Monday, December 31, 2012

2013: The Cliff Notes

Maybe this is the year.
Yodaleyheehoo! Did someone mention a year-end "Fiscal Cliff?" Hah! Those DC guys are amateurs. Like millions of others, I've negotiated enough fiscal cliffs in a single lifetime to qualify as a Life Member of Club Alpin Francais.  

Say You Want A Resolution? Frankly, Francis/es, I never make them. Just the fact that I have to make the same-old resolutions means that I'm not likely to be a person who makes them with enough resolve to get past Valentine's Day, however well-intentioned I am in latest December.

Think about it: if you have a Valentine who loves you, you'll probably figure you don't need those silly resolutions about exercise, weight, and money (the National Resolution Society* ranks these 1,2,3). And, if you don't have a special V, you'll get depressed about that and eat, watch Netflix, and buy a bunch of stuff you don't really need. Forget resolve, just revolve.

Time Is On My Side: Aside from being one of my favorite Stones' anthems, which I heard/saw them play live at the old Academy of Music on 14th Street  in '64 or '65, I prefer to think time really is on my side at this time of year. You might say that, instead of a resolution I begin with an illusion. But, then, maybe you're still grumpy about another  ugly sweater your sister gave you again for Christmas.

Released on the album:"12X5"
Nearing New Year's Day, my temporal thoughts do not hinge on some ball descending from a tower in a "Times"Square filled with people from foreign lands like Denmark or New Jersey. If you want time to be on your side like I do, you'll think of the 10,000 Year Clock being developed by The Long Now Foundation
( ). Web site proves I'm not making it up.

I hedge my bets by not having to shrink - wrap everything I'd like to do into one single calendar year. I like to slow things down, not speed them up. Besides, I'm a sucker for something that can trace its beginnings and continuation to: the Merry Pranksters (see earlyTom Wolfe), Stewart Brand (see Whole Earth Catalogue), the people who really developed the internet (Sorry, Al), and even Warren Buffet, the President's Pet Billionaire.

Approaching a new year with a really, really long view doesn't mean you can/will procrastinate. On the contrary, the idea is to pace yourself and get more done, better. Or, maybe like Beckett, Sam not Thomas, you'll fail better.

10,000 Year Clock
Only problem is, at the end of 2013 you won't know that I'm right for another 9,999 years. Trust.

Intention Deficit Syndrome: If you're hung up on making resolutions, you may be suffering from this common disease, IDS**; consequently, you may be mistaking resolve for what really should be intent. What the hey, you say? When we intend to do something, we freely admit that it just might not get done and there will be no guilt or penalty. Yes, I thought you'd prefer this method. Guilt is so 2012!

Herewith, a few personal 2013 intentions:

1. Start again and finally finish The Magic Mountain (see photo above). Talk about cliffs! I've climbed this mountain in the tram with old Hans Castorp many times, but never made it back down to the last word on the last page. I keep four editions and two translations nearby. Maybe this is the year, jawohl? Odds: not good. "Cliff" Notes not allowed.

2. Become a completely non-NFL, non-NBA person. Who wants to root for a home team that only shows up to play for real half the time (Giants)?. Who wants to watch 72 minutes of commercials during a three-hour telecast of a 60-minute game? Does anyone think that ANY of these awful NBA teams would beat any of Jack Curran's Archbishop Molloy High School (Queens, NY) teams of the 1960's, or the Wooden/Kareem UCLA teams, or, are you kidding me, the Russell Celtic teams? Please. Odds: hopeful.

3. To visit the Barnes Foundation collection in Philadelphia. Odds: very good, if my DG is game.

JL in...?
4. To visit the Glass House in New Canaan. Odds: slam dunk.

5. To see any 2013 movie in which Jennifer Lawrence appears. Odds: up to her.

6. Something my notes referred to as "1st A vs. 2A," and, if anyone can tell me what this one is, I promise to do it! Odds: up to you.


* As far as I know, there is no such society, but maybe there should be.
** Ditto for this made up "disease.".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Coals" In My Stocking? Rejoice!

Cano S100 photo by author
Books: Yes, I know it's traditional to list favorites or "bests" before Christmas, but everybody does that. Ever contrarian, RareBurghers lists books that were received as presents, in no particular order, except how we remembered opening them. Reason: many of you received gift certificates to indie bookshops (Arcade/Rye NY or Diane's/Greenwich perhaps) and mammoth online purveyors. Something here might suit you.

