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Thursday, May 31, 2007

DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP--ANOTHER CLASSIC


There’s magic in a great book. It draws response whenever the covers are opened to reveal the secrets of existence. So it is with Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, a book I read so long ago that I remembered nothing about it other than the fact that I loved it. There’s nothing like revisiting an old love.

Based on the life of Archbishop Lamy of New Mexico, Cather uses her distinctive descriptive talents to paint of landscape of change. After years of miscreant and unsupervised priests redefining Catholicism, Bishop Latour and his Vicar, Vaillant arrive to re-introduce the beauty and order of the church. The seemingly plotless novel is a series of episodes displaying Latour’s compassion, understanding and respect for the Mexicans’ and Indians’ cultures and beliefs. Latour’s firm gentleness allows him to maneuver the seas of differences so he can reach out to build a strong church in the vastness of the American Southwest. All the while he grows in understanding of his flock and of himself.

Cather’s craftsmanship is evident in the two main characters, friends since boyhood but polar opposites in temperament and method. Latour, the handsome, quiet, academic and Vaillant, the vibrant, emotional mover and shaker, bring to each other the right balance to spread their message. Through their work, each man, in his own way, finds the purpose of his life and has his faith reaffirmed time and again.

Don’t think that this is a religious book. If it were, its appeal would be limited to a relatively small audience. This is a novel for everyone. It is simple and full of stories of the times and places. Without minimizing treatment by the church or by the Americans of the indigenous peoples of the region, Cather leaves an indelible and universal image.

In part because it is a travel book, Death Comes for the Archbishop is a nice travel companion.

SMALL TOWN MEMORIAL DAY

Small town America still exists, and perhaps it is most obvious on Memorial Day when people gather to honor America and the sacrifices incurred in keeping her freedom. If you've never participated in the way small towns across this country celebrate, you really are missing something.

Rob and I get to the Warwick parade route early, parking close to the Warwick Cemetery where the first service takes place. I don't believe we've missed a year since we moved to Warwick. We used to come with my mother and father, a WWII Veteran with the 10th Mountain Division. Today we’re wearing the shirts Cpt. Heather Hills sent us when she was stationed in Iraq, the front proclaiming Air Defense Artillery and the names of her soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom emblazoned on the back. We're also wearing the visors sent by our friend, Sgt. Tashall Hedrington from Camp Victory in Iraq. Other onlookers wear clothing or symbols of support. Children carry flags, and the American Legion women are selling their poppies. The community wants to send a message on this day that we are aware of the sacrifice our military makes in our name. We treasure it.

The police close the streets leading in and out the village, and in the distance, even before we can see them, we hear the music of the Warwick Wildcats band. They're a staple of the parade; both Allison and Michael marched with them when they were in high school. We see the colors proudly carried up Oakland Ave., a member of each branch of the military carrying a flag—our country’s flag, the POW flag, and an American Legion flag. It's a beautiful, proud display, the flags moving in the breeze, the men solemnly stepping in uniform.

When we first moved to Warwick 30 years ago, the veterans of WWII and Korea, members of the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as their Women's Auxiliaries marched in the parade. Over the years, the numbers of marching veterans dwindled; some were driven. This year, for the first time, these veterans and ladies are chauffeured through the parade to the applause of onlookers, many of us yelling "Thank You" as we stand in respect. Unfortunately, Warwick has a Gold Star Mother, Mrs. Lesandro, whose presence each year brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. She lost her son in Vietnam. I've wondered at and respected her personal courage over the years. This year she was aided by Town Justice Peter Barlet in laying the memorial wreath for her son.

Another wonderful presence each year is the Stewart family. These Army veterans spanning several generations have or now serve their country. The father is a Korean War veteran who is driven in a jeep. To see them walk together and stand together at the cemetery is a testament to everything that is good in America. They are patriotism personified.

Warwick also honors others who serve: the police, fire departments, and ambulance corps march or ride in their shiny vehicles. There’s a special contingent of firemen who are also veterans. Service is in their nature. This part of the parade is a thrill. The antique fire trucks and the different insignias and symbols are fun to watch. All these people serve us and keep us safe and secure.

I always get a kick out of the seeing the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as they march. At one time hundreds of children waving their flags, singing, and carrying their banners filled the streets. The numbers have dwindled as times change, but there are still tiny Daisy Scouts and Tiger Cubs, and there are still older children too. I used to march with Allison and our troop in the parade, and Michael marched with the Boy Scouts.

The Warwick High School Band plays every year, always well. In the cemetery they play the National Anthem, God Bless America and Taps.

The parade heads into the Warwick Cemetery where the usual politicos speak, but more importantly on this day, the president of the American Legion requests the Boy and Girl Scouts and all the younger children to come forward. He explains that the graves of veterans all display American flags, and he reminds them that the veterans are getting older. He asks that they understand the significance of the day and take over the task of making sure all the graves are marked with flags each year. It is a moving demonstration, and the children are quiet and attentive.

