lily.

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Unexpected gifts.

There’s a quirky article in The Wall Street Journal today regarding the upside of “sloppily wrapped” gifts. This caught my eye, as I am one of those slapdash gift-wrappers whose gifts look like they were wrapped by an assembly line of six-year-olds. The gist of the article was that gifts wrapped all catty-wampus with gaping seams almost always exceed the expectations of the recipient.

Maybe it was a slow news day. Or maybe the psychology of gift-wrapping is just the content we need in a time where almost nothing is exceeding our expectations.

We are in the midst of a new shutdown that looks a whole lot like the old shutdown except with the added fatigue quotient. I have to admit I hit a low point last weekend when we learned that even sassy Orange County was locking down and our plans to visit Tina and family there this weekend were canceled. We have a long-standing tradition of running down there in the middle of the Christmas rush (yes, we are gluttons for holiday stress and punishment) to take Tina on a little shopping expedition for her birthday. But nope, not this year. “Not this year” is the liturgical response to almost every single darned thing. Ugh.

And then, for the icing on the doomsday cake, as our family Zoomed last Sunday, the CE let it drop that we would “probably be getting just a small Christmas tree this year”.

There was a moment of complete silence while that thought sunk in. We go way, way back with Christmas. And I do mean wayyyy back.

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And we always have a nice tall tree to go with the nice tall ceiling in our family room. By always, I mean twenty-six Christmases in this house that the CE has had to climb a ladder to put our makeshift little cardboard star atop our tree. The idea of a small tree for us is basically akin to saying there is no Santa Claus. Everyone took it in stride, though and tried to be cheerful about re-imagining Christmas… with a small tree.

Then, as we had bravely adjusted expectations downward (as does anyone presented with a gift wrapped by me) we heard from a neighbor that the Christmas tree lots had closed! What? It does seem that Scrooge McVirus is winning all the points this holiday. And that we are all wearing down. We’ve been frayed at the edges for quite awhile now and, I fear, in danger of unraveling completely.

Fortunately, the neighbor was wrong. There are Christmas trees for sale. And, fortunately, the CE was wrong. We did not end up with a Tiny Tim tree after all. There he is, back up on that ladder:

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Best of all, our new Los Angeleno, Daniel, texted that he and Freddy were thinking about coming up to see us for the weekend. We lost our Newport trip (we will make it up to you, Tina!) but gained a pair of tree-trimmers. Daniel hasn’t been home to decorate the tree for at least a dozen years so this is special. Lily thinks so, too!

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We had such a special, cozy evening together and, as of this morning, the tree is almost halfway decorated. This week began as a very sloppily wrapped gift that turned out to completely exceed expectations. Here’s hoping that all of our and all of your Christmas seasons turn out that way!

Oh, and, by the way, we’re pretty sure there really is a Santa Claus.

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What are we waiting for?

It’s just a little ironic that after nine “expectant” months of waiting, waiting, waiting, we enter the season of…waiting.

Welcome to Advent.

When our boys were small and life seemed so simple, they would burst out of Sunday School proudly bearing the homely little Advent wreaths they had made. Four candles, one for each Sunday of the Advent season, nestled upon an evergreen wreath meant to represent the promise of eternal life in Christ.

They looked a little like this:

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Admittedly, they might have counted down those Sundays waiting more for Santa than for Jesus. A lot of people do. Funny how we tend to put our hopes in temporal things.

I have spent these past months in a waiting mode that might be better described as a semi-coma. My motto has been “wake me when it’s over”, which may have made sense in April or even May, but come December I see that my logic has been faulty.

All those months and I have not prepared one whit for the holidays. Foolish me.

But there is still time, perhaps, to prepare my soul.

A quote from French philosopher Simone Weil:

“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”

(This strikes me as ever so much more profound than “wake me when it’s over”.)

And famed theologian Henri Nouwen’s words:

“Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” Words like that push us into passivity.

But there is none of this passivity in Scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. Right here is a secret for us about waiting. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment.”