Can you "read" something into the fact that there are only two novels in this bunch? Don't think so. Fiction styles tend to mess with our own writing voice, such as it is,  more than non-fiction. So, we try to limit fiction during writing season, which is pretty much all the time. Usually we fail, but we try. Not listed, since Santa technically did not provide it,  is The Broken Shore by Peter Temple, a detective novel from Australia and extraordinarily good.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (Thanks, RJ). Started this: almost gone.

The Sartorialist: Closer, Scott Schuman (Style? This is it!)

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Volume III, Manchester & Reid. Note: this is a huge doorstop of a book. The publishing industry blames their demise on the internet, Amazon, or just about anything else except the true villain, themselves. This should have come in two volumes. Period. Duh.

Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan.

Here & There, A.A. Gill (one of the best writers on travel & food)

CanonS100 photo by author
let my people go surfing, Yvon Chouinard (signed by Patagonia founder/author - thanks Sara D. & T)

One Good Deed: 365 Days To Be Just A Little Bit Better, Erin McHugh. Will try. Thanks SMac, I think.

Season Of '42, Jim Cavanaugh  (Both of these with Teddy Ballgame and Joe D' on the covers)
Summer of '49, David Halberstam

The Mini Minimilist, Simple Recipes for Satisfying Meals, Mark Bittman,  4 small volumes. Give it to every young person with a new apartment you know. Then, give it to everyone else you know. Finally, get one for yourself, or just eat at your friends' places, where you'll always be welcome.

Consider The Fork, Bee Wilson. History of our friend, the fork. Wonder if the author will do one on honey next? Good name for that. Actually, my wife the DG received these last  two, but they make a great segue into...

Food: 1) Pete Wells of the Times is just completing his first year as food critic and recently listed his Top 12 Best New Restaurants of 2012. You can see them all by using the link below, but I thought it worth noting that:

1. There is not a single notable new restaurant in midtown; in fact, there is not one north of 28th Street.
2. Four of the 12 are in Brooklyn. Repeat, Brooklyn. Such is the state of the realm.
3. Three are in Greenwich Village, two in TriBeCa, one for NoHo, one for LES (that's Lower East Side for you Boomers).

To this list we add our own Best New Find: Coals in Port Chester (link below), which serves superior thin crust pizzas, an excellent alternative burger, and a spectacular dish of Brussels Sprouts. I bet those BS's are the equal of just about anything at eateries on Wells's list, and we know why, since the chef told us the secret. Lips are sealed.

Poilane#1, Cherche-Midi, Paris
2) This is mostly a time of celebration, but the "holidays," as we have come to call them, can also cause stress and anxiety for many of us. Here is a proven temporary cure, which actually works at any time of year. Get to the nearest bakery or food shop selling fresh baguettes. My own preference is June & Ho in Rye, NY. The Kneaded Bread in aforementioned Port Chester (the Brooklyn of Westchester) will do. If you're lucky, as I was on Christmas Eve, the bin will be empty. Why is that lucky? Fresh ones are about to arrive hot from the oven!

For two bucks, more or less, you can feel that warm baguette in your hands and under your arm. Eat some right away. Ride around with that aroma in your car or truck for a while. I guarantee you will feel better, as if you'd lit a candle in St. Patrick's and had a prayer answered. Edible prayers, and answers, are the best kind.

Ed Notes:

Friday, December 14, 2012

DIY Catalogue Madness!

I’m well aware that we live in a new DIY world, in which entrepreneurs of all ages abound. Thousands of “folks,” as our politicians like to call us, seem to have suddenly risen one morning with a new zeal to strike out on their own. Or, maybe they just remembered they were newly unemployed and could not find a coveted internship at Staple’s.

“Whatever,” as the younger folks say. Lately, our postal delivery persons, no strangers themselves to red-ink economics, have been delivering some new catalogues created by these new entrepreneurs. Here is a small sampling:

LL Been: Ever wonder what happens to generations’ worth of really old stuff in the attic and cellar ordered from the original L.L. Bean catalogue? We're talking somewhat used, very used, and still in the box. Curious about what people did with all those fuzzy slippers, flannel-lined bathing suits, and ice-tennis racquet sets bought when they visited little Miranda or Boscoe at summer camps near the Freeport ME L.L. Bean mother lode store? Wonder no more; someone “curated” it all and is selling it back to us. Only in America, Folks.

