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Friday, June 30, 2006


For years we’ve driven Rt. 81 in Virginia, passing the signs for the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, swearing that this is an important site to visit. Finally we made it—with no regrets for the twenty mile drive through beautiful Virginia countryside to Bedford, VA. Proportionately, this small community with a 1944 population of 3,200, suffered the nation’s severest losses. This sad claim to fame caused Congress to warrant the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial here. On June 6, 2001, D-Day’s 57th anniversary, President George W. Bush formally dedicated the memorial.

It is a monument to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice to those who served, but also it is an education center for those who should learn from this momentous event.

There is a self-guided walking tour and an excellent, informative brochure, but Rob and I took the riding tour because we wanted a knowledgeable guide who would elaborate. We were sold tickets by a woman whose husband was a WWII veteran, whose son is a veteran, and whose grandson just returned from Afghanistan.

Our tour guide was a proud WWII veteran dedicated to keeping this event alive in the minds of those too young to remember. In addition to explaining the planning behind the creation of the Memorial as well as the contributions of people like Tom Hanks (who has stated that filming Saving Private Ryan was a seminal moment in his life), he told us about the Bedford men who fought—and died—on D-Day. He knew most of them. I spent much of the tour trying very hard to keep the lump in my throat from turning into a fountain of tears. When we did leave him at the end of the tour, the flow did begin. This memorial is extremely personal, and it does not sugarcoat, in any way, the nature of war, how difficult it is to maintain freedom, and how impossible it is to do so without ultimate sacrifice.

Although there are many tangential exhibits, the Memorial is essentially three separate sections on rising levels. The first level is an English garden where General Dwight David Eisenhower met with his advisors and allies to plan the invasion. The flowers in the garden, just beginning to bloom at our visit, form the design on his uniform patch (SHAEF—Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force). In the week following our visit, a full free-standing figure of Eisenhower was to be installed. The pillars we saw were to be topped with busts of the advisors. It is an ironically peaceful and beautiful place, so far from the plans hatched that spring.

The middle level is representative of the landing and battlefield. There is an invasion pool with obstacles, sculptures of soldiers dying, struggling ashore, and helping one another in unity and brotherhood. There is the sound of gunfire emanating from bunkers above the landing sites and causing bursts of explosion in the water. It is awesomely and horribly powerful and gripping. It is really a depiction of hell on earth.

We rise to Victory Plaza and the Overlord Arch. The Arch is exactly 44 feet, 6 inches high, representing June 6, 1944. Flags of the twelve allied nations wave in the breeze. Inscribed on the granite surrounding the arch are the names of the five beaches in Normandy.

I’ve shared only some of the Memorial. There’s so much more, including a necrology wall, the only place listing the names of the more than 4,000 dead. Go to the website, and if you can, make your pilgrimage to this site. If you’re interested in history, the website also offers links to many sites.

There are fees here, a small price to pay. Admission is $5.00, a guided walking tour is $2.00, and a riding tour—in a golf cart—is $3.00. The entire site is wheelchair accessible. Allow at least two hours to view everything. We were there over three because there is so much to see and to read. It is impossible to go quickly because there is a solemnity that is impossible to miss.


212 595-8181

Don’t expect a warm, fuzzy welcome. Ollie’s Noodle Shop & Grille is a business, and is run with extraordinary coldness. We almost have to trot after the hostess to get our table, and if we had been sent upstairs, we’d be passed off from hostess to hostess until we meet the one who seats us. It’s always astounding. Most of the staff is, at best, inadequate in English, so even a question about the location of the ladies’ room is answered with a crisply snapped “Downstairs!” On the other hand, they’ll make chopsticks into “beginner chopsticks” and teach you how to use them! This is a place, reasonably priced in a pricy city, that’s really worth the effort.

The food at Ollie’s is worth any rudeness or inconvenience you might suffer. Once you sit down and you order from the several hundred items on the menu, your selections are brought promptly and efficiently, yet you never feel rushed. Rob and I always linger, discuss the choices we’ve made, and relax. Food is plentiful, very good, and choices are often not what we’d get from our local Chinese restaurants. It is almost inconceivable not to see tables of Asians enjoying their meals, though I’ve read that Ollie’s is a distinctly Americanized version of Chinese food. Works for me.

Nevertheless, we like Ollie’s and always have a tough time choosing from the menu. This evening, Rob and I begin with two appetizers: Steamed Mixed Dumplings and Fried Meat Dumplings. The eight mixed dumplings are delicious—shrimp ones, vegetable ones, and seafood. We dip in the sauce, and they are lovely. The six Fried Meat Dumplings are elongated rolls of meat in a nice, crisp wrapping. Actually, it reminds me of a fried meat “whatever” you find in almost any culture.