Our popular culture places great value on the concept of “mindfulness”, which, in and of itself may be a good tool for relaxation. But it strikes me a little as being like a rail car that has been decoupled from its engine. It can’t really take me anywhere. Spiritual mindfulness, on the other hand, has an appeal. This moment is THE moment.

With life on pare-down, slowdown, shutdown, we actually have the opportunity to spend a Christmas season focusing on – Christmas!

I just downloaded this one to help me:

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And these all look good, too:

In this season of “expectant waiting”, it is a temptation to put my hopes in temporal things.

I’m waiting to travel. I’m waiting for Broadway to re-open. I’m waiting to sit down to dinner inside a fine restaurant, anywhere. I am especially waiting to sit with my feet in the sand at Hula Grill at Ka’anapali. I’m waiting to dump the masks and have a party! I’m waiting, with an aching heart, to hug my family.

But, awaking from my semi-coma, I realize that this season of waiting may be an opportunity like no other. We may only have take-out to feed our bodies but riches abound for feeding our souls.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. -Psalm 130: 5-6

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Family Album: a holiday, anyway!

You can’t keep hungry people down.

Thanksgiving was going to happen one way or another. We turned a day into a week to lighten the (viral) load and we were blessed with the absolute most spectacular weather I think I’ve ever seen in Santa Barbara. Thank you, God!

Tina and the girls and, of course, Ace, and with Thomas in tow, graced the first part of our week:

Viv settled in with the fluffy ones:

img_9694while Caleigh got right to work in the kitchen.  No holiday can proceed without the chocolate cherry cake.

And since great-Granny is once again on COVID lockdown and couldn’t join us, Evie, Viv and Caleigh went over the river and through the woods to Granny’s house to help her decorate for Christmas. Don’t worry. They’re not turkeys – they were all COVID tested prior to arrival.

As they headed down the road, a new crew arrived:

And let the games begin:

We missed having Taylor with us, but look who else joined us! Daniel just moved to LA and spent his first Thanksgiving at home with us in a decade:

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It was Rio’s first Thanksgiving with us, too. He liked the idea of inspecting the pies but didn’t want to hear anything about roasting the bird.

Speaking of pies, I have to give a shout out to Angie’s friend, Lily, whose gluten-free apple pie was the star of our Thanksgiving dinner. I think she’s still baking under the radar but not for long as her muffins and pies are clearly destined for fame. You can find her on Instagram: @valleygirlmuffins

We don’t usually host Thanksgiving. We often aren’t even at home for Thanksgiving. We grumbled all through October and November at our upended plans. Yet somehow, we ended up having one of the most perfect holidays ever. Sunshine, joy and gratitude all around. We all felt so incredibly blessed (especially Lily, who never gets fed from the table except on holidays!)

The CE wasted no time shifting gears. He went straight from pumpkin pie to prepping the Christmas star with James and Thomas (and, of course, Lily)

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We salvaged Thanksgiving, and somehow I am confident that we will find our way also to a merry Christmas. The true light shines brightest in dark times.

Isaiah 9:2

The people who walk in darkness
Will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land,
The light will shine on them.

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Giving thanks for thankful giving.

Lest you mistakenly think there are no seasons in southern CA, welcome to fall in our neighborhood:

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Of course, it is a study in contrasts. While the liquidambars smolder, I do still have two baby tomatoes trying their best to ripen as the temperatures drop.

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And that is not the only contrast I’m noticing. For us, as it gets colder, we’re getting cozier. Warm socks. Fires in the fireplace every night. For others, though, I’m hearing that cozy is not on the horizon.

As everyone knows, we have new shutdowns just as winter closes in. Restaurants and other businesses that have just barely been hanging on are newly imperiled. These translate directly into jobs lost and for some, entire life’s work and savings lost. Some school systems, notably in NYC, are now shut down despite a plea from the director of the CDC to keep schools open. Some families are being stretched far beyond their means – I was told the other day that one issue local parents are facing with remote learning school arrangements and daycare shutdowns is the decision to leave very young children alone for long periods of time in order to go to work. In order to pay the rent. In order to put food on the table. Nothing cozy about that.