Potty Barn: Yup. We also thought this was a printer's mistake; however, just one look inside will tell you it's a whole new idea. We never knew that there were so many with-it ways to do you know what, and these vessels and spaces come in so many “now” colors. Dyson? You bet: talk about your Whooosh! Yes, this collection covers in-house and great-grandma's old standby, outhouse. There’s even a whole section for SUV’s. Imagine the next time someone in the back seat exclaims, “But I gotta,” and you don’t even have to stop! Since this is (or once was) a family newspaper we will spare you any further details. Make sure you see the special "green" section, if you dare.

J. Crudite': Now you can get your raw veggies in ways you never thought possible. Want them in the shape of a fish, horse, sheep, triangles, circles, Mitt’s profile (deeply discounted)? Get them here. Ever thought you'd be tempted to try turnip ceviche? Well, turnips are the new black as far as raw veg is concerned. You won't have to cut up your own anymore; just order from these guys. Did someone say dip? Oh yeah, this is the Big Dipper of dip emporia: hummus from all those countries requiring a zillion shots and 3-page visas to visit. By Mail!

Lucky Genes: Well, not exactly lucky. These clever guys are talking about choosing "your" child's gene pool and being able to have your him/her/it bypass those nasty pre-K Mandarin or cello lessons. They claim to eliminate all the guessing about your child's talents, tendencies, and, the one you really care about, college entrance. They mention Einstein, Jobs, Marilyn Monroe, one recent president (libel laws prevent us from naming living gene-iuses). Choose famous genes from the Arts, Politics, Business, Hedge Funds. There’s a special section for Reality TV Stars. Gives a whole new meaning to "Get lucky tonight."

Irene's Basement: Remember last year’s hurricane, Irene? Maybe not, but, while we were busy prepping for Sandy, these clever ones had already collected, dried (mostly), and repaired thousands of pieces of perfectly fine stuff. One year later, it’s all ready for prime time. Whatever Irene washed or blew away, someone claimed it, and branded it. Now you can re-claim some of it at great prices.

Victor's Secret: We can only say that this would have been much better kept secret, especially since our mail now gets left out by the curb.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Curated Sausage, And Other Pet Peeves

Levi's Super Skinnies
Here's the Skinny: I knew skinny and you're not skinny. You're just way too tight! Gentlemen of a certain age, AKA RareBurghers (and Ladies who buy for the gentlemen), have you tried to purchase a pair of trousers or jeans lately? Whether it's online or in-store, the whole pant world has gone skinny/slim. Have Levi's/Dockers, J.Crew/Ludlow, and even Vineyard Vines given up on the Boomer Body. Apparently, yes.

J.Crew: Seems to have totally abandoned us by establishing its Ludlow brand for suits and pants at the center of its men's line. If you're a 42/43R-36/38W, there is nothing for you, even if you try to make a 46R work. Already cut out the starch, the dairy and the fat, did you? Hah! You will never get there. These clothes are not made for aged, settling bodies. They are made for...skinny boys.

Levi's: RareBurghers used to be able to walk into the Levi's shop on Broadway in Soho and choose 36/30 or 38/30 jeans in a variety of styles, button or zip fly. Now we're at risk of a serious a muscle pull in the dressing room just trying to get these things on. Walls and walls of Skinny and Slim jeans and even the "regular" fit is a challenge in our "regular" sizes.

No self-respecting RareBurgher would ever want to wear those "relaxed-fit" pre-faded things your cable guy got through Lands End. Ugh. We want to wear dressier dark washes. Is it a sin to not have Mick Jagger's body and still want to have style? No!

Vineyard Vines: I had my eyes on their island red (okay, pretty much pink, off-island) cord jeans for a while. The rise on these jeans is like that first soufflé you may have tried to make: not much of a rise. Wear these with a pair of boxers? Yeeoooww! You've got to go up a full size, then the waist is way too big, and you're wearing...relaxed fit again.

The world of the "pant," as St. Ralph of The Bronx pretentiously began calling it/them, has really put the skin in "skinny;"  buying a pair of "pant" is now like buying another layer of skin. And there's very little room for us in there.