Mrs. Lesandro lays a memorial wreath, and members of the American Legion and its Women’s Auxiliary lay a series of wreaths at the Veteran’s Memorial. Each salutes in respect and pride—these older citizens who never forget their fallen comrades and the sacrifice they made.

There is a rifle salute and Taps. The parade reforms to go to St. Stevens Cemetery and honor those at rest there, and then to the American Legion Hall.

Warwick is not unique in its celebration, and if you have an opportunity to participate in a small town Memorial Day, don’t hesitate to do so.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

I'VE GONE STIR CRAZY

Sir Crazy is a great name for a restaurant, and even if it is in a mall and part of a chain, this is a fun place to go.

Stir Crazy features Asian cuisine: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese. It offers a “build your own” meal as well as a menu from which you can select their special dishes. Everything is fresh, and vegetables rule here, so you can be comfortable in making your selections.

The Stir Crazy in the Palisades Mall in Rockland County, NY is a big place, all curves and modern d├ęcor. Paintings of Asian influence line the walls, and the color scheme is black and maple. There’s a nice modern feel. On the tables are bottles of Cholula hot sauce imported from Mexico, the same sauce we’ve seen in Mexican restaurants in Texas and California, and the one that is in our kitchen cabinet because Rob says it’s the best. While tables are set with western utensils, chop sticks located in a holder on the tables invite you to leave your inhibitions behind and get into the swing of things. It’s part of the experience and part of the fun.

We’ve been to Mongolian barbecue before, and we liked it. Stir Crazy works similarly. What’s nice for newcomers is that all the directions are in the menu. First you choose your protein—meat, chicken, vegetarian, or fish. You choose the noodle or rice you wish to accompany your dish. Then you choose your vegetables—from a wide sampling of about 30. Add your spices. Your sauce comes next, and the 12 varieties which are labeled vegetarian, slightly spicy and spicy. You bring your little wok holder to the chef who dramatically cooks up your scrumptious combination, and then you do the best thing—you eat it!

Today, however, we chose right from the menu, and none of us is sorry.

Carol and I chose Pad Thai with chicken, thin rice noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, egg and ground peanuts in a classic Thai style sweet sauce. This was Carol’s first taste of Thai food, and she loves it. Everything included is exactly to her liking. I concur, and we munch contentedly. Rob chooses Mongolian Beef with mushrooms, scallions and red chili peppers in a sweet and spicy sauce served on a bed of crispy glass noodles. It’s labeled as slightly spicy. Hmmmmm He loves his too, but as I see him with his hot red peppers, I know I am much better off with Pad Thai.

Carol makes a good observation when she notes that the lack of our usual chatter is proof positive that we three have chosen correctly. Makes sense to me.

To escape the usual mall food, find a place like Stir Crazy. You’ll enjoy! Visit their website for other locations.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

SOME NEW LOS ANGELES SIGHTS


Previous visits to LA gave us the opportunity to see most of the sights for which the city is famous, so it was especially nice to come back to take the time to see the often overlooked but nonetheless intriguing sights of Los Angeles. Let’s call it the B list.

One of the more famous B list places is the Farmer's Market. Operating since 1934, the market is bustling. Beautiful produce, spectacular looking cuts of meat, a wide variety of fish, other delicacies and an array of shops make this a place of color and display. If one is in the mood for fruit, most of the vendors sell fruit plates or fruit salads beautifully arranged and incredibly tempting. In addition to food vendors, there are feng shui, candle, and the usual assortment of souvenir shops tempting shoppers to pause and buy. In that way, the Market is similar to Seattle's Pike Place Market, only far smaller, or Boston's Faneuill Hall.

Farmer’s Market is a meeting place for “regulars.” There were many tables surrounded by men--the breakfast club groups—speaking in different languages and noshing from the variety of food available: Mexican, Middle Eastern, Italian, Brazilian, Argentinean, Cajun, regional fare such as New Orleans’ mufallettos and gumbo, fish and all types of chowders, Chinese, Japanese, Korean Barbecue, Texas style ribs, and corned beef and pastrami reminiscent of New York Deli.

It appears to us that most people visit Farmer's Market to eat, and so we go with the flow. At Tusquellas Fish and Oyster Bar we each have a bowl of clam chowder served with huge hunks of Italian bread. The chowder is rich with clams, and the soup is substantial and hardy. The clam chowder is a no brainer. Rob and I try it wherever we go! The chowder has such eye appeal that several people stop to ask where we’d bought it!