Tough choices are being made all around, all the time. There are also those already struggling with the effects of isolation who have nothing to look forward to but more of the same. We quite literally can’t see behind all the masks, but there are very definitely people who are suffering.

Every community is different. But from what I’m hearing, there is great need everywhere for basics like food, shelter and care for the most vulnerable. Assuming that your national, state or local government are wisely using your tax dollars to address such urgent problems is, quite simply, folly. We all need to step up in any way we can.

The CE and I are lucky to be plugged into a few organizations we trust where we know our contributions make a direct difference in people’s lives and I am so thankful for that. It doesn’t take too much research to find a way to give meaningfully. This is truly a time where even a small amount can make a difference. As we approach what looks like it will be a streamlined holiday season, maybe we all have a chance to give a little where it will count the most. And if, by the way, you were planning to give me something, please make it a donation, however small, to help someone in need. (Unless, of course, you are the CE, in which case, I’m definitely hoping for cashmere and jewelry this Christmas 😉 Hey, I never said I was a saint…

Hang in there, everyone. It has to get better, right?

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Waiting to walk the Brooklyn Bridge

It is a spectacularly beautiful day in Southern California, but I am, once again, in a New York state of mind. Winter is closing in there, and thus, our window for any hope of visiting again any time soon. I picture my favorite city under a blanket of snow, resting until spring – and hopefully better times – arrive.

In the meantime, I’ve comforted myself with a 500-page fix: David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic History of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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The epic history was also somewhat of an epic read. I now know more about steel wire than one might think necessary, not to mention about all the political shenanigans that took place around the bridge project. Since I am a slow reader, it took me two months to finish the book, but since it took fourteen years to build the bridge, I suppose eight weeks of my time is the least I can do to pay homage to what, upon completion in 1883 was considered “the eight wonder of the world”.

In a footnote, McCullough listed some of the many artists who also paid homage to the bridge and since they interest me more than steel wire, I decided to take a peek.

Perhaps the most famous rendering of the bridge is Joseph Stella’s 1939 painting The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme. A photo doesn’t really do it justice – next time I am at the Whitney Museum I am going straight to the 7th floor to look at this painting, which is nearly six feet tall!

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Artist John Marin, who defined painting as “a sort of mad wonder dancing” painted this dynamic watercolor of the bridge in 1912. It lives at The Met, where I fervently hope to visit it when I return.

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Not far from The Met is the iconic Carlyle Hotel and Bemelman’s Bar, named after Ludwig Bemelman’s whose whimsical murals cover the walls of that famed watering hole. Oh, how many times in recent years we thought of lunching at The Carlyle or spending an evening at the bar – and then thought better of it – “too expensive”, we’d say. Well, now they are closed and how I wish we had just parted with the princely sum for Dover Sole prepared tableside in the dining room or an atrociously expensive whiskey sour at Bemelman’s. For now, I will console myself with Ludwig Bemelman’s 1954 lithograph of a horse and cart on the Brooklyn Bridge:

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I must confess, I teared up a little when I read painter Child Hassam’s quote: “To me New York is the most wonderful and most beautiful city in the world.” Because I feel exactly the same, but the past seven months, NYC seems to have become the flashpoint for all our woes and it hurts my heart to see it so maligned. Hassam painted this view of  Brooklyn Bridge in Winter in 1904:

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We don’t really tend to associate Georgia O’Keeffe with New York, but she lived there for three decades before relocating to New Mexico. Shortly before her departure, she painted the bridge as a farewell to the city:

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On a lark, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge a few years back. When we are finally able to return – hopefully next spring – we will walk it once more. This time I will pay attention to all that steel wire and to the bridge towers, which apparently have never been replicated in any other bridge. I will think of what it must have been like on the night when the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge were turned on for the first time, creating a glittering necklace of brilliance across the East River to Manhattan.

How I love that city. How wonderful it will be to return. Dover Sole at The Carlyle and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It will be worth the wait.