Cured, not curated
Curated Sausage: It used to be that the term "curator" referred to someone who worked in a museum with paintings, sculptures, or creative events. Not so anymore. Every weekend in the Times's Styles section, its T magazine, WSJ's Off Duty and own eponymous mag we read about curators in bakeries in Brooklyn, at sausage boutiques in Tribeca, and in the windows of pop-up clothing shops everywhere.

I like my sausage cured not curated. Please!

We seem to have as many curators as there are artists, and all of them seem to be living pretty high on the old capitalist hog in pricey neighborhoods and wearing bespoke clothing. How do they do that? Curators used to be like private school teachers, content or resigned to that walk-up on the upper West Side, that rent controlled beauty in the Village. In return, they got to work in a great space, hang around some cool people, many of them wealthy, some of whom were even artists.

Not to be stuffy and old-fashioned, but many of these new-age curators with expansive sites on Pinterest, appear to really be "stylists." Perhaps the world cannot use so many stylists, but, so what, if that's your ambition, go for it. There's merit in that. But, let's keep the curators, not so much in the museums (that would be stuffy), but in limited supply. Let's also keep a very high standard for curators, since that is one way to keep a very high standard for artists.

High standards in art? Yes, so bourgeois. Curate that.

...why are we all of a sudden freezing inside grocery stores? And not just in the freezer aisles. In my local Stop & Shop, customers have taken to wearing down parkas and wool capes. And that's in the summer. Wholly Groceries! Can we turn the thermostat up a few notches, please.
...I was trying to watch some commercials last night on ESPN and they kept breaking-in with 30 second or even full minute scenes from the Giants-Redskins NFL game. Really annoying. It's damn hard to stay focused on how best to help out the morbid economy with all of those interruptions.
...Let's end on a high note. Kudos to Starbucks for having the courage to continue offering its seasonal Christmas Blend. With so many Holiday This-es and Holiday Thats, it's so nice to see a business stick to its beans. Buy some!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Aix Marks The Spot

“I do not like living alone in a hotel…It is too impersonal. I miss my children. I hate the sounds of the Vespas revving up on the Place des Augustins.”

-      M.F.K. Fisher, Map of Another Town
Cours Mirabeau at Night
We had flown to Marseille through Heathrow on British Airways. We were tired after a long airplane journey, and I was driving our rented Peugeot diesel north up the D9 to Aix en Provence, already worried about having declined insurance as I maneuvered to avoid French commuter traffic. No matter where I travel, it seems that I must adopt some local worry or other. It is my way of assimilating.

My wife the DG (Darling Girl) and I arrived in Aix, the ancient Roman and Provencal city of water androtundes or roundabouts, exactly at rush hour. Round and round we went as if we riding the real carrousel we kept passing, but we were losing patience and were not so amused. On one of those revolutions it occurred to me that there are only two kinds of people in the world: drivers and navigators. For anyone contemplating a long marriage, in addition to promising to honor through richer and poorer, I advise adding a vow to love through lostand found. I also realized that I was born a navigator.

Eventually, I suggested the unthinkable; that we, meaning the DG, humbly ask for directions. Et Voila! We were within meters of the entrance to Parc Rotunde, near Aix’s famous central fountain and a very short walk from our hotel. And thus our wonderful week began.

Those Vespas, which M.F.K. Fisher mentioned above, are still revving on the small Place des Augustins, but we didn’t mind. Unlike Fisher, we had chosen a small stylish room in back on a quiet courtyard in the same Hotel De France for an affordable 90 euros. Plus, the point of our trip was to be near one of our children, Ginny, who was “studying” in Aix for a term.

What did we do first? Look for that memorable meal in a special restaurant, or a seat at a café on the Cours Mirabeau from where we could people - watch during France’s Toussaint holiday?

Non! Whenever we arrive in France we quickly go to Monoprix, which in this case was just around the corner from the hotel. It was there in Fisher’s day too, except she called it the “dime store.” So hier!

There is nothing quite like Monoprix in the U.S. CVS? Please. Seven-Eleven? Gosh – a - mighty – no! It’s kind of like a department store attached to a drug store, attached to a grocery. It’s...ah, forget about it; let’s agree that there’s a lot of good, affordable stuff there, and it’s a great way to throw yourselves into everyday French life.

