Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thank you Danny Kaye!



The speaker had serious difficulties with his AV. He continued speaking as his assistant fiddled with the slide show while we endured watching the screen flashing wifi options and ios settings. Instead of being illuminating, it was at first distracting and then annoying. For the final five minutes of the show, the flummoxed assistant held a laptop up over his head facing it to the audience, which was worse than nothing, as it made the nervous audience laugh. from the ridiculous to the sublime. Nevertheless, we applauded at the end. In all fairness, the material in his presentation was good—only the AV was a disaster.

Watching this show, a chill ran down my back as a 35-year-old memory stirred, yawned and ambled back into my consciousness. "Hey there—remember me?" the memory quipped. I did. It was one of my own presentation disasters. A celebrity chef, booked to do a cooking demonstration at Lawry’s California Center, was taken ill. The trained professionals who could have filled in for the Beverly Hills culinary club were also absent—out of town or sick. With no better options, the event coordinator, scraping the bottom of the barrel came to the lab and asked me if I could pull something together. I told her I couldn’t do a cooking demo...but I did have a presentation on how new products are developed. I’d given this talk to groups interested in learning about manufacturing seasoning and spice blends and it had been well received.

Lawry's California Center
This was long before the internet and there was no Google to answer any questions about ingredient declarations on packages. They were a mystery to most consumers.

We had two hours. The lab people pitched in and made demonstration mixtures for the visitors to taste. A simple beef broth with and without MSG was the one that got me into trouble. “Chinese Food Syndrome” (1) was an issue in those days and many manufacturers, including us, underestimated how negatively the ingredient was regarded. The stuff worked magic for food formulators and our beef broth demonstration was dramatic. I thought these culinary people would enjoy seeing it in action.


The reaction I'd hoped for. Com Stock Photo


Twenty-five people filed in and took their seats. I opened by apologizing and explained about scheduled chef and his sudden illness. A nerdy handout with bullet points listing the ingredients and their functions was passed out. As I blabbed on, I gradually realized the familiar face in the third row was Danny Kaye! Wow, I thought to myself—Danny Kaye is listening to me speak. But the usually smiling Danny Kaye was scowling and sitting with his arms crossed. He looked irritated with me. Then I looked around and realized they were ALL irritated with me. The sick feeling that I'd bombed washed over me like a hot flash.

The reaction I got (well almost). www.wespeaktheworld.com
I tried a few things to get their interest to no avail. Expecting an elaborate cooking demo, they were disappointed when they got MSG and me in a lab coat, looking like I was going to draw blood or ask them to cough. They never warmed to me or the subject matter.  

At the end of the show they all swooped out of the room. Danny didn’t speak to me directly but I heard from the event coordinator that he and most of the group were offended by being asked to taste MSG. And they weren’t impressed with my presentation...too technical, not entertaining enough. At the moment, I was crushed, not only for myself but for the company as I’d managed to leave a bad impression. We would have been better off canceling the demonstration and giving them a tour and free lunch.

Danny Kaye was one of my mother's favorite actors. That evening I called her and said, "Guess what? I really irritated Danny Kaye today!" She wasn't surprised, familiar as she was with how irritating I could be. My only consolation was that at least I hadn't bored them.

Sometimes a lab coat isn't the best choice!
The moral of the story was always to know your audience and their expectations. Spurred on by that failure I worked hard to figure out a more entertaining way to teach technical material. Looking back on what I learned that day, I can thank Danny Kaye for inspiring me to improve. As it turned out, I spent the final ten or twelve years of my career making a living teaching Flavor School, a modified and expanded version of that same material.

But you can rarely satisfy everyone in a given audience. please all of the people all of the time. Even though I’d gather as much advance information about upcoming audiences as I could, I'd still miss things. Once, it was religion.

I was presenting the school (morphed yet again into a roadshow) around the country and after a show for a culinary convention in Dallas, I was admonished for mentioning evolution. I’d stated that Mother Nature rewards success and described how the bloodhound’s ears became long and floppy over years of evolution because this feature enhanced its ability to track scents. Not the wisest comment to make to a Bible-belt audience. From then on I'd say: "Some people believe this is evolution at work, but others disagree."


The magnificent bloodhound.The ears stir up aroma particles from the ground and direct them to the incredibly large area of aroma receptors of the dogs. Their baggy eyelids fall over their eyes when their heads are down tracking and effectively curtail visual perception, protecting the dogs from distractions. photo from vet.com
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." Oscar Wilde

(1)Chinese restaurant syndrome is an outdated term that was first coined in the 1960s. It refers to a group of symptoms that some people experience after eating food from a Chinese restaurant. These symptoms often include a headache, skin flushing, and sweating. A food additive called monosodium glutamate (MSG) is often blamed for the symptoms some people experience after eating Chinese food. However, there’s minimal scientific evidence showing a link between MSG and these symptoms in humans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers MSG to be a safe ingredient, and most people can eat foods that contain MSG without experiencing any problems. However, a small percentage of people have short-term adverse reactions to the food additive. Due to the controversy, many restaurants now advertise that they don’t add MSG to their foods. Website: www.healthine.com, Ruth Levi. Chinese Restaurant Syndrome: What the Research Says about MSG. 3/8/2016

Monday, January 16, 2017

Indian Movie Theaters

We're planning our itinerary for another trip to India in and out of Mumbai. We got an excellent price on business class Emirates tickets and will be flying in comfort...not the extravaganza we experienced in first class, but very good.

