WRR@LARGE

WRR@LARGE Archive 2009

December 2009
December 21, 2009 Bah, Humbug! Oh, What the Hell…

Dyker Heights Christmas decorationsDecember 21, 2009

Bah, Humbug! Oh, What the Hell…

 

Bag, Humbug! Oh, What the Hell…

by Desk Jockey

A New Yorker’s grouchy take on the annual rite popularly known as Christmas

With nearly 1,000 friends on Facebook, Desk Jockey marvels at the number of status updates people start posting about Christmas—in October.

“Today, Heather baked chocolate pumpkin surprise cakes!” crows one proud mom. “We got out the snow blower and made snow angels all morning!” boasts another.

Like Charlie Brown (his mentor whom he discovered over 40 years ago), Desk Jockey has found that Christmas is not really about anything as sacred as the birth of Jesus. It really is about puppies and cupcakes and children—three things that are as incomprehensible to Desk Jockey as Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan.

Even more regrettable, in New York, Christmas isn’t just confined to a manger, or a blue spruce, or Rockefeller Center. It’s everywhere.

Lots of decoration. Lots of jingle.

If there were no such thing as the North Pole, New York would be declared the capital of Christmas.

Besides “the trende” at Rockefeller Center—whose delivery and lighting are treated second only in importance to the birth of the Christ child—there are Christmas tree stands on every corner beginning in late November, stocked with trees of every size, costing hundreds of dollars or more. Ka-CHING!

Special “farmer’s market” mini-malls are set up at strategic points around the city like  Columbus Circle and Union Square. Besides young couples holding hands, they are filled with the most god-awful art and trinkets that you wouldn’t buy if they were reduced 90 percent and endorsed by Doctor Oz.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, as the entire country knows by now, isn’t really about Thanksgiving. It’s an excuse to sell tickets to Broadway musicals during the Christmas season—besides being an excuse to jack everyone up for door-busters on Black Friday, and three days later on Cyber Monday.

Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center

 

That question, again.

Worst of all, Christmas is the time of year when that most irritating question of all is used as a conversational ice-breaker, “So…what are you doing for the holidays?”

Most New Yorkers are smart enough to think of a stock response weeks ahead of time. “I’ll be in the country,” they say loftily, which could mean anything from Chappaqua to East Hampton to Wisconsin.

Some New Yorkers are really, really enterprising, in that they actually make plans to go away—as in several continents away—for Christmas. Not for them, the plumpish, badly dressed suburbanite hausfraus crowding their sidewalks, accompanied by squealing children wearing New York Giants jackets. No, the smart set are rubbing their well-toned elbows and flashing their heart-monitored pectorals with the hedge-fund crowd in Anguilla and Gustavia, Saint Barths.

Partying hearty, New York-style.

For most New Yorkers, the greatest reason to have a Christmas holiday at all is to have an unlicensed right to drink, drink, and drink some more.

Witness the parties that start soon after Thanksgiving. (Desk Jockey himself throws one, his major nod to the holidays.) Menus are devised as early as October, guest lists are composed, discussed ad infinitum, written, thrown out, then written again. Invites are emailed with the precision of a wedding planner—“first wave” responses, followed by “second waves” should the first waves bail, and even third-wave responses if you’re really afraid of no one showing. Cater waiters are engaged, and bartenders—only the best-looking of course!—are hired.

New Yorkers never tire of bragging about how many Christmas parties they’ve attended, or how tired they are, never for a moment connecting the dots. They are wont to brag about meeting Sean “Puffy” Combs at one party, or Apple’s ex-co-founder Steve Wozniak at another, and then mentioning it ever so casually on  Facebook for their 980 friends to see (okay, Desk Jockey has done that, too.)

Doorman tips: give plenty of $$. Not food.

Christmas is also the time when those of us crammed into our 780-square-foot cubicles (a.k.a. apartments) are treated with a level of respect afforded only the Sultan of Brunei or the late Michael Jackson. Doormen are basically all over you, beginning right after Thanksgiving. They buzz the elevator door open when your hands are empty; laugh more heartily at your dumbest comments, and are especially quick to change the light fixture that’s been out for weeks.

Desk Jockey knows that these men and women are not masters of the universe; in fact, they typically earn a salary he earned 35 years ago. His sympathy for them, coupled with his bleeding-heart Manhattan liberalism, induces him to tip all eight members of his staff far more than he knows his rich banker neighbors are giving.

This does not go unnoticed by the staff. One summer, the superintendent asked Desk Jockey, “Why are you different from every one else here?”  Feeling sure he was referring to his generosity at Christmas, Desk Jockey answered, “Because they’re richer than me.”

Time to take a break? Really?

As faithful readers may have gleaned by now, Desk Jockey, like many other blasé New Yorkers, regards Christmas as just another day. Gifts? Desk Jockey can buy anything he wants for himself (save an $11,000 bicycle) any day of the year. Kindness to others? Desk Jockey observes this policy every day of the year (admittedly, in New York City, it can be difficult.)

To Desk Jockey, Christmas is an opportunity for the higher-ups at his widget firm to relax and shut off their PDAs—but not before they email their junk to his desktop, tell him the due date is January 3, and turn on their automated “Out-of-Office” Response before he can ask any questions.

Desk Jockey cannot remember a single Christmas season that he did not work every day of the Christmas “break.” He does remember being buzzed on a cell phone as he walked into Midnight Mass one year, asking him to make a change to paragraph 3 on page 16. On the day after Christmas, he remembers driving his broken-down Honda through a blizzard, then digging a path through three-foot-high snowdrifts blocking the door of his Connecticut office, just to finish a project that was due January 2.

He also famously remembers daring to turn off his PDA on New Year’s Day one Christmas to go to the movies. On January 2, he turned it back on, only to get an all-caps, nasty-gram email which read, “WHERE WERE YOU YESTERDAY?”

The project’s decision date was January 5, and to this higher-up, our winning the work would save the entire empire from certain destruction.

Turns out, the decision wasn’t made until eight months later.

If you can’t beat ‘em, celebrate ‘em.

As the saying goes, laugh and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone. Desk Jockey, who would positively perish if he did not have his 980 FB friends and their status updates, wants to assure his faithful Wild River Review readers that certain things about Christmas do make him very happy.

  1. His annual holiday party. This always takes place the first Friday in December, so that Desk Jockey can have the rest of the month to pursue other activities, such riding his bicycle in the freezing cold.
  2. The Christmas windows at Barney’s. Imaginative and witty, they are the brainchild of Simon Doonan, the decorator and columnist for the New York Observer, whose attitude toward life is as snarky and unforgiving as Desk Jockey’s.
  3. His favorite new book about Christmas. It’s You Better Not Cry by Augusten Burroughs, whose opening essay on a child confusing Santa Claus with Jesus Christ is classic.
  4. The fact that Desk Jockey has over 10 extra vacation days he cannot carry over to 2010. He especially relishes telling his slave-driving boss this fact, and hopes she will not turn her oblivious ear to him, as usual, and give him a new assignment due January 2.

And finally, there are those Christmas “moments.”

When Desk Jockey thinks he cannot take another sidewalk Santa, or hellacious day at work, he will walk by some store window decorated for Christmas, and hear Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.”

Hardened, seen-it-all, cynic that he is, Desk Jockey just melts.

nye taxi

Desk Jockey is a regular columnist for Wild River Review. He has worked for major advertising firms for more than 25 years. He is now an account executive for a widget manufacturer. Desk Jockey is an avid cyclist, logging hours in cities and countrysides around the world.  

December 10, 2009 Life’s a Mystery. By Joseph Glantz

December 10, 2009

Life’s a Mystery. By Joseph Glantz

 

For many the evolution of man/woman can be seen in poetry, fiction or non-fiction. In politics and art. Going to the theater. My adult introduction runs differently. From the time I was given a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories for my bar-mitzvah I’ve always been fascinated at how we can learn so much from the modern detective story. Aside from the sophistication of the crimes and the cleverness of the telling of the clues, the essence of any detective story is the actual detective. They’re human in ways that always amaze.

While other British detectives relied on emotion Holmes set himself apart in stories because he super-reasoned the clues that escaped others. Soon after – I learned that the detective story wasn’t confined to just writing. Wayne and Schuster, two Canadian comedians, did a wonderful take on detectives in the age of Julius Caesar. Who really did have motive to kill Caesar and the means? Dragnet’s Joe Friday asked his television witnesses for “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Other detective stories added additional character traits. Detective Columbo had just that one more question that got under people’s skins. Jim Rockford was the practical detective. He didn’t use a gun, though he kept one in his cookie-jar just in case. My favorite episode was the one titled “Rose N. Krantz and Gilda Stern are dead.” Richie Brockleman got people to talk because he was “nice.” Lance White, portrayed by Tom Selleck, was the detective who played by the rules. Rockford thought Lance was a sucker. Selleck later made sleuthing “cool” in his Hawaiian Magnum series.”

Angela Lansberry’s Jessica Fletcher and and Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple showed that women could be just as good at solving mysteries. Bill Cosby’s I-Spy showed that blacks could be crime-busters too

Along the way these detectives have had different professions which have given them that unique edge. Ms. Fletcher was a writer. Lisa Scottoline and William Lashenr write from the vantage point of ex-lawyers. Prime Suspect’s frayed and sometimes fried Jane Tennison, played beautifully by Helen Mirren, was a police detective. Mystery on British PBS seems to have a special fascination for police sleuths with a fascination for events surrounding World War II. Martina Navrotilova’s detective was a former tennis player. Maybe modeled after Alice Marble, a real tennis player was also a real spy. In Arturo Perez-Reverte’s mysteries artists and fencing masters are the sleuths.

 

David Liss’s detective in the Conspiracy of Paper was a Jewish boxer when the stock markets were beginning in London. Jill Scott, as an African native in the … Ladies’ Detective stories, lets me know about Africa (Botswana). Others use time travel to solve the case.

In movies, detectives like those played by Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone, are larger than life figures who rely on their brawn. Though Willis made his fame pairing with a woman, Cybil Shepherd, which was noteworthy for the gender pairing and the notion that detectives could have a sense of humor. Sam Spade as Raymond Carver literature was great. Sam Spade as played by Humphrey Bogart, even better.

The most recently retired detective was Adrian Monk, who suffered by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but was a savant in spite of or perhaps because of his disorder. From the opening show where he had to use wipes to climb a ladder to the last where those same wipes contained the poisonous residue that put his life in danger helped to save his life (because the chemicals could be extracted), the compulsiveness was character building. Monk made all the people around a little more human in dealing with his disorder. I loved that the show ended with happy endings for all. A compulsively neat solution.

In this age of the computer there’s sure to be a detective who uses Twitter and Facebook. Shouldn’t there be a series where a reformed cook the books accountant stars. There’s bound to be a mystery version of the Martian Chronicles, a geriatric problem-solver and well, I have to stop writing. There’s a new Sherlock Holmes movie coming out. A dark Mr. Holmes – Oh My! Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries are down to the letter U. Will she stop at Z? Garrison Keillor’s Guy Noir just landed in a new city. Maybe yours?

Life and death stories. Oh sure somebody always dies, but they’d eventually die anyway and the best part about mysteries is that the good guys solve the case and the bad guys go away. And Oh Sure, there’s the opera, the theater and the ballet – but come to think of didn’t the Fat Lady just sing her last aria (I suspect Jake and the Fat Man), didn’t that actor enter stage-left when he should have entered stage right (hmmm?) and really, how do those Nutcracker characters come to life ?

Mystery. When one door closes a life a window into the human condition opens. Here’s what happens…

 

November 2009
November 30, 2009 Post-Thanksgiving Plane Ride with a Soldier on his Way to Iraq

November 30, 2009

Post-Thanksgiving Plane Ride with a Soldier on His Way to Iraq

by Joy E. Stocke

stocke-planeride

Thanksgiving in the Midwest. On my way from Milwaukee to Cleveland to Philadelphia. Cleveland flight: Husband and daughter in front of me. Settled into my aisle seat when a man in his mid-thirties carrying a large camouflage backpack (I’d seen a number of these in the Philadelphia/Cleveland/Philadelphia Airports) hoists it into the overhead bin and says, “I hope you haven’t gotten too comfortable.”

He says this in such a confident friendly way that I reply, “No, I was waiting for you,” and get up.  And when we settle in, we talk all the way to Philadelphia.

He is headed to Fort Dix in New Jersey,  headed to his fourth deployment in Iraq, a career soldier serving 20 years with “6 years and 3 months” left before he returns to the family farm “1300 acres of cash crop soy beans, wheat and corn – none of that GMO stuff,” where he will “fish and fish and fish.”  His father and father-in-law were soldiers and farmers.  He has a wife and a seven-year-old son.

A Marine, he refers to himself in the slang term Marines use, a Jarhead who was part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, part of the troops that trained for what they thought would be a prolonged war, and then surprised themselves when two months later they rolled into Baghdad and the “war was over.”

“At least the fighting part,” he says.

We talk about more troops in Afghanistan, we talk about his fourth deployment. “Look,” he says. “I think we made a mistake invading Iraq in the first place.  I don’t see how we’re going to get out of there.  But I can tell you this: The press hasn’t shown the whole picture.  I wish there would be more positive stories and more stories about how our military interacts with the tribes and the sheykhs and the village elders.  But, a soldier signs up to serve no matter what his or her opinion.”

“Plus,” he says. “Combat isn’t for everyone because you have to learn to separate your emotions from what you are asked to do.  Can you look a man or woman in the eye and know when to shoot and when not to shoot? Because, if you are in combat you are going to be asked to shoot.”

He says he wishes that U.S. Presidents would listen better to the military commanders and not advisors who have never served in the military. His sentiment rests equally with Democrats and Republicans.

He assures me that the U.S. has the best-trained, best-equipped military in the world, that a war is good for soldiers in that soldiers like him have a steady a job with a salary for life – for which he is grateful.

He adds that the only thing we as a nation have to worry about in the area of combat is that we don’t have a enough troops – about 500,000.  He believes in the draft and that all American kids should serve a year for their country – “And it doesn’t have to be in combat,” he says.

He said much more about weapons and how with the use of GPS you can hit a target with a 150 pound bomb 18 miles away.  About how there is usually “collateral damage” a term he dislikes. That he has had the opportunity to play soccer/football with members of the Iraqi Olympic team and how neither side let the other win as a show of comeraderie.  How we as a nation underestimated the bonds of religion, tribe, family and culture in Iraq and the Middle East.  How he believes we should have more troops in Afghanistan, less in Iraq, and that most success he’s seen is not through force but through education. “When schools are set up and kids can go to school and people can be trained to work, now you have something positive,” he says.

He reaches his arms up and pretends to cast a fishing rod.  ”Yes, six years and three months left,” he says. “And then I’m going to catch a lot of striped bass.”

Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review.  Her memoir Anatolian Days and Nights based on her travels in Turkey will be published in 2010.

October 2009
October 28, 2009 World Series. Philly and the other guys. By Joseph Glantz

October 28, 2009

World Series. Philly and the other guys. By Joseph Glantz

baseball sketch

 

New Yorkers never get it. They can’t understand why Philadelphia hates New York. They’re clueless why Tug McGraw, after the Phillies won the World Series in 1980 told New York (not Kansas City, who they just beat) to “stick it” because “We’re Number One.” It’s just the sheer arrogance that New Yorkers think they’re better than Philadelphia. They don’t even think of Philadelphia as a city. To them it’s still just a Greene Country Towne.

So here are a few reminders to New Yak Yak Yak as to why Philadelphia is great. Because without Philadelphians New York would be nuttin’.

When New York State lawyers couldn’t figure out how to defend Peter Zenger for libel charges they enlisted the aid of William Penn’s lawyer, Andrew Hamilton. Hamilton brilliantly defended Zenger giving rise to the expression “When you’re in trouble “get a Philadelphia Lawyer.”

Dan Rottenberg, in his marvelous book The Man who Made Wall Street, profiles how it was Philadelphia’s Anthony Drexel who encouraged and set-up J.P. Morgan so that Morgan would, in turn, be able to make Wall Street the center of worldwide finance.

Mary Cassatt’s brother, Alexander Cassatt, was President of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Cassatt figured out the way for the Pennsylvania Railroad to enter New York was through the building of the Holland tunnel.

The New York gritty urban movement known as the Ashcan movement was founded by Philadelphians Robert Henri and succeeded through other Philadelphians including William Glackens and John Sloan.

The Heisman trophy which will be given away in New York is named after Penn’s John Heisman.

The 1929-1931 Philadelphia Athletics next to the current Phillies team were the best team in baseball. And did I forget to mention Chuck Bednarik and Frank Gifford.

Television, where most people will watch the game, was invented in Philadelphia by Philo T. Farnsworth. The rest will watch on the computer which was also invented in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania.

The most notable family humor show to come from New York, the Cosby Show, was based on the wonderful humor of Philadelphian Bill Cosby. By the way, Cosby is much funnier than Seinfeld. Anyone can tell jokes. Cosby tells stories.

Plus there’s the ‘Philadelphia Sound’ begun by Leopold Stokowski that New York has yet to master. The Philadelphia pizza-steak that New Yorkers charge twice as much for but can’t get even half right. And the best parade is still the Mummer’s.

The PSFS building, in Philadelphia, was the first modern skyscraper and before there was a Macy’s in New York there was a Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia.

Plus it was the Philadelphia SPHAS that put pro-basketball on the map. And Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain who kept it there.

WIP’s Angelo Cataldi, Morganti and Hughes. Much more informed and funnier than EPSN’s New York Mike and Mike. And even the knowledgeable Mike played for the Eagles. Charlie Manual is much more colorful than Torre and Girardi put together

There’s an old adage that Philadelphia is first, Boston is best, and New York is biggest. Correctamundo. New York has the biggest payroll. But the team that will be first – The Phillies in seven. No make that six.

Best of all. It’s not the New York version that – at least its not the Mets – but the Philadelphia version that at least we don’t play in New Jersey. Whoops. There it is. New York teams can’t even get that right.

Joe Glantz is a consulting editor of the Wild River Review and the author of the just released Philadelphia Originals which profiles the unique styles and traditions of Philadelphia through an examination of its most notable professions.

October 21, 2009 The Basics Series: A Cast Iron Pan: full of memories

October 21, 2009

The Basics Series: A Cast Iron Pan: full of memories

Cast Iron is THE pan for making cornbread! Photo: Warren Bobrow

cast iron pan. Photo by Warren Bobrow

Cast Iron is THE pan for making cornbread. Photo by Warren Bobrow

The Basics Series: The Cast Iron Pan
Fall is time to bring in a new member of the family to your kitchen. I say family not in the sense of the word as a blood relative-but moreover a family member that will be with you for the rest of your life and perhaps for that of your offspring. This new family member will be as trusted as your grandparents and as giving to your inner self as a glass of fine Kentucky Bourbon. Take this new family member in your hands-admire its heft-the dark glow of the material-the sticky coating covering the surface that will cook a thick slice of sugar cured bacon, a ham steak or a few fried local eggs. Touch this living history and hold it in your hands. Feel the weight. What is this history? Simply put, your new family member is a Cast Iron Pan. If you take the time to season it properly, it will become part of your family. Shrimp n’ Grits will be stirred and greens cooked low and slow until they release their inner liquids- their pot likker’.   No chemicals or electronically bonded non-stick stirring devices will ever touch it. Only my old hand crafted wooden spoons will touch the inside of my new cast iron pan, and if used correctly, this pan will last a lifetime and then some.  Right now it is dull gray, but given a bath of pork belly or some slowly caramelized onions, the pan will take on an inner glow of contentment.  The time taken now to seek the darkest seasoning will follow this pan throughout its memory.  Years from now- when the pan is used to craft a BLT, it will know- deep inside- the first time bacon touched its cold iron alloy and gave the bacon a warm welcome as if to greet an old friend.

My old cast iron pan came from near Savannah, Georgia out in the real Low Country. Yemassee to be exact. I received it as a gift from a former client who was giving away her kitchen mementos. She said that this cast iron pan had been to “Montana and back, mostly on foot”  Her family’s family cooked in it she said.  It was used to make many a meal over the years. It is not a fancy pan, but it does have a non-stick finish that shines!  I cooked for her a few times- she asked me if I liked cast iron since I always wanted to cook out of that one pan.  I remember replying that it was all I used at home in Charleston.  Then it became mine…This kind of history places my cast iron pan in the annals of early culinary history. Many an egg slipped into this pan not knowing that someday another fried egg would slip out… a century or so in the future. To think of a perfect little chicken, frying gently in my cast iron pan, brined in salt water, then battered in seasoned buttermilk and panko Japanese bread crumbs, or the bacon that cooks low and slow until crispy for my late season heirloom tomato BLT sandwich, or even the perfect cornbread that was made in it almost 150 years prior-gives me pause…

The standards of Southern Cooking in this pan, has always mesmerized me with its inner energy and the flavors contained deeply within.  Some of these memories are passed on in the form of stories. Others are passed on to future generations in the form of passing a cherished cast iron pan on to another generation.  The non-stick coating only comes from years and years of cooking low and slow.  Blackening a piece of freshly caught Brook Trout will not make you a better fisherman, but it will make you a better cook.  It is as if this pan has a memory all its own. The pan is not a fancy “space age technology” non-stick pan, nor is it made of fine French Copper. It’s not made of stainless steel either. But lift it into your hand and connect with the campfire, the washing of that pan (once it has completely cooled) in an ice-cold stream, or just being re-seasoned with memory after memory-in the form of flavor over the years. Yes, this pan has a memory. Many a fine dinner has cooked within its walls for good times and not so good times-the flavors contained within tell a different story each time it is used. This story connects us with a simpler time, before the old cast iron pan in your cupboard was thrown out to make room for non-stick. Little did they know that this pan and all that came before it, was non-stick due to its own inner sense of duty-to cook foods made with love and the care of cooking, not just to feed, but to fulfill a greater cause as well.  George Washington it is said, cooked in cast iron.  His soldiers who inhabited the woods behind my home during the winter of 1778 used cast iron to cook what little they ate. Soldiers were “boiling their boots for soup.”  It must have been a fragrant pot of broth!   I honor them by cooking my own meals in this new cast iron pan that I hold in my hand.

A New Cast Iron Pan/New Pan Seasoning.

I noticed that my new pan is covered in heavy gunk, is it ready to use?  The answer is no.  You must season it before you use it.  The sticky gunk is food safe, but would you want to eat that in your food? I don’t recommend it. First you must remove the packing grease that has been sprayed on the pan.  To do this you first should heat the oven to 500 degrees.  Put something like another baking dish on the bottom rack of your oven, the top rack will hold your new cast iron pan upsides down. Wipe your new family member inside and out carefully with a kitchen towel with the fat of your choice, make sure that kitchen towel is absolutely dry or you will burn your hands.  The pan will immediately smoke heavily.  Open your windows, pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea, for you have many hours of seasoning ahead of you today.  Turn oven down to 250 and leave it be for a while.  How long? How about a few years… it takes that long to set the seasoning.

The next day caramelize a bunch of onions in that pan.. The next day cook some butternut squash in it.  Chose your dinners carefully and when you cook in the pan, do so with love.  Always smile when you use this new pan- but do not be afraid to show emotion around it.

The pan will appreciate it and so will I. This process of seasoning will take many years- do not hurry or rush.  Never, ever use soap on your cast iron pan.  Soap will stick to the pan and make everything you cook taste of soap.  If you burn something in the pan, take some sea salt and rub it into a paste with a bit of water and scrub away the burn, then re-season as described above.  A pan takes time to become an heirloom, a trusted friend in your pantry. There is much for the pan to remember before it becomes your best friend.  Trust your instincts and cook with passion. The results will sing of the energy contained deep in your new cast iron pan and it will reward you with perfect bacon and a slippery non-stick coating for years to come.

Play the right music and your pan will remember.

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.   A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at CAVS / MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.His column on food, wine and life, Wild Table appears daily in the online magazine, Wild River Review. In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.comNJ Life Magazine, NJ Monthly and SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Organic and Biodynamic wine and upcoming submissions for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2. February brings an article to NJ Savvy Living.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @WarrenBobrow1

Trust your instincts and cook with passion!

 

October 14, 2009 TASK – Life, Art, and Fried Chicken in a Cast Iron Pan

October 14, 2009

TASK – Life, Art, and Fried Chicken in a Cast Iron Pan

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

by Warren Bobrow

Last week, I spent the afternoon with the Wild River Review editorial team at TASK (Trenton Area Soup Kitchen) and this experience left me in a different place.

While at the Soup Kitchen, I met “Shorty.”  He is a soft-spoken man of  uncertain age, and  I am sure that he always chooses his words carefully.  I asked him where he grew up. He said in New Jersey; and gently probing a bit deeper, I asked him about his family and if they used cast iron pans over the years.

His face lit up and he replied ,”Yes!” And what was his favorite meal cooked in the heavy cast iron pan?

“Fried Chicken,” he said.

His family, if I recall correctly, was also from Georgia where my favorite cast-iron pan hails from.

I knew not to pry into his inner history by asking too many questions. He has his food memories, I have mine. My pans are used daily; his may have been lost to history as his family moved from south to north. But discuss with Shorty the meals that were cooked in those pans that belonged to his mother and father, and the meal he describes: a big plate of biscuits, red eye gravy, and chicken foot stew become a rekindling of  childhood memories led by his taste buds.

There were other men who shared their stories with me-the man who does pointillism paintings -each point another bit of his life  revealed.  His work was most powerful. Then, the photographer who photographs people, places and things-that seem just out of reach  at  present.  He is so proud of his work, his use  of light and dark in his black and white photography.  I feel strangely out of place using a digital Leica when he takes his photographs with a faded 35mm.  He may not have had much, but he had his images on paper.

Just waiting for another memory or conversation to enter the seasoned walls of that cast iron pan.

The names and faces of those men who have had really hard lives lingered  in my mind for days.  We are all connected though…and that connection for me is the metaphorical cast iron pan. Our stomachs, full of a fine fried chicken dinner with all the fixins’ cooked in cast iron pans. And for that I am truly thankful.

The cast-iron pan in my kitchen has been through a lot over the years.  If its walls could speak, they’d tell tales of contentment, hunger, strife and struggle. I cannot compare myself with “Shorty” or any of the other men who I met at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. All I can do is honor them.  It is with that respect that I submit my recipe for Chicken Fried Simply in a Cast Iron Pan.

Chicken fried in a Cast Iron Pan
Liberally adapted in small parts from Damon Lee Fowlers’ The World’s Best Fried Chicken.

1 cup all purpose flour preferably White Lily (sifted)
1 teaspoon baking powder (if your tin isn’t fresh, buy a new one)
Salt, freshly milled white pepper, and 2 tablespoons of freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/4 cups BUTTERMILK (Damon uses Milk. I like the deeper flavor of home-made Clabber Cream, thick Greek yogurt or best yet, local Buttermilk.)
1 fryin’ chickin’ no more than 3 pounds-leave the skin on, I think this is essential for flavor (Damon uses skinned in his recipe.)
1 teaspoon of Tandoori Spice sauce-(Damon doesn’t use this at all.)
Peanut oil 1/3 way up inside a Cast Iron Pan for fryin’

Wash chicken under ice cold water and place in a sterilized stainless steel container. Cover with a mixture of  buttermilk and a scant handful of salt. Soak the bird for a few hours. Preheat an oven to 275 degrees. Meanwhile, sift the flour, combine the dry ingredients with the wet ones and whisk the wet into the dry to make a nice smooth batter. Add a teaspoon of the Tandoori spices, it will make the batter slightly pink in color. When fried, the chicken takes on the color of the palest pink summer Georgia peaches.

Heat a CAST IRON pan filled 1/3 up the sides with peanut oil. Bring fat up to 375 degrees. Check temperature with a candy thermometer.

Add chicken to the batter made with the above ingredients. Drop chicken pieces into the batter and let rest for a bit to gather its thoughts before the plunge into fat fryin’ history.

Slip the battered chicken into the fat. Repeat until the pan is full, but not crowded ( I agree with Damon on this).
Reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Turn chicken only once and don’t move it around!  Expect about 40 minutes total cooking time.

Pour out most of the fat and add some old coffee to the drippins’.  This is your gravy.

Finish in a warm oven or serve chilled with a squeeze of lemon and some chopped Italian parsley for garnish.

You may substitute a lime wedge for a more Southern Caribbean/Island flavor.

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  He is the author of Wild Table, a daily column on food, wine and culture. In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com and SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2., and NJ Savvy Living.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ jockeyhollow.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

 

October 7, 2009 From Russia with Love: Matzo Ball Soup by Warren Bobrow

October 7, 2009

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

 

From Russia with Love: Matzo Ball Soup

by Warren Bobrow

Welcome Fall – Welcome Cold Season – Russian-Jewish New Year style.

Yom Kippur – the day of Atonement for observant Jews – is a day of fasting.  This means no food sundown to sundown. Ok, in the morning I had a few locally gathered scrambled eggs with Herbes de Provence.  And, of course, a cup of coffee made with the  beans my wife and I bought a few short weeks before on Martha’s Vineyard. I really wanted a Kossar’s Bialy with tomato and onion for lunch.  I didn’t eat that. Wanted to, but didn’t. And no BLT‘s or cheeseburgers .. I had one last year and had to atone for it this year.

What I dreamt of that day was the sweet and savory (Kosher) chicken soup made by my mom- in- law, Lenora.  Her matzo balls are perfectly light and airy and she worries about how they turn out.  They are wonderful, handmade with love.  They are the essence of perfection.   No leaden golf-balls in this family.  The matzo balls would be the first thing I would bite into, hot or not. Her soup broth, slowly simmered using only Kosher ingredients, would break our fast.

Yom Kippur is that holiday when a bowl of chicken soup is not just a simple bowl of soup, it means something deeper, it binds us to our past.  We stress out all year over it.   My 90 plus-year-old grandmother, Sophia, was able to join us for dinner, so we enjoyed a lively evening of memories discussing the preparation of the matzo ball soup.  At Break-Fast, the next day we enjoyed conversation about the soup we ate the night before over platters of smoked fish from Zabar’s.

Matzo Ball soup as a cultural metaphor has been the source of much lore. It is sometimes known as Jewish Penicillin. I’ve been fighting off a grippe for the past few days, and a bowl of this soup has reputed mystical properties long understood to be the cure for the common cold-and now Swine Flu.  It is my thought to offer this matzo ball recipe because to share it brings another generation to the dinner table.

Unfortunately for strict recipe followers a great bowl of matzo ball soup is something that is felt deep inside the soul, and it doesn’t hurt to be Jewish, but this is not a prerequisite. It transcends the ages as an identifiable cause of that specific kind food story…that the matzo ball may be too firm, or too heavy or it fell apart in the pot!