I bought two merino sweaters for 88 euros. I purchased water, Perrier, organic yogurt, and cranberry juice for our hotel room. Monoprix makes the best travel size shave cream with a hint of lemon for 2 Euros; I got three. DG bought cosmetics and her own sweater. We did early Christmas shopping there too.

No sooner had I quit worrying about the car insurance than I commenced worrying if my debit card would work at the parking garage. It did not, since it didn’t have the all-important chip. Not to worry, a nice madame walked me through how to pay with cash. Soon, we were orbiting the garage and the first of many rotundes of the day, headed for the famous road, N7, northwest in the direction of Avignon and a few pretty towns of the Provencal countryside.

I was finally “reconnoitering” in “Gaul,” as I had learned reading Caesar’s commentaries in high school. Now I could see why the Romans had liked hanging out there. The N7 was lined with plane trees and cut through fertile vineyards and farms in a dozen small villages on our way to St. Remy de Provence, about an hour’s drive from Aix.

Les Baux, About Ousteau
Since it was off-season, St. Remy was quiet, but in summer it’s bustling with British and American tourists. We had a quick lunch and encountered the only disagreeable waiter on our trip, a rank – amateur, judging by past experiences. Then we headed south. DG, a born driver, negotiated the steep, winding road to Les Baux very nicely, then we descended to take a close look at perhaps the best hotel and restaurant in the area, Oustau De Baumaniere. Lucky for me that its highly-rated and even more highly priced restaurant, a haunt of several generations in DG’s family, was closed during on weekdays in November.

On the way back to Aix, we stopped at another charming small village, Eygalieres, perched on a low bluff overlooking the D24 road. We did not have time to stop, but marked this as a place to which we should return.

We spent a day and night wandering, eating and shopping back in Aix, which was crowded with students and Toussaint visitors. Aix is a walking town like Paris, except that one can see the entire old town in a couple of days and it is nearly impossible to run into a native who a) is not extremely polite and b) will not gladly speak some English. It is also possible, as in Paris, to acclimate quickly and find your own small teashop with perfect pastries and a pharmacie, providing cures only French hypochondriacs could know about.

Then it was back on the road southwest on A8 for the quick tour of the Riviera, where: 1) We missed the turn to the famous St. Paul de Vence, in the hills between Antibes and Nice; 2) Went to Vence  instead and were cornered in Le Pecheur De Soleil by its owner and had an unplanned lunch; 3) Dented the uninsured Peugot while parking; 4) dashed around Nice, Cap d’Antibes, and Juan les Pins  and; 5) negotiated dozens of rotundes at dusk and headed home to Aix. All in about seven hours!

My recommendation would be to stay on the coast for a couple of days and take your time. Not to mention, closely check your auto insurance policy before leaving home for foreign coverage.

How can we visit Provence and not rave about the food? The easy answer is that we had very good, affordable food everywhere we ate (see list) in Aix, but it wasn’t our main aim. Aix is a busy university town and many of its restaurants, bistros and open - to -street vendors cater to hungry students on the go. We had some fun dinners with Ginny’s (Hobart & William $mith) roommate, Maddie & friends from Colgate University.

Our favorite meal in Aix was one that we cooked ourselves. Vraiment! Ginny arranged a cooking class at L’atelier des Chefs near her school. Yes, it was in French, and the chicken curry was simple to make and even better to have for our lunch. Highly recommended!

We also enjoyed hors d’oeurves and champagne served by Ginny’s very kind host “parents,” Fred and Clair in their charming house in town.

Le Band/Cours Mirabeau
A fun band, similar to a small college marching band played on the Cours one market day, on another night the Christmas lights came on, and there were fountains and the sound of water running everywhere we turned. The weather was like October here in the east, and it rained only one day.

Aix marks the spot, where we will return for more treasure someday soon.

Recommended hotels and restaurants:

Hotel de France, 63 Rue Espariat,
Hotel Cardinal, 24 Rue Cardinale,
Hotel de Gantes, 1 Rue Fabrot,

Restaurants in Aix en Provence:
La Caleche (traditional/pizza), Le Four Sous le Platane (pizzeria etc), Coquillages (oysters etc), La Mado, La Patacrepe, Pasta Cozy, Petit Bistrot, Simply (road-trip sandwiches/salads)