I get a bowl of Cantonese Wonton Soup, and it is different from what I order at home. There are a lot of green vegetables in the soup, bean sprouts, and light wontons in a very light but tasty broth. Rob has the Hot and Sour Soup, and he too, claims it is different but very good and tangy.

Then we share something that does not even appear on the menu at home. It is Pan-Fried Noodle w. Vegetables and Roast Pork. It arrives in a circular glass pie plate, the noodles crispy yet quite willing to soak up the sauce. The noodles are topped with an array of roast pork, bok choy, succulent mushrooms and other vegetables, and it is easily enough for two.

Rob and l leave the restaurant and walk down to Lincoln Center. But it is a warm night, and we top off the meal with vanilla ice cream cones from Mr. Softee. What can be better?

Sunday, June 25, 2006


The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

Once I learned there were two more novels in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, instead of facing The Full Cupboard of Life with regret that my sojourn through the life and world of Precious Ramotswe was almost over, I began the novel with pleasant anticipation. I was not disappointed.

As always, basic values, civility, and human decency are at the heart of Precious Ramotswe’s personal and professional lives, and, as always, her involvement with others illustrates the way—sometimes odd way—human beings function in society, whether in the ways of the “old Botswana philosophy” or in the modern way.

Somehow, problems have a way of sorting themselves out. It takes time and thought. And, to Precious, it also takes tea. “Tea is always the solution.” That simple line creates such a relaxing, comforting philosophical image that it brings a smile. That’s exactly what the entire book—the entire series—does.

Of course old problems remain unanswered. (but there are two more books to go) When will Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni finally marry? I’ve been waiting! It is nice to see that Mma Makutsi’s Typing School for Men is so successful she is able to move from her one room to two rooms in a four-room house with half a yard to call her own and a place to hang her laundry to dry. She is flush with success, and it is impossible for a reader not to empathize.

Mma Ramotswe reveals her views of love and marriage in this book as never before. We know her own history, of course, and we know Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. What we learn is a little more about her views of men and women and how each seeks to manipulate the other. Is Precious above that type of behavior? Can she act aggressively to protect her own? It is also interesting to see her deal with others in matters of the heart. When very successful businesswoman, Mma Holonga, asks Precious to find out about each of her four suitors—do they want her or her money—the results give one pause to think. As always, the author rejects stock characters and answers, and, as always, the result is an excellent reading adventure.

I love the title of this novel—The Full Cupboard of Life. It makes me pause and think about its meaning, not only for the book but also for me. Even in the novel the answer is surprising and based on the very human trait of individuality. A biblical reference in the last paragraph of the book caused me to google it. I did not want to miss one moment or allusion. My search led me, again, to finish reading this book with a smile and to think of opening the next novel in the series with more pleasant anticipation.

1015 South Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201

There’s an air of sophistication in Asters, a sleek restaurant in Pittsfield, MA. known for its raw bar, wine room, firepit patio (operating even when we dined there in February), and Jazz bar. Owned since 2003 by the present restaurateur, Asters began as the Humphrey farmhouse in 1790. Walking in is touching history.

The décor, black tables and chairs against walls of cream and green, is modern and comfortable. There are stylish black and white photographs decorating the walls, and in the background, the music is soft, light, jazz, classic pop or big band sounds. There’s lots of wood, a gorgeous bar, and subdued candle-lighted tables. There’s nothing old or stodgy here. Even in February, fire danced in the open pit on the patio although no one ventured out. The dress—casual chic. It’s difficult not to be drawn into the warmth and ambiance of Asters.

The menu is enticing. Tempted though we are by the Malpeque Oysters from PEI (hello Anne of Green Gables fans), and the appetizers and soups, we look at the desserts and decide to save ourselves for a glorious finale. Desserts are not listed on the menu; they’re prepared and presented as works of edible art.

I order a special—Salmon Wellington—salmon with mushrooms and artichokes served encroute. Rob chooses pork loin stuffed with cranberries and raisins. Selecting is difficult; everything is described on the menu and sounds delicious.

Art as well as taste is considered by our chef. Presentation matters. My salmon, with mushrooms and artichoke filling, is beautiful in its puff pastry wrapping, a sprig of herb decorating the accompanying caramelized onions, garlic mashed potatoes and herbed green beans.

Rob’s pork is excellent, the center of each slice dotted with fruit stuffing of currents, apples, dried cranberries and raisins. It is finished with a bacon sherry vinaigrette, and it is scrumptious. His, too, is served with those garlic mashed potatoes and herbed green beans.