I’ve heard that some people actually like their matzo balls to be as hard and heavy as a golf ball. In fact they have a golf ball in their kitchen so when they build these little bricks of cement ,the matzo ball’s weight will be about 2 ounces or more. Not me! I like them light and fluffy, made by hand,

Don’t bring me matzo balls that are round or heavy or hard to the tooth… I won’t eat them.  If you consider using a boxed- mix, leave those matzo balls at home and feed them to an unfriendly neighbor or his dog.  Open the pot- ruin the matzo ball, they’ll drop to the bottom like a hard potato dumpling in a kettle of Frogmore Stew.   Patience is necessary.  A good pinch of nutmeg is also recommended according to my great grandmother, Yetta, who taught me years ago about her Eastern European methods of matzo ball cooking.

And so, as we move into fall, I’m reminded of those in my family who have influenced me both present and past-through the ever-present bowl of matzo ball soup.

Prepare your chicken soup with a nice roasting bird like a Pullet,  *a small commercial supermarket chicken- just won’t do* add washed and peeled carrots, celery, onion, parsnip, maybe a turnip if you desire, add fresh dill and a several garlic cloves unpeeled, but cut on one end.

Heat the Pullet and the vegetables over a medium flame with at least 12 cups of pure spring water in a non-reactive soup pot. Stainless is best. (the soup will reduce over time-making you thankful you listened to me on the water amount used)

Set chicken aside to cool and when you can handle it, separate the flesh from the bones. Make another pot of water and put the remaining bones in it.. heat for 30 minutes or so on a medium simmer.  Use this bone-infused broth for cooking the matzo balls.   Strain the first stock and chill covered so that the fat rises up to the surface.  Put this stock in the fridge for the next day. This will be the soup.

Retain chicken fat for toast points ( memories of Sammy’s Roumanian? anyone?)

Matzo Balls
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 farm fresh eggs at room temp.
2 tablespoons reserved chicken fat from your soup
1 teaspoon salt and 1/2-3/4 teaspoons of freshly ground nutmeg (more if you want some spicy matzo-balls)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons seltzer water, not club soda (too salty)

Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and rest in the in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Bring 3 1/2 quarts of well-salted water or chicken stock to a brisk boil in a medium sized pot.

Reduce the flame. Wet your hands. Form matzo balls by dropping just enough of matzo ball batter to form approximately 1-inch in diameter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them in the shape of an Idaho potato- loosely into oblong balls. Drop them carefully into the simmering chicken stock from the bones one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes without opening or peeking or allowing anyone else to open the pot to catch a glance at them…. EVER!

Heat the dark Pullet-infused stock, add chicken pieces, some freshly snipped dill, carrots, celery and onions from the soup-pot.  Place the matzo balls into the stock to warm, and serve in heated bowls.

I dedicate this article to my great grandmother, Yetta, who taught me to make a pretty good matzo ball and to my grandmother, Sophia, who was there to share our Yom Kippur supper with us.

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he spent his senior year as a research assistant in visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  His daily Blog; Wild Table is coming soon in October.  In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com, NJ Monthly and NJ Life, also, SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed., 2., and NJ Savvy Living.  Please follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ WarrenBobrow1

October 2, 2009 Orhan Pamuk and the Norton Lectures: The Naive and Sentimental Novelist by Raquel Pidal

October 2, 2009

Orhan Pamuk and the Norton Lectures: The Naive and Sentimental Novelist

by Raquel B. Pidal

Last week,  I went to hear Turkish author and Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk speak. His talk was the first in a series of six Norton Lectures sponsored by the Humanities Center at Harvard; the series is called “The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist.” The Norton Lectures are a series of talks given by Harvard’s Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, with “poetry” in this case being “interpreted in the broadest sense, including, together with Verse, all poetic expression in Language, Music, or Fine Arts.”

We sat in the Sanders Theatre, a beautiful U-shaped, multi-tiered space paneled in lovely wood and giving off an almost tangible aura of knowledge. The cushioned benches are slightly uncomfortable and all allow for a good view of the stage and podium. Homi Bhabha, one of the members of the Norton Committee, graciously introduced Orhan with a litany of his many achievements. The man won a Nobel and his books have been translated into 56 languages, yet he still smiled humbly at the accolades and the applause as he stood at the podium with his lecture pages.

The first talk in his series was “What Happens to Us When We Read Novels.” At talks like these, I’m in my element. I  have a degree in literature, I spent my childhood and my higher education reading novels, talking about novels, thinking about novels, living novels. So it’s always interesting to hear someone else’s take on why we do something that to me is equivalent to breathing: why we read novels.

I first heard Pamuk speak in 2006, at a PEN American Center event, and I scribbled some notes on his talk in the same small black notebook I was scribbling in last night. Three years ago, Orhan talked about the civil war in the mind of the writer–that is, the contradictory halves of the mind and conflicting thoughts a writer must grapple with when wrestling ideas into words on a page. Last night, he spoke of a similar phenomenon of dichotomy we readers go through when we read novels–or rather, he spoke of the two kinds of readers that there are: the naive and the sentimental. These two categories are also applicable to the writers of the novels we are reading.

A naive writer writes spontaneously, without consideration. He writes unknowingly; the story is seemingly dictated to him–by a muse, by inspiration, by the divine, you choose–and he is merely a vehicle for setting the story down in words. It is a romantic notion, but it is certainly something that I and probably many other writers have experienced when we look at strings of words we barely remember writing and think, I didn’t write this story–this story wrote itself. The sentimental writer, by comparison, writes with exceeding awareness of what he is doing. He is conscious and suspicious of everything and is concerned with the outside or exterior of the story. He is aware of each word he is writing, each device he is using, and he is also painfully aware of why he is doing it. According to Pamuk, we also read in these same ways.

Pamuk compares the naive reader as someone who is concerned only with the view from a car window. This reader sees the landscape passing by and understands it. So in other words, this reader sees and understands the story without getting caught up in the mechanics, in what it is that is making him accelerate at a certain speed so that the view is constantly changing and developing. The sentimental reader, however, sees not only the view from the window, but also the shape of the glass in the window, the dirt that has smeared on it, the interior of the car with all its knobs and gears, the speedometer. This reader is concerned with how he is understanding the view he is seeing–that is, he wants to examine and understand all the devices used to make the story. I spent most of my life blissfully engaged in the first kind of reading (except in reading texts for school), and it was only when I arrived in college that I was immersed, for four years, in the second kind of reading, parsing every last literary device possible out of a text. I feel as though–for me, anyway–that this second, sentimental kind of reading can suck out the joy of simply enjoying the trip through the landscape created by the writer, and indeed I have found myself re-reading texts I first slogged through in college, with a highlighter and a furrowed brow, and I am amazed that on this re-reading, the text now seems changed somehow. Now I approach the book from a more balanced perspective (both naive and sentimental), and in not consciously searching for every metaphor, symbol, and allusion and instead in allowing these literary devices to wash over me, I find that I am able to enjoy the work more fully. Pamuk says that ideally, both as writers and as readers, we will have an equilibrium of the two, but I think that it is only in experiencing each way on its own that we can then learn to successfully combine the two.

Pamuk went on to outline how we read, even giving 9 descriptions (“Yes,” he said, “I have numbered them”) of what our minds do as we read. If I were to go into detail about every one of them, I’d be writing until the second lecture begins next week, so instead I’ll focus on the most interesting one. When we read novels–not pulp novels or the types of books sold in airports and train stations that tell an entertaining story to aid the reader in passing the time, but true literary fiction–we read the entire time searching for the secret center of the novel, whether we know it or not, and we read the whole time with the conviction that a secret center does exist that is worth searching for. This search for the center–this is what sets novels apart from other literary forms like poems (epic or not) or more light-hearted fictions. We want our novels to provoke us to search for the center and to provide us with some knowledge about life.

And here his talk ended, and I found myself leaning forward in my seat and slightly out of breath, realizing that I had been clinging to his every word because every word rang so true. It turns out that his favorite novel, Anna Karenina, is the very novel I’m reading now for my book group, and having listened to his talk, I realize that I, too, have been reading this as a naive and sentimental reader–aware of the details and devices Tolstoy is using but not spending too much time fussing over them and just taking it in as part of my search for the center, for the meaning at the heart of the story. The story is, to me, immensely complex, richly satisfying, intricately plotted, and precisely reflective of the many sides of human nature. I know that every detail Tolstoy has inserted is helping me get that much closer to the many truths that surround the center of the book.

Being a better reader is of course good for anyone who truly wants to find meaning in what they’re reading, especially because novels can hold a mirror up to ourselves and really show us, rather than tell us, what is true–good or bad–about humanity and the world. And I think that by being a better and more aware reader, we writers cannot help but become better writers.

After the lecture, Homi Bhabha facilitated a question-and-answer session (“A short question, please,” he requested, “and with a question mark at the end”), and in response to something someone asked him about novels, and influences that shaped him as a writer, Orhan responded, “The strength of the novel is the degree of jealousy we feel toward it.” As both a reader and a writer, I can think of no better praise for a novel than to think, God, I wish I’d written this.

Raquel B. Pidal is a freelance editor and writer who has worked on a variety of projects, including memoirs, business and career management books and articles, health articles,  and novels. She has also taught several workshops for children and young writers. Raquel graduated Cum Laude from Ursinus College with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. She earned Departmental Honors for her senior thesis, a memoir about her Cuban mother, and has won several awards for her writing. Raquel’s creative nonfiction has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Bucks County Writer, The Bucks County Review, and Wild River Review. She lives in Cambridge, MA, and has an M.A. in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College. She writes about food and her culinary adventures on her blog, Raquel Likes Food.

September 2009
September 25, 2009 The Jester’s Marginalia: Three Translations from Old Norse, and Old English by William Irwin Thompson

September 25, 2009
The Jester’s Marginalia: Three Translations from Old Norse, and Old English

by William Irwin Thompson

In the library of St. Gall there is an oddity in the Priscian Manuscript–already famous for its seventeen marginalia invocations of St. Bridget. Since the marginalium is written with the same hand in Old Irish, Old Norse, and Old English, it has always been assumed to be a forgery and some sort of Ossianic prank of a learned monk and fiendish librarian from a much later period. Consequently, the poems have never been published. It is possible that a monk of an earlier period might know Irish and Norse, but it is hard to believe he would also know the West Saxon dialect of Old English. And yet the peregrinatio was sacred to Irish monks, and so I like to imagine an Irish monk making his way from Clonmacnoise to Ripon after the destruction of Lindisfarne and on to St. Gall. It is clear in the second poem that the author was familiar with some version of Beowulf, oral or written, as the poem would appear to be spoken by Grendel, cursing his attacker before he dies. When I was living in Switzerland, a kind librarian, knowing that I was a poet, gave me a translation of the Jester’s Marginalia—as he liked to call it–into German, and then I reworked his scholarly German into English.

1.

The moon is full, the wind down.

I fear the unheard frog drop

of oars on the still waters

of the wide sea-laned Shannon.

More than the bell of Matins,

I hark to the round tower.

2.

I am not child of Cain!

Your Church lies on stones

it cannot hear – cry nor scream.

Before you were, Enoch’s kin,

taken to heaven, were made

great giants from weak men.

No demon, I am

first-born, heaven bent.

You the mold scraped off tree,

hairless pigs, ape-men,

clouded seed, cattle cunt,

foul creatures of time and muck!

3.

Old am I now,

fared wide on seas

castled with ice,

frost on my beard

already white

in the white spray.

My name I lost

when the Æsir

flung me out

the tossing boat,

off Iceland’s red

burning rivers,

took out my breath

under waters

cold and steaming

and put in me

their forms and words

unknown to man.

Under the waves,

I talked with seals,

lifting me up

to breathe the air.

Flat on black sand,

then could I hear

the mountains talk,

hammers of dwarves,

and high pitched Elves

with their gold harps

and their strung bows

moving in air,

riding the clouds.

I sailed again

as mountains burst,

loud in black smoke.

Nowhere the sun,

nowhere the stars.

Endless the seas,

endless the ice.

Cultural philosopher and poet, William Irwin Thompson, is founder of the Lindisfarne Fellowship. He became nationally known as a writer for his best-selling book on contemporary affairs, At the Edge of History, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award for his science fiction fantasy novel Islands Out of Time and has published four books of poetry. As a cultural historian, he is most widely known for his books, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture and Coming into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. His collection of poems, Still Travels, will be published in October Wild River Books, an imprint of Wild River Review.

September 24, 2009 The ||Jimi|| Cocktail by Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

September 24, 2009

The Jimi Cocktail

by Warren Bobrow

There is a private club in New York City’s West Village that caters to an artsy crowd. It’s located in an historic building on a gritty commercial-looking street.  You can walk by the place a hundred times and never notice that it’s just down the way from the spot that once held the famous Luchow’s Restaurant.

If you are invited – and that’s the only way to get in the front door – it’s possible to bump into the next hot director working on a movie, or the latest ad agency sensation. This is a smart, social networking/internet savvy crowd. Over on the couch you’ll see a group of giggling, well-dressed couples reading the extensive menu from the excellent locavore restaurant upstairs.

The spectacular landmarked town house where I found myself on a recent weekday night is arranged over 5 floors and houses a sixty-five seat restaurant, two lounge bars, a forty-five seat screening room, event space, as well as a subterranean dining room for up to twenty four people, plus a walled garden.  There is very little public information about this club.  One has to dig rather deeply into the National Trust for Historic Places website for any information on the original owners, or the property for that matter.

In fact, the club keeps its landmark designation hanging inside the entrance to hide its status from peering eyes.  Add the fact that the Federal-style architecture blends into the ambiguous brownstone homes surrounding it and you can rest assured that should you desire it you’ll have a measure of privacy.

Once inside, the rooms feel like someone’s private lair- a mansion from another age, in this case 1845.  I felt like I had entered a well-orchestrated theatrical tableau.  Hipsters abounded, dressed in cool clothing like those created by   designer Billy Reid-dripping with bespoke Southern Heritage styled- duck hunting outfits? There is nary a Ralph Lauren preppy to be found.  If this crowd had been a bit older, they would have hung out at the club named Danceteria where I worked back in the day.

The building has narrow staircases (an elevator is available) and gracious public spaces, floor to ceiling (sound insulated) windows were reminiscent of the Adam period architecture found in Charleston, S.C.  Old, wide plank, wood flooring and heavy pocket doors framed the rooms. The cocktail bar and lounge, lit with intimate shaded light, was located on the main floor. Curved in the corner, glass back-lit shelving held exciting-sounding liquors in exotically shaped bottles.

The classically dressed bartender works with a speedy efficiency and with an almost Buddhist- influenced calm, possessing a sense of grace that causes one to remember his or her own manners.  The members (and their guests in whose corner I counted myself) smiled, drank their well- prepared libations and spoke of dreams and possibilities well into the night. Twitter is part of the scene, with Blackberries at the ready, but the ongoing conversations into cell phones are conducted in hushed tones.

On shelves, I saw several bottles I didn’t recognize.  All I could think about was the Jimi Cocktail, which our bartender was preparing in front of us.

History and Prep: Jimi Cocktail:

The true history is muddy at best. It is an amalgamation of the famous Mojito Cocktail containing mint, white rum, ice, simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice.  The Jimi Cocktail’s name is derived from the Hendrick’s Gin and the Jimi as in Jimi Hendrix, guitar legend and Woodstock protagonist. And with the 40th anniversary of Woodstock having just passed the cocktail is now called the “Jimi.”

The ingredients for a Jimi Cocktail are very similar to a Mojito with a psychedelic twist.  That is the Hendrick’s Gin.  It has properties that are known to be mystical like its namesake and contains the essence of rose petals, cucumber oil, botanicals such as juniper and the ever-present, brooding alcohol at nearly 100 proof.

Our bartender muddled chunks of seedless cucumbers in a pint glass creating almost a pulp as he released the cucumber essence. Then, he added freshly squeezed lime juice and muddled a bit more.  A splash of simple syrup, more muddling, then 3-4 generous shots of Hendrick’s Gin.  He added some cracked ice, shook the cocktail and strained into a pre-chilled martini glass.  His garnish was a perfect cucumber slice- and voila, the Jimi Cocktail!

I sipped slowly, tasting fresh, cooling cucumbers and the almost watery quality of the Hendrick’s Gin. It went down very easily, too easily, in fact, on a hot night.  The slice of cucumber, floating in the off clear liquid had the element of a Japanese Ofuro Mineral Bath potion.  I slipped away into contentment and started hearing the strains of Jimi Hendrix in my mind – Purple haze all in my brain. Lately things just don’t seem the same – a slow throbbing, and then the attack!  The room spins, the hipsters pack up their iPhones and Blackberries and I wander out into the night.

I offer the “Jimi” Cocktail-Recipe.

  1. Muddle with a well worn wooden muddler, a few chunks of an English “seedless” cucumber in a pint sized mixing glass
  2. Add about 3-4 shots of Hendrick’s Gin, continue muddling the cucumber
  3. Add a splash of “simple syrup
  4. Add some fresh squeezed lime juice
  5. Fill mixing glass w/ cracked ice, shake gently
  6. Strain and serve in a Martini Glass with slices of cucumber for garnish

Sip carefully and order another immediately, followed (in my case) by another. Start hearing guitar riffs from Jimi Hendrix in your head…..(queue the guitar!! MAXIMUM VOLUME!)

Click here –à Jimi Hendrix riffs

Wild River Review contributing editor, Warren Bobrow grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.  A graduate of Emerson College with a degree in Film, he concentrated on visual thinking at The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. He worked for many years in the corporate world.

His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.  His soon to be published Blog; Wild Nibble is coming soon in October.  In addition to Wild River Review, Warren writes for NJMYWay.com and SLOWFOODNNJ.org. He has upcoming work in Edible Jersey Magazine on the topic of Biodynamic Wine and a piece in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Ed.,

Follow his moving about and drinkin’ ’round on Twitter @ jockeyhollow.

September 16, 2009 - American Summer Finale - When a Restaurant Does it Right - Then All is Perfect!

Photo: Warren Bobrow

When a Restaurant Does it Right
Photo: Warren Bobrow

by Warren Bobrow

A Toute Heure is located not in Martha’s Vineyard, or Boston or even New York City… But, if you ever find yourself just off the Garden State Parkway in Cranford, New Jersey and locavore is how you eat, then you must find your way to one of the best restaurants in New Jersey, if not in the entire Tri-State area. (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.)

Walking up the path to A Toute Heure, is like stepping into a farmhouse located somewhere in the Hudson River Valley of New York, without the farm tractors parked outside.

Local to the restaurant is a postage stamp farm called Cherry Lane-mere blocks away-nurturing perfect little heirloom tomatoes that glow on the plate with an inner energy. The mention of the Cherry Lane farm had originally piqued my interest. Where was the Cherry Lane Farm? Did I know that it was “just around the corner?”  You cannot get any fresher than this!

A black board prominently displayed on the wall tells all you need to know about who is supplying what ingredient to the restaurant. Fresh cheeses are listed alongside the farm names. All the varied locavore ingredients right down to the eggs are given a place on the wall. The list changes daily depending on what is fresh.

Local foods complete the scene in this change-the-entire-menu-weekly, James Beard Society-nominated restaurant. But that kind of award doesn’t make the scene. What makes the scene is the abundant energy and pulse-the smiles from the staff-the smell of the open kitchen as the staff prepares each plate. The kitchen just radiates good feeling… you can taste the energy in anticipation of your supper.

A Toute Heure is a BYOB. I brought a peach pit and citrus-tinged Sybille Kuntz Trocken Riesling in a 1/2 sized bottle for our appetizers and a really special bottle of a single vineyard, Pax Syrah from 2004-which has rested in my cellar until I opened it about 9 hours prior to dinner. The tap water doesn’t taste like chlorine that is a nice complement to the meal, one I cannot say for Morristown, New Jersey, where I live and where the tap water reeks of it, making for difficult drinking and eating.

We were presented with an Amuse Bouche of Hush Puppies that sent me right back down to Charleston, South Carolina. It was here that sparkling fresh shrimp from Shem Creek fished just out of the brackish pluff mud filtered water filled my memories. One taste and I was eating the essence of Wild Shrimp. A brilliant, freshly made remoulade sauce sealed the deal.

My mother-in-law, who doesn’t eat shrimp, was offered a small plate of several heirloom “cherry” tomatoes. Each one was brimming with flavor and were still slightly warm from being just picked maybe seconds before they were sliced, dashed with a grassy olive oil and a bit of sea salt to raise their inner secrets to her fork. I tasted one and wanted to eat an entire bowl of them with aged Balsamico and crusty bread.

I started with a bowl of Kara’s Mussel Pot, an appetizer size that dwarfed the other plates on the table. It was brimming with succulent, steaming hot PEI Mussels. Sweet and plump, they came drenched in Belgian Ale from a local microbrewery, dotted with sweet, yet tangy blue cheese and a splash of cream. I inhaled most of the bowl and set to work at the excellent bread served and refilled without my notice to sop up the broth.

My wife and her mom shared the satisfyingly filling, meltingly soft to the tooth Paffenroth Garden’s roast beet salad. Each generous portion of beets echoed  their specific terroir and was folded between perfectly cleaned local greens. I could smell the earthy nature of the beets and it stirred a far away feeling of summer and memories that lingered at the edge of my memory.

Tables around us shared large portions of all the items I had myself dreamed of ordering. Steak Frites! Pork n’ Clams! Cones of Pomme Frites – Can I snag one?

I ordered the Hudson Valley magret duck breast which came over goat cheese-infused mashed potatoes that tasted made a la minute-the glutens of the potato had not turned to glue. I wanted to jump right in to bowl full of them. A veritable pillow-top mattress made of them. The duck, rendered of the fat that sometimes plagues other examples of this dish, tasted as if it had been running around just that morning. Or swimming, so deep was the flavor.

The other dishes were the boneless, brined, “brick” roast ½ chicken. Brick-Cooked Chicken holds a special place in my heart and this delicacy was brined to bring out all the flavors of a small, organic bird. So delicate and almost sous vide in texture- I wanted to tear into the chicken and perhaps convince the chef to fry me up a few wings,to keep me honest and quiet.

My mom-in-law has a restrictive diet, so she doesn’t eat meat in a restaurant, nor most fish. A Toute Heure accommodated her needs, serving her the bountiful, piping hot, Heirloom Cherry Lane Farm’s eggplant gratin with Gruyere and Parma cheese. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her polish off a plate of vegetables so quickly.

While we were finishing our meal I took note of the cheese list. Perfectly aged cheeses abound. Without asking, we were served a selection of cheeses which included: Cayuga Blue from Lively Run Dairy in NY, a perfectly aged specimen of the Weston Wheel from Woodcock Farm in Vt., and my personal favorite-the Constant Bliss from Jasper Hill in Vt. Each cheese was just about 2 bites-served with house-cured olives and more of that excellent toast, carefully marked by the grill in crosshatches. I love seeing that extra effort at taking an ingredient and expanding on the flavors of the charred bread.

Dessert would be a selection of the best ice-cream I have ever tasted in NJ, the Burnt Sugar, the brightly flavored and toothsome Spearmint Bittersweet Chocolate Chip and the Ricotta with Candied Citrus. if I had a cooler, they might have been missing some. My wife enjoyed the chocolate bread pudding, drizzled with caramel sauce.. it was… deep, dark and filling.

Coffee was served in a French Press-nice touch! I wanted more-but wanted to be able to sleep and dream of our beautiful meal.

At A Toute Heure, if they stick to their ethos of fresh food,cooked simply with the love that we were shown through the excellent service and not-overly intellectualized cuisine, they will have that grail.. The James Beard Award hanging on the wall-just out of eyeshot though, for their food doesn’t need an award to be truly wonderful.

What better ending to summer could there be than that?

pig

 

September 11, 2009 Soundscapes – Planes in Alberta, Crickets in New York City by Scott Smallwood

September 11, 2009

Soundscapes –

Planes in Alberta: Crickets in New York

by Scott Smallwood

Scott Smallwood - Alberta

 

My wife and I just relocated to Edmonton, Alberta, after living for the last several years in the New York / New Jersey area. Needless to say, this has brought great changes for us, and as always, I’ve been curious to explore the sounds both of this city, and of Alberta in general.

One thing I’ve noticed that is sort of shocking: a conspicuous lack of airplane noise. In fact, there is hardly any of it.

Edmonton is a good 296 km (184 miles) north of Calgary, which itself is almost that far North of the Montana border. Take a look at a map of North America, and you’ll see that Edmonton is really quite far removed from everything else, and there are no urban centers east, west, or north. And so, as I sit outside on the patio, I count the number of planes I can hear in an hour: one at the most.

 

map of Alberta CA

This is quite a refreshing situation. And yet, even still, one of my new students, who is embarking on a project to create an archive of field recordings of places in Alberta, has complained about being interrupted by airplane noise. Despite this, it’s amazing to me just how few of them I hear – perhaps for the first time since I was a child. And when I do hear them, they seem deafening.

How many an hour can you hear in your neighborhood?

In any case, I do hear lots and lots of automobiles. I also hear some really neat crackling, sizzling electrical sounds coming from some high-voltage power lines near our apartment. There is a paved path that follows some nearby high-voltage power-line support structures, and you can hear the cables humming away in certain places. Here’s a recording of it during the middle of the night.

In the meantime, as we are getting settled in our new city, learning about its sounds, culture, wildlife, and public transportation system, I’m already missing New York, planes, trains, and automobiles and all. Those of you who live near the Big Apple, go out and count some crickets and katydids! The NYC Cricket Crawl is happening on Friday Sept. 11, and seems like a nice way to both help with an important project and listen to the evening insects together. For more information, see http://www.discoverlife.org/cricket/.

Scott Smallwood is a sound artist and composer whose music draws inspiration from the soundscape around him. His work is founded on a practice of listening, field recording, and improvisation. He currently teaches music composition, computer music, and improvisation at the University of Alberta.

September 8, 2009 American Summer-Final-The birth of a restaurant reviewer/A cautionary tale

September 8, 2009

The Birth of a Restaurant Reviewer – A Cautionary Tale

by Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo Warren Bobrow

How do you nicely say to your waiter that your meal wasn’t quite what you expected-and what you expected wasn’t what you received? Or do you say anything at all? These are questions that restaurant reviewers take very seriously. Great reviewers not only care deeply about the craft of making beautiful food, they have their readers’ best interests in mind. But what happens when you’ve read a good review of a restaurant and it doesn’t meet your expectations?

This question and many others found its way into the heads of my wife and me after looking forward to a Saturday night dinner out at Copeland in the Westin Hotel in Morristown, NJ.

In prior trips we had eaten at the bar with mostly good results-it’s hard to mess up a hamburger billed as the “best in NJ,” and we were eager to try the more formal restaurant. We had no idea that the restaurant would be so inept at even the simplest task of cooking and serving dinner for two on a Saturday night, especially after the New York Times had spoken favorably about the chef.

We arrived at 7:30 for our 8:30 reservation, hoping to get an earlier seating and were told by the Maitre d’ that we could not be seated even though there seemed to be plenty of open tables. And so, we sat down at the empty bar surrounded by large screen TV’s playing sports without the sound, not the atmosphere we seek out for a romantic dinner on a Saturday night.

The dimly lit room of dark wood and deeply painted red walls, hung with pastoral scenes of house and home from an 18th century perspective, didn’t quite fit with the large screen TVs playing sports. Drinks were well made and with a careful hand; I had a Havana Mojito made with 10 Cane Rum, fresh mint and simple syrup.  My wife had a $12 glass of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that might have cost $6 or less at retail for a bottle.

We finally got up from our bar-stools and walked back up to the podium and asked the Maitre d’ if we could sit down.  They had forgotten us at the bar after a nearly 45-minute wait. That’s where our experience went quickly downhill.

Now seated at our table, we waited for  someone to notice us.  After about a 5 minutes, we were offered grease-stained menus, and no wine list. After another five minute wait we asked for and were given a wine by the glass list, also grease stained and smeared with food.

Eventually, after weeding  through many commercially available-mostly forgettable and overpriced bottles, I ordered a somewhat  serviceable Pouilly Fume. But, I didn’t feel like drinking much. It was getting late, and we were hungry having worked all day, skipping lunch.

We were not told about the nightly specials, although we noticed that diners at nearby tables received a recitation of an interesting selection of the chef’s creativity. We were beginning to get a complex. Why were we ignored? I was interested in what the chef might prepare, having read in the New York  Times  that he had (some) talent, garnering a Very Good rating, not an easy task to receive.  But our waiter never gave us the chance to deviate from the menu set before us.

I ordered the Sashimi of Yellow Fin Tuna w/Coconut, Kaffir Lime, Chili Oil.   The description of the dish on the menu read well enough, but what I was served was in no way matched the description. The mostly warm temperature (not a true sign of freshness) tuna was soft and mealy to the tooth and flavorless to my palate. I tasted no hint of chili oil or coconut or even Kaffir Lime Leaf, but I did detect some slivers of scallion. The foam that surrounded the minuscule pebbles of fish was reminiscent of milky-colored cucumber tinged marshmallow cream, whipped into a frenzy of fuzzy, tongue-numbing submission.

My wife ordered a simple Caesar salad, nicely plated and well cleaned of the grit that sometimes plagues Romaine washed in restaurant prep kitchen sinks , but it was overpowering with both a lemon juice and vinegar dressing. The Parma cheese “Frico” crisp on top was a clever and creative diversion, but it was soft, as if it had sat under a heat lamp for too long.

We ordered the Roasted Organic “Heritage” Chicken that was billed as a twenty-minute wait, (we waited almost 40 minutes for it to be ready) served with roasted cipollini onions, chanterelles and fava beans for $26 a portion.

I don’t mind spending $26 on a $3.50 chicken (wholesale)  if it is brightly flavored and freshly roasted to a crispy turn. In this case, however, the chicken was desiccated from being par-cooked, then held until service at just below temperature, then flashed in a hot oven, reheated to finish.  The chickens were served with vegetables that may have been originally cooked during the Nixon Administration, then reheated ‘banquet’ style on a steam-table warmed plate. The portion size was miniscule with only slivers of really small chanterelles, a couple of sorry looking pale green fava beans and finally, two overcooked to mush, cipollini onions. The sauce tasted of a type of canned stock that I was familiar with…a demi glace that comes from a jar or pouch of concentrated mix, having a flavor that is bitter and cold to the tongue, not a homemade, deeply flavored demi-glace from a restaurant that bills itself as “everything from scratch.”

We skipped dessert. We had arrived around 7:30 and didn’t leave until long after 10.  Having cooked in hotel kitchens for some of my restaurant cooking career, I am well aware that hotels have a marvelous way of taking excellent ingredients and destroying them, focusing on food cost over-runs than the TASTE of the food on the customer’s plate.