Then we walk around trying to select something from the many choices we'd already seen. Such decisions. After the filling chowder we are going to share one thing, and I wish I could report that we go for a beautiful fruit salad platter. NOT! We share a hot corned beef on rye, and it is superb. As I said, it reminded us of New York, and there isn't any higher compliment. Visit LA’s Farmer's Market, and come ready to eat.

Adjacent to the Farmer's Market is The Grove. It's like going from the ridiculous to the sublime. It is a shopping area—upscale--with plazas, restaurants, fountains and stores like Nordstroms. LA tourist guides suggest going there to mingle, shop, and dine with the beautiful people. Quite a contrast to the Men’s Club boys at the Farmer’s Market. No kidding. The Grove is a lovely place—open air, shooting fountains, lovely gardens, restaurants, movie theaters, and lots of high end stores. Yes, and beautiful people. One store we visit is Pure Pop Culture, and inside is original item after item of games, clothing, and moments long gone. It’s like a Baby Boomer Youth Museum. We stay for about half an hour, paying homage to our childhood. The Grove is very pretty, but we're not shoppers, and so we decide to do something we've never done before. If you look at Grove reviews on City Search, you’ll find a lot of negatives—but the place was crowded. It’s the kind of place no one likes to admit they like.

We head back to Anaheim and Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum. Now don't laugh (too hard). Truth be told, we've never been; you can't knock it 'till you try it. There are a lot of really weird things in this world, and Ripley's seems to have cornered the market.

The museum is designed as a pathway where the visitor can stop and read about the world's craziness! Five minutes into the museum and we smirk at everything we see. Then we began seeing things that were incredibly freaky--like the Chinese man who was born with two irises in each eye. He so intrigued the Empress that he became heir to the empire. There are strange, to say the least, religious rites. Sometimes there are films of the world's peculiarities filmed by Ripley himself. Speaking of weird, he was one strange dude! He really traveled the globe looking for, photographing and collecting many of the things we see. We actually spend a little more than an hour in the museum. Do I recommend it? It is very interesting, but I'm not sure, believe it or not.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Great WhoDunIt!! The Old Wine Shades


I picked up Martha Grimes’ The Old Wine Shades in the Amtrak station in FL having inadvertently packed Blue Shoes and Happiness in the car before boarding the autotrain. This 391 page mystery, a Richard Jury (Grimes’ detective and her 20th novel about him) had a lot to prove to me. It did.

What a strange book! Stories within stories. Peculiar characters. Hints of supernatural forces. Mental illness. England. Italy. Antiques and art. History. Old age. Youth. Quantum physics. A dog mysteriously disappearing and then reappearing a year later. A dog that adds to the narration. Whodunit? Grimes dunit! Sometimes with a bit of a stretch but always in good spirit.

Martha Grimes skillfully pushes the envelope in mystery writing to a point where I was as lost as the detective and his strange crony helpers. There were times I wanted to join them in a glass of fine wine—or spirits. I spent the 391 pages guessing and being jolted from idea to idea. And when I reached the end….

This is a well-written book, full of wit and humor as well as mind-dangling suspense, hitting Scotland Yard, the old English Clubs (the Boring men’s club where they’re served by Young Higgins who is older than dirt) with their ceremony and tradition and full of eccentric aristocracy with enough time on their hands—when they’re not drinking—to get involved in a good mystery, and every other aspect of a good British whodunit. Grimes draws vivid pictures of the settings and creates alluring atmosphere wherever she leads her characters. It’s impossible not to become involved. She’s American, but this is not a blood and guts tale; it’s a clever mind twister!

Of course I won’t tell you who the villain is, but he is smart! Richard Jury has his hands full trying to find the body in this one! And I bet you won’t figure it out. I was up most of the night reading, and I had to finish the book quickly once we got home. I had to know….

By the way, The Old Wine Shades is a one of the oldest wine bars in London.

I wouldn’t be surprised if I return to read another Richard Jury novel. Scotland Yard’s Detective Superintendent Jury is an interesting character, and I’ve a hunch that he will be as “real” as Hercule Poirot, Adam Dalgliese, or Joe Leaphorn. That makes for a good read.

TRAVEL TIPS--HEALTH & WIFI


I’ve advised taking your health insurance card and any health related info with you when you travel. It came in very handy in Texas when for the first time in my life I had an attack of trochanteric bursitis. Rather than spending hours in an emergency room, we went to an Urgent Care facility where I received excellent and prompt treatment from Dr. Daniel Akers, an emergency room specialist. His facility took my insurance plan, the pharmacy took my plan, and by the evening I was virtually without pain—and without huge out-of-pocket expenses. Include necessary cards as well as a health care proxy with you. Hope it’s all just unnecessary baggage.

If you travel with your laptop, there are two sites to consider:
www.jiwire.com and www.metrofreefi.com to find places that offer free WiFi hookups. These sites can save you time and money.