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Family Album: San Francisco.

Well, let’s just say there are currently no little cable cars climbing halfway to the stars. Tony Bennett may have to sing a new tune about that city by the Bay.

After the relaxed and almost festive atmosphere of Paso Robles, San Francisco seemed almost dystopian in contrast. Union Square was virtually empty. The neighborhood restaurants we remember are all closed down. The usually bustling hotel lobby at the Westin St. Francis, where we stayed, was completely empty. The main entrance is blocked off. The few guests in the hotel are required to enter and exit through the hotel garage and, oh, by the way, there is no luggage valet. It’s a non-contact world.

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We haven’t ventured beyond our neighborhood at home much during the plague, and this was our first urban experience. It’s not hard to see why, according to news reports, people are “fleeing” San Francisco. And even with the draconian lockdown measures, The San Francisco Chronicle reported today that “the Bay Area is experiencing a gradual but pronounced uptick in coronavirus cases.”

My unpopular opinion: I don’t see how “outwaiting the virus” is a viable long-term plan because it can so easily outwait us. But, whatever.

SF is probably not on anyone’s go-to list right now, but it was at the top of ours because we hadn’t seen Taylor since we were last there in January and we wanted to visit him and see his new apartment.

The solitary staffer at the hotel reception desk thrust a sheet of paper toward us at check-in with a paltry list of restaurants open for take-out and a very few available for dine-in.

Were we going to starve in San Francisco?

Well, at least we were set for dinner that night, with plans to meet up at Harris’ steakhouse. You can see why it’s Taylor’s favorite restaurant:

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A good steak is one way to get a smile out of him:

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Next day we consulted the restaurant handout we’d been given and walked over to the Financial District in search of lunch and we discovered the Wayfare Tavern on Sacramento Street. Comfortable outdoor seating with a view of the Transamerica Building. And it started to become clear that we were not going to starve.

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We ordered picnic food – deviled eggs, fried chicken and Brussels sprouts.

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The tricky part about dining out in SF these days is mask management. It’s more mask on than mask off at table, with strict protocols requiring masks on when a server approaches and any time you are not actually eating or drinking. For the uninitiated, this is not as easy as it seems. My mask looked more like a used napkin by the time we were done with lunch. A veritable petri dish, really. And, while I looked at it, wondering just how hygienic it was, a young man came storming angrily through the area snapping photos of every patron who did not have their mask up. Did I already use the word dystopian?

The mood that evening along the Embarcadero was a bit less severe. Everyone masked but lots of people out with their dogs and, of course, dogs make everything better. You could actually sense a few smiles behind the masks. 

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And, there was another masked, but hearty, meal. We met up with Taylor at at the Waterbar restaurant. This time there was a new wrinkle to the protocols – a pre-dining interview during which we answered a litany of questions regarding our recent health. Slathered with hand sanitizer, we were eventually permitted to sit down and the patio was sufficiently sheltered from the breeze to make outdoor dining comfortable. We’ll always remember the Green Apple Mousse, which I enjoyed with a glass of Inniskillin Ice Wine. Perfect!

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Oh, and we’ll always remember the Bay Bridge view, too:

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Next day we were treated to a rare sighting of the elusive Mingston trio! 

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And after a (again, no starving) tasty lunch al fresco at Atwater Tavern

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we walked over to Taylor’s new place. Such a fun nabe!

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And he finally found a place with ceilings high enough for a tall guy like him!

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It was so good to spend time with our T. He has weathered the plague storm admirably, maybe because being told you can’t go out and can’t socialize is, well, pretty much his cup of tea anyway. Put a mask on your face so no one can see your expression or who you are? He’s like yes, absolutely, sign me up!

For dinner that night, we found an unexpectedly charming little Italian place on 3rd Street where the mood was light and the food was great, especially the panna cotta for dessert.

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It was hard to say goodbye to Taylor, but at least we left knowing he had been well fed for a few days. And, while SF may not currently be quite the way we remember it, as long as Taylor is there, we’ve left our hearts in San Francisco.

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