It is often too much about the bottom line and the conveyor belt style of feeding, one that I learned about plating luncheons out in Arizona at the Scottsdale Princess Hotel in 1992.

The New York Times has a restaurant review that dates from 1859 which may well be the first foodie writing:

http://kottke.org/07/09/first-ny-times-restaurant-review-circa-1859 .

It would be many more years before food writers, critics and journalists would hold the power to build reverence with the public regarding a fantastic meal, or humiliate and destroy a restaurant over a series of poor, inedible ones. Reviewers, in order to stay balanced and unbiased in their reviews, would don elaborate disguises in order to eat like everyone else-hopefully without special treatments or discovery.

A reviewer has the responsibility to describe the restaurant experience from the coat check person to the waiter who folds your napkin when you stand up. Each person who works in a restaurant is worthy of mention and should be as important a character as the head chef and the Maitre d’. They all play a part in this specific kind of theatre. It’s show time and I want to read the reviews. I want to be driven to dine at that restaurant, or steer well clear!

In this case of Copeland, I should have dug, “a bit deeper.” to find why this restaurant was mostly empty on a Saturday night.

Food writing and more serious food journalism exemplifies the reasoning that someone is interested in letting their readers know that there is a restaurant worthy of their visit, or a simply a mention for their shared imagination. Prior to 1859, no one had done this in the New York Times. Reflecting on the retirement of Frank Bruni as the Times’s restaurant critic, I wonder what our fascination is with the meals people are eating? Do we really care if the food is good or not? Some obviously do, otherwise we would have never had a man like Frank Bruni filling our stomachs and minds with his well chosen and satisfyingly delicious words describing the great, the good and not so good, restaurants in New York City.

I found with Copeland at the Westin Hotel that one reviewer’s (in this case not Frank Bruni’s) “Very Good” is another reviewer’s “needs much more work.” As a food journalist, I find myself influenced by the writing in New York Magazine’s Grub Street as much as I am with our local (to our town) foodie blogs in the New Jersey  Star Ledger restaurant review forum on NJ-Online. The local cognoscenti oozed over Copeland and their talented young chef. I wanted to ooze over him as well.

Although I enjoyed, over my past four or five visits, the “best burger in NJ” (a maybe on that one) at the bar, that wasn’t why I wanted to dine there. The reason was pretty clear at that time. I wanted to be influenced by a chef with a clear vision and purpose in his kitchen. I wanted to learn something from this “Very Good” review and be moved into that seemingly otherworldly place that restaurants like Nicholas in Middletown, NJ and Serenade in Chatham, NJ, hold in my stomach.

The immediacy and  power of the Internet as witnessed by Gary Vaynerchuk with his critically acclaimed success of the Wine Library and its golden egg, the eCommerce operations, exemplifies the explosion of eCommerce as a new sales medium, a new language if you will. Blogs from traditional and therefore serious media sources such as the Times,contain many valuable lessons for the restaurateur, if they would only take the time to read them and hopefully act upon this information.

The restaurant owner must re-train his mind to scope out this new channel of communication…To pay attention to the power of the media…To read what the media has to say- to guide the restaurant’s success or failure..As Marshall McLuhan says, the Media is the Message.

To grow the a business or fail takes careful attention on both accords. In order to succeed, every meal in a restaurant that calls itself “Very Good” must reflect the love, the passion and that specific sense of attention that the restaurateur took on when they opened the doors. Any less is unacceptable and only perpetuates the myth that good reviews make the restaurant and assure its success. Success is earned by careful consistency, rather than what was perceived as being assured because of a framed review placed conspicuously on a wall in the foyer.

It’s just not happening at Copeland  right now. That’s too bad. It’s a nice room even with the sports on the television monitors.

My take away here is: Cook well, serve good bread and teach your staff to smile. Success will follow.

photo-12

September 4, 2009 Consider the Orchid and the Flying Pig by Lauren B. Davis

September 4, 2009

Consider the Orchid and the Flying Pig

For the past ten years or so, I have been tortured by orchids. By this I mean, periodically, in a fit of optimism, I will buy an orchid, drawn to not only the impossible beauty of the flower but also to a certain quality of stillness that orchids have. Nothing terribly exotic, just Phalaenopsis, which is the most popular orchid because they’re supposed to be easiest to grow, and the flowers can last up to two months. I have them in pink, and also white, which is probably my favorite.

Phalaenopsis, also known as Moth Orchid

Phalaenopsis, also known as Moth Orchid, because, well, you can see why.

I love the way they hover in the air, impossibly lush and delicate, the blossoms absurdly out of proportion to their delicate stems. They seem a miracle of stillness to me, and of balance. These are two states of being for which I yearn, and so the orchid is in many ways a symbol of my own longing.Sumi-e, as ink and wash painting is called in Japanese, is a type of brush painting where only black ink — the same as used in East Asian calligraphy — is used, in various concentrations. In this tradition the orchid has special meaning. The practice of this art form, much like iconography in Christianity, is considered a spiritual journey and the practitioners aim to capture the spirit of an element of the natural world, rather than its mere physical aspects. The orchid is considered one of the “Four Gentlemen,” which along with bamboo, plum blossom and chrysanthemum, make up the four seasons. The following is taken from “The Arts of Sumi-e”:

orchid

Orchid represents Spring, a happy spirit, the symbol of grace reflecting the ultimate feminine virtues. The orchid is considered the Mother of Brush Painting. The beauty and grace of the orchid are fragile in form, with no violent tendencies, its fragrance is never overpowering. The wild orchid grows in what is considered the most inspirational of all places, where the mountain meets the water or where yin meets yang. The orchid stands at the gateway of Spring inviting everyone to join in the celebration of life. (You can visit their website, here, to read about the philosophy behind the other flowers.)

I used to read articles on orchids, and talk to friends who have orchids. I used to put down humidity trays, and use orchid food, and soak them in the sink for an hour or so every week and do all the sort of things orchids are supposed to like.

And yet still, their leaves went flabby and yellow, they withered, they turned a most unhealthy shade of gray, and eventually they simply (metaphorically) threw themselves out of their pots and died. I have become, if not used to this cycle, at least resigned to it. Things live and things die. Such is life. Now I do very little to cosset my orchids. I water ‘em once a week and leave ‘em alone.

So, you will imagine my surprise and delight when I walked into the breakfast room yesterday morning and discovered one of my plants had sprouted, seemingly overnight, a long stem on which two buds are clearly evident!

"

Now, it may not look like much to you, but to me it’s a, well, it’s a bloomin’ miracle. But, looking closely, for you are paying rapt attention, I’m sure, you may notice a strange figure at the left of the photo. What is that? Let’s look closer…

Flying pig. Obviously.

Flying pig. Obviously.

Egads. A flying pig. Well, pondering that, it seems utterly fitting, because up until yesterday morning I was convinced that my orchid would bloom again only when and if pigs flew. And here we are.

And being a writer, of course I take that as metaphor, and being a person

  1. who tries to deepen my relationship with the sacred and
  2. who believes the sacred speaks to us through the world in its majestic and messy complexity, which is in turn a metaphor for the mind of The Ineffable (in other words God’s language is metaphor and everything in creation is a metaphor)…

…my mind turns to broader possibilities.

I mean, this thing sneaked up on me. I had given up hope. Resigned myself to yet another few months of droopy green leaves and then the sad moment when common sense dictates I toss the poor decaying remains in the trash. I was doing nothing, aside from the most rudimentary of maintenance. I gave the plant water. I kept my house comfortable. The sun shined without my help… and yet, behold, the blossom cometh.

Now, that’s an act of grace, a gift, given without merit. I am a person prone to trying to control things, and like many North Americans I often fall into the trap of thinking that if I do all the right things — exercise enough, wear my seatbelt, don’t smoke, work hard enough, nourish the right contacts in my chosen field — all the right things will happen and none (few) of the bad. Of course, that’s utter nonsense. Bad things happen all the time and, in a year like this one just past, with alarming frequency.

(A digression — I sometimes say that time exists so that things don’t all happen at once, and space exists so that they don’t all happen to YOU. Sometimes, it seems this natural order law goes spectacularly haywire, doesn’t it?)

And yet here, without any of what I am convinced are my invaluable contributions, that which I had long given up hope of ever happening, has happened. Grace. Just like that.

I can’t help but wonder what else might happen if I just gave in and stopped trying so hard to control everything, to make everything happen as I wish. By concentrating so much on what I want, rather than what is around me at this very moment, how many metaphorical miracles am I missing?

I find this small green shoot entirely humbling somehow, and sublimely hopeful. I can’t help but wonder if this is a small sign that perhaps, just perhaps, if I trust a little more, and strain a little less, that this year might bring more unexpected, and doubtless undeserved, beautiful surprises? It may be all wishful thinking of course, and self-delusion, but what would it hurt to believe, or at least act as if I believed, that this was a sign I am entering into a period of grace. In fact, why don’t we all act as if that’s true? Why don’t we act as if we see kindness and mercy and joy everywhere, and respond accordingly? What if we let ourselves, as C.S. Lewis said, be surprised by joy, just as I am joyfully surprised by this tiny orchid bud?

For more of Lauren B. Davis’s writing, please visit Lauren’s blog: View From the Library Window, or her website.

Lauren B. Davis is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, The Radiant City, (HarperCollins Canada 2005) a finalist for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize; and The Stubborn Season (Harper Collins Canada, 2002), chosen for the Robert Adams Lecture Series; as well as two collections short stories, An Unrehearsed Desire (Exile Editions, 2008) and Rat Medicine & Other Unlikely Curatives (Mosaic Press, 2000).  Her short fiction has also been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards and she is the recipient of two Mid-Career Writer Sustaining grants from the Canadian Council for the Arts – 2000 and 2006. Lauren is a mentor with the Humber College School for Writers, Toronto, and Writer-in-Residence at Trinity Church, Princeton.

Copyright 2009 Lauren B. Davis For permissions: laurenbdavis.iCopyright.com

September 2, 2009 Hats Off to Sheila Lukins - 1942-2009 - Creator of the Silver Palate Cookbook

September 2, 2009

Hats off to Sheila Lukins, the Silver Palate,
and the Invention of the Foodie in Me

Bobrow - Silver Palate Cookbook

There was a touch of Fall in the air this morning that put me in the mindset of a time nearly 30 years ago when I found myself much more immature from a culinary standpoint. The time was the mid 80′s and I worked a summer as an engineer for WNET-13 in New York. City I lived in a five story walk-up studio apartment on West 74th Street just off of Central Park West. This area, thick with shops, was a culinary wasteland containing mostly 1970’s era pickup bars, mostly forgettable “continental” cuisine and “fast”, yet of uncertain quality, take-out. My kitchen at the time was a 2-burner gas stove that seemed never to work on Wednesdays.

Wednesday was food day in NYC and it was my day off. My job as a television engineer was from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., certainly not normal hours for most people, but to those in TV, these were quite normal, indeed. I often slept all day and worked all night. To have a day off during the mid-week was welcome and the only day that I could have a normal life-and cook in my own kitchen! The food that I consumed (as little as I did eat),  was mostly from the corner deli,  and as I remember, not a grand palace of culinary pleasures. The occasional late night trip down to Chinatown for a plate of greasy duck noodles only further scared my stomach into mediocrity.

On one of my neighborhood walks I stumbled upon a sliver of a take-out place. This brightly lit store all white tile and gleaming trim, bursting at the seams with beautiful-looking and tasting food displayed on huge platters and garnished with fresh (not dried) herbs, contained the impetus for what would become the basis of a new medium, fresh, creative cooking, not a common practice in New York City.

Here was a shop that had all the ingredients I needed to create a gourmet meal for 2 or 200, or to bring one home:  from drink mixes to trays of spinach pie brimming with feta cheese and glistening with perfectly rolled and crispy phyllo dough.

In this miniscule space the two founders of the Silver Palate, Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso, would revolutionize the art of prepared, delicious foods and shake the very foundations of the home-catering world. Lukins and Rosso started this business in 1977,  and with their energy and talent revolutionized the cooking world in ways that Julia Child had done nearly 20 years prior.

Born in Philadelphia, Lukins got her education in the fine arts, graduating from New York University with a degree in Art Education. But in the 1970s, after she had spent some time at the Cordon Bleu in London and had worked with chefs in France. When she returned the New York, she started a catering business. In 1977, she co-founded The Silver Palate, a shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that introduced people to flavors from places such as Greece, Turkey and Morocco.

In 1982, “The Silver Palate Cookbook” was released, one of a number of cookbooks Lukins would work on, including “All Around the World Cookbook” and “The New Basics Cookbook.” Her books have sold several million copies.

Lukins also was the food editor at Parade magazine. She was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America in 1992. She sold her interest in The Silver Palate in 1988, and the store was closed in 1993.

The founders of the Silver Palate focused their abundant energy not only catering to the best and brightest, they had a similarly humble beginning in their own store.  At only about 165 square feet, the space was much smaller than most shops in the neighborhood.  As I recall, it was crammed to the rafters with so many beautifully prepared “gourmet to go” dishes, I’d never seen anything quite like it, nor had most New Yorkers.  Picking the best meals in this future temple of gastronomy would continue to inspire and teach through the palate’s and the stomachs of many thousands of customers and cookbook readers.

What these newly invented “foodies” would learn was that there was life beyond the classics.  Who could forget the endless parties where caterers served inedible, desiccated “Beef Wellington” topped with bland mushroom sauces and dehydrated frozen and re-heated Shrimp Scampi smothered in an uncertain, gloppy yellowish garlic sauce?  The Silver Palate added a spark to the dinner table with fresh ingredients and style.

With this glorious history of the Silver Palate in mind, I drove down to Edgewater, NJ to prepare a salad and a chicken dish with ingredients drawn from the pages of The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Mitsuwa, the Japanese Super Market in Edgewater, NJ is such a place for all the correct ingredients and quite a few more. This riverfront supermarket dwarfs everything in the neighborhood. Within, the selection would have made the founders of the Silver Palate blush in admiration. The beef selection alone had all the trappings of a movie set-rather than a basic supermarket meat counter. The display was brimming with products starting with the expensive Wagu and the really expensive Kobe and ending with Chairman’s Special Select Prime which was the most expensive.

Originally, I came for just a few simple ingredients… Wild Sea Scallops and sake, Japanese Cucumbers and organic Chicken.  The Silver Palate store on Columbus Avenue championed simple ingredients and cooking techniques that would be commonplace in the future. Once I discovered the Silver Palate store, no picnic basket for lunch in Central Park was without some selection of their fare, even if it was only a humble-yet delicious-brownie. The ever-changing menu of well-prepared, beautiful  and delicious country foods kept me from the culinary obscurity of this era.

I fondly remember the Raspberry Vinaigrette dressing – there was scarcely a salad that this potion didn’t touch. The Chicken Marbella dish showed up on many a party menu form Montauk Point to Manhattan. Many cooks might have found themselves between changing culinary styles of this era. They embraced the Silver Palate techniques and found that this food brought them future success in their own catering careers.

My own culinary career was influenced by the simplicity and the carefree nature that well prepared, intelligently thought-of foods can bring to the table. Two of these favored recipes I have adapted contains ingredients that I purchased at Mitsuwa. Through food, we can keep the memories and spirits alive from those who aren’t with us any longer. We still have The Silver Palate Cookbook to enjoy and share.

With all credit to The Silver Palate Cookbook and especially Sheila Lukins for bring us a new way of cooking and living life through our stomachs.

Minty Cucumber Salad
4 large English cucumbers, peeled, halved and seeded
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Grated rind of one orange, reserve juice for dressing
½ cup Spanish olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
3-tsb sugar “In the Raw”
Mix the oil, vinegar, sugar, and orange rind and orange juice in the bottom of a large bowl. Cut cucumber halves crosswise into crescents. Mix well the cucumbers, dressing, parsley and mint in the bowl. Let salad refrigerate for at least 4 hours and toss again before serving very cold. Makes 8 to 10 portions.

Chicken Marbella

16 pieces, 10 or more portions
This was the first main-course dish to be offered at The Silver Palate shop, and the distinctive colors and flavors of the prunes, olives, and capers have kept it a favorite for years. It’s good hot or at room temperature.

The overnight marination is essential to the moistness of the finished product: The chicken keeps and even improves over several days of refrigeration; it
travels well and makes excellent picnic fare for picnic in the park.

INGREDIENTS
• 1⁄2 cup Spanish Olive Oil
• 1⁄2 cup red wine vinegar
• 1 cup pitted prunes
• 1⁄2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
• 1⁄2 cup capers with a bit of juice
• 6 bay leaves
• 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed
• 1/4-cup fresh oregano finely chopped
• Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 4 organic chickens (2 1⁄2 pounds each), cut into eighths
• 1-cup brown sugar
• 1-cup dry white wine or Japanese dry Mirin
• 1⁄4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or fresh cilantro, finely chopped
DIRECTIONS

1. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper in a large glazed ceramic or stainless steel bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the brown sugar and pour the white wine around them.
4. Bake, basting frequently with the pan juices, until the thigh pieces yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juice when pricked with a fork, 50 minutes to 1 hour.
5. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with the fresh parsley or cilantro.

Note: To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temperature in the cooking juices before transferring the pieces to a serving platter. If the chicken has been covered and refrigerated, reheat it in the juices, and then allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Spoon some of the reserved juice over the chicken. Garnish with fresh cilantro or Italian Parsley.

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

 

August 2009
August 25, 2009 The Story of Anshu – Delhi, India by Joy Stocke and Merrie Allison

August 25, 2009

The Story of Anshu – Delhi, India

(Editor’s Note: Merrie Allison is a fashion designer for the Free People division of Urban Outfitters.  She is currently based in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi. For twenty years, she has been traveling to India, working with small collectives and factories to make one-of-a kind clothing.  She has seen firsthand the tremendous growth of the Indian economy and also the tremendous poverty of much of its population.  Many children in the lower classes do not attend school.  Instead, they begin working as soon as they can speak full sentences. One of them is Anshu.)

Here is what Merrie writes;

Do you remember the mali (gardener) at K’s  old office?  The mali has two sons, one of whom is named Anshu.  K loves him because he is so smart…he hangs around the office and salutes k every morning like the guard does.

Anshu would never have a chance in life, (uneducated parents lead to even worse-off kids) but K found an English-speaking school and now Anshu is enrolled.  He comes to the office after class and I quizz him on his ABCs and color names.

We don’t know if he will stick with it over the years, but we’re trying.

 

Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review.   Merrie Allison works for Free People.

August 19, 2009 “Wild Cocktails” The Heirloom Tomato Bloody Mary by Warren Bobrow

August 19, 2009

Wild Cocktails – The Heirloom Tomato Bloody Mary

by Warren Bobrow

The essence of the late Summer farm comes in a compact little package.  The heirloom tomato is sometimes ugly to look at but delicious to eat. They may be speckled like a chicken egg, or even the color of the deepest purple eggplant. Sometimes they are covered in bumps and creases.  When crushed and strained through a fine cheesecloth, these flavors combine to become the new taste of the late Summer.

Greetings to the heirloom tomato: White Bloody Mary.

In a non-reactive stainless-steel bowl, cut several varieties of heirloom tomatoes in half, then remove the seeds.  Roughly chop and then mix the pulp together with a dash of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, then add a good scraping of fresh horseradish. If you enjoy hot and spicy drinks, combine the ingredients of your choice at this time. Add a bit of both pureed cucumber and if desired, some celery. This mixture will resemble a crude Gazpacho soup.

Add the juice of 4 limes.  Mix well to combine and let the mixture sit in a cool place for about 30 minutes or if desired, overnight to meld the flavors.

Strain the tomato mixture through a cheesecloth into a glass container. Most of the color from the heirloom tomatoes will have stuck to the cheesecloth.   Add a several shots of vodka to a tall glass filled with hand cracked ice. Top off with some of the strained liquids from the heirloom tomatoes to taste.  If desired, add a tablespoon of the remaining tomato pulp for a bit of color and mystery.

Finish the cocktail by adding several different thin slices of heirloom tomatoes for garnish.

Prepare to meet the new classic “end of the summer cocktail.”

tomato

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Warren Bobrow graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Film, concentrating in Visual Thinking. He worked for many years in the corporate world.  Warren grew up on a farm in Morristown, NJ.   His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large. A wine expert, he can be found at Coolvines in Westfield, New Jersey.

August 19, 2009 The Secret Life of a Cheesecake by Warren Bobrow

August 19, 2009

The Secret Life of a Cheesecake (A Cheesecake with a secret)

It was turning out to be quite an event to find the best strawberries – Wegmans, Shop-Rite, Whole Foods, King’s-who would have the plumpest, the most beautiful, and most importantly, the best tasting?  They had to be sweet, yet tartly acidic, unblemished, organic strawberries. Evidently, not an easy thing to find.  Finally, after turning down tray after tray of sub-par strawberries-they were found.  They were to be the centerpiece of a beautiful creation. This was the secret life of a cheesecake.  A cheesecake that held a secret?

Not just any cheesecake, mind you. But a creation by Julie bakes made from lovingly assembled ingredients. These cheesecakes weigh about 5 pounds, they are that dense.  Julie’s cheesecake is made of Madagascar vanilla, cream cheese-only Philadelphia Cream Cheese will do – full fat sour cream, and a Nilla Wafer crust with melted sweet butter and freshly grated cinnamon.  To top it all off, a sweetened sour cream topping.   Julie says the Oreo cheesecake with its chocolate wafer crust and red cherry topping is her favorite, but the cheesecake topped with caramel and toasted pecans is a close second.

Julie had an order yesterday for espresso cheesecakes for Rallo’s Ristorante in Deal, NJ. This mocha flavored confection would be the perfect compliment for a short shot of the best espresso.

What is the secret?
No extra sugar needed.

Wine and Digestives pairings:
Classic CheesecakeMathilde Orange XO Cognac in a fine crystal brandy snifter
Cherry CheesecakeTuthilltown Rye Whiskey: straight up in an unwashed glass
Espresso CheesecakeIcewine of Pinot Noir from Austria in the “correct” glass for ice-wine from Riedel
Oreo CheesecakePedro Ximenez Sherry, served slightly chilled in a short “grapefruit juice” glass

Many of these above-mentioned liquors available, internationally, nationally and locally in New Jersey.

Julie bakes can be reached at: 908.489.0779 for the classics and special orders, and at jools6454@aol.com.

Warren Bobrow graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Film, concentrating in Visual Thinking. He worked for many years in the corporate world. Warren grew up on a working farm in Morristown, NJ.   His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large. A wine expert, he can be found at Coolvines in Westfield, New Jersey.

 

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

August 17, 2009 The Tape Recorder by Scott Smallwood

August 17, 2009

The Tape Recorder

tape recorder

I often credit my father for initiating the love I have for sound, and for my orientation towards recording sound in particular. When I was about 10 years old, my father gave me one of the best gifts I have ever received: a portable cassette recorder. I can still remember the intense excitement during the days leading up to receiving it, as I was told in advance that I would be getting it for my birthday. I can remember smells, what the temperature was like, and specific details about the trail I took through the woods during my walk home that day in Leadville, Colorado. So much of that day is emblazoned in my memory.

But this was not actually my first sound recorder. In fact, I had been given a tape recorder much earlier, sometime during my second or third grade year. It’s hazy, but I recall getting a small, compact reel to reel tape recorder, and being completely fascinated by it. I remember trying so hard to do something interesting with it, and ultimately getting frustrated by it, and eventually abandoning it to a shelf where it eventually became a product in a yard sale, most likely.

Recently, my father again presented me with a gift: a small, compact reel to reel tape recorder. And although it is certainly possible that I am making this up in my mind, I am relatively certain that it is the same model of tape recorder I played with all of those years ago, before I began the serious work of making collage tapes, mix tapes, and puppet show soundtracks with my trusty cassette recorder.

The recorder is a Mayfair 1602, produced in the 1960s. It’s a compact machine that contains 3″ plastic reels for 1/4″ tape. It came in its original box, with two eroding size C batteries still sitting upright in their foam cutouts. The reel of tape threaded onto the machine is most likely the original tape that came with the machine when it was purchased, as it doesn’t appear to gotten much use. It was perhaps received enthusiastically and then promptly placed on a shelf after the initial novelty wore off, just like I did with mine when I was 7 or 8.

The reason: these early consumer machines were cheap, and indeed were mostly passed off as novelty items. John C. Pelham has a nice collection of small recorders from this era, and on his site, he points out that most of the machines in his collection seem to have been used once and then forgotten about. He states:

These old tape recorders almost always come with a reel of tape. This reel is usually the one that came with the recorder when it was new and it has usually been recorded only once. The recordings are often of children, parents, or grandparents […] Generally unsuitable for recording music, they were used once and then put away and forgotten, only to be found decades later by family members or antique dealers preparing for estate sales. I find the recordings left on the tapes to be both entertaining and poignant.

I love the idea of these recorders being mini unintended time-capsules of sorts, reflecting a moment of excitement and bewilderment at the prospect of recording sound, like the ohs and ahs I remember experiencing when I turned on my first computer.

And so, the question is, what’s on the reel of tape? My father and I listened to it together and both had to laugh out loud. The recording is a segment of a radio broadcast from long ago. The announcer can clearly be heard identifying the station as WBRR in Leadville, Colorado, the town were I grew up, and where I learned to love my own tape recorder back in the 1970s. What a fun coincidence!

Here’s what the recording sounds like, tape recorder mechanical whir and all.

Scott Smallwood is a sound artist and composer whose music draws inspiration from the soundscape around him. His work is founded on a practice of listening, field recording, and improvisation. He currently teaches music composition, computer music, and improvisation at the University of Alberta.

August 14, 2009 Lost and Found in the Garden- Woodstock 1969 – Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix, and Me by Bruno Clarke

August 14, 2009

Lost and Found in the Garden- Woodstock 1969 – Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix, and Me

Bruno Clarke, Fifth from Right, Head Tilted

Bruno Clarke, Fifth from Right, Head Tilted

by Bruno Clarke

Nineteen in the summer after my freshman year at Columbia, and I had stumbled into becoming the bass player for the newly-hatched musical act Sha-Na-Na (named after the chorus of the Silhouettes’ hit Get a Job).

Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang saw us play at Steve Paul’s Scene in New York City that June, extended us a late invitation to their upstate festival on Yasgur’s Farm, and placed us on the schedule for Sunday midnight as a brief chaser before Hendrix closed the show.

The three-month-old Sha did not yet have proper roadies, so my bud, Jocko, the drummer, and I, Bruno, the bass player, were delegated to drive the rental van with our minimal amps, Fender Rhodes keyboard, guitars, and drumkit, up to the gig.

We left Manhattan late that Friday morning for a motel somewhere in Bethel, from which the bona fide roadies for the big weekend bands would move their stuff into the site. Still miles away from that rendezvous point we began to see the temporarily abandoned cars of the festival-goers along the side of the highway.

The following morning our rental van joined a long roadie caravan of U-Haul and Ryder trucks bearing gear to Woodstock. Police cars with flashing lights led our way and followed behind. We drove interminable miles left and right, up and down country roads, maneuvering a way into the site that wasn’t already blocked by traffic jams and human throngs.

Somewhat less than a mile from the stage our dirt farm road was still free of stalled cars but overrun on all sides with happy hippies pressing forward to Yasgur’s farm. The roadie caravan kept inching forward while bodies leaped onto the hoods and hung off the sides and rears of the trucks. After maybe twenty or thirty minutes of merger with this slow crawl of humanity, around 11:00 a.m. we came over the rim of a hill and the whole stupendous massive scene opened up.

Directly downhill was the huge stage; leading off to the left, elevated over a chain-link fence, was a footbridge running between stage right and the backstage performers’ tent; and off to the right and around to the horizon was the great hill with its human tsunami fully assembled and rumbling with the energy coming out of it and off the stage with its humongous speaker towers thrust out like boxers’ upraised fists into the sea of people.

All this preliminary practical activity of mine remains fairly distinct in memory. Recollections of my life for the next two days now become a bit, shall we say, purple hazy, as I merged into my surroundings.

For me the fabulous thing was that, by some odd miracle, I had a performer’s pass. I could hang out under the backstage tent, where food and drink were laid out at all hours and I could get out of the rain as necessary. But mainly I haunted the side of the stage for hours digging the spectacle and the acts. And then, I could pass into the multitude and explore the grounds, walk up to the hilltop installations, past the Hog Farm busses, over to the skinny-dipping ponds, and back down and through the backstage gate.

Saturday night Jocko and I and a hippie we’d met with a generous stash tripped up through the crowd. High on the hilltop we grooved through that all-night scene, all the way to Jefferson Airplane’s 8:00 a.m. set of “morning maniac music.”

By Sunday night Sha-Na-Na was assembled backstage waiting to do our half-hour set. But things were running late, and sometime after midnight, the Butterfield Blues Band showed up. They were not on the bill, but hey, it’s groovy, you guys go right ahead in front of these Columbia University geeks and play for four hours, not a problem.

When the sun went down the hill was half a million strong, when the sun came up on Monday morning it was half empty: the indefatigable Butterfield Blues Band had driven them away, was what I figured.

Suddenly someone was shaking my shoulder where I had crawled off and fallen asleep leant against some amp with my legs crossed. “Hey, get up, we’re going on.”

An adrenalin surge pushed me upright and then I collapsed back to the stage floor–my legs were still asleep. I made it through our 8:00 a.m. set half-dead and fighting to maintain balance. But our luck held: the cameras were still rolling, and a year later the Woodstock movie placed us right in the middle of the action, without cutaway shots, as if we had actually rocked the crowd at its height. In fact, we played to the same melancholy bedraggled sodden hillside you see in the movie. When our first set was done, Jimi was waiting in the office we used for a dressing room, and flashed us his beautiful smile. He shook hands all around and, shaking mine, uttered the personal compliment I’ve tried to live by ever since: “You got soul, man.”

Clarke - Lost and Found in the Garden , Woodstock 1969

A half hour later Hendrix closed the show.

Dr. Bruce “Bruno” Clarke has worked for two decades in the critical field of literature and science. He specializes in literature and science from the 19th century to the present, with special interests in systems theory and narrative theory. His book, Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems was published in 2008 by Fordham University Press. With co-editor, Manuela Rossini, he is preparing the Routledge Companion to Literature and Science for a June 2010 release.