Alas, savoring our entrées leaves no room for dessert, and coffee has to suffice. But we are happy, satisfied, and very ready to recommend this restaurant to you.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Several years ago, Savannah jumped to the top of my “must see” list as I finished John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Not only did I love the story, a kind of “reads like fiction but is really non-fiction,” I was intrigued by the eccentricities of the city, its history, and its inhabitants. In his newest book, City of Falling Angels, written in that same genre, he somehow enables the reader to pass through the touristy morass that is Venice and enter a peculiar world of curiously odd people living in a city unlike any other: ancient Venice, an architectural treasure trove where centuries’ old palaces are divided into condos and offices, a challenge to almost every aspect of modern life.

Berendt arrives in Venice in 1996, three days after a mysterious and very suspicious fire destroys the Fenice Opera House, the venue that premiered five of Verdi’s operas. Unraveling the mystery of how this tragedy occurred—accident, arson, or… leads him to a vast array of characters--to a master Venetian glassblower whose family feuds are destroying tradition, Ezra Pound’s mistress’ daughter and stolen heritage, American expatriates, and a host of other odd and uniquely Venetian characters.

My favorite is the Rat Man! He had cornered 30% of the world’s rat poison market by thinking like a rat. He concocts his poison recipes by incorporating the tastes of the country. In Italy, he adds a hint of pasta and olive oil. In the United States where we like french fries and hamburgers, there are vegetable oil and beef. Rats eat the way the country eats, and that is the secret. Not only that—his poison does not make the dead rats rot and smell. Rather, they mummify. Always adapting to new trends in diet, he is a very wealthy man thanks to rats. Why then does Venice have a never-ending rat problem? Simple. The government must award its contracts to the lowest bidder, and the Rat Man’s concoctions are a bit too expensive. Ah, the ironies of life!

Remember that song we sang in elementary school or played on our beginner instruments—“Carnival in Venice”? That’s what this book is.

As the mystery of the conflagration unfolds and we question motives, politicians, artists, and even a dead poet, we are steeped in the history, the canals, the people and the tidal rhythms of life in this strange city. We even question Venice’s future. Every level of society is involved. The costume masks that make Venice famous are not so far removed from the masks we all use as facades and as protection. It all makes for an interesting read.

Let me add that I had the opportunity to hear John Berendt when he appeared at our library’s book club discussion. He seems an interesting, soft-spoken gentleman who, despite a long and illustrious journalism career, is very modest about the success of his books. Perhaps hearing him speak of his own work made this book even more appealing.

Monday, June 19, 2006


Living in historic Warwick makes us partners in its history. We see the past as it still lives on our streets, in our historic homes, through the artifacts saved by families whose names we recognize for their longevity and contributions, and through the traditions we cultivate and enjoy. As summer arrives, she brings a new round of activity to the keepers of that history, the Historical Society of the Town of Warwick, and everyone—young and old—can participate.

The highlight of the activities is the George Washington Day Parade and Picnic on Saturday, July 29th, 2006 when George Washington will be in Warwick just as he was on July 27, 1782 when he dined at Baird’s Tavern. It was toward the end of the Revolutionary War. Washington was returning to his headquarters in Newburgh after a meeting in Philadelphia.

More than a mere moment in history, this occurrence renders Warwick special, and the Historical Society makes appreciating our past an experience for the entire family. Always interested in bringing history alive for everyone, the Society sponsors events throughout the entire year. Located on the Society’s website at is an educational link that provides webquests—question sheets—for each of the historic buildings in Warwick. It’s a great way for students—of all ages—to learn about the community. For everyone there are the Open House Tours of our historic buildings each July and August Tuesday and Saturday from 2-4:30 PM.

But the most exciting day is George Washington Day. It’s a day to dress in period costume and parade with George, or to watch the General and the parade from the comfort of historic Main Street. Following the parade, there are games, including the Maypole, a Lost Arts Festival, Carriage rides, and a covered dish dinner. In the early evening in the Old School Baptist Meeting House, everyone gathers to hear the words of the man known as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.

This day of fun doesn’t end with speeches. George Washington Day celebrations culminate with Square Dancing and live music. This is living history. This is heritage.
For some wonderful information, not only about activities but also about other aspects of history, go to the Society’s website at or call the Society at 986-3236.

Warwick, New York, a jewel in the Hudson Valley, only one hour from the city, is a place to visit anytime, but on George Washington Day, it is extra special. For directions to Warwick, go to

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


We don’t always travel with Rob’s laptop, but when we do, we’re interested in getting online. You’ve got to be careful because you can really get soaked. When we stayed at the Doral in Florida two years ago, going online in our room cost a small fortune; in the hotel’s Starbucks coffee shop, access was free!

Many hotels, like Microtel, offer free access in the room, but if you want to know—before you go—what’s available, go to The site lists hotels, cafes, and other public spaces where you can get free Wi-Fi hookups. If you’re dragging around your laptop, you might as well be able to use it!