August 12, 2009 American Summer II- Fried Dough on the Boardwalk in Pt. Pleasant, NJ by Warren Bobrow

August 12, 2009

American Summer II: Fried Dough and You On the Boardwalk in Pt. Pleasant, New Jersey

(With many apologies to Fast Food Nation)

Photo: Warren Bobrow

Photo: Warren Bobrow

I smell hot fat, the air stinks of it… The very second the ocean air hits the Amusement Pier in Pt. Pleasant, it’s immediately saturated with tiny spots, airborne particles of cooking oils. The mist surrounds me and stains my glasses in a warm haze. The voices of children come into earshot, now Carney Barkers calling out yellow, green, blue, orange and red! -Games of Chance of all kinds-spend your money for something, anything…Foot-long Mystery Meat Hot-Dogs, only 5 Bucks apiece! “Mustard over there.” Soda dyed bright orange, lemon yellow and tongue-staining pink. Green Cotton Candy coats a stick made of cardboard.

Teenagers line up for a game of skee-ball beneath the glaring signage that runs the length of the boardwalk. We stroll past neon lights that shout: Clams on the half shell! Calzone! Pizza! Shrimp Cocktails, five (miniature) shrimp for 10 bucks, lemons 10 cents extra! Ice Cream!

Not a healthy snack is to be found, it’s all a manufactured image, with no apparent nutritional value. Food here is not slow, it is moving at 1000 miles per hour.

As it turned out the day’s first bit of fun, for me anyway, is a wad of chewing gum spit out onto the boardwalk. A chemically engineered mass of already chewed, blue bubblegum is now stuck to the soles of my brand-new flip-flops and I can smell the sweet fake blueberry aroma. The lump of a stretchy goo is rapidly turning green, suddenly blue again, then gray, now black, still sticking to my sandal AND the boardwalk planks. I scrape my foot across the deck in a desperate attempt to free myself from its tenacious grip.

I can taste and hear the throbbing of the exhaust fans situated over fryolators. The physical essence of frothing, hissing, boiling-hot, airborne liquid grease and artery-clogging cholesterol-laden vapors fills the air. Over there, a small country’s worth of caramelized bread is boiling away in hot fat. The scent soaks into my skin and my shirt is now a crude sponge for hot grease. Behind the counter an an unsmiling, older woman mechanically scoops dough from a gigantic stainless steel bowl, over and over again. Unceremoniously she sloshes baseball-sized spoonfuls of dough – lard and bleached flour – into the seething oil, a baseball of foaming dough.

A few orders of these hastily manufactured puff balls can be akin to living on a diet consisting solely of family-sized bags of fried pork rinds and platters of bacon fat, cream gravy-smothered hunks of Chicken Fried Steak. The smell surrounds the boardwalk as if the ventilation fans are blowing toward, instead of away from, the boardwalk, all day, all night in fluorescent-lit, fantasy-driven smears…Powdered sugar caramelizes meltingly on the transfat-soaked, white, bleached bread dough served at 500 degrees making the sugar liquid.

The gathering crowds consume bags of this wicked, but enticing confection and more are ordered. I order one myself and bite into crisp, bland dough made palatable  – almost – by a cloying, sugary sweetness.  A New Orleans beignet this is not.

Welcome to  FAST FOOD Summer in Pt. Pleasant, NJ.

bobrow-fried-dough-2

Warren Bobrow graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Film, concentrating in Visual Thinking. He worked for many years in the corporate world.  Warren grew up on a working  farm in Morristown, NJ.   His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large. A wine expert, he can be found at Coolvines in Westfield, New Jersey.

August 8, 2009 Waiting, Sometimes Patiently by Lauren B. Davis

August 8, 2009

WAITING, SOMETIMES PATIENTLY…

The author waiting, photo by Ron Davis

The author, waiting
(photo by Ron Davis)

If you’re anything like me, you spend a good deal of your life waiting, watching, squinting your eyes toward the horizon, pacing, jingling the coins in your pocket, taping your foot, drumming your fingernails on the tabletop, wondering if maybe, just maybe that speck out there is the thing you’ve been dreaming of, coming closer at last. A new job? A lover? As a writer, what I’m looking for most of the time out there on the great wild blue, is inspiration. As a person in recovery from alcoholism, what I’m looking for is peace of mind.

If you’re anything like me, you’re not terribly patient. Few of us practice the virtue of patience these days. We are programed by emails and texts and twitters and phone calls and so forth to view the world as a fast-paced swirl of one damn urgent thing after the other. We live outside the natural rhythms of the earth, for the most part, and fear opportunities might be missed if we spend the afternoon lying on our backs in the meadow, watching the clouds saunter by.

When I was about ten days sober (some 14 years ago), I wanted to have not the ten days sobriety I’d earned, but the ten years sobriety I thought would solve all my problems, and I wanted it NOW. I think most recovering drunks are like that. I heard a very funny story from a fellow recently who talked about how after 30 days sobriety he called up his sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous and said, “Thanks for all the help, but you don’t have to worry about me any more. I’ve read the book and I get it. I’m good.” He said he was shocked to see all those poor people who had to go to meetings for 5 years, or 10 years, or even more. Poor things, they just couldn’t get it. Of course, the fellow got drunk again, and then came back to his sponsor, a wiser, humbler man, and said he was ready to learn the program anew, one day at a time, hopefully for the rest of his life.

Getting impatient, rushing the process, just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for people trying to stay away from alcohol and drugs, and it doesn’t work for writers. I have found that neither inspiration nor peace of mind come when I’m straining so hard. That’s the strange paradox. These things come to me when I let go, when I release my death-grip on its throat, when I stop fighting to have things other than the way they are.

I spent a great deal of time this past week hunkered, sweating, over my computer keyboard, trying to come up with a way to get into a new novel. I tried this and that, and wrote words, and made character sketches and so forth, all with limited success. And then two mornings ago when I was in the shower washing my hair an idea just popped into my head. Plink. Just like that. And suddenly I knew how to approach the opening scene, and how to do so in such a way that it will (hopefully) resonate throughout the rest of the novel. Huh. Funny how many inspirations I get in the shower.

The obvious possibility is, however, that had I not done all that hunkering, sweating and writing over the past week, my subconscious (or my soul, or my muse, or God, or the creation fairies, or whatever else you like to call it), might not have had the materials with which to fashion the inspiration that plinked into my head while I massaged lavender suds in my hair.

That’s true of sobriety as well. In AA they talk about having had a spiritual awakening as a result of doing the 12 steps. Not before doing the 12 steps. That does trip some folks up.

And there’s that paradox again. Don’t grip, don’t fight, don’t strain, but at the same time, you do need to do these other things, these simple things.

For me, writing is a form of spiritual practice, in which I connect to something greater than myself (again, call it the subconscious if you will, or the soul, or the Ineffable, or Creation, or simply one’s inspired self), learn to listen, learn to sit still, learn to be a little patient, and perhaps most importantly, learn to trust… inspiration will come, if I show up, and do the next right thing. And that is the same for sobriety. I will remain sober today, if I show up, and do the next right thing.

The other component is that sometimes you just have to do things in order. I have a friend who is working the 7th step in Alcoholics Anonymous, which is that you humbly ask your personal Higher Power to remove your defects of character. She was in tears, freaking out because she still had these defects of character. A bit dramatic really, since the step doesn’t say you have the defects removed here — only that you ask for their removal. Huh. Perhaps by doing the rest of the steps, your defects of character – your intolerance, your egocentricity, your selfishness, your darn impatience etc., will slowly (or maybe instantly, I don’t think you should ever deny the possibility of the miraculous) dissolve, under the cool waters of kind deeds, thoughtfulness and consideration of others.

When I sit down and decide to write a book it doesn’t magically appear — I still have to do the work, and the work generally takes years. So be it. I write books. It’s what I do and much of what I am, since it is the way in which I experience the world. So be it. I’m an alcoholic in recovery. It’s much of what I am, and daily sobriety is what I do since it is the way I stay alive, and make myself useful in the world.

Not so bad, really, especially with a little patience, and perhaps a little humor.

blog waiting

Lauren B. Davis is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, The Radiant City, (HarperCollins Canada 2005) a finalist for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize; and The Stubborn Season (Harper Collins Canada, 2002), chosen for the Robert Adams Lecture Series; as well as two collections short stories, An Unrehearsed Desire (Exile Editions, 2008) and Rat Medicine & Other Unlikely Curatives (Mosaic Press, 2000).  Her short fiction has also been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards and she is the recipient of two Mid-Career Writer Sustaining grants from the Canadian Council for the Arts – 2000 and 2006. Lauren is a mentor with the Humber College School for Writers, Toronto, and Writer-in-Residence at Trinity Church, Princeton.

August 5, 2009 Wine and Food for the Summer Grill by Warren Bobrow

August 5, 2009
Wine and Food for the Summer Grill
by Warren Bobrow

Photograph by Warren Bobrow

Photograph by Warren Bobrow

Photograph by Warren Bobrow

Photograph by Warren Bobrow

If you’ve ever wondered what to drink with what foods, here is a primer on summer grilled foods and the wines that go with them:

It’s turning into a lovely summer, albeit a wet and stormy one on the eastern seaboard/New Jersey-but I’ll take summer any day over the icy days of winter. Open windows, bed sheets dried to snappy crispness on the line outside instead of in the clothes dryer.

I’m getting hungry for food grilled on the barbeque… Anyone else feel this way?

Here is a list of some backyard-friendly grilled foods and some wines that complement them:

Grilled Vegetables in Phyllo Pastry. The Crunch of Phyllo Dough, snappy and hot out of the oven, and the creamy texture of grilled vegetables layered in melted fresh goat cheese makes for a crunchy sandwich. I suggest drinking a dry Vouvray with this dish. Why? The crisp texture and bright acidity of the Chenin Blanc grape, from which Vouvray is made, acts as a foil for the smoky flavor of grilled vegetable and caramelized goat cheese. We love the Chevreau Cuvee Silex dry Vouvray which costs about $ 20.

Hamburgers on the grill. Wait! STOP! Don’t just crack open a lager beer to go with your burger. Instead, seek a wine from Germany. The grape of choice is a red variety known as Dornfelder, the second most grown wine grape in Germany. One such wine, the Weingut Rapp Latitude 50 would be delicious with a hamburger. If you’re really ambitious, maybe you’ll freshly grind that hamburger patty yourself with ingredients composed of Beef Cheek, Brisket and Short Rib. Or throw some Pork Fatback in there for good measure. But who can forget the good ole’ American style Chuck Burger liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper right before grilling. Lift your glass of Dornfelder wine and celebrate! We enjoyed one from Weingut Rapp Latitute 50 Dornfelder. It costs about $ 15.

Grilled Salmon. Great food doesn’t get any easier than this:. Open your icebox and take out a tray or two of ice cubes. Add the cubes to a bucket filled 1/3 with water. Purchase a bottle or two of Pinot Noir from Oregon, perhaps an small producer bottling from Evening Land. This bottle shouldn’t cost more than $ 20 or so. We have a bottle of the Evening Land Celebration Gamey on ice right now!

Place the bottle in the bucket of ice and water. Let sit for about 30 minutes while you prepare a grill. Rub a filet of Salmon well with Kosher Salt, Pepper and fresh Thyme from your garden, if you have it. Dried thyme, will do quite well as a substitute, just soak the dried herbs in a bit of white wine to release the flavors. If you don’t have Thyme, please consider planting some in your garden. Thyme grows easily in most of the northern hemisphere and will come back year after year, giving your garden the scent of a Mediterranean summer.

Grill the salmon until just done and set aside in a warm place to “firm up” for about 5 minutes. Open that bottle, pour yourself a glass and dig in. Serve the salmon with cole slaw, potato salad and a sliced Kirby cucumber marinated in Mirin ( Sweet Japanese Rice Wine Vinegar).

Fried Chicken. Fried Chicken has a special place in my heart usually reserved for foods that speak of the southern United States. Not that fried foods only hale from the South, but I have had the very best fried chicken ever at Martha Lou’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina. Martha Lou would serve her fried chicken with a cup of sweet iced tea, but I serve mine with a wine from Australia, a “crowd pleaser” if you will.

To my palate, Aussie Marsanne and Viognier vinified in Stainless Steel (without any oak to color or taint the grape) is most pleasing to me. This wine is crisp, inviting, easy to drink and very inexpensive, with most types priced less than $ 16.

Watermelon. Wine with watermelon? Why not? I suggest a Vermentino from Sardinia in Italy. Grown in volcanic rock outcroppings, this lively and fresh tasting wine is not complicated to drink. Usually these wines are served with seafood, but why should you have them with watermelon? The almost melon-like flavors of the wine, coupled with the refreshing quality of the watermelon speaks volumes of what tastes great with many different types of food. Close your eyes and sip. Imagine sitting on your favorite island with the one you love, tucking into a bowl of iced watermelon gazpacho. Makes for a fun night! We drink this wine by the truckload in the summer. We’re drinking the Pala Stellato Vermentino and it costs only about $ 21.

Pork Ribs slow cooked on the grill. I love pork. Although it has surprised many people who know my Jewish birthright, I was born with a slice of bacon in my hand. Nothing says summer barbeque to me more than pork ribs, cut Chinese-Style (across the rib) from Hoeffner’s Prime Meats; Butcher Shop in Morristown, New Jersey. Steve and his brother Marty brine their pork in a proprietary 10 % brine solution for a few days until the pork has “given up its inner secrets” and yielded to a softer tooth. Then grilled in a simple marinate of Ginger, Soy, Garlic, Nam Pla (Vietnamese fish sauce) and a dash of Sweet Mirin (Japanese sweetened rice wine vinegar) for a sultry, dark finish. I marinate my ribs in this mixture overnight.

The accompanying wine should be something inky and rich, such as a CDR (Cotes du Rhone). The element of charred oak barrels coupled with the Mourvedre grape with a dollop of Syrah and a smaller dollop of Cinsault or Grenache make for a perfect grilled food wine. The flavors of dark in color, grade B maple syrup, the terroir of the earth, and dried leaves complement pork to a turn. Expect to pay no more than 10 or 15 bucks for a very delicious and most serviceable bottle. We enjoy the Domaine de la Buissonne which doesn’t cost much more than $ 12.

On the subject of ribs, I have found that beef short ribs, when grilled “low and slow” for about an hour, just off the fire (in this case over hard-wood coals in an ancient Weber Barbeque grill) can be every bit as pleasing as short ribs cooked in a braising liquid in a hot oven for hours. In fact, I prefer the flavor of short ribs on the grill, as they don’t dissolve into nothingness after a few hours. Plus, the smell of the char and smoke make for a lovely summer drink of wine. I’m getting thirsty just thinking about this combination. Which wine? Beef commands the use of Malbec from Argentina, or a Carmenere from Chile. These almost syrupy wines can be considered better for beef on the grill than the old (pricey) standby, Cabernet. And….they are very inexpensive. Try to find a decent Cabernet at this quality level-at this price? Good luck! Look for a wine called Simonassi. Their Malbec costs about $ 9.

Hot Dogs. Tofu Pups. What goes with hot dogs, or even Tofu pups? Let’s look at the components of a great hotdog. First the roll, I prefer a potato roll, lightly toasted so the bread remains soft and generous. The roll will soak up any juices that have oozed out of a perfectly cooked snappy hot dog. Grainy German-style mustard? Dijon? Regular yellow mustard? Ketchup? Heinz only of course. This would be excellent resting on a Hoeffner’s’ house-made beef, natural casing hot dog. Relish? Of course, made with nuggets of fresh local, sweet corn. And the wine? I might suggest a full-bodied Soave, made in the old style in lightly aged oak cask. The uncomplicated nature of Soave is a perfect foil to the snap and pop of a freshly grilled hot-dogs. Or Tofu Dogs for non-meat eaters. We love wines from the Veneto. This one is particularly delicious. It is called I Stefanini Il Selece. This wine costs about $ 13. This is low price to pay for something so delicious and versatile.

Rib Eye Steak. Say the words “Rib Eye Steak” and imagine charred bone and hot fat bursting with mineral beefy flavor, sizzling on a smoking hot, well-seasoned grill. Heat doesn’t even start to consider the flavor of aged prime beef on the grill. Again, seek the consult of an old-style butcher (Again, such as Hoeffner’s Prime Meats in Morristown, NJ) who ages their meats for a minimum of 28 days. If your butcher does not age his meats, find another butcher who does. What wine with Rib Eye? Think of charred flavors, sweet and smoky…crunchy almost on the tooth. My favorite wine with grilled Rib Eye is a red wine. California Zinfandel or a “Rhone Ranger” composed mostly of Mourvedre or Syrah. Red Zinfandel is similar to Primativo from Sicily. The Cali-Centric high bred of Old World and New World wine making techniques is perfect with grilled aged beef. Expect to pay about 15 dollars for a serviceable one. The aged beef may be expensive to the pocket, but the taste is worth it. We love the Dashe Zinfandel which costs about $ 15. Another delicious choice from Puglia in Italy is the Barrocco Primitivo. It costs about $ 11.

As a side-bar, White Zinfandel is not really wine, but it is a pure marketing concept. I suggest passing over that liquid fantasy, but drink in its stead, a fantastic lively Rose’ from Provence.

Grilled Chicken. the sweet tomato tang of barbeque sauce (your choice) is perfect with a Rose’. Grill the bird , which has been cut into quarters, over hardwood coals. Serve with sweet corn, fresh snipped steamed green beans and homemade carrot slaw. Expect to pay about a bit more for a wine that with its aroma and racy acidity will create lasting flavor memories all on its own. We love a Rose of Sancerre made with Pinot Noir produced by Roger Neveu. They cost about $ 32.

Chilean Sea Bass (currently not endangered) is all the rage at the local Whole Foods Market near us. This firm-fleshed fish stands up to smoke and fire extremely well, but you may want to cook it in a basket so that it doesn’t please the “grill gods” by falling through the grill grates into the hot coals. I suggest a firm, acidic-tropical fruit tinged, crisp, dry, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are refreshing and vinified only in Stainless Steel. These zesty wines carry through the flavors of grilled stone fruits and lip puckering lemon-cream candy. We pared the Sea Bass with the Box O’ Birds from New Zealand. It costs about $ 15.

Peaches on the grill with Vanilla Gelato. It’s peach season! Slice these stone fruits in half, sprinkle with sugar and a light shake of sea salt. Grill just off the heat in a grilling basket until the peaches are caramelized and their color takes on a brownish hue signifying juicy and sweet. Scoop some Vanilla Gelato into a dish and spoon the hot grilled fruits and a homemade shortbread cookie over the top. Garnish with fresh spearmint. Serve this with a “dessert in a glass” of Spanish Oloroso sherry. These “forgotten” dessert wines shouldn’t cost more than $ 10 or so dollars for a 1/2 bottle. There is more than enough for dessert, and they are delicious on their own, right out of the fridge. We tasted the El Maestro Sierra Oloroso 15 Anos Sherry, NV (Non-vintage) We recommend chilling to 45 or so degrees for the best flavor.

Many of the wines described in this article are available locally in New Jersey at: www.coolvines.com. Also at selected stores both nationally and internationally.

Warren Bobrow graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Film, concentrating in Visual Thinking. He worked for many years in the corporate world. Warren grew up on a working farm in Morristown, NJ. His column, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday on WRR@Large.   He is a wine expert and can be found at Coolvines in Westfield, New Jersey on Saturday afternoons. All wines in this article are available nationally and internationally.

August 3, 2009 American Summer – Obesity Stalks the Sussex County Fair by Warren Bobrow

August 3, 2009

American Summer: Obesity Stalks the Sussex County Fair

(Editor’s Note: On Sunday, August 2, in the New York Times Magazine, food writer Michael Pollan wrote about the decline in cooking in America and its connection to obesity. On Monday, Warren Bobrow went to the Sussex County Fair.)

Back in the chicken coop  the birds were preening themselves for the busy day ahead.  Ducks were feeling a bit neglected and the baby cows wanted just to go back to sleep.  Beyond the coops and pens,  a fair was going on somewhere through the muck left over from yesterday’s thunderstorms. Then I noticed not one, not two, but a whole gaggle of no, not geese, but people who were overweight or obese.

I counted over 50 stands selling fried items that were dunked in lard. Then there were the soda pop stands, the burrito joints and the magic bloomin’ onion stands. Brisket twenty five different ways!

The men’s room had extra wide toilet stalls and in those stalls, toilets that could support a very large person long accustomed to eating three meals per day plus plenty of heart-stopping snacks.

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Warren Bobrow writes the Wild Bites Column every Wednesday on WRR@Large.

July 2009
July 31, 2009 Noise Music by Scott Smallwood

July 31, 2009

Noise Music

Noise Music

Do you have a favorite noise? Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a noisy sound? Not due to fear, confusion, or disgust, but simply due to a kind of wonder? A feeling similar to what is felt when we see a spectacular sunset, or a subtle cloud formation, or an inspiring cityscape?

I felt one not long ago while I was shopping in a local supermarket. At a certain place in the store, near the fish counter, adjacent to the cheese cooler I heard a sound. I stopped and closed my eyes for a few seconds. I returned to this spot again and again. Here’s a recording I made of it.

Since I have previously ranted a bit about the noise pollution problem, I’d like to pull back and consider some of the more positive aspects of noise as an aesthetic. Whether you have actually experienced a “noise show” or not, it is likely that most readers will be familiar with the idea of noise as an aesthetic in some of today’s music.

There are a variety of different musical memes that deal with the concept of noise, whether it’s John Cage’s writings about the inclusion of any and all noises in music, or the haze of distortion that surrounds the harmonic world of decades of rock music. Here, I’m talking specifically about music that features spectrally dense sound, often at high volume levels, but not necessarily, in which the sonic materials are chosen, crafted, and cultivated through a quest for that same kind of wonder I mentioned above. A wonder inspired by the beauty, complexity, and honest sonic interest many noisy sounds have.

Perhaps the first “noise” concert I ever attended was a pipe organ recital in 1990 in Seattle. I was a student of music at the time, fairly green in terms of experience and exposure to new music. One of my theory professors, Lester Groom, suggested that we attend a concert or organ music. Dr. Groom was himself an organist; short, balding, 80-something, who wore light green suits and could improvise a mean polyphonic maze of sound. As I recall, the organ recital featured Baroque composers, including excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Art of Fugue, as well as modern works, which were largely atonal and quite literally full of noise.

The interesting thing I learned about this concert, though, was the sheer mass of the sound of it, the dense and absorbing wash it created. Pipe organs are much more than the pipes themselves or the keyboards; they are literally building-sized musical instruments. Therefore, organs are not portable: they are, by definition, site specific. When you sit in a sanctuary with a designed pipe organ, you are literally sitting inside of a giant musical instrument, since the building itself is regarded as the resonating body. The organ is designed for the space, to infuse it with sound throughout it’s interior. Pipe organ concerts can be very loud, and they can seem to resonate your entire body. You lose all sense of directionality; you lose your idea about where the sounds are coming from. You feel beatings and vibrations that are the result of many reflections, standing waves, and other physical properties of the sound and its interaction with the space. The space is itself the source, and you are part of a complicated series of objects that make up its sonic character.

Certainly, the massive nature of the organ originates historically with the practices of sacred music and the need to make a loud and joyful noise unto the Lord, which is also why many Western cathedrals feature large architectural spaces. These spaces are not only intended to humble the worshiper, whose physical stature is so dramatically dwarfed by the sheer interior volume of the sanctuary; they are also meant to house the shear bigness of God’s spirit. The music created to fill these spaces was necessarily big, long and full, as demonstrated in early plainsong (chant) vocal practices as well as the later massive polyphonic vocal music of the 16th century, and contrapuntal improvisations on the organ.

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York City

Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York City

Whether it was the dense polyphony of Bach, or the atonal clusters and sonic mass of some of the more contemporary composers, the music at this organ recital was exploiting a sonic use of space that is not revealed in the musical score, at least not overtly. I look back on the experience of that organ recital and feel a kindred spirit in terms of  sonic absorption and the power of sound.

The difference, of course, is that the building blocks of noise are, well, noises, in specific varieties and layers. Sometimes the noise is loud and abrasive; sometimes it is droney and psychedelic, and sometimes it is quiet, barely heard. The construction of these sounds is a serious, deliberate, and meaningful activity, one which is the result of shared cultural values through live performances, recordings, and conversations.

I walked through the lobby of a hotel one day and as I entered, I was bowled over by the loud, piercing sound of a wailing vacuum cleaner. I closed my eyes as I walked through the space, and suddenly felt myself transported to a concert in which a percussionist was loudly sustaining a large tam-tam, while a trumpeter was blasting his horn on a high note, circular breathing so that the tone sustained indefinitely, fluctuating slowly in volume and timbre.

In one situation, a noise, which is obnoxious and annoying, becomes, in another situation an intended musical statement. And yet, these musicians were not “punks.” They were not trying to annoy or subvert, they were making highly controlled sound, somewhat emotionally charged, and playing it into the room as if the entire space were their instrument. It was a beautiful moment, albeit not “pretty.”

As I continue to despair over the noise pollution issue, I also continue to find fascination in the sonic language that noise pollution informs. As we find ourselves surrounded by the dense noise-scape of modern technology, we have perhaps become connoisseurs of certain aspects of this sonic space. As much as I do hope we can find ways of quieting our world, I’m glad to see that we are opening up the possibilities of what music can be.

In the meantime, here is what I heard happening in the ventilation shaft above my stove during a rainstorm one night (headphones recommended). I can almost imagine this as a percussion ensemble piece.

Scott Smallwood is a sound artist and composer whose music draws inspiration from the soundscape around him. His work is founded on a practice of listening, field recording, and improvisation. He currently teaches music composition, computer music, and improvisation at the University of Alberta.  His column appears every other Friday.

July 29, 2009 Nothing Has Changed, Yet Everything is Different at Minetta Tavern by Warren Bobrow

July 29, 2009

Photo by Warren Bobrow

Photo by Warren Bobrow

Nothing Has Changed, Yet Everything is Different at Minetta Tavern

 

MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village, NYC

Picture a bustling street in the heart of summertime Greenwich Village.  Food is being sold in open doors and windows nearly everywhere. To the left there are multitudes of schwarma stands, gaudy kebab palaces, Chinese take-out, Halal vegetarian foods, pizza from a dozen different windows. Then, to the right the Village staple, the ubiquitous Italian cuccinas –  one there, another there, another and another with frivolously dressed hostesses clutching piles of menus trying to entice the throngs to come in and feed on ambiguous plates of pasta.

Ahead there are more coffee houses serving staccato conversations, poetry, and 60s style guitar music. Watered down espresso drinks dot the tables and the waiters move to the ebb and flow of students. This is the restaurant row of mostly cheap eats, Village-style, MacDougal Street subculture.

We ask ourselves, has simple classic American cooking gone the way of a preconceived notion  that all new dining spots are  designed to become mere “theme” restaurants?

Evidently not, as we were to discover at Minetta Tavern, the “feather in the cap” restaurant of wunderkinds, Keith McNally and his chef-partners Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr.

We open a wood and frosted glass door, then enter a vacuum from another generation, 1930s New York City to be exact. Patrons, over five deep at the bar, are deep in loud, back slapping, boisterous conversations. It is an extremely loud room from the tile floors and hard ceiling to the wood bead-board walls.  All ages are represented from the elderly moving slowly in walkers to the young bon vivants who sit in front of vast plates of steak frites and glasses filled with classic cocktails.

Minetta Tavern is a serious steakhouse with a wine list to match, featuring old Bordeaux and library wines plucked from private wine cellars. We order  glasses of an excellent Cotes de Provence.  We have come for Dry Aged Côte de Boeuf from Creekstone Farms. Here, they serve it plain on a plate garnished only with elegant 6-inch long roasted marrow bones. These marrow bones have been cut lengthwise on a meat saw, sprinkled with fleur de sel and roasted at over 700 degrees until browned and sweet.

There isn’t anything like this series of two speak-easy style rooms anywhere else in New York City. Low, tin ceilings are painted white; brass chandeliers covered with vintage painted paper shades hang from the ceiling. The music is big band enlivening the already lively room.

Minetta has the formula right and the food is not secondary to the historic nature of the room. In stark contrast, the energy of the dining room at Minetta reminded me of the Friar’s Club uptown. I felt as if I was in a private domain where everyone knew each other through some association. I had not dined at the Friar’s Club in many years, but the memory of a secret place was rekindled when I entered Minetta, it was as if I never left that club located so many blocks uptown. The Friar’s Club is no longer a temple of gastronomy; it may not have served a fine meal in many years, although the historic dining room filled with those “in the know” still exists. The private domain of the crowd could have been here at Minetta Tavern all along.

There is boundless  good energy at Minetta Tavern. People are very serious about what they eat and demand the highest quality  food.   We scarcely had time to lift our drinks from the bar when our table was called. The hostess efficiently and cheerfully offered to take our drinks on a tiny tray-directly into the fray of the dining room. Waiters bustled by carrying steaks, chops and frites.  I didn’t know which way to look.

Our table was set  in the tight hallway between the two rooms of the restaurant. We had a perfect view in both directions, everyone who went into the rear dining room had to pass by our table and vice versa. It was as if we were on stage and the wait staff who rushed back and forth made for a kind of visual and ever-changing tapestry. Balthazar, the French bistro just up-town from Minetta is the obvious template on which the service model of Minetta is based. The uniforms worn by the wait staff reflects the intellect of the owners. They could walk out of Balthazar and enter Minetta Tavern without losing a beat. The back waiters and busboys do their tasks with quick motions, pouring water into perfectly clean glasses from what appear to be clear wine bottles (a la Balthazar), without disturbing the rest of the table.

I ordered a Maple Leaf Sazerac, an old school cocktail made from Rittenhouse Rye, Sortilege Maple cordial, Pernod, and Lemon Zest. The addition of the Maple cordial added a certain depth to the drink that mere white sugar cubes could never duplicate. This small cocktail transported me to a time when hastily mumbled secret passwords opened doors in this neighborhood. I had the secret password in my hand in the form of this delicious, classic cocktail from before the days of Prohibition in New Orleans.

Our very patient waiter read us the specials. Salads were ordered and then swiftly presented with expertly melted goat cheese croutons forming juxtaposition from sweet to savory to meltingly delicious cheese to crunchy toasts. After a bite or two, I wanted more. I had ordered a steak-house favorite. Steak Tartare. But here, in this room the menu stated that there were three nuggets of different meats. Lamb Tartare with Argan Oil, olives and mint. Pastured veal with black truffle and chervil;  and finally, one composed of classic beef with mustard and cornichons.

Each morsel of the tartare spoke of the highest quality, albeit small portions, of billowy soft, hand-chopped meats. I secretly wished for a raw egg on the side for mixing with the mere spoonfuls of precious essence as I see that pure ingredient as crucial in a mouthful of Steak Tartare.

My wife and I ordered the hero of the restaurant that is listed under Grillades, dry aged Côte de Boeuf. This slab of crunchy, well-marbled and aged meat was served blistering hot, then hand carved off the bone, similar to the presentation at Balthazar. But here at Minetta Tavern the steak takes on a deeper manifestation and is a masterpiece of purity and form. Pat La Frieda’s $ 26 “Black Label” burger composed of short rib, brisket and skirt may well be the most popular item on the menu for its sheer crowd-pleasing imagery of Prime Aged Beef, but the La Frieda specialty,Côte de Boeuf , may well be the flashiest cut of beef in New York City.

Pat La Frieda custom ages steaks for Minetta Tavern using a special aging room for up to 6 or 7 weeks. This extended aging process breaks down the tough sinews naturally found in the meat by a proprietary progression of time and temperature. The steak comes plain broiled on a plate. It is simple cooking raised to the highest possible standard – no butter melted on top to cover up the sight of anything unpleasant,  no Béarnaise sauces to smother a second rate cut of beef here, no “un-named” steak house sauce from that other steakhouse over in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Heinz Ketchup, on the other hand is available for the excellent, steaming hot frites that are served in a paper sleeve set into a silver cone on the side.

The menu claims that the chocolate souffle’ we ordered for desert  serves two persons, but it was a portion fit for three or more; and a delight to  behold, presented with a thick mantle of powdered sugar.

We were taken care of by the restaurant staff as if we were old familiar faces in a crowd of well wishers. This is what white tablecloth fine dining is truly about. It’s not just the physical act of eating a meal, but creating a shared memory of a lovely dinner with family and friends. Minetta Tavern took us into its grasp with simplicity and grace. I can see becoming a regular here, perhaps one day my image will join  the hand-sketched pen and ink pictures of long-gone customers that grace the walls. Nothing has changed, yet everything is different at Minetta Tavern.

Warren Bobrow’s blog, Wild Snack, appears every Wednesday.

photo by Warren Bobrow

photo by Warren Bobrow

July 13, 2009 Two Weeks Younger (By way of Naxos Island in July ) by Karen Guthrie

July 13, 2009

Two Weeks Younger (By way of Naxos Island in July )

We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behavior and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it. Lawrence Durrell

Naxos

Naxos

Belly to back we scoot. Hot wind, as if someone opened the oven door, sparks my thoughts. Words begin to simmer on the stove of my mind. Naxos in July, as seen from the vantage point of a passenger, is a feast for the senses. Abandoning the hot soup bowl called Athens, I have a fortnight on this Greek Island to gather my ingredients and create a tantalizing dish with a dash of adventure.

I love the gait of a scooter. Scenes trickle by at such a leisurely, azurely pace. Mountains ascended in slow motion give me adequate time to gaze into the sweet, gentle eyes of Naxian cows. A front and a back leg tied together confined to the circle of grazing their ropes will permit. Next year’s steaks stand sadly staked.

Naxian goats, cheese on the hoof, know no such constraint. They camouflage themselves amidst the white and brown craggy slopes. Herded and guarded by tired old dogs and sleeping old men, they play hopscotch on the rocks.

My partner Robin, the scooter, and I spiral up the side of a mountain. Sprinkled like sacred sugar cubes, tiny chapels dot the viewscape. The prayers of shepherds and fishermen are sweetening and softening this rough-hewn terrain. Tiny villages float past, kneaded into the valleys. Ancient Greek women, black clad and bent, pepper the porches as they peg their laundry on the crisp, clean air.

Puttering up out of the valley, oceans of olive trees sail by and, in their wake, the liquid jewel that is the Aegean Sea appears: Molten sapphire, amethyst, aquamarine and peridot stirred together and heaped into the perfect setting of sculptured rock.

Blue is this recipe’s main ingredient. Blue skies, blue sea, and Robin’s blue eyes. I dream blue dreams. I awaken to blue joy. I plan blue schemes. “Are my brown eyes blue, yet?” I ask. The blue-wine sea intoxicates me and the air smells like blue hyacinths.

As Robin navigates the winding roads, my arms lightly encircle his waist and I melt into the moment. I know I will depart this island so well nourished that I shall be two weeks younger.

The scooter canters along the coast road and I thank the hand of nature for taking an iridescent, turquoise highlighter and marking the best swimming spots. Accessing our favorite one is no easy feat and I cling to Robin’s hand while descending a golden cliff. Sun-crisped oregano, sage, and thyme crumble and crunch under our slipping feet and fragrance the air with a scent reminiscent of herbed bread baking.

On the beach, on our backs, we bake like buttered biscuits in the sun. Eyes closed, we still see blue. Crayola memories prompt a game – how many shades of blue can you name? Seventeen. Cerulean, navy, indigo, powder, periwinkle, robin’s egg…we feel as free as the children we once were, coloring outside of the lines.

Time to shop for images, to collect them like spices in the cupboard of my mind. I look at the velvet slipper of sand on my foot and I see a cinnamon-sugar coated, foot-shaped donut. I glance down the beach at lemon yellow slices of towels wrapped around honey-tanned skin. Bodies that are sun-infused and sea-salted into shades of chocolate, toffee, caramel, tea, amber, and rose, amble past me. Sunburned faces resemble out of season pomegranates.

The sun is low, bouncing off the cliffs, and the royal blue water is drizzled with reflecting gold. I feel as though I am swimming through puddles of elegant, liquefied china. My eyes fill; spilling over, and I wonder if ink-blue tears are running down my cheeks in lapis lazuli lines.

Satiated, we mount the scooter and ride on the breeze back toward town. Belly to back we scoot. Cradled and carried, two words flavor my thoughts – thank you.

This is Karen Guthrie’s second contribution to WRR@Large. She and her partner, Robin, have recently settled in England where she will report on her life there in a cottage called Rose.

July 8, 2009 Wild Snack – Yo! I’ll Meet You at Jimmy’s by Warren Bobrow

July 8, 2009

Wild Snack – Yo! I’ll Meet You at Jimmy’s

Jimmy's

Jimmy’s

Hunger is a sense you can feel. One can almost taste a palpable familiarity when driving down Asbury Avenue in scenic-always evolving Asbury Park, NJ. This part of town is the old Asbury Park, the one bound by tradition and history. The block used to be part of an Italian ghetto for immigrants right off the boat from the old country. A stark-looking cathedral is just up the street. The Asbury Park of this time is bound by honor and recollection. This Asbury Park exists today in a little known, but beloved corner of Asbury Avenue.

The restaurant is called simply; Jimmy’s.

But, who is Jimmy?

“Long gone” according to Diane. She rules the roost. It doesn’t matter who you are-you must go to Diane to get beyond the velvet rope. True, in all the times I’ve eaten at Jimmy’s, I’ve never actually seen a rope-but it’s there.

The waitresses are mostly Italian ladies ranging in appearance from a certain age to a lesser of a certain age. They’ve been there for their entire lives it seems. The staff knows and greets their customers by name having seen them grow up dining on the selection of the classics. At Jimmy’s, there is a menu of regional Italian cooking which is southern-Italian family style in nature. They use the best and freshest ingredients from local purveyors and farms.

We drive up into the parking lot that belongs to the restaurant. It’s heavy with dark colored late model European cars. The lot outside is the cleanest and safest in all of Asbury Park-or anywhere down the shore for that matter.

We are recognized by the smiling attendant and greeted. Lot’s of “how’s by youse” are offered. It’s comforting to feel so welcome in the middle of a part of town in transition. Not that the area is unsafe, just this is an extra layer of good feeling.

Once inside the front door the mood becomes like a visit to a cool friend’s parent’s basement bar. Jimmy’s is a place where you can always have a drink when visiting, eating or not. It’s like entering a pristine time capsule. Everything gleams and shines, there is nary a fingerprint on any exposed glass mirror walls.

A friendly bartender greets you. The bar is filled with patrons, summer people, locals to the area and professional drinkers all enjoying classy drinks. This is not a bar for molecular mixologists, but one for Manhattans, Martinis, Rob Roys and simple cocktails served shaken with a maraschino cherry. Jimmy’s offers a touch of grace unheard of in a time of new world -modern gastronomy. At Jimmy’s, they serve classic cocktails and dinner if you want it at a real old-time cocktail bar. It’s not trendy, it’s as it should be, as it’s always been.

The scene is all about recognition, everyone knows one another. They have known each other all their lives. This sense of camaraderie and trust is thick in the room. On the table over there, a veal chop the size of a Florida Grapefruit is plain on a platter with string beans glistening with olive oil. Fish fresh from the local purveyors, just out of the ocean, served simply but with an understated style.

Plates of pasta and red gravy, lasagna stacked high and covered in more of that excellent mozzarella. Pizza, wafer thin-served on a classic aluminum tray aloft from the table on a stand, it’s blistering hot and well proportioned. I want to reach out and have a slice. The waitresses haul trays of food past Diane who yells at no one in particular but then centers her gaze directly at one of the gals…no one is immune from the stern but tough love metered suddenly. It is quiet for just a second, and then the pace begins again.

The menus provided too many choices, all classics, lasagna, ravioli, pork and veal chops, and Jimmy’s “special” steak, bar pies and full sized pizza- red sauce rules here. Pizza comes in two sizes. Small and large are the choices. Small is enough for one person, large enough for you and for your lunch tomorrow.

I choose a Shrimp Cocktail served on a plate with a vibrant sauce spiked with horseradish, lemon and lettuce leaf. You don’t even have to add the word “classic” to any of the descriptions. Timeless Italian food is the name of the game at Jimmy’s. The nice sized peeled shrimp tasted of metallic seawater brine, fresh and inviting. Salad for 2, 3 or more comes with the meals here. A plate overflowing with “not the usual restaurant” lettuce leafs, tomato, thick slices of crisp red onions and if wanted, green and black olives, peppers and marinated mushrooms. This is not the place to ask for a fancy salad dressing like a French Dijonnaise. It’s an olive oil and red wine vinegar kind of room.

Warm bread with individually wrapped butter pats are set down-but don’t fill up on this good chunky bread or else you won’t be hungry for dinner! I ordered a bar pie for my supper after seeing the one being enjoyed in one of the intimate booths that line the wall opposite the bar. It literally singed the top of my mouth, something I felt for days afterwards with real mozzarella cheese-a well-seasoned sauce and that incredible, wafer-like, hand-stretched crust, which was charred nicely underneath.

Desserts are made from excellent seasonal ingredients by a very talented pastry chef. I tried a Key Lime tart, topped in sweetly acidic blueberries that smacked of fresh blue juice. A table across the way were gushing over the coconut cream pie- was that the recipe from the Tavern Restaurant in Newark?

“Yes it was…” according to the in house pastry chef. Delicious!

On the way out, I saw that Diane was busily tucking into a bar pie of her own. She said to me that mine looked so nice-she had to have one herself.

Jimmy’s Restaurant
1405 Asbury Ave
Asbury Park, NJ 07712
(732) 774-5051
jimmysitalianrestaurant.com/

Warren Bobrow writes about food, wine and culture. Wild Snack will appear every Wednesday in Wild River Review.

July 7, 2009 VIEW FROM THE MOUNTAINTOP at the MONTEAGLE SUNDAY SCHOOL ASSEMBLY – PART 1 by Lauren B. Davis

July 7, 2009

View from the Mountain Top at the Monteagle Sunday School, Part 1: View from the Mountain Top

I recently went to Tennessee to teach a workshop on keeping spiritual journal at the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly on the mountain top near Sewanee (not to be confused with the river or the song of similar name).

davis-monteaglegeneral-1

Okay, I admit it, as the Best Beloved and I drove from the Nashville airport toward the South Cumberland Mountain Range, I found myself humming the theme song to the Beverly Hillbillies. I’m not proud of it, and it shows you how little I know about the south. What little I do know about the south has, in part, been gleaned from a stupid set of prejudices (is there any other kind?), childhood memories of visiting my grandparents in Florida as a kid, and bad television.

But I have also had the good fortune of falling in love with southern writers like Madison Smart Bell, Walker Percy, Kate Chopin, Tennessee Williams, Katherine Ann Porter, Eudora Welty, Zora Neal Hurston, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Gaines, Truman Capote, William Gay, and all those others. Their words, rich with that King James version of the Bible cadence and rhythm, helped me fall in love with literature.

The Monteagle Bible Assembly is an old community, or, I should say, an old church. It’s Charter, which was granted by the State of Tennessee on October 31, 1882, states the purpose of the Assembly: the advancement of science, literary attainment, Sunday School interests, and the promotion of the broadest popular culture in the interest of Christianity without regard to sect or denomination.

By the way, that bit about ‘without regard to sect or denomination is apparently meant in the broadest sense, since my Best Beloved, who is Jewish, was welcomed with the same warmth and grace as I, a plain old Episcopalian.

I am told that whereas there were once hundreds of such Assemblies, patterned after the Chautauqua Institution in New York, in the late 1800s, only nine or ten remain active today. In 2007, Monteagle celebrated its 125th year of continuous operation and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the US Department of the Interior.

What is a Chautauqua, you might ask? I stayed at the charming Edgeworth Inn and I take this from their website: Many families in the Victorian Era left the cities in the summertime and spent two to three months in the nearby mountains. This exodus to the more natural and cooler setting was motivated not only by a desire to escape the summer heat and to relax, but also as a serious quest for physical and spiritual well-being.

The Chautauqua was a natural consequence of such informal gatherings ofpeople from all walks of life. The idea was first proposed at the 1873 Methodist Episcopal camp meeting in Chautauqua, New York, by John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller.

Inspired by the Lyceum movement, these men suggested combining the summer retreat with eight week programs offering members secular and religious instruction as well as lectures by authors, explorers, musicians, and political leaders. Somewhere between revival meetings and country fairs, Chautauqua were attended by thousands each year.

The combination of education and entertainment in a pristine mountain setting caught on rapidly; the Chautauqua Movement spread throughout America and Europe during the latter part of the 19th century.

 

The Edgeworth Inn in the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly. HIGHLY recommended!

The Edgeworth Inn in the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly. HIGHLY recommended!



My own grandfather, on my adopted mother’s side, was something of a southern Victorian at heart, and he always insisted on summers filled with healthy outdoor activities, good reading, intelligent conversation and enriching study. Maybe that’s why I have such a soft spot for this stuff.

Okay, but what, exactly, is this particular place? I was told by my friend Milly that it was paradise. Okay, but driving along the highway, past the CVS drugstores and Piggly Wiggly grocery store, the bars (one actually named “The Hillbilly Bar”) and army surplus, the filling stations and the check-cashing joint boasting a large “McCain-Palin” sign outside, I was feeling a little dubious. Then, at last, we found the road leading to a little stone gatehouse. No one was there, but they’d thoughtfully left the gate up, so in we drove.

Good heavens. Leafy roads curve every which way, and everywhere we look cottages, with deep, shaded verandas sporting hammocks and rocking chairs and lanterns, nestle beneath tall trees. Some cottages are Victorian, with scrolls and peaks and gingerbread, some are log cabins, with porch rails of bent wood. Green and blue and sparkling white, pink and yellow.

davis-monteaglegeneral-3
Hydrangeas, impatiens, geraniums, rhododendron, are everywhere. Wooden footbridges span hollows, and the roads are curbed in places with old carriage blocks, set there so the ladies descending from carriages wouldn’t sully their footwear or hems in the mud.

Dede Clements, proprietor of the at the Edgeworth Inn, greets us with an invitation to a cocktail party at Weezie and Bill Blair’s. Just as days in the Assembly are spent in sportive recreation, attending lectures, artistic and literary pursuits, worship and fellowship, many evenings at the Assembly are spent going from one ‘porch party’ to another, watching films in the community hall or attending dances. We didn’t get to the movies or the dances, but I can tell you that each porch is more glorious than the next.

People could not have been kinder, nor more interesting. Walter Pulliam, for instance, a 94-year-old retired newspaper man from Knoxville, who had an audience with Pope Pius XII in 1944 when he was a reporter for Stars and Stripes. He later went on to work at the Knoxville News-Sentinel, The Washington Post, and The Harriman Record, which he later bought. Oh, the wonderful stories he told of being at Solerno during WWII, and the munitions ship that exploded, and which no one reported, for fear of tipping off the enemy!

 

The Best Beloved with newspaper man Walter Pulliam, at the bar in Walter & Julia’s house.

The Best Beloved with newspaper man Walter Pulliam, at the bar in Walter & Julia’s house.

Then there is Bev Douglas who now owns the log cabin where Andrew Lytle, author of The Velvet Horn, among other things, spent the last twenty years of his life, regaling visitors, both literary and local with his story-telling. Bev may be a bit quieter than Old Andrew was, but his hospitality is just as warm, and the twinkle in his eye just as bright. He sat in a rocker on the deep porch and told us about his sister Anne, a child prodigy who taught herself to read at the age of three, and learned to paint all by herself.

As a young child, she once painted a picture of horses in a field. Not so amazing, except that she did it by painting, without benefit of preliminary sketch, from the bottom of the page up, in two-inch increments. First the grass and flowers, then the hooves and legs, then the withers, and the shoulders and necks, the heads… and so on. No one could ever figure out how she did either, although she was studied by educators for years.

Bev Douglas on the porch of his cabin, which was once owned by Andrew Lytle

Bev Douglas on the porch of his cabin, which was once owned by Andrew Lytle



Bev grinned, chewed on his pipe and said, “My mother told me my job was to take care of Anne. Those of us who do not have the blessing of genius are obliged to support and encourage it.”

And thus, wandering from one porch to another, we meet the people of Monteagle, many of whom have been coming to the Assembly every summer for six generations.

It is in this cloistered, slightly (?) eccentric Pollyanna setting that I am to lead a two day workshop on “Sacred Conversation – Keeping a Spiritual Journal.”

I enjoy teaching creative writing workshops and courses, all of which I consider to have a spiritual component, since I believe the act of writing is by nature spiritual. However, in creative writing classes that aspect is often somewhat buried beneath the search for narrative structure, pacing, character development and significant sense details. In a workshop on keeping a spiritual journal, the spiritual component is right up front where everyone can see it. Rather like the southern eccentric – set up in the middle of the living room, where everyone can enjoy him.

This comfort with eccentricity, by the way, is one of the things I love most about the south, and it is also that which so attracts me to certain areas of the Canadian Maritime provinces and to pocket of lovely wackiness in England.

Tomorrow, or possibly the next day (I am supposed to be on vacation, after all), I’ll write about what we explored in the spiritual journaling workshop. But now, since I’m in Newfoundland at the moment, and there is an iceberg floating past the lighthouse in the bay in front of the house The Best Beloved and I are renting, I can’t keep myself at the computer any longer. Writing and spiritual journal keeping are both, after all, about paying attention and being engaged with the world, right?

Tune in again… more shall be revealed…

Lauren B. Davis is the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, The Radiant City, (HarperCollins Canada 2005) a finalist for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize; and The Stubborn Season (Harper Collins Canada, 2002), chosen for the Robert Adams Lecture Series; as well as two collections short stories. Her short fiction has also been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards and she is the recipient of two Mid-Career Writer Sustaining grants from the Canadian Council for the Arts – 2000 and 2006. Lauren is a mentor with the Humber College School for Writers, Toronto, and Writer-in-Residence at Trinity Church, Princeton. For more information, please visit her website at: www.laurenbdavis.com where this post first appeared

July 3, 2009 Desperately Seeking Quiet by Scott Smallwood

July 3, 2009

Desperately Seeking Quiet

by Scott Smallwood
smallwood-quiet-1
Here’s a little listening exercise:  Wherever you are right now, presumably indoors if you are reading this, take a walk to the nearest door that leads outside.  Open the door and walk about ten paces, then stop, close your eyes, and listen deeply.  If you are already outside, then simply listen right where you are.

What are the most dominant sounds you can hear?

Chances are, unless you are extremely lucky, or you are selectively ignoring part of your soundscape, the dominant sounds are most likely those of modern humanity:  street traffic, airplanes, building ventilation systems, lawn mowers, etc.  Even if you are in a rural setting, it is unlikely that you would be able to listen for more than about thirty seconds without encountering these sounds.

My work as a composer and sound artist begins with a practice of listening, and is largely inspired by sounds that I encounter in my daily life.  Sometimes the sounds I create are directly related to what I hear, and other times they connect in less direct ways, but always they involve a practice of being in touch with my local soundscape, as well as those soundscapes I encounter in my travels.

Currently, I am living in the town of North Brunswick, New Jersey. There is a lovely forest behind my apartment complex where I have spent a lot of time over the past few months.  This little piece of nature, probably about ten acres in area, is completely surrounded on all sides by major roads, such as US Route 1 and NJ State Route 27. It is also directly under a major airline thoroughfare for Newark Liberty International Airport.

smallwood-quiet-2

The forest is home to much wildlife, including many birds: cardinals, blue jays, wood thrushes, grackles, and chickadees.  One day I found a large, broken eagle’s egg on the forest floor.  I also found an old tree-house, which my wife Jennifer believes is probably an old deer stand, as there is an old deer trail in evidence about ten paces from the tree. I began to spend time in this deer stand, making recordings of the soundscape in this place, at different times of the day and night. Here is a little montage.

This field recording contains short chunks at different times of the day, starting at 12 noon, and moving through 3 pm, 6 pm, 10 pm, 3 am, 6 am, and 11 am.  You will notice that, despite the fact that this montage represents all times of the day and night, there is never a time when the forest is truly quiet.  It is never completely absent of man-made sound.

Having made many recordings of places all over the United States and in other countries as well, I can state definitively that this is true pretty much everywhere these days, albeit much more extremely so in densely populated areas such as New Jersey.

I grew up in rural Colorado in the mountains, and remember as a child experiencing a much quieter soundscape.  When I heard an airplane flying over my childhood playground, a forest of lodgepole pines and aspens behind our house, the airplane seemed very loud and disruptive.  Today, I despair at my ability to escape the sounds of airplane traffic, as well as the constant drone of the highway.  I would say that, out of a sense of optimism and hope, I have learned to embrace these noises and find beauty in them, and will admit that I have even become a noise connoisseur of sorts.  Here is, for example, a piece based upon the sounds of oilwells in West Texas, scored for violin, clarinet, cello, vibes, and drums, called given to earth in dark blood (performed by the Newspeak Ensemble).

But even still, I grow weary of these sounds.  I remember the sounds of neighbors raking leaves in the fall.  It was a soothing sound, and you could hear the shouts of my neighborhood friends as they leapt into the piles of leaves we raked up in my own yard.  Today, I hear the leaf blowers from miles away, and there are days when I can hear none of the birds in my backyard forest over the sounds of these infernal machines.

And so I have begun to wonder, what is to become of quiet spaces?  Is it possible that they are truly disappearing forever?  I cannot count the number of times I have tried to capture the sounds of small animals foraging, or water trickling over rocks, or wind blowing through the leaves of maple trees, only to be forced to stop as a jet intrudes upon the soundscape.

A couple of years ago I myself was in an airplane, and my wife handed me the in-flight magazine Sky, in which there was a short article by John Grossman about a place called One Square Inch of Silence. Intrigued, I devoured the story about a man named Gordon Hempton, acoustic ecologist and nature recordist, who founded this special place, located in the Hoh River Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  This is one of my favorite places in the country, and I was dumbfounded by his simple, powerful message:  maintain one square inch of silence and it will affect a hundred square miles around it.

Hempton, who has visited every national park in the United States, as well as many natural places around the world, maintains that there are indeed very few truly quiet places left.  By quiet, he means places where you can hear no man-made sounds of any kind for at hour at a time.  He has cataloged his own personal, private list of these spaces, but one square inch was a space he decided to not only make public, but to gain support from the US government to protect.  His excellent new book, One Square Inch of Silence, chronicles his quest to protect this space, and in general is an excellent travelogue of musings about the issue of noise pollution in our modern society.

Last March, I made the journey to One Square Inch with my 10-year old son.  We hiked up a muddy trail on a cold, rainy morning, with a picture of the special stilted spruce tree identifying the place were you must turn off the trail.  I noticed the silence long before we arrived at One Square Inch.  Devastating, truly exhilarating silence. Here is a recording of the place where a special red stone on a mossy log marks the spot

Do other people value quiet spaces?  Will there eventually come a day when we condemn noise pollution in the same way that we currently condemn air pollution, poor water quality, and other environmental issues?

As I continue to listen, to discover the wonderful sonic gems that surround me everyday, I will continue to embrace the sounds of man-made noise, to isolate them, color with them, make them my own. But at the same time, I long for truly quiet places, where the kinds of sounds that inspire are those that are normally masked:  the sounds of bees buzzing around a wet patch in the desert, or the echo of a woodpecker’s work in the forest, or the soft, gentle percussion of reeds colliding in a breeze.

It is true that leaf-blowers can save time.  What can the rake save?

Scott Smallwood
Scott Smallwood is a sound artist and composer whose music draws inspiration from the soundscape around him. His work is founded on a practice of listening, field recording, and improvisation. He currently teaches music composition, computer music, and improvisation at the
University of Alberta.

July 1, 2009 Wild Snack – An Abridged History of the Tuna Melt by Warren Bobrow

July 1, 2009

Wild Snack – An Abridged History of the Tuna Melt

Not a Real Tuna Melt, Photo by Warren Bobrow

Not a Real Tuna Melt, Photo by Warren Bobrow

An abridged history of the Tuna Melt:

Charleston, South Carolina. About 1965. Woolworth’s lunch counter on King Street. The air is thick with the smell of tea being brewed for the large glass containers that sit atop ceramic dispensers. Inside the containers are chunks of rough-cut ice, fresh mint and golden brown-colored tea.

One container says simply, Sweet. As quickly as a glass is filled, it is emptied by thirsty passers-by. All of King Street finds their way in for a cup. Sweet Tea is the most popular drink on a day like today.

It’s July and hamburgers are sizzling away on the sleek metal of the grill. The sun seems to rise low in the sky earlier and set later, extending the heat and mud-scented humidity from the tidal confluence of Ashley and Cooper Rivers.

Behind the counter, the ladies work at their prescribed tasks. Send a Tuna on White over there, cup of Tomato Soup to the end of the counter! Macaroni and Cheese with a Fish Cake? Side of Slaw!

Chef Bo is greeted; orders given. “Sweet tea! ‘ll have a grilled cheese sandwich, white bread with a smear of mayo and slices of American cheese, “just as you like it”. Atop the griddle on a shelf, a bowl of freshly made tuna salad sits on the edge… and, as if guided by a hidden hand, the contents tip over, falling on the grilled cheese sandwich. Voila! The Tuna Melt is born!

About the same time as the tuna salad falls onto the grill, Bo notices it bubbling away along with his open-faced grilled cheese. Some of the tuna has coated the top. The smell is familiar to him. The metallic tang of nearby sweet southern ocean air, the syrupy caramelized smell of mayo combining and dripping on celery and onion sinking into the butter and mayo-coated white bread. And on top, becoming crisp and sealing in all the flavors… that errant dolloop of tuna!

One of the gals from behind the counter offers to make Bo another one, ’cause he might not want to eat the mistake!”

Tucking in-carefully at first, then with fervor – time and history make way for a new sandwich, a new invention. Pursing his lips and sipping the sweet tea Bo has no idea that he has invented the Tuna Melt.

Soon, thereafter, the Tuna Melt became a favorite at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. It was almost always served with a glass of sweet Iced Tea and a side of potato chips.

Follow Warren Bobrow on Twitter: WarrenBobrow1

Warren Bobrow writes about food, wine and culture. Wild Snack will appear every Wednesday in Wild River Review.

June 2009
June 26, 2009 The Taking of the Elderly, the Sick and the Sudden – 1,2,3. Passing Thoughts. By Joseph Glantz

June 26, 2009

<h`>The Taking of the Elderly, the Sick and the Sudden – 1,2,3. Passing Thoughts. By Joseph Glantz

Ed McMahon

Michael Jackson

Farah Fawcett

It can only be with sadness that one learns of the passing of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. In terms of life cut short one must feel sorriest for that latter two. 50 is clearly way to young to die and 62 after battling cancer for three years is just plain tragic. Ed got to live a long life.

But in terms of artistry, I may be alone here, but I’ll miss Ed McMahon the most. I rarely watched Charlie’s Angels. The story lines were thin and the only reason I watched  – which the producers knew all too well and which the media knew too (after all, I recollect it wasn’t called “jiggle” television for nothing) – was that the show had three good/ OKAY great looking women. These days if I want to watch good looking women on TV I watch the women’s draw at Wimbledon.

For me crime drama begins with the Rockford Files, from the opening phone messages (“Jim, Mancuso’s average in the Series was .315, not .310 – YOU OWE ME FIVE BUCKS. And oh, yeah, Fran and I are getting divorced.”) to his love for his salt-of-the earth trucker father to his practicality (he’s the only detective I know who when caught in a high-speed chase would ram his car into a police car thus “saving his life” and nabbing the bad-guys at the same time)

Michael Jackson. I liked him most when he was young and singing with his family five. Those songs appealed. The latter stuff, the moon walk, the glove on only one hand, the videos – call me old fashioned but I prefer the people whose voice makes you wonder how they do that – from Nat King Cole to Frank (no need for a last name) to Josh Groban. If I could afford it I’d love to have a subscription series to the Metropolitan Opera. There’s singing! And for me, great spectacle.

Ed McMahon. He’s the one of the three I think I might have wanted to know. Well, Ok maybe mostly to ask him about Johnny. But everyone has to like a straight man. There’s a line in John Sayles movie The Last of the Seacaucus Seven in which one of the characters says “friends are people you don’t have to explain your jokes to.” Johnny never had to explain his jokes to Ed. My favorite exchange was when Ed would hand Carnac the Magnificent/Johnny the sealed envelopes and give Carnac the punchline/answer and Carnac would have to come up with the question. Answer – Sis Boom Baaaah. Question. What sound does a sheep make before it explodes? A good sense of humor, a million dollar hand-out, American Idol before there was American Idol. Those I’ll miss.

Sad times all-around. But what the hey, we’ll probably be nuked by North Korea and democracy just took a nose-dive in Iran. So a little perspective please. Plus, worst of all, my Phillies just lost 10 out of 12.

On the plus side I always wondered how Michael and Elvis would perform in a duet. Now that would be a “Thriller.” Well, that plus imagining Michael with Farrah’s hair.

Joseph Glantz is consulting editor of Wild River Review. His book, Philadelphia Originals, will be published by Schiffer Books, this fall. He also writes the column Interviews with the Famously Departed

June 24, 2009 Down on Honey Brook Farm by Kimberly Nagy

June 24, 2009

Down on Honey Brook Farm

Wild River talks to Sherry Dudas, Farm Planner for the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative in the United States

“Welcome to the era of food activism,” announces the WorldWatch Institute (an independent research organization based out of Washington, D.C., which focuses on the 21st century challenges of climate change, resource degradation, population growth, and poverty).  “More than ever before, how we farm and feed ourselves is how we change the world around us.”

Honey Brook Organic Farm

Honey Brook Organic Farm

 

As Honey Brook Organic farm explains in their brochure, “Community supported agriculture is an attempt to address the manifold problems of modern industrialized agriculture by redefining the relationship between farmer, consumer and the natural, biological systems which comprise a farm.” The organic label is not only nutritionally important but important to the health of our soil and water. Indeed “normal” farms (and agribusiness at large) remain major water polluters due to pesticide run-off but that’s food for another blog.

Of course, food is not just political, but deeply personal.

I might not have changed the world as much as I’d like through multiple years of CSA farm “membership” but I do like that just once in a while I can answer my six-year old daughter with precision (without a blink!) when she asks, “Mommy, where does that food actually come from?”

And I do know that heading to the farm (every week over summer and fall) has changed my life and deeply intensified my passion for cooking.  Do I start with my indulgent use of fresh basil, dill, and cilantro in ever-changing dishes? Words are not enough. Or the way I’ve watched my daughter stuff herself on sugar snap peas, strawberries and more strawberries (her shirt drenched in strawberry juice) straight from the fields? Or how I just like the look of red and green lettuce, broccoli, spinach, kale, cabbage and garlicscapes scattered all over my kitchen counter?

Honey Brook Organic Farm located in Central New Jersey, is the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiative of its kind in the United States.    Wild River Review asked Sherry Dudas, Honey Brook’s Farm Planner a few questions about the challenges and rewards of working on an organic CSA farm.

You are on the largest CSA’s in the country…To what do you attribute your success?  Location, location, location as well as offering tasty, high quality locally grown certified organic produce for a reasonable price.

What can the ordinary person do to support local agriculture?   Become customers of local farmers, refrain from complaining about noise or smells generated by farmers, and lending support when they need approvals from local officials to do projects like drill irrigation wells, improve their farm markets or expand their parking lots.

Doesn’t it cost too much?  Our customers don’t think so – we have a 400 person waiting list at the moment.  It’s not just a consumer transaction here – our members are looking for an experience — interacting with other members, watching ladybugs on the bean plants with their grandchildren, maybe stealing a smooch from their spouse in the PYO flowers.  It’s the kind of place lasting memories are made, and it’s rare that we get any complaints about the price of membership.

What don’t people know about organic farmers?  That we are chronically sleep-deprived during the growing season.

What disheartens you most about agricultural policy in the United States?  Federal programs designed to help farmers conserve soil and water are underfunded, so less conservation work gets done as a result.

What inspires you most about your work?  It’s got to be the joy it inspires in children.  In fact, last week a boy (about 4 years old) hugged me when he found out I was one of the farmers here.  I didn’t get that kind of appreciation when I worked at a desk job!

Sherry Dudas is Farm Planner for Honey Brook Organic Farm. She came to Honey Brook with over 10 years of conservation and farmland preservation experience, and is responsible for managing the farm’s marketing and promotion, special event planning, community outreach and related farm business and land use planning activities.

Kim Nagy is Executive Editor of Wild River Review

June 19, 2009 Thinking Otherwise: On Gay Marriage by William Irwin Thompson

June 19, 2009

Thinking Otherwise: On Gay Marriage

Sappho and Erinna, Simeon Solomon, Tate Gallery

Sappho and Erinna, Simeon Solomon, Tate Gallery

It was the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau who first fought off the hordes of the self-righteous who rose to the attack of homosexuality by insisting that “The State had no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” In the evolution of culture since the sixties—and because of the sixties, I might add—we have made some progress and people have come to accept homosexuality as a cultural reality and not simply as an “abomination in the eyes of the Lord.” Or, at least, those sensible people who prefer to live in a culture and not a cult have come to be more tolerant and pluralistic in their acceptance of tempora et mores.

So let us take a step back to look at the issue of Gay marriage from an evolutionary point of view, both cultural and biological—although these two are never really separated in human reality. If, in the terms of Natural Selection, homosexuals do not reproduce, what possible selective pressure can there be that enables homosexuals to survive over the millennia? They should have died out long ago as a kinky approach to orgasm that arose when we all had to huddle together in caves in the Ice Age and no one really knew late at night what was going on under all those furs. By the time of the sunlit nuclear families of the Neolithic, when houses shifted from round to square and had an extra room for individual food storage and private property, people began to domesticate animals and notice which black goat sired more black goats, and paternity reared its—well, you get the idea.

Homosexuality should have disappeared, but in fact most of those Abrahamic cultures of the Middle East and Central Asia have strong traditions of boy love, and those love poems of Hafez that celebrate the beauty of the “slim Turk,” are not talking about women. Across the vast continent of Eurasia to the Greeks and Romans, and up to the birth of Latin poetry with Catullus, poetry is celebrating homosexuality and bisexuality. And if we go back even further to the Gilgamesh Epic, we find a celebration of the love of men for men. When Gilgamesh couples with women, it is merely the relief of a biological drive, but his intense love for Enkidu is a sublime love of a higher order. Homosexuality has been with us for a long time and probably antedates the institution and so-called “sanctity of marriage.”

So we have to ask ourselves, what selective pressure exists for the continuation of homosexuality when it is obviously not an agency of reproduction? The answer is, of course, that there is a process of Baldwinian Evolution going on, and that the selective pressure is cultural. The homosexual is the magical “wounded healer,” the man with the vulva that heals itself. From the dawn of culture, vulvas were inscribed on rocks and cave walls, and the figurines of the Great Mother, like the Venus of Laussel, were daubed with red ochre to signify the menstrual blood. The vulva was the wound that healed itself in rhythm with the lunar cycle. The man with the vulva was the shaman, the wounded healer who had knowledge of animals and stars, healing and weather. When Christ shows the labial-shaped wound in his side to the doubting Thomas, he is showing that he is the vulva-man, the wounded healer who has healed death itself in his resurrection.

Androgynous men were often selected in early adolescence and marked out in their femininity for training as future shamans. So it is cultural selection and not simply natural selection that produces the selective pressure that insures the continuation of the homosexual. Unconsciously this is why Roman Catholic priests wear soutanes, Bishops and Cardinals dress in colorful and outrageously draggish clothes, and have a fondness for altar boys. It is naïve to think that child abuse is merely a case of a few bad apples; it is basic to the institution of priesthood. It is the boy love culture of Eurasia surviving into our day under wraps.

But as society evolves through the cultural vehicle of the city, from Athens to Rome to London to New York, the shaman also evolves from the sacerdotal figure to the artist. The small town or village still was religious and ignorant, so the Gay man, a Walt Whitman or a Hart Crane, had to move to the Big City. And what was true of Gay men was also true of Lesbian women, from Sappho to Yourcenar. In a more secular society, the shaman becomes the artist.

So if we are going to invoke tradition as the foundational justification of the family, then we had better be sure we know what our traditions really are.

But really–as Trudeau said–the State has no business in any of this. The State may need to issue certificates for birth and death, but certainly not for baptism or extreme unction. And so it is for marriage or confirmation and Bar Mitzvah. The State should issue certificates for civil unions that have to do with property rights and medical visitation rights, and that is all. After one receives a birth certificate from the State, one’s parents can choose to take one to church to be baptized. And so it should be for marriage: after you have been to City Hall, then you can go to whatever religious institution you choose that is willing to bless your union. If you are, for example, a Catholic or Evangelical, and your Church won’t accept your union, then that is grounds for divorce—from either your partner or your religion.

Choir Boys

Not the organ answering Job out of the whirlwind,
nor the tiny pointed notes of the harpsichord–
metallic and discrete as knights in armories
unfurled and elevated above the clubbed blood
of churlish battle or bones struck on mammoth skulls,
nor the sun’s arteries drained in stained glass truncheons;
bound in cassocks to their claustral occulted place
where priestly functions anoint the choir boys’ throats
in rituals thousands of years before the Mass,
cherub buttocks lean on the misericord’s hard love
tangled in wings of the dove and coils of the snake
that soon break sunset’s shaft on the rising full moon;
but now the pianoforte in thundering halls
breaks gods’ hold in revolution’s noisy applause.

Cultural philosopher and poet, William Irwin Thompson, is founder of the Lindisfarne Fellowship. He became nationally known as a writer for his best-selling book on contemporary affairs, At the Edge of History, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.  He received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award for his science fiction fantasy novel Islands Out of Time and has published four books of poetryAs a cultural historian, he is most widely known for his books, The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture and Coming into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness.  His collection of poems, Still Travels, will be published by Wild River Books, an imprint of Wild River Review, this summer.

June 16, 2009 With a Sip, Suppah is Served by Warren Bobrow

June 16, 2009

With a Sip, Suppah is Served

bobrow-suppah-1

It’s amazing to me how a sip of a wine can vividly recreate a memory of a place.

I was tasting Sauvignon Blancs the other day at the wine shop CoolVines where I work part time. As soon as the crisp, cool, fermented liquid touched my lips, the resin quality and razor sharp acidity reminded me of a trip to Damariscotta, Maine about 23 years before.

We were were sitting on the deck at one of the seafood pubs that graced the once-working waterfront. I was a chef at that time, working for Jim Ledue at Alberta’s one of the first gastro-pubs located in Portland, Maine. We changed our menu daily depending on what was fresh from the local farms and piers. He encouraged his cooks and all of his staff to taste food, preferably from near and also from places like Damariscotta way Down East. We were blessed in Maine to have a wealth of some of the freshest seafood-much of it shipped overnight to Japan for waiting diners.

Jim Ledue had told me about a place up the coast a piece that served Pouilly Fumé -not the maligned “Chablis” in the box that was and still is served with every fish “suppuh” meal up and down the Maine Coast. This special place was known for its wine list, especially the French wines from the Loire Valley that went with a very specific kind of food, Belon Oysters brought over from Brittany in France to be ntroduced, then grown in vast beds surrounding the Damariscotta River.

In those pristine waters, many types of seafood are found living their lives far from the frantic pace of modernization. The relentless tides which churn and combine brackish mineral-laden river and icy cold ocean salt water only improves the specific terroir of the water-bound place. Tides rise and fall 20 feet or more with a frothing power.

Just north of the town of Damariscotta the products that are raised in tidal inlets produce whelks, lobster, clams, sea urchins, peeky-toe crabmeat and Belons. These were the usual fare at the restaurant we were sitting in. A stainless steel plate of oysters sat in front of me amid a swirl of locally collected and very colorful Dulse Seaweeds. The oysters were set haphazardly over the plate overflowing with roughly cut ice were lemon chunks, a red wine mignonette, and freshly ground horseradish.

I could smell the seaweed, saline-sweet and fresh. It stung my nose the moment we arrived having just been delivered from a local fisherman. An ancient wooden skiff was tied roughly to the deck. Wooden boxes of local seaweeds and urchins were being off-loaded.

I ordered a bottle of a mineral-tinged Sauvignon Blanc. Our feast was to be a few plates (then a few more) of several local varieties of oysters. I raised my tiny seafood fork to my mouth. All at once the taste of cool icy briny salt water rushed into my palate, cleaning it of the wine, immediately followed closely by deeper foam, all framed by a brackish sea-charged, living finish creating a vivant tabla rasa for the next taste. This oyster was deeply creamy with its liquor tasting of freshly raked grey fleur de sel- more liquid saline and life spilling out.

This stirred some of my deepest cravings. There is no wonder to me that crisp, acidic steely Sauvignon Blancs we drank that day were the perfect foil to this primal food. I dipped my oyster into the shallot and cracked pepper-infused mignonette, squeezed fresh lemon over it and chewed – breathing in the tang of the sea, then the softly yielding creaminess of its texture, its very soul so to speak, as this oyster was alive, unable to escape from my tongue and teeth.

I devoured every morsel on my plate and ordered another dozen, then another… Seagulls yelled for handouts. Sipping more of the wine I took in the day around me-a salt infused breeze that blew in as fog off the coast.

Behind the counter at CoolVines, I took another sip of Sauvignon Blanc reluctant to leave the realm of a perfect memory.

Raised on an organic farm in Morristown, NJ, food writer and photographer, Warren Bobrow, often wished for a time when he could express his life experiences through his inner eye and enticing adjectives. Bobrow now strives to create words as visual metaphors through his written pieces.

June 11, 2009 The Black Mantle of Shame by Beata Palya

June 11, 2009

The Black Mantle of Shame

Women have been stopping me in the streets in Hungary to thank me for my song, How to give birth (lyrics posted in full in earlier blog post dated May 28th) in which I simply proposed in a funny kind of way that women should know and trust their bodies. They say to me when they stop me, “normally I do not do this, go up and talk to the famous singer, but this song, “How to give birth” touches me so much, thank you…”.

I see aglow faces, beautiful women, I read the long letters about women in the countryside who try to accentuate the natural side of birth, quite against the “normal” medical view of giving birth, or I read their stories about giving birth with the help of other women-and how these circles of women around them give them strength. Beautiful, open-hearted people.

I find that women in Hungary, women usually – are not encouraged to read the signals of their body, and surely not to dare speak out loud about their feelings, to dare name the different part of our different organs, especially down there…(a little boy sees his, a little girl does not see hers…) So we do not have our own words. What we have instead is the black mantle of Shame, which covers up so much of our true words, of our true feelings.

Men and women are the same in that Shame point of view. What will others say? What will others think? Well, what does our body and soul say to us? Do we listen to that? Do we have the real heart-hearing to that?

Many times, in many topics -how to give birth is only one example – it seems (at least here in Hungary) that men feel they possess the real or only Truth. It is a truth, that feels like an old armchair, unmovable, a truth surrounded by men’s fear…

A fantastic doctor – gynecologist for 40 years – explained to me that most doctors have pathology-centered education: they need to recognize the bad thing, the sick thing, and try to fix it, help it. If they can’t find it – they do not find their own place and worth in their career and this makes them feel insecure.

Well, what if the birth of a baby goes without problem? It still seems that doctors (usually a he in Hungary) demand a main role in the event. Perhaps the doctor – again most of the time a he – feels that he might lose his place, his position, the aim of his whole long education so that is why he might try and defend the point of view of only being able to give birth in hospital, of cutting the place down there between the vagina and the anus, and giving an injection of anesthesia to the spine etc.

Anyway, I understand both sides, if there even are two sides. (Hospital-birth and home-birth sides.)

I believe men and women are for each other, neither is stronger or better, but they are who they are. Women perhaps reach more courageously towards self-knowledge, women let themselves appear weak which is actually a place of great strength – men have a harder time doing that. But that is also changing. (Dear mother of our ages, do you let your little son cry, or you say “a real boy does not cry..”?)

The paradigm has shifted, certainly. A Hungarian women friend, around 40, with two big children, – both of whom were born at home – was shocked when she first heard my song because in her time, giving birth at home, (in the early 90s!) was practically a crime. And now, a singer can sing a song like this…

Why do I write all this?

Well, I do it from the inside. From love. I love all men, and all women, I wish so much to understand them more. And to understand what they do not understand of each other… I also hope that after so many years of fighting, people, doctors, midwives, women, men, women start to speak to each other in genuine ways. To talk freely about their fears, their desires, their injuries… and face and open unknown areas of themselves – ourselves — and discover what is beyond.

Award-winning singer and writer Beata Palya recently released an album (Sony, May 2009) called Just One Voice.

June 4, 2009 Shut-up and Shut down: China’s Tiananmen Blogging Blockade by Terrence Cheromcka

June 4, 2009

Shut-up and Shut down: China’s Tiananmen Blogging Blockade

This past year I was a freshman at New York University.

The liberal arts college I attend within the university requires students to complete a humanities course called “Conversations of the West” in which we explore texts that have become the vertebrae of our culture’s thinking.

One of the texts I read was Friedrich Nietzsche’s “On the Genealogy of Morality.” He employed a concept named for the French world, Resseniment , which is the sense of blame that results from one’s frustrations. This force manifests itself internally or externally and either way becomes an enemy.

Yesterday, I was struck when a newscaster on National Public Radio reported that political measures had been taken in China in response to June 4th twenty-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre: China shut down blogging sites such as Twitter (oh no!) and many, many more blogging outlets.

I call them outlets because they are just that: Through the creation of a blog entry an idea or memory or image developing within one’s mind can be processed and released into infinite space (the web, for my purposes).

But what happens when some authoritative power seizes control of these operations? They become like an active kink in the hose or a clamp in the wire. But, like a stream of water or electricity navigating its way simply by undeniable physical laws, the human mind and emotional body do not stop flowing.

So where is all the grief surrounding the Tiananmen Square Massacre going to end up?

 

Riot in Beijing

And what about the expectant Chinese mother who gives birth today and would like to use her Twitter account to share that beauty with the world–or at least her family across the nation? And shouldn’t the relatives of someone lost in the massacre twenty years ago today be allowed to share this day in the grieving process? What will this drastic measure mean?

Perhaps this measure seems much more drastic to me, a nineteen-year-old raised literally alongside the World Wide Web.

But, I would like to call your attention to an event that took place in Washington Square on New York University’s Campus – the Take Back NYU Project. It was the culmination of a social-justice project that has been developing in the blogging world for some time.

Concerned students had a list of over a decade of demands including University scholarships for Pakistani youth, making the private University’s library public, publicly releasing the University’s budget and endowment, and stabilizing tuition rates.

The physical protest went on for several nights and days and YouTube video hours, and finally ended when the crowd turned violently on the police.

At the time of the protest I stayed far away. I was just down the block from the fiasco at least a dozen times, but I never made it over there to see it– to experience it. But I could follow it on the web, anyway.

When news of the blog shut-down in China rang through my ears, it struck a cord inside me. And if I had never had the NYU blogging experience I may not have realized the connective “why?”

The Take Back NYU Project was part of my freshman year in college and although I could have, I never went and saw it for myself! I missed out by playing it safe and claiming disinterest. The truth is I wasn’t disinterested and because the protest was online, I was able to watch it from afar.

Terrence Cheromcka’s last piece for Wild River Review featured artist, Cassie Jones.

June 2, 2009 Kuwait Welcomes Women to Their Parliament by Joy E. Stocke

June 2, 2009

Kuwait Welcomes Women to Their Parliament

It seems that women, wherever we live in the world are able to create a lot of “ink” in the press. While the US has been fixated on the nomination of Sandra Sotomayar for the Supreme Court – a woman with Puerto Rican roots, the Kuwaiti Parliament (by all standards, Kuwait is one of the most conservative states in the Gulf) achieved its own milestone, the election of four women to their Parliament.

One who stands out is Rola Dashti, a Johns Hopkins University-educated economist, Chair of the Kuwait Economic Society and a political activist.

As someone who has traveled in that part of the world, I have seen firsthand how elections are often ruled by tribal loyalties, and how women of these tribes rarely leave their homes, let alone vote. And since women have only had the right to vote for 4 years in Kuwait, this achievement speaks to a changing world consciousness made possible by a rising standard of living and the opportunity for education.

In a speech Dashti gave at the University of Oklahoma, she had this to say:

“For 40 years women in Kuwait have fought for their political rights. That fight culminated in success on May 16, 2005 when women were granted the vote. In view of the fact that Kuwait has invested heavily and indiscriminately in human capital during the last 50 years or so as to offer its male and female citizens free education and health, we are appalled that it discriminated against women by having only the male population participate in political life. Kuwaiti men were allowed to vote and run for various political offices, were appointed to cabinet positions, and participated in the country’s decision-making process.

We perceive women as a pillar of prosperity, development, freedom and democracy. While the women’s movement began 40 years ago in Kuwait, Islamists colluded with traditionalists to limit and minimize the role of women and terrorize any woman who strayed from their way of thinking. For a closed society like Kuwait’s, social and psychological terrorism is as bad as physical terrorism, if not worse. Women are terrorized in the name of Islam as being anti-religious…patriotic agents of the West, destroyers of the social fabric, anti-family, and producers of homosexuality and adultery.”

Roshti, who is three years younger than American President Barack Obama, is part of a generation of women benefitting from the work of activists like Egyptian writer and feminist, Nawal el Sadaawi. Will Roshti and her sisters in the Kuwaiti Parliament achieve real change for women and men in the Gulf?

Stay tuned…

Joy E Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review.

May 2009
May 28, 2009 How to Give Birth by Beata Palya (with Kimberly Nagy)

May 28, 2009

How to Give Birth

In a recent email exchange with internationally acclaimed and rising star, Hungarian folk-jazz singer, Beata Palya (she recently signed a contract with Sony and her new album is called: Just One Voice) we talked about the importance of respecting and articulating the feminine perspective. She wrote to me via email with her normal honesty and warmth with the following message:

“Much of my new album is about the feminine perspective. For instance, here in Hungary, the two side are enemies – the birth at home and the birth at hospital sides, so i just tried to emphasize the fact that women actually know how to give birth to their baby, we just need to read the signs of our body. And we need to speak out when something feels wrong or is against us! My videos are about the strength of women’s communities.”

Palya granted me permission to publish lyrics from a song called How to give Birth.

You might also want to check out my recent interview with Beata Palya

How to give Birth

Beata Palya

I’ve decided, yes, to decide
To grow my tummy round and wide
Inside a puppet, little child
Hey on the street they’ll smile and smile
Inside a puppet, little child
Hey on the street they’ll smile and smile

My friend Vicky once frankly said
Kids are conceived in a woman’s head
Think about it, and there it is
Doesn’t matter what your man does
Think about it, and there it is
Doesn’t matter what your man does

I asked the doctor, yes I did
If I decide to have a kid
What do I do, how do I give birth?
How do I sit in the birthing chair?
What do I do, how do I give birth?
How do I sit in the birthing chair?

“Not in a chair, in a bed you’ll lie
We’ll make sure it’ll be a short time
We’ll make sure you’ll feel no pain
We’ll cut and sew, so don’t complain.
We’ll make sure you’ll feel no pain
We’ll cut and sew, so don’t complain.”

I see, Doctor, but it’s strange to me
I’ve been in this body for thirty years
It always knows how it should act
It conceived this baby, that’s a fact
So what if I want to sit or stand or grunt
Can’t I have this baby just how I want?
I don’t know yet how to have a baby
But who’s giving birth here, you or me?

This is the way
To have a baby
How would the doctor know
How to have a baby
How would the doctor know
How to have a baby

Kim Nagy is Executive Editor of Wild River Review

May 26, 2009 Clotheslining

May 26, 2009

Clotheslining

Guthrie - Clotheslining

Living and laundering in Athens has turned my long-standing fascination with clotheslines into a love affair.

In Athens, clotheslining is like farming, an eye and an ear cocked toward the weather. This city miraculously produces an abundant crop of clean clothes sown in dirty air. Tending the laundry is a woman’s twice daily ritual, the family’s clothes as demanding as cows clambering to be milked at dawn and dusk.

I arise to make coffee and glance across the sky at laundry already dancing on the rooftops. Planted in mid-air, warmed by the sun, promising a clean harvest by nightfall.

I have decided that electric clothes dryers steal joy. One of the true highlights of my day is hanging damp, sweet-smelling laundry on the line draped from my back balcony. Six stories in the air, I pin shirts and socks on the breeze as it floats by. The sun plants kisses on my face and I feel a soft and deep sense of morning satisfaction.

I observe the YaYa (grandmother) across the way hanging the family’s washing with the eye of an artist, planting wiggling knickers in thin air. I smile as she ponders how to pin a lacy lavender thong!

I settle at my desk and look through my window on the world. Front and center, my apartment neighbor’s tangled clothes wrangle with the wind. Somehow, her display always seems messy and stays sadly hanging through sun-drenched days and neglected nights. The look reminds one of weeds. I have a suspicion she does not have adequate closet space!

Clotheslines impart an atmosphere of intimacy in this otherwise veiled city. You know how often your neighbors change their sheets and what color their bedroom decor sports. Saturdays appear to be “wash the bedclothes day” when pillows and duvets rest on the balconies, sleeping in the sun. A wash line can announce a birth with a jubilation of pink and blue, or proclaim a death, as motionless black drapes red-hot August air.

Just seeing a line of sheets billowing on the breeze can lift my spirits. Like the family flags declaring possession of that particular plot of sky, the fluttering of fabric softens the rumble-jumble topography of concrete that is Athens. There is a silent language afloat as towels and drapes leave their greetings on the winds.

A melancholy morning is surprised by the whisper of memories in the air. My past comes tumbling by and I hurry to peg it down along with my old, soft flannel nightgown.

Half a world away in time and space, I remember the clothesline of my youth. Heavily laden, propped up in the middle with a gray and weathered pole, constant as my grandmother who tended it. A mortifying memory of discovering the boy next door, the heart-throb of the young teen circle, sneaking a look at the size of my bra as it dangled in the summer heat.

I recall the clothesline of Addie Rainwater. My neighbor, friend, and mentor as I navigated the nuances of young motherhood. Addie, the mother of three teenaged sons, seemed to display an infinite number of inside-out tee shirts on her line. I thought it was somehow a secret safeguard against sun-bleaching rays. No, the reason was more profound: clothes were washed, dried, ironed and put away in the condition they were given to her. I learned
a lot about raising children from that clothesline.

My present day Athenian clothesline is the backdrop for Lunch with the Laundry, as I have affectionately named the balcony meal my partner, Robin, and I share in the middle of our everyday. I think it is what lures him home from the office.

The familiar fabric of our lives together sways and swings, wrapping us in an undulating and private cocoon of color. Clothespins as bright as butterflies and the scent of apple blossom fabric softener create our garden in the sky.

I am not embarrassed to state that there are days I accessorize my washing, color coordinating clothespins with clothes. Gives me a sense of time to spare, beauty and order. Invites whimsy. Reminds me that dreams can be pinned on the air and allowed to dance within my reach.

Karen Guthrie discovers herself dwelling in Athens, Greece for a spell. She derives inspiration from the ordinary, and writes about her everyday observations and experiences. Transcontinentally transplanting herself several times a year, she tries to maintain her balance hanging laundry on Greek, British and American soil. This is her first post for Wild River Review.

May 19, 2009 Champagne by John Timpane

May 19, 2009

Champagne

Mom used to get drunk before
The first drink poured.
Into the party house she’d come
As beautiful a being as ever
There has been, a smile as
Big as your mother’s smile
In the biggest room of your
Memory, and in a moment
You’d hear this laugh
Already drunk because
Ready to be. No alkie she,
Just a girl who liked a good
Time – so much she
Started liking it before
Time came. Anticipation, our
Real. Expectation, what
You are while you wait; life
Is in the waiting. I shudder
In 40-degree November
Cloudbursts to remember
What I did to disappoint
Her astral expectations.
I did try. I did inherit
Mother’s champagne
Trick. Pour me one; go
Ahead and watch. All I
Need is to see
Effervescence prism
Myriad the swarming
Light, lion-tawny wine with
Nose enough to tell me
Be happy, and snap, I’m
Glad, glad to be about
To be glad. Skip James, I’m
Glad. I’m glad, I’m glad. Not
That champagne never
Fails. Must have at some
Time but never for me. I
Pour it when it’s time to
Pour champagne. The glass
Is my mirror: Like my mother
I get loaded before there’s
Ammunition, stagger before
Blood is laced, laugh
Before the first joke,
Cry at the first note, at
Anything. I blunderbuss
The woods before I see
Bear. Wait and See and I
Don’t see eye to eye. I lack
The knack, to reserve — to
Recover from dissed
Appointments. I want
Bear. Laughs. I want
Glad. Look: wine falls
Into glassy curve; glad
Is walking down the road
Right at me; for such a
Guest who wouldn’t get out
The flags and wave them out
Of their minds?
I’d be
Glad to pour for you
and
Watch you start being
Glad ahead of time.

John Timpane is a frequent contributor to Wild River Review. His translation Song of the Blessed One, Canto 11 of the Indian epic poem, Bhagavad Gita, appeared in an earlier edition.

May 12, 2009 A Friend From Mardin, Turkey, Speaks to Last Week’s Killings by Angie Brenner

May 12, 2009

A Friend From Mardin, Turkey, Speaks to Last Week’s Killings

Turkey massacre 2009

Editor’s Note: During research for our book Anatolian Days and Nights Angie Brenner and I spent time in southeastern Turkey where one of that country’s worse massacres occurred early in May. In many ways Turkey, a secular Muslim Republic, is a beacon for stability in the region. What follows is an account from Turkey’s Daily paper, Hurriyet, and a response from a teacher and friend who lives in Mardin.

Carnage during an engagement ceremony in southeastern Anatolia has ignited debate over Turkey’s village guard system, part of a controversial militia force that patrols the rocky hillsides in the region and is paid by the state.

According to unconfirmed reports, the assailants who claimed the lives of 44 people including three pregnant women in Bilge village, near the city of Mardin, were part of this system.

Village guards have aided the government forces and fought the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, since 1984 and have long been criticized for their alleged links with illegal activities in the region. According to official data from the Interior Ministry, the number of village guards is around 58,000, all of whom are men with a lower standard of pay and benefits than the police.

To: Angie Brenner
From: Mustafa Oludeniz

Greetings from Mardin,
What a perfect feeling to hear from you Angie.

First of all, the event took place near Mardin is the most terrible and horrible event We have ever seen and heard.

We certainly don’t accept and understand this kind of massacre on our grounds. The most important thing you should understand and know about these monsters is that they are the victims of uneducated life and are very, very poor.

I want to mean that they had some arguments about their valuable land. Because of that, they no longer agreed to share the land and that is where their money comes from.

The worst side of the event is the killers and the victims are relatives. They have the same surnames.

I believe we must invest in education not guns if we are to make change in our region.

April 2009
April 27, 2009 Torture and Patriotism by William Irwin Thompson

April 27, 2009

Torture and Patriotism

THINKING OTHERWISE

“We Irish think otherwise”  Bishop Berkeley

Inquisition

In spite of the fact that the United States has more great universities than any other nation, from Harvard and MIT in the East, to Duke in the South, Michigan in the North, and Stanford and Berkeley in the West, we remain a raw, barbaric, and proudly ignorant nation.

Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are popular indicators that there are definitely more stupid than smart people here in this great land of ours, and what this means for the rest of us is that our culture is not really founded on ideas, the Enlightenment from Locke to Jefferson, and the Constitution; it is founded on the alpha male primate politics of identity, group loyalty, fear, and violence as a solution to all problems. If we all have brains, in the Good Old USA, it is the amygdala that rules and not the neocortex.

And so we had a War on Poverty, and now have a War on Drugs, and a War on Terror.  We cannot conceive of a polity or an economy that is not based on war against a hated and feared Other.  Ideologically, we appear on the surface to be democratic; economically in our deep structure, we are plutocratic.  Although Big Business calls the shots and shapes the mentality through the media it owns, the loud majority fears Big Government more than Big Business, as the New York Times columnist David Brooks indicated in his April 24th column.

For the eight years of the Cheney and Bush administration, we saw just what happens when this Chimp primate mentality takes over a government founded upon the Enlightenment document of our U.S. Constitution.  We had the War in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the institutionalization of torture as the due process of law.  Clever constitutional lawyers like David Addington and John Yoo used their knowledge and skills to reconstruct torture, not as the hated legacy of the Inquisition that our Founding Fathers as Masons loathed and wished to expel and entomb in the historical graveyard of bad ideas, but as a necessary evil against the Terror that was out to destroy us.

Once the constitutional lawyers had been corrupted, the physicians were next to be injected with this malicious toxin as they were called in to violate their Hippocratic oath and to keep watch over the victims so that they would not die, but could be kept at the edge of life in order that the torture could continue.  This new policy was founded on the horrific images of 9/11. Libertarians all around the country, however, insist that 9/11 was, like the Nazi burning of the Reichstag blamed on the Bolsheviks, actually a CIA American attack intended to support a suspension of civil liberties and a declaration of martial law. Libertarian taxi drivers have a handful of DVDs that they give to chatty customers like me to convince us that they are not paranoid weirdos.

A few inches away from the Republican apologetics of David Brooks in the  New York Times is the liberal Prolegomena to Any Future Polity of Paul Krugman.  This Nobel laureate and Princeton professor is obviously one of the smart people in this vast land of Clear Channel mediums. (If you’ve ever driven a pickup truck around in rural Colorado and New Mexico and tuned in to the local radio station, you will know what I mean.)

Krugman argues for an unrelenting investigation and prosecution of the last administration’s agents of torture.  Personally, and on the emotional basis of horror and repulsion, I would like to see David Addington and John Yoo disbarred, and Yoo expelled from his professorship at Berkeley in a reaffirmation of professional ethics, but I back away from the prosecution of Cheney and Bush for the coldest and most calculatingly rational of reasons.  I fear the paranoid and populist Right Wingers of this country.  If we set a precedent, then every incoming administration of one party will seek to prosecute the previous administration of the opposite party.

Like someone stopping to take his antibiotics before the bottle is empty, thinking his infection is cured, we run the risk of having the Civil War spring back to life with all its ugly hatreds because we never really healed ourselves of that malady in either the nineteenth or twentieth centuries.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Libertarians are paranoid and that 9/11 was not an American burning of the Reichstag.  But those DVDs are out there in circulation, and they certainly could inspire some cabal of right wing and racist paramilitary nuts to create another seemingly Islamist terrorist attack and blame it on Obama to say that at least under Cheney and Bush we were safe.  The country would split wide open, and this time it would be the liberal scientific Northeast, and not cowboy Texas, that would want to secede from the rugged individualist politics of the Wild West.

So although I admire Paul Krugman’s ideas, and wish that he and not Larry Summers were the economics guru to the President, I back away from his vigorous moral crusade, fearing that in the enantiodromias of history in which one movement turns into its opposite, this campaign will achieve the opposite of what it intends.  We will risk turning a cultural cold war into a hot civil war.

Yes, we are, or should be, a nation under the rule of law, so the investigation should continue to expose the metastatic extent of this cancer in our polity. But we should stop short of trying to prosecute Cheney and Bush—even though I believe them to be the guilty culprits who are responsible for the policy of torture.  We need something closer to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, rather than the trials of the Shah’s SAVAK torturers that created the new foundation for the tyranny of the Ayatollah’s theocratic Iran.

If we were to prosecute Cheney and Bush, then it should be for treason in lying to the assembled government of Congress and the Supreme Court and violating their oaths of office. Perhaps, then, the Conservatives might see that the neocons did not conserve but betrayed their country and its constitution, and then Libertarian and Leftist could unite in saving our country from its decline.

Cultural historian, poet and philosopher, William Irwin Thompson, writes regularly for Wild River Review.

April 23, 2009 The Murdered Come Out at Night by Saadi Youssef

April 23, 2009

The Murdered Come Out at Night

Headline – New York Times  April 23, 2009At Least 75 People are Killed in Attacks in Iraq

The Murdered Come out at Night

At night they awake,

their white eyes forever open wide.

And in the city, even through its narrow alleys,

they walk, their shrouds hardly concealing their limbs.

They walk. Their mouths are orchards

of lead, singing, and the alleys resound.

 

We hear them when the children shiver.

No other sound can voice this wild despair.

A sound that knocks on doors and burns

like a bird crossing the valley of death and flowering.

May ends…and from the waves of its banners

blood will gush to startle a dozing nation.

Baghdad 2/9/1960

Saadi Youssef is one of the leading poets of the Arab world. Born in 1934 in Basra, Iraq, he has published thirty volumes of poetry and seven books.  The Murdered Come out at Night is collected in the volume, Without an Alphabet, Without a Face. published by Greywolf Press.  In 2007, Wild River Review interviewed him at the PEN American Center World Voices Festival.

April 14, 2009 Does Turkey Need the EU or Does the EU Need Turkey? by Angie Brenner

April 14, 2009

Does Turkey Need the EU or Does the EU Need Turkey?

Biricek Dam, Southeastern Turkey

Biricek Dam, Southeastern Turkey

Last week,  a reporter on National Public Radio (NPR)  interviewed people in Turkey about their bid to join the European Union (EU), and the EU’s continued rejection of that bid. The wound, which has been festering for a half a century, was opened once again during President Obama’s recent visit to Turkey where he said that America would be in favor of Turkey joining the EU.

There were two comments from this news segment that caught my attention. One was the response by French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who immediately rejected the suggestion that Turkey should become part of the EU; and the second was a Turkish citizen who voiced the opinion of many by saying that Turkey shouldn’t try so hard to win favor with the EU because as he said, “We have everything we need here.”

While most of its citizens are Muslim, Turkey remains clearly a secular republic, thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who founded the Republic in 1924. Did Sarkozy forget that the success of the Turkish Republic was partly based on its alignment with the French? Ataturk was greatly influenced by Europe, enough to change Turkey’s alphabet from Arabic to Roman, and adopt the French judicial system. Anyone who walks through Istanbul’s Beyolgu neighborhood cannot dismiss the French art deco architecture.

Being something of a Turkophile – I’ve traveled and written about the country for years, along with WRR Editor in Chief, Joy Stocke – I had to smile to myself at the proud comment by the Turkish man. Since 1959 ,Turkey has worked to formally establish itself with Europe; and, since 1987, has been in process to enter into the European Union, often to the complaints of its people.

“Why should we bow to Europe when they need us more then we need them?” is a common statement on the street. The “we have everything,” comment isn’t too far from the truth. From the Aegean, across the Anatolian heartland, and to the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Turkey has an abundance of food and water, two of the world’s most prized possessions. Has Europe turned a blind-eye to one of the world’s most ambitious water projects known as GAP, the Southeastern Anatolia Project, that establishes 22 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and their tributaries?

Today, Turkey controls the taps to the water flowing into Syria and Iraq. A few years ago, Joy and I were invited to tour the Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River near Syria. The locations of dams unfortunately come at a high historical cost since the Birecik Dam has flooded ancient ruins. The Roman city of Zeugma, the ‘Turkish Pompeii’ with many exquisite mosaics, lies submerged. The shiny new turbines and concrete walls that hold back millions of gallons of water will help to irrigate fields of cotton in the volatile east. We’ve been to a similar sight on the Tigris River where the Ilusu Dam will cover the village of Hasankeyv and ancient ruins and control the flow of water directly into Baghdad.

NOTE: see the March 2009 issue of Smithsonian Magazine: 

Hasankeyf - Tigris River, Southeastern Turkey

Hasankeyf – Tigris River, Southeastern Turkey

While the West frets over world oil resources, Turkey is quickly garnering control of water in the Near and Middle East. With deep Christian and Persian roots, Turkey has never been a country to be dismissed. How long can Europe and the West continue its prejudice against Turkey and at what future cost?

Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review.  Her book,  Anatolian Days and Nights, chronicling her journeys through Turkey, will be published next year.

April 10, 2009 On the Place of Creative Writing Departments in American Literature by William Irwin Thompson

April 10, 2009

On the Place of Creative Writing Departments in American Literature

THINKING OTHERWISE
“We Irish think otherwise”  Bishop Berkeley

Question: What do Creative Writing departments and Athlete’s Foot have in common?

Answer: They both are parasitical forms of life in the wrong place that stink from enclosure and make it harder to run and jump under the sun.

Gott sei Dank that Europe has not yet been taken over by this American literary theme park artificial culture. Creative Writing programs are popular with American students because they don’t have to study very much and so can spend their college years smoking dope, writing self-indulgent adolescent crap, and narcissistically fussing over “finding their own voice.” The way to kill good writers is to ask them to teach Creative Writing to fill their minds with the bad writing of sophomores for years on end. Better that a writer should study the geology of the moons of Jupiter, read Nature, and write when after work she is inspired by the knowledge of bacteria and stars.

Now I have no objection to students taking courses in how to write poetry or fiction, but these should simply be electives in an English department and not a major unto itself.  However, if one wished to live in a perfect world, then, I think, it would be better that “English” be retired and replaced with “Literature,” and that every major be required to read in one classical language of her choice—Latin, Greek, Arabic, Sanskrit, or classical Chinese) and one modern language other than her native tongue. By having English as a patriotic, heroic narrative, one makes historical mistakes: such as starting the study of the European novel with Richardson and Defoe instead of Lazarillo de Tormes and Don Quijote, or beginning one’s study of Arthurian literature with Mallory instead of Chrétien de Troyes and the Welsh Mabinogion, or reading Spenser but not Ariosto. A Literature major would avoid these mistakes and affirm our new planetary civilization by no longer looking upon Spanish and French as “foreign languages.”  They are North American languages and U.S. college students should, at least, have an intermediate reading knowledge of both.

Writers need to know things.  William Carlos Williams was a doctor and Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. Writers should major in engineering or medicine, archaeology or philosophy, and only minor in literature. Thomas Pynchon started out majoring in engineering at Cornell, then went into the navy, and only then returned to Cornell to study literature with Nabokov et alia.

A few years back in 2006,  John Barr in Poetry magazine uttered a cry of the heart for an American poetry that was not owned by Creative Writing Departments and MFA programs, but I found his essay surprising in that he did not look beyond Creative Writing’s official trade union journals like Poetry, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, or Prairie Schooner, to find other forms of the poetic life expressed in a non-academic literature. Had he extended his horizon to the web and its new literary journals, he would have encountered, for just one example, the embodied knowing of JC. Todd.

If one stops to look back to our own Anglo-American tradition with Blake, Dickinson, or Yeats, one will realize that these three were deeply rooted in world views that were not shared by their contemporaries.  Great poetry is not simply the clever magazine poetry that is easily published and more easily read.  Clever poetry expresses a a sociology of surfaces, but great poetry expresses a deeper and wider cosmology.  Poetry magazine and the New Yorker tend to be partial to a poetry that is often simply cute and trivial and part of a collective Denkstil that is fashionably anti-poetic. Most often the poem is simply a short story typographically cast as verse.

Now I am not so naïve as to think Creative Writing departments will either change or be incorporated in Literature departments.  When Harvard’s Helen Vendler favorably reviews her Harvard colleague and friend Jorie Graham in the New York Review of Books, you know that the Established Church is not about to become Shaker simple or heretically visionary.

So cultural evolution on the web and in new media will have to become its own bride of quietness and foster-child of silence and slow time.

Cultural philosopher and historian William Irwin Thompson is founder of  the Lindisfarne Association.

Thompson coined the term Wissenskunst” (literally, “knowledge-art”) (a German term)  to describe his own work. Contrasting it with Wissenschaft, the German term for science, Thompson defines Wissenskunst as “the play of knowledge in a world of serious data-processors.”  

His poetic work, Canticum, Turicum, will be published as part of a larger work, Still Travels,  by Wild River Books in July, 2009.

April 5, 2009 Patient Zero and the Making of a Thriller, An Interview with Jonathan Maberry, by Janice Gable Bashman

April 5, 2009

Patient Zero and the Making of a Thriller: An Interview with Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry

“When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.

And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.” Joe Ledger from Patient Zero

Armed with the strength to survive a brutal childhood, an overwhelming desire to write, and the advice of two great authors (Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury), Jonathan Maberry found success as a writer. PATIENT ZERO, Maberry’s newest book, grabs the reader by the throat and never lets go.

Wild River Review chats with Jonathan about his writing and what makes a good thriller so thrilling.

WRR: You stated Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury changed your life when you were a teenager. They gave you signed copies of their books and talked to you about the nature of storytelling. Why was this so significant, and how did it affect you?

 JONATHAN MABERRY: Matheson and Bradbury were iconic figures even when I was a kid in the early 1970s. To have them offer advice on how to approach a career in writing was invaluable.

Matheson told me to think beyond the surface plot, to delve into the motivations of the characters, and to spend time postulating on the paths that led the characters to the moment of this story.

That advice took hold, though for the next thirty years I applied it to my process of critical analysis when reading other writers work, watching film or TV, or attending plays. In 2004 I restarted a novel (GHOST ROAD BLUES) I’d taken a weak swing at in 1996, but which I’d not finished. That happened largely because I’d been re-reading one of Matheson’s best books, The Shrinking Man, which has layer upon layer of psychological subtext. As I read, I began to think about the characters I’d created for my novel and realized that I’d done it the wrong way: I’d created characters but not actual ‘people.’ I applied Matheson’s advice and went into the manuscript to discover who these people were. And as a result, I wrote a much better story.

Ghost Road Blues went on to win the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel in 2006. It was followed by two sequels: Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising.

Bradbury had a different approach. He talked to me about finding the magic in the moment.  In any moment. He encouraged me to ‘look inside the world’ to see what makes it tick. Not just the gears and motors that run society and people’s lives, but what he called the ‘purified oil of belief.’

He also said that there were stories happening all around, every second of every day. To see the stories, and to capture them in a tale, required that a writer learn to pay attention and to think beyond simple action. He advised that paying attention meant more than watching and recording, but instead involved the cultivation of genuine interest in what people said and did. Interest, he cautioned, without judgment.

He also made a comment – said offhand at the time, but which I believe is a fundamental truth for writers: ‘Writing is 99% thinking about it…and the rest is typing.’

Bradbury gave me a signed copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes, and I’ve read that book (though, admittedly not that copy) every Halloween since. Matheson had given me a copy of I AM LEGEND the previous spring, and I still regard it as the book that changed me as a writer. It was not only a collision of genre (science fiction and horror), but an intellectual novel with many layers of social commentary built into its lean prose.

WRR: Your novels deal with human darkness, and your characters confront and overcome, despite great odds, those who seek to destroy good people. Why is this such a universal theme, and why are you drawn to it?

MABERRY:  I had a pretty dark childhood. Understanding that darkness was not something that only affected me, but was crucial to my personal survival. Later it gave me insight that I used when teaching self-defense and safety awareness programs. I was also one of those rare children who was able to become tough enough to defeat my own monsters. That’s a remarkably empowering process.  It influenced how I taught self-defense because it came from a sure knowledge that the darkness can be pushed back.

It also influenced my writing. Unlike a lot of colleagues of mine who write about scary things like monsters, I never identified with the monster. I was always rooting for the vampire hunter. It’s not a surprise that my writing often deals with a seemingly unstoppable threat that ordinary people are able to rise up against and overthrow.

WRR: In Patient Zero, a weaponized plague turns humans into zombies, threatening the world. What is the real science behind Patient Zero, and how did you use it to make the plot plausible?

MABERRY:  I was doing research for a nonfiction pop-culture book on zombies (they’re the hot monster right now). I asked scientists and doctors to speculate on how science might explain zombies (as they appear in the movies). I expected to get very few scientifically useful answers on that, but they came back to me with tons of hard science.  Much of it ‘possible’ though luckily not ‘probable.’

The core of the science is a prion disease called ‘fatal familial insomnia.’ Mad Cow is a prion disease. The insomnia prion disease causes its victims to stay perpetually awake until they become exhausted, deranged, and mindless; and then they die. A weaponized version of that disease became the core of Patient Zero.

WRR: Who is Joe Ledger?

MABERRY: Joe Ledger is a Baltimore cop with enough emotional baggage to open a luggage store. We meet Joe shortly after his girlfriend has committed suicide.  Joe is a bit of a mess from that and earlier childhood trauma. He’s learned to use his damage in ways that make him very formidable. These qualities bring him to the attention of an elite Rapid Response group formed to confront radical bioweapons. The Department of Military Science (DMS) has already come up against the terrorists with the prion plague, and that first encounter was a disaster. Joe is brought in to lead a counter-attack.

WRR: You said a good “thriller asks big questions:  What is disintegration? What is moral choice? What forces are at work to change the natural order of things?” What do you hope people will talk about after reading Patient Zero?

MABERRY:  Mysteries are about solving a crime; thrillers are all about preventing something very bad from happening. The bad guys are planning something big, and because this is something ‘planned’ (as opposed to a murder committed in the heat of the moment) the motivations for the bad guys tend to run a little deeper than in mysteries, which allows the author to get inside those minds and really crawl around. Heroes in thrillers are usually smart and resourceful.

People who have already read the book generally talk about the characters and how real they are. People talk about ‘people’ in the book. And that’s deeply satisfying to me.

Janice Gable Bashman is a regular contributor to Wild River Review. Her most well known piece for the magazine featured comic strip artist, Lynn Johnston.

Jonathan Maberry is the author of numerous articles and books.  Patient Zero is the first in an ongoing series.

March 2009
March 20, 2009 An Indulgence of Riches – Food as Literature by Angie Brenner

March 20, 2009

An Indulgence of Riches – Food as Literature

While half the U.S. was bundled in down coats and wool mittens, I drove into a warm, cloudless, blue-sky landscape of San Diego for an afternoon of Food as Literature at my friend Anne Mery’s eclectic bookstore, The Grove.

The event – Three Courses Three Genres – brought out both readers and foodies (of which I am both) to listen to writers read about how food inspires their art and feeds their souls. As a further enticement, raffle tickets were sold for the possibility to spend a day at the world-renowned spa Rancho la Puerta in nearby Tecate, Mexico – which includes a cooking class at the spa’s kitchen. Proceeds from the raffle would go to the San Diego Rescue Mission. Attendees were asked to bring a non-perishable food item for the Mission as well.

The ‘gift basket’ of mostly canned vegetables to give to the homeless folks (I brought a Biggy Mart-sized box of pasta spirals) grew, and I wondered whether any of us food lovers and amateur cooks can understand what going hungry means.

The event co-sponsor, Judy Reeves of San Diego Writer’s Ink introduced Los Angeles writer Nancy Spiller who read from her new book Entertaining Disasters, a Novel with Recipes. Nancy read one amusing story from her book where her protagonist describes the drinking differences between New Yorkers who outwardly enjoy alcohol consumption and Los Angelinos who often pass on libations in the need to count calories, or wear their admittance to The Betty Ford Center as a badge of elitism.

Writers and poets continued the second genre with readings from Hunger and Thirst: Food Literature, an Anthology of Stories and Poems, edited by Nancy Cary. Trissy McGhee not only read the story of her Irish Grandmother’s shortbread, “which should be eaten only with tea or whiskey,” she brought slices of the butter-rich sweet for us to taste with mint tea. Note: I really wanted to try this with whiskey.

Before the RLP spa raffle, Deborah M. Schneider talked about her experience co-writing Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta, with spa owner Deborah Szekely.

Those of us who have already had the opportunity to visit Rancho La Puerta know how healing with food in a beautiful environment changes the psyche. I quickly forgot about the men, women, and children queuing up at the downtown Mission for a free meal, and hoped that my ticket to the spa would be chosen.

When the last guests filed out the door, I was still lingering by Nancy Spiller’s offering of Ruffle potato chips and her garlicky butter and cream cheese dip. “Take the rest home,” said Spiller.

I did, and was glad to have given up my raffle money to help those in need – Rancho la Puerta can wait – knowing that I’m blessed with more food choices then most.

Angie Brenner is West Coast Editor for Wild River Review. Her piece, Eagle of Ararat, co-written with Joy E. Stocke appears in this issue of the magazine.

March 16, 2009 On the Street of Peace by Terrence Cheromcka

March 16, 2009

On the Street of Peace

The seventeen minute walk that I take on average three times a week to and from my dorm room to classes is filled with contemplation and dreams. Even more so right after class when I exit the building lost in philosophical thought.

On many occasions, I have been hit by the person exiting the door in front of me. So in a hurry are they to leave, that they don’t take the time to hold the door open for the contemplative person behind them.

I will be the first to admit that I am guilty on all counts of this door-slamming offense – once, or thirty, times – myself. And truth be told, it’s simply half-assed and just not kind enough.

How, you may ask, does any everyday occurrence of door-slamming translate to problems in the Middle East?

I am sitting in my residential hall as a part of the circle surrounding Professor Alonben-meir (of www.alonben-meir.com) who is speaking to us about the conflict in the Middle East, and the answer seems so simple and so clear – we appear to have come to a dead end in the peace-making process. The door waits to be opened for negotiation, but these efforts seem to be a show. Nobody really wants to concede and hold the door open for those who wish to walk through. So, we see images of people running, burning, dying. The fight over the land and ideology consuming people’s hearts and minds until they slam the door shut on each other.

“How could we chose any other way except that of peaceful co-existence through the two-state solution?” Alonben-meir speaks softly and from his heart.

He speaks from experience as an Israeli with a strong Jewish faith, and he speaks about the time in his life spent living in exile in a tent.

We (I say “we” because we are all in this together) must all make an effort to see this dead end as a turning point. It is not a time to allow doors to close in faces or to make showy attempts. This is the time to turn around and seek real peace.

Last month, my father came to visit me in New York City and we dined at a little, cash-only Italian restaurant on 7th Street between 2nd and 1st Ave (“Via Della Pace” by name).

Our waiter wore a T shirt that said, “Make food not war.”

He told me it was the restaurant’s new shirt. And, like a child in a toy-store, I begged my father to buy one for me. I asked the waiter what the name of the restaurant translated to in English. The manager came over to explain it to me personally and I was delighted to find it means “On the street of peace.”

My favorite restaurant, for many reasons, and that night I added one more – its name really meant something. I won the battle for the T-shirt with my father and dreamt of peace that night.

“Israelis and Palestinians have to live, work, and prosper together. History and geography have destined them to be neighbors. That cannot be changed. Only when their actions are guided by this awareness will they be able to develop the vision and reality of peace and shared prosperity.” – George Mitchell (The Obama administration’s American envoy to the Middle East)

Terrence Cheromcka is Deputy Editor of Wild River Review.

March 8, 2009 The Right to Un-Privacy by Joseph Glantz

March 8, 2009

The Right to Un-Privacy

As I watched my father grow older, I marveled at the loneliness of many of his older divorced or widowed friends. Many lived alone even though they had multiple children. And sure the children came around to visit and invited their parent to a Sunday dinner. Most were glad to help with any medical problems. But many of the healthy single elderly lived on their own and I couldn’t help but wonder why the children weren’t fighting over which one gets the joy of having the parent live with them. So I hope that a side benefit of the recession (multiple incomes even if one is social security and a pension are better than one)is that parents and their children will live together and enjoy each other’s company.

I hear people like Tom Friedman and Al Gore harp on environmental costs. And I can’t help, as I take the train into the City or the bus to my local library, wonder why are all these people in their cars. I like the chance to get into a good conversation on public transportation or at least to be amused by the people who seem to have no shame with their loud cell-phone conversations. I fail to see the joy of driving by oneself. It’s tiring. Most work routes are boring. Talk to your fellow citizen. Most have “something” interesting to say.

Privacy. My dad used to go up to Kutchers, an old resort in the Catsklls (Wilt Chamberlain worked there in his youth and it’s the one that was used in “Dirty Dancing”). The best part was you would be assigned a random table where you would eat with people you had never met before. And some of the conversations were marvelous like the blind guy and his brother who played for the old NBC orchestra. I’d like to see that as a feature at the Olive Garden.

People buy big houses for their big-screen TVs. They have separate rooms for them. But I, for one, the shared experience of watching a sporting event with fans at a local pub or going to the movies where I can hear the audience participate. Do I really need a waiting room for my sitting room? Why was there such a big need for big homes in the first place?

Some of the interesting people my father spoke to were the patients in hospital rooms. Do we really need private rooms when the economy is rough? Plus misery likes company – or so the cliché goes.

Even looking for a job has its advantages. In the past one would send out blind resumes. But now, with Linkedin and other sites it’s becoming more and more clear that networking not only helps with employment, it helps you find people with similar interests.

One of my favorite books is Joe McGinnis’s Going to Extremes. In it he marveled that the core reason people leave to live in Alaska is so they can get away from everybody else. But because the elements are so severe the only way they can survive is to get along with everybody else. Ironic , yes. But still a point to remember in these down times.

Sure the world is full of schmucks. But most people are mensches. The economy is in the crapper. But if it forces us to recognize our fellow man a little more, then there is a silver lining.

Joseph Glantz is consulting editor for the WIld River Review and author of Interviews with the Famously Departed.

March 3, 2009 Totem Beach by Joy E. Stocke

March 3, 2009

Totem Beach

The very air here is miraculous, and outlines of reality change with the moment…A dream hangs over the whole region, a brooding kind of hallucination.

John Steinbeck, Log from the Sea of Cortez

There’s an easy way to get to Totem Beach and, of course, a more challenging way. The easy way takes you along a dirt path overlooking the bay and the challenging way takes you over granite boulders some of which look like they were burned by lava flows just weeks rather than millions of years ago.

Pink and black granite dominate the landscape. But also very porous lava rock containing stones and shells and bits of coral. And the water, which has a high saline concentration, beats against the rocks in viscous aqua and blue and bottle-green. And the crabs who look like the wolf spider you found in your sink this morning (only the crabs are dark blue with dark red markings instead of mud brown) scuttle and scatter when they see you coming.

You climb, hands scraping against the rock and try not to get your feet wet – although what does it matter when you’re wearing shoes that are designed to get wet? But somehow it matters greatly because to keep your feet dry means you are cleverly and strategically placing your feet on rock ledges, or in crevices, or balancing on two stones, the water swirling its white foam between the borders on which you now stand.

You think all kinds of things standing there poised for your next move – that all is too beautiful to absorb, or you could seriously hurt yourself here and how would the Medivac people find you? Or, it doesn’t look good up north where you’re returning in a few days (and you don’t mean the blizzard that hit over the weekend), and will you have any retirement savings left when you get there? And really you could live cheaply down here, plus it IS so very beautiful.

Sweat trickles down your back. You successfully make the leap to the next rock and up and around the bend, and there it is: a field of egg-shaped white boulders flecked with black and sparkling mica piled storeys high upon a bed of granite that overlooks the sea. And at the top beneath a candy-blue sky are carefully chosen and stacked piles of rock poised like the castles of dripping sand you made at the beach when you were a child.

If you look carefully, you will see a 20 foot high pink granite shape of a woman presiding over the spectacle, her breasts pushing forward – the Egyptian goddess, Isis – patroness of nature and magic manifest here on this beach that the locals call dinosaur egg beach where three men, two children and a dog climb barefoot over a surface of rock, carefully piling one rock atop another, each rock smaller than the next until the child is laughing and the men are smiling, unafraid of falling.

Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review.

February 2009
February 24, 2009 Baja Kali by Joy E. Stocke

February 24, 2009

Baja Kali

Funny, the things one puts together when traveling.

I’ve been coming to Baja for seven years, and to California since I was 14. I’ve sung hundreds of songs containing the mouth-pleasing word California, but I never thought that there might be a connection between the west coast of the United States and the great destroyer goddess of Indian mythology, Kali. But, let me start with another book, The Bull from the Sea, by Roberto Colasso. In it, he outlines Greek mythology beginning with its connection to his own continent, Europe. The story he tells is of the goddess Europe (Ev-ro-pee) and the white bull who brought her from the Island of Crete to European shores. In that book, he asks a question: But where did it all begin?

Here is something I surmise: The great Indian goddess Kali came to California and gave it her name. But to make that connection, another book comes into play, a book I mentioned in an earlier blog – the 1972 Time/Life book about Baja.

Here is what it says: First came the Spanish conquistadors, avidly searching for gold, a passage to the Indies and a mythical race of lady warriors who fought with golden weapons under the rule of a queen named Califa. Her realm had been celebrated in a popular medieval romance, Las Sergas de Esplandian, chronicling the adventures of a prince who gathers a crusading army to defend the Anatolian city of Constantinople form the Persians.

The prince learns that there is “an island on the right hand of the Indies, very near the terrestrial Paradise, peopled by black women among whom was not a single man. They had beautiful bodies, spirited courage, and great strength and their weapons were all made of gold.”

So now I will make my hypothesis. Having studied Indian mythology, and having traveled to and written extensively about Turkey, or Anatolia, I have become familiar with the myth of the black goddess, Kali – she who lives in mountains and forests and has the power to destroy as well as create. Her name is Kali or Kali-Ma as the Hindus call her; and she is fierce. Considering that she wears a necklace of skulls, one wouldn’t want to cross her. Yet, in her form as Durga, she gives all the riches we could desire.

She has also given the first syllable of her name to many things, not the least of which is the word Ka, which is the first syllable for the word black in Arabic and Turkish (and other languages, I’m sure.)

The Spanish didn’t find gold in Baja, although they did their best to seek it out. They, did, however, bring their religion and another woman into the pantheon, the Virgin Mary. Look carefully at her image when you are here. Often, she is pictured as the black Madonna.

Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review.

February 21, 2009 Baja Dreaming: An Update from Cuba - Hey Detroit, Meet Me in Havana by Peter Soderman

February 21, 2009

Baja Dreaming: An Update from Cuba – Hey Detroit, Meet Me in Havana

by Joy E. Stocke – And so, while the wind blows over the Sierra Lagunas and my Internet service fades in and out, I am receiving dispatches from other parts of the Carribean.

Hey Detroit, Meet me in Havana

Cancun, gateway to Havana, is vile, a Pine Ridge Indian Reservation of gastronomic vaudeville for Margaritaville Americans bent on rogue acts of gluttony. But don’t most fraternities enjoy the all inclusive Marriot vacation-wet nurse-Budweiser maternity package?

These loquacious languadors of blue lagoondom (sales Mayans) even tried to get me into a time share condo, “NOW,” for which I told them:

“Number one, Bernard Madoff ponzy schemed my life savings.”

And two, “I need a time share in Cancun like I need a burlap Speedo.”

Cuba is another story and I want to be in theirs. Havana, a crumbling Caribbean jewel of Venetian Palaces built by slave labor and capitalism and unmaintainable by socialist labor and communism is home to some the best cars America ever made.

The last American cars to be quarantined were 1950s beauties, Detroit’s finest, still rolling through Havana’s streets, omnipresent like strong American values silhouetted by the one Russian car, the Lada which is also everywhere, a truncated, Slavic cigar box of a Mr. Magoo-co-vich-looking ride orphaned of even one ruble of free market savoir faire.

Detroit doesn’t need a bail out. They just need to get their cars back from Cuba and write Fidel a bad check before Obama lifts the embargo. For the Cubans, however, it will be like the painful demise of the USSR during Perestroika. Cuba will have Castroika when Yucatan Chuck roles up to Cancunify the place.

But, we could give Ron Blagojevich – disgraced Governor of Illinois – to Fidel as Minister of Cuban Car Sales, and Ron won’t have to go to jail here at home. Instead, he’ll be doing Cold War community service there.

It’s only across the way.

“Yes,” shouts Blagojevich, “Come on down to Che Guevarra Car City for the best of America. Get them while they’re hot, these unapologetic pegasaurian praises to the wheel, anthropomorph-mobiles with faces, eyes and a mouths, so majestic that you, the driver, never need wear a seat belt, can have a six pack of Schlitz on the console and inhale a Lucky Strike while singing Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons at the same time.”

Like the De Sotos and other road sharks, these cars have fins and can swim. If augmented with outboard motors and the incentive of blood, they probably can make it to Miami as a fleet.

If you are ever curious who won the Cold War International Car Show, Joy, go to Cuba.
Lada, which rhymes with Nada, is nothing.

Peter Soderman is creator of Writer’s Block and Quark Park.

February 20, 2009 Baja Dreaming by Joy E. Stocke

February 20, 2009

Baja Dreaming

“Here is no water but only rock

Rock and no water and sandy road

The road winding above among the mountains.”

T. S. Eliot: The Wasteland

I’m sitting at a table in an adobe house overlooking the Bay of California known as the Sea of Cortez, a house painted cactus-green, accented in flame-orange and typical of the community in which I live for a few weeks each winter.

I have been coming here for seven years from the north to a landscape that according to an article in TIME/LIFE books written in 1972 is “the most consistently unclouded, clearly visible detail of North America seen from space.” As far as I can tell, this still holds true for much of Baja. As an example, the community in which I live, settled by men and women primarily from the western mountain states, is off the grid.

The Baja peninsula extends 800 miles south from the United States border and ends south of the Tropic of Cancer, a region of mountains, valleys, desert plains, rock-strewn beaches and the only coral reef in North America. Mountain ranges that begin in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska make up the spine of the Baja peninsula ending in Cabo San Lucas, playland of celebrities, sybarites, golfers and fishermen.

Here, at this time of year, the wind blows from the north, the light rises and drops so suddenly that it takes you by surprise. I come here to write, but the landscape takes over quickly. There are rocks to collect so that I can finish building the stone path. And Kent drops by, having just returned from Todos Santos with an offer of a glass of red wine and a bowl of homemade turkey soup, and we must come tonight because tomorrow he is leaving for La Paz.

And the wind should be calm tomorrow and I just bought my first set of snorkel gear and I happen to live just steps away from that coral reef I mentioned earlier. And I am always thinking about what I should write, or will write even as I’m writing the story of my life.

February 11, 2009 What Exactly is a Laptop Orchestra, Anyway? And who is Perry Cook? by Joy E. Stocke

February 11, 2009

What Exactly is a Laptop Orchestra, Anyway? And who is Perry Cook?

I met Perry Cook nearly three years ago in a temporary sculpture garden called Quark Park near the Princeton University Campus in Princeton, New Jersey. Wild River Review’s Executive Editor, Kim Nagy, had brought me there to write about the exhibits, one of which was a beautiful granite lithophone sculpted by Jonathan Shor.

What made Quark Park unique and an inspiration to those of us who saw it, was the collaboration of landscape designers, artists and scientists. Shor and Cook’s lithophone stood out for a number of reasons: its beauty, the gorgeous recording Cook made of Shor’s process, plus the fact that the lithophone was miked and anyone could play it at will. Thus, we all became composers creating original pieces of music that through the magic of stone and amplification sounded damned good.

Cook was and is irrepressible, a man who can write code and turn it into aural poetry, who has been mentor to many, and a consumate collaborator. The Princeton Laptop Orchestra PLOrk, which he created with Dan Trueman is an example of an artistic, and dare I say, spiritual truth: In collaboration, a creation becomes greater than its parts. And in the creation of music, a composer is only as good as the orchestra that interprets his or her works. Cook has been good enough to earn a Guggenheim Fellowship and PLOrk has been good enough to earn a MacArthur grant.

Likewise, the staff of Wild River Review are well enough behaved to earn the privilege of following Cook and his merry band of composers and laptop musicians through their spring semester.

WRR@Large looks forward to bringing you along with us. Cook, Trueman, their students and special guests, some of the more interesting names in music, will help us untangle the all-important question, What exactly is PLOrk?

Joy E. Stocke is editor in chief of Wild River Review.

To find out more about PLOrk, read here: Up The Creek.

January 2009
January 30, 2009 Jeopardy Redux by Joseph Glantz

January 30, 2009

Jeopardy Redux

After years years of refusing to be part of the culture – I begrudgingly do surveys and then bail after three questions, I never call into radio shows, I figure if they need me to sign a petition they aren’t going to get enough signatures anyway – I finally got into the spirit of the day. Well, of the last few decades. I registered to take the Jeopardy online challenge. I thought about it once before – with “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” – but I’d spent a lifetime developing friends who know a little about a lot and Millionaire required friends who know a lot about a little. “American Idol” has always been out of the question since when I sing people tend to “move cross country.

So why now? Was it because I dreamed of breaking out, while making scads of moolah, like the Rosie Ruiz character wanted to do in “White Men Can’t Jump.” Was it to be an irritant like the Sean Connery character in those fictionalized “Saturday Night Live” skits? Well Mr. Treback (wasn’t your real name Art Fleming) I’m a writer who could be much more successful if only the cretins who watched your show would put down the remote control and read my writings

Maybe I wanted to be like Cliff Claven from “Cheers” and be on a show where the categories were especially tailored for me – only to build an insurmountable lead and then blow it on the last question. What categories would best suit me? – Philadelphia sports, legal questions, episodes of the Rockford Files, the writings of Italo Calvino. I always liked a lookalike category. Patrick Dempsey – Who is Chase Utley? Tzipi Livni – who is Dee Dee Myers? Me – who is Paul Reiser? (well A – I like to think so and 2 – actually it’s Paul Reiser who looks like me).

Patrick Dempsey

Patrick Dempsey

Chase Utley

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley gets out of the way of Pittsburgh Pirates’ Chris Duffy, who is safe at second on a ground out by Freddy Sanchez in the first inning Saturday, Aug. 20, 2005, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)

Tzipi Livni

Tzipi Livni

Dee Dee Myers

WASHINGTON – APRIL 23: Former press secretary for former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Dee Dee Myers, speaks during a taping of “Meet the Press” at the NBC studios April 23, 2006 in Washington, DC. Myers spoke about the staff changes in the George W. Bush administration. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

Should I study for this? And how does one do that? Scramble through Wikipedia posts as was suggested? Read the almanac? Try to find a Jeopardy for Dummies book? After giving it a good thirty seconds I decided “what they hey” (that’s actually the tag line of Richie Brockelman from the Rockford Files – who would be the answer to the question – name the “nicest” detective.) I decided to try it cold.

The quiz has a countdown and one is encouraged to log on early. Like I needed to log into the computer and watch a clock for thirty minutes. So I checked in at 7:58 and waited. The quiz is 50 questions (no questions in your answers please) with 15 seconds for each question so the time zippity do dahs past in 12.5 minutes. First question – name some Hindu God? Pass. Second question – name the smallest island (Google research later says it’s Bishop Rock). Pass. Third question – finally one I know – fill in the missing word that makes the others into proper phrases – Half _____Alaska. Since I remember the Dustin Hoffman line in the graduate where his father says his idea is half-baked and Dustin says no – it’s fully baked – I get this one.

Yadayada. Out of the fifty I don’t do too badly by my standards. About ½. Some that anyone alive would get – Who wrote the Murder in Rue Morgue (Poe), a 9 letter word for an attorney-client benefit (privilege). Others that I’m pretty sure (though I can’t remember them a half hour later) that I think I may be unique (meaning that only 10 % of the slew taking the test will get). Wait! I did know the postal code of a Midwestern state that’s a preposition (Think Hoosier). Can I do a do-over (I should have known that 9 teaspoons yields 3 tablespoons)? Well not many more do-overs than that. With 15 seconds (you have to type the answer) either one knows it or one doesn’t.

So it’s been two days and no phone call. Why! Because some people without a life probably got all 50. Me. I’m into it now. I’m finally ready to really try. Wheel of Fortune. Hey I know lots of useless phrases plus I played hangman as a kid. Deal or No Deal. I’d live to play just to pick 32 and then sequentially pick boxes 1-31. Michael Feldman’s Whadda Ya Know. That seems my best bet. Mainly because I’m sure I won’t know the answers but I can trust Michael to think me misanthropic enough to feed me the proper suggestions.

Game show quizzes. Surveys. Petitions. The question is – why haven’t you tried to enter one yet? It’s part of the culture , dude (What’s a four letter word for a hip friend?)

Joseph Glantz is consulting editor for the Wild River Review and Author of Interviews with the Famously Departed

January 28, 2009 In Praise of John Updike, 1932-2009 by The Professor

January 28, 2009

In Praise of John Updike, 1932-2009

What is it like to throw the perfect pot, paint the perfect image, sing in perfect pitch, dance the perfect step?

John Updike

Copyright (c) Archive Photos

What is it like to write the perfect short story? And then do it again and again? John Updike, who died on Tuesday at the age of 76, was, for much of his literary life, a lightnening rod for critics who eagerly dissected the wide range of social issues addressed and illuminated in his work. As such, he was variously reviled as a being both iconoclastic and hidebound, misogynist and libertine, enthusiastically gushing and stiffingly critical.

A noted wag Charles Barkley once quipped: It ain’t bragging if you can do it.
John Updike wrote some of the most heart-wrenching, socially astute, and structurally perfect short stories ever created. His “A & P”, “At the Bar in Charlotte Amalie”, “When Everybody was Pregnant”, “The Persistence of Desire”, “The Music School” – these are layered yet straightforward works, simultaneously nuanced and charged with the social, emotional and sexual upheavals of their times.
How acute was his vision of the culture, ho long did it take for him to pull all that emotion through his own guts before channeling it into a perfect form: the short story as forged by Gogol, Hawthorne, Poe, DeMaupassant, and Checkov? And later refined by Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, O’Connor and others including his contemporary, Cheever.

Updike’s almost innocuous structural brilliance gave his harsh social commentary a naturalistic platform. Those who followed, including Raymond Carver, Robert Stone, Marisa Silver, Denis Johnson and Nam le could never have dared to exert the emotion of their fine work without Updike’s courageous groundbreaking efforts.
Say what you will. Call him what you will. But call him, first, and finally, a writer.

January 23, 2009 Year of the Scapegoat: In China, Death Sentences for Tainted Milk Scandal by the Professor

January 23, 2009

Year of the Scapegoat: In China, Death Sentences for Tainted Milk Scandal

As China prepares for the New Year of the Ox, it appears that 2009 will actually be the year of the Goat – scapegoat, that is. Two death sentences, one already commuted to life imprisonment – and three other life sentences were handed down yesterday. We can now put a face to the villainy that caused dozens of child fatalities and hundreds of others being sickened by milk laced with melamine to heighten protein levels to meet to meet government standards.

Year of the Goat 2009

Not so fast. Once again, as ever thus in China, the buck stopped far short of the
real culprits: the government officials who repeatedly cast a blind eye toward
questionable test results, and who initially tried to suppress any public
airing of a rapidly developing health crisis.

The western world must always, and can only, look at China through its own
occidental lens. And regardless of one’s (western luxury) opinion on capital
punishment, culprits have been found and punished. So might we applaud the
finality of ultimate sentences and their swift application, or anticipate that
such extreme justice will be a sufficient deterrent to any such future
misdeeds.

But please consider: China is in a perpetual state of near famine, as has been so ever
since the first empire was consolidated. Emperor and Premier alike know that a
hungry man is an angry man. This was especially true during 2008 in the run-up
to the global financial meltdown, when rising commodity prices spiked through
China’s basic food chain staples: rice, wheat, pork, poultry, and, yes – milk.

China is in a headlong race against unrest, and unrest is fomented by hunger and
disease, unemployment and immobility, and desperately needs double-digit growth
to keep this all at bay – all the while slapping up substandard schools in
earthquake zones and flooding the food base with milk – lots of milk.

So we can grieve for the children while that
noose is knotted. But watch your back, America, in this coming year of the
scapegoat.

The Professor is a regular contributor to Wild River Review and writes the column: Hong Kong Diary.

January 22, 2009 The Passing of an Uncommon Man by Joseph Glantz

January 22, 2009

The Passing of an Uncommon Man

John Mortimer

Horace Rumpole

With the passing of John Mortimer a legendary fictional character has sadly passed away too: Horace Rumpole. There is a marvel for Americans in the British system of jurisprudence. The British have a parliamentary system of governance, which gives members the power to directly question the Prime Minister.

Americans tend to put more of a priority on creating new statutes and having the judges guide our way through these statutes while the British seems to put more priority on the common law – deciding cases on past precedent. Philadelphians forget that William Penn’s most notable achievement may not be the city of Philadelphia but the empowerment of the jury system.

What was admirable about Horace Rumpole, John Mortimer’s fictional curmudgeon creation, was that he that he though of himself as the uncommon lawyer trying to protect the rights of the uncommon man. What was remarkable about his legal view of the world were several characteristics that seem far out of the norm for the American lawyer – at least the ones portrayed in American television and movies. Today’s television view of lawyers sees lawyers as actors on a theatrical stage using their Boston Legal in your face tactics or LA Law wiles. It’s not enough to have the law and facts on one’s side – one has to have the personality on one’s side as well. Plus there’s this constant perception in American television drama, and maybe reality, that the practice of law is about constant maneuvering. Maneuvering to advance one’s career. Maneuvering to win on procedure rather than substance. Maneuvering to make the right connections. And Americans like the ideal that lawyers should connect with their clients and the communities their clients live in like Matlock.

But Horace Rumpole was a different type of lawyer. He wasn’t one to socialize with his clients. Maneuvering was for solicitors, not barristers. Theatrics were for those who didn’t know how to ask questions – to get to the heart of the issue. He believed that cases were won in the courtroom especially through competent cross-examination. Read the Rumpole stories and view the series and the answers to the truth and justice issues were already there. In the common law and history that educated how people were supposed to act. In common law principles of a fair travel and innocent until proven guilty.

What was remarkable about Rumpole’s personal side was that it was unremarkable. Rumpole was of mainly a singular purpose – to enjoy himself with a glass of claret, a nice cigar, and a good meal – while trying not to be too harassed by his wife he referred to as “She who must not be Obeyed.” An Obeyance not in the chauvinistic sense of not respecting his wife’s opinion but rather of not respecting her constant attempts to be a “good” citizen by reading the right books (Keats was good enough for him), belonging to the right charities and going to the right art auctions. His clothing style was akin to the late Molly Ivins who once said “I wear clothes so I don’t have to go naked.”

Except of course for the wig. A British trademark that one might argue should be mandatory in America. Mainly because it adds an element of humility to the intense adversary process. Humility – that’s a quality Horace Rumpole greatly admired.

Well that plus the British taste for language, as our must humble lawyer, Abraham Lincoln, noted- is a lawyer’s stock in trade. It’s the language that gets lost most in the legal theatrics of today. In an age of solicitors named Liz Probert and judges named Gerald Graves – I’ll miss Horace Rumpole. An uncommon man in a common age.

Joseph Glantz is Consulting Editor of the Wild River Review and author of Interviews with the Famously Departed.

January 19, 2009 So Long, Mr. President – And Thanks for the Portrait by Terrence Cheromcka

January 19, 2009

So Long, Mr. President – And Thanks for the Portrait

George Bush admiring his portrait

George Bush admiring his portrait

Instilled in our culture is notion that when something is great it should be remembered; and what quicker way to do that than to snap a picture? And what about snapping a picture of a subject admiring his portrait? The late Jim W. Corder, Professor at Texas Christian University, said, “The still life invites because it is not still. The still life does not conceal history and temporality; it dramatizes history and temporality.”

We hold an image in our minds as a reminder of the past, but the memory can be redrawn by an artist whose heart and hand hold a different interpretation. Somebody else’s version of a personality is then preserved in a portrait, or as Corder says, “always fleeting, always only what a single soul beheld, as that could be rendered by errant percept, failed memory, and faltering hand, always only what somebody was able to see and rearrange, calling from out there for us to see and rearrange.”

Richard Anderson, a fellow Yale graduate and friend of President George W. Bush, was chosen to preserve the 43rd President’s memory for the National Portrait Gallery. Calm, friendly, and relaxed characterizes the pose and dress of the President.

To me, this image is cast very appropriately: I’d heard that the President spent a lot of time at Camp David, and I’d seen the man characterized as lax in the movie “W.”

However, why he wants to be remembered in this way is beyond me. At the end of his eight-year stint, the U.S. economy is in shambles and we’re in a dead-end war. It seems the President would like to remind all who walk through the Smithsonian Institute Portrait Gallery that on his watch he need not even iron his shirt. Well, Mr. President, I’m glad you seem so relaxed while your compatriots are fatigued with stress.

So I guess the portrait is appropriate; it really captures his spirit of his time in office. It’s not the portrait or the man, but the reality the artwork portrays that troubles me more.

It’s important to watch what color the President has been painting his life during these past couple terms. Hey, maybe President Bush, who appears to have left most of us with very little, actually left us with a lot more than we can perceive. Perhaps, by clearing away the clutter of the excess consumption that clouded our vision during most of his term, we are able to see something deeper, more simple and more beautiful.

Like an artist who contemplates which color to use for each stroke on a canvas, we must rise everyday with hope for our nation. Like the artist who cannot pick a color just by its name, its make, or its cost, all must be encompassed into each decision.

In the end I think we picked the right man to take over on January 20th.

Terrence Cheromcka is a freshman at New York University and Deputy Editor of Wild River Review.

January 16, 2009 Get Thee to a Bookstore (preferably an independent before it's too late) by Joy E. Stocke

January 16, 2009

Get Thee to a Bookstore (preferably an independent before it’s too late)

In a number of articles on our Homepage, we’ve been exploring the intersection of the Internet and bookstores: online sellers, chains, and independent bookstores. In many ways, at least in the U.S., independent bookstores have been finding it hard to stay in business.

Photo by Nigel Beale

Photo by Nigel Beale

In the second of a two-part interview with independent bookstore owners, Dorothea von Moltke and Cliff Simms, Kim Nagy explores how bookstores embedded in a community become an integral part of that community. A few years ago, contributing editor, Fran Metzman, interviewed the owner of one of the U.S.’s oldest independent bookstores, Larry Robin.

Robin shared this statistic:

Borders and Barnes and Noble each own one thousand stores. Throughout the U.S. there are approximately one thousand independent bookstores in total. Robin further explains that the concept among major publishers, by and large, is to publish only what the industry says will make money. “That is not democratic.”

Robin closed his bookstore on January 1, 2009. Many writers, like me, cut our teeth there giving fiction, memoir and poetry readings. We bored our audiences as much as entertained them, but we felt like we were part of something larger than ourselves. And many of us left with a book or two.

Here is an excerpt from letter that arrived in our inbox this morning from a Philadelphia resident and writer, Janice Jakubowitz:

Another independent bookstore…is closing. I can fondly remember another independent bookstore of my childhood so magical with its lighting and musty smells and big bins out front filled with special bargains…I hope those that remain hang on..

I do, too.

And as a postscript, Larry Robin, former bookseller, has plans to open a salon in the space above his former bookshop. Those reading and sharing their work will have to go to the nearby Borders or Barnes & Noble to buy books.

Joy E. Stocke is Editor in Chief of Wild River Review. She can be reached at-Jstocke@wildriverreview.com

January 14, 2009 Israel/Palestine – Post Script to January 7 & 10 Blogs by William Irwin Thompson

January 14, 2009

Israel/Palestine – Post Script to January 7 & 10 Blogs

THINKING OTHERWISE

“We Irish think Otherwise” Bishop Berkeley

Some intelligent emails to me have pointed out that my proposal for the absorption of Gaza into Egypt and the West Bank into Jordan is an old idea that has been rejected by all parties. I realize this, but wish to go back to the reality of the map to reground the discussion in an effort of “Zen mind, beginner’s mind.” So, let me refine my point, by rephrasing the paragraph of January 10 in the following manner:

Going back to the “status quo ante” now is a fantasy. In the conference on Islamic Civilization that I proposed that Obama call for and chair, one option among others for the formation of Palestine might be its absorption as two different autonomous provinces within Egypt and Jordan, and with “Old Jerusalem” declared a World City under the policing and administration of the UN.

Israel map

Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, of course, do not want this, but these states cannot continue to tolerate the unending Palestinian conflict, and since both Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel, it may be the only way to go forward and create viable economies for Palestinians in larger nation-states.

The big problem is that the Arab states do not politically support the Palestinians, though the Arab Street becomes inflamed. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt seem to relate to the Palestinians the way the English used to relate to the Irish.To continue with this parallel, I think trying to make a viable nation-state out of Palestine is like trying to make a viable nation-state out of Ulster. Israel, for its part, does not trust Egypt to guard its borders against arms smuggling, and now after the civilian casualties of this invasion, it cannot trust Palestinians to be anything other than a laboring class hiding suicide bombers in its midst. Israel has been at war with everyone on its borders since it began, so continuing to think that Gaza and the West Bank can become parts of a viable micro nation-state inside Israel is to continue to support the thinking that has given us the unending war of the last sixty years.

Cultural philosopher and poet,William Irwin Thompson,is founder of the Lindisfarne Fellowship, has published numerous books, and is a regular contributor to Wild River Review. His latest contribution is a cycle of contemplative poems,Hyperborean Passages. For more on the conflict in Gaza, see below.

January 11, 2009 THINKING OTHERWISE: On Palestine – Postscript by William Irwin Thompson

January 11, 2009

THINKING OTHERWISE: On Palestine – Postscript

Headline in the New York Times, January 10:

Egyptians Seethe Over Gaza, and Their Leaders Feel Heat

by William Irwin Thompson

Israel map

In the past, Egyptians have refused to take on the nightmare problem of the ungovernable Gaza Strip. Since it would seem that the two state solution for Israel and Palestine of the past fifty years is unworkable, it may be time for the Arab world to consider annexing the Gaza Strip as a province of Egypt, and the West Bank as a province of Jordan.
The UN’s call for a cease fire does not recognize that Hamas must continue to fight and launch rockets into Israel, because it is fighting for its survival and status in the eyes of the Islamic world. Israel, for its part, must destroy Hamas, since it could not destroy Hezbollah. If Hamas can stand up to Israel and survive, then the survival of Israel itself is greatly weakened. Given this situation on both sides of the conflict, we do not yet have the conditions for a truce or cease fire.

Going back to the “status quo ante” now is a fantasy. In the conference on Islamic Civilization I proposed that Obama call for and chair, one option among others for the formation of Palestine might be its absorption as two different provinces into Egypt and Jordan. Neither state, of course, wants this, but neither state can tolerate unending war and chaos on its border. Since Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel, it may be the only way to go forward and create viable economies for Palestinians in larger nation-states.

Israel does not trust Egypt to guard its borders against arms smuggling, and it cannot now trust Palestinians to be anything other than a laboring class hiding suicide bombers in its midst. Israel has been at war with everyone on its borders since it began, so continuing to think that Gaza and the West Bank can become parts of a viable micro nation-state inside Israel is to continue to support the thinking that has given us the unending war of the last sixty years.

The world cannot continue to live with the sufferings of the Palestinians and the continual calls for the genocidal annihilation of Israel. If the United States cannot resolve this problem because of its pro-Israel bias, then France and Egypt should continue with their efforts, and Jordan should not stand to the side.

Cultural philosopher and poet,William Irwin Thompson,is founder of the Lindisfarne Fellowship, has published numerous books, and is a regular contributor to Wild River Review. His latest contribution is a cycle of contemplative poems,Hyperborean Passages. For more on the conflict in Gaza, see below.

January 7, 2009 Thinking Otherwise: On Palestine by William Irwin Thompson On Palestine, January 6, 2009

January 7, 2009

Thinking Otherwise: On Palestine

On Palestine, January 6, 2009

If ever there was a need for thinking otherwise, it is in the Middle East. We need to accept the fact that more of the thinking of the last fifty years cannot resolve our tragic predicament. We cannot bomb our way to peace–not in Gaza, not in Iraq, and not in Afghanistan. The shrapnel of bombs become the dragons teeth through which new terrorists and suicide bombers spring from the exploded earth.

We need to think in a new way. First off, we need to recognize that we become what we hate. In defending itself, Israel has become what it tried to escape: a military state with racist attitudes. Sharon took a
page from U.S. history by using the army in its own Cowboys and Indians campaign and establishing reservations to contain the culturally inferior. In effect, Sharon used the Jewish settlers to break up Gaza and the West Bank into reservations and there create a new cheap laboring class for the advanced technological society of Greater Israel. This strategy was a fatal blow to the viability of the two state solution; the present invasion is its coup de grace.

Israel will probably be able to kill off the leadership of Hamas, but the collateral suffering, such as the shelling of the U.N. International School with its forty deaths, will be so great that all the
widows and daughters will become an unstoppable flood of suicide bombers.

The Canadian novelist Hugh MacLennan called the unhappy marriage of the French and English in Canada “Two Solitudes.” The tragic co-habitation of
the Palestinians and Israelis has become two genocides. They will remain genocidal as long as their political thinking is founded on religious identity and efforts to build homelands on the old Nazi conception of “Blut und Boden.”

On my WRR Blog posting for Rosh Hashanah and Ramadan last year, I proposed that only a secular state with provincial capitals in Tel Aviv and Ramalah, and a UN internationally policed World City in Jerusalem
could provide an alternative to unending war. The Israelis fear that in a secular state in which Israelis and Palestinians are equal citizens, the Palestinians will reduce them to a minority through their reproductive
differential.

Societies that deny women equal rights and lock them up so they can do nothing but produce large families will always overwhelm in numbers those societies in which women go to universities and work with men in industry, academe, and the arts. European women, for example, have on average only one child per family; consequently Western Europe is not reproducing itself and Muslim fundamentalists prophecy a time when England and continental Europe will be part of Islam, as they feel it should have been in 732 CE.

The United States has addressed itself, without conscious recognition, to this demographic problem by being more open to illegal immigration, especially from Christian Latin America. We are also seeking to become a multicultural planetary civilization, and are now in the process of trying to establish the presence of Islam in our new culture. The problem is that the Muslims are not giving enough thought to the presence of
American Enlightenment values in their culture. In a confrontation between American Constitutional law and Islamic Sharia law, where do the loyalties of Muslim citizens lie? Jesus said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, and that
idea for the West became the beginning of the separation of Church and State.

In changing our thinking, we have to stop trying to
fight our way to peace. Barack Obama’s desire to send the cavalry into
Afghanistan with bugles sounding the rescue from the Taliban will only work in
the movies or in the imagination of a John Wayne President. We already tried
that with Ronald Reagan, and then Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush. It didn’t
work–not in Lebanon with Reagan nor Iraq with Bush. The war in Afghanistan
will all too easily spill over into Pakistan and Iran and reignite in Iraq.
Instead, Barack Husein Obama should convene a World Congress on Islamic
Civilization and use his clean record and personal history of being the only
U.S. President ever to have gone to an Islamic school to serve as its chair.

After the adventures of Napoleon with his manic visions
of a French United States of Europe, and after the misadventures of World War
One, the nations of the world tried to address themselves to diplomacy. True,
the Congress of Vienna of 1815 was reactionary and locked Europe
into monarchy and aristocracy. But that was because one nation, England, sought
to make up for the revolutions of America and France by locking monarchy in
place with the help of the empires of Austria and Russia. This failure was one,
not of diplomacy, but of the diplomats led by Metternich. And after the disasters of World War One, the Treaty of Versailles expressed revenge against Germany
and only served to sow the dragons teeth of Hitler and the Nazis. Trying to go
back in time or get even in revenge never works.

So we need to go forward. The lines in the sand drawn by
the British Empire after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire have not become the
outlines of viable nations. And the efforts of the American Empire to reinforce
these imaginary nations composed of tribes have not succeeded. So at this
proposed World Congress on Islamic Civilization, President Obama should
announce that American troops will leave Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. And in
his call to convene, President Obama should formally apologize to Iran for the
CIA’s elimination of Mossadegh and affirm that Iran is one of the world’s great
and ancient cultures and invite it to sit at the table, along with Syria,
Lebanon, and all the other Islamic nations.

We can talk to our friends and allies at any time; it is
precisely our enemies we need to talk to. The agenda for such an international
conference should be:

1) the
policing of terrorism,

2) the
formation of Palestine,

3)the
recognition of Israel,

4)the
rights of women (including the outlawing of the un-Koranic practice of genital
mutilation, and

5) the
recognition of the rights of co-existence with other religions, such as
Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Ba’hai.

Out of this establishment of a recognition of religious
freedom, the UN should establish Jerusalem as the first World City, a shrine of
the Abrahamic religions. It should be policed by the Blue Helmets of the UN,
who would guarantee equal access to its shrines for Jews, Christians, and
Muslims. No provincial military forces or governing administrative offices of
Palestine or Israel should be allowed in this United Nations World City.

Is this vision too visionary? Of course, but since all
the other so called realistic approaches of the last fifty years have been
unviable, new visions are called for. I recognize that in such a World Congress,
the Turks might conspire against the Kurds, and the Saudis might seek to block
the Iranians, and all the micro-ethnicities of Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan,
and Iran might assert themselves to create a Tower of Babel.

But the United States as a hated imperial presence
cannot prevent these conflicts; the best we can hope for as a political force
in our weakened economic condition is to force Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
Iran to move into the vacant space we create to form a new, more European model
of nation-states for the Middle East, and thereby help to stabilize the world
economy.

If the Islamic nations no longer have us defined as
Crusaders, they will be forced to become more responsible to shift from serving
as sponsors of anti-semiticism (for example, by publishing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Saudi Arabia) or funding
terrorist organizations, to become co-operating agents of governance. Such is
politics, and much like our politics of Kansas and California – from the Bible
Belt to Castro Street – what we need to do is to let politics, to paraphrase Clausewitz, become war by other means. Bombast is better than bombs.

Cultural philosopher and poet, William Irwin Thompson, is founder of the
Lindisfarne Fellowship, has published numerous books, and is a regular
contributor to Wild River Review. His latest contribution is a cycle of
contemplative poems, Hyperborean Passages.