Starting in Mumbai, we'll be traveling to Kolkata and then to Sikkim. We've seen major sights in Mumbai and this time, we're going to take a Bollywood tour and go to an Indian film. I've never been in an Indian movie theater but from what I read, it's lively, fun and very different from our theaters.

To begin, they play the national anthem and display the flag on the screen. The audience must stand in respect for the flag.

Indians dress up to go to the cinema—it's a place to see and be seen. Films are generally 3 to 3 1/2 hours long with an "interval" or intermission. The interval was originally for a reel change, no longer necessary. However, the audiences are used to getting a break and the snack bar revenue is important for the theater owners. The stories are written with a cliff-hanger at the interval so you are left wanting to come back and see what happens next. The two parts (before and after the interval) of a film may be completely different from each other. The first part may be a comedy and the second part a drama... all the same actor and characters, but with a different twist.

The audiences sit in either the balcony, dress circle or downstairs in the Ghandi class. Ghandi class is the lowest class, where all kinds of people choose to sit or stand, but mostly single men. It's the cheapest section and the most uninhibited. Those in the balcony enjoy watching (looking down) at the Ghandi class and see how the "boys" are reacting. Typically there'll be cat calls, booing, whistling and advice offered to the heroes and heroines. Indian audience often carry on a narrative with the film. Analysts refer to this as "interactive film viewing."
Inside Mumbai's largest theater. 


Socializing takes precedence over viewing the films. There's a continuous buzz of conversation in the audience including the sounds of kids laughing or crying. The idea of sitting, like a Western audience, passively experiencing the film, concentrating on every word would seem very strange to an Indian. Indian audiences select certain scenes to watch and will walk out if a certain part seems boring and think nothing of this. 

The film industry caters to a tremendous diversity of people in India. There are 100's of languages spoken and viewers are different in class, caste, religion, age, gender, education, social status.  Many of the films try to offer something to everyone — a tall order.  Called "masala" films, they're almost like a variety show. From Wiki:

Masala films of Indian cinema are those that mix genres in one work. Typically these films freely mix action, comedy, romance, and drama or melodrama. They tend to be musicals that include songs filmed in picturesque locations. The genre is named after the masala, a mixture of spices in Indian cuisine.

We were at an event the other day where everyone stood and pledged allegiance. I can't remember the last time we did this. Out of curiosity and piqued by the playing of the national anthem before films, I looked up the Indian pledge. 

Indian Pledge
India is my country.
All Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion.
In their well being and prosperity alone lies my happiness.

The Handy Dandy Cliche: Nothing to sneeze at!

In my writing class, I managed to insert not one but two cliches in 300 words. I was reminded that Jean brought this great poem, Once Upon A Time by Chris McMullen, to our last poetry slam. I'm keeping it nearby to remind me NOT to use these awful crutches in writing. I could never eliminate them from speech..they're too useful. 
Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.

A tall, dark, and handsome knight was bored out of his mind.

Far, far away, a damsel was in distress.

The knight woke up and smelled the coffee.

The time had come to cut to the chase.

So he put the pedal to the metal.

He went the whole nine yards.

Then he went the extra mile.

He was careful not to burn any bridges along the way.

But he did break a leg.

It was nothing to sneeze at.

He took two cookies and saw the doctor in the morning.

Then he felt snug as a bug in a rug.

He turned nutty as a fruitcake and barked like a dog.

Unfortunately, he was barking up the wrong tree.

Fortunately, he had an ace up his sleeve.

Until he lost his shirt.

So he followed his nose.

He arrived just in the nick of time.

Better late than never.

The damsel was over a barrel.

A tiger was playing mouse with her.

The knight took the tiger by the tail.

Since he had a bone to pick with that tiger.

It was like playing with fire.

He cleaned the tiger’s clock.

Then he rubbed salt in the tiger’s wounds.

The tiger went stiff as a board and then bit the dust.

Next he buried the hatchet.

And the tiger was up a creek without a paddle.

When the knight and damsel met, it was love at first sight.

It was so romantic.

Because it takes two to tango and three’s a crowd.

They were like two peas in a pod.

He was dressed to the nines and she had money to burn.

So they tied the knot.

They even put the icing on the cake.

And they lived happily ever after.

They were on cloud nine.

Until they kicked the bucket.

Life goes on.

All’s well that ends well.

That’s a wrap.

The end.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Safety Last



One of the Sepia Saturday participants, Barbara Rogers—website: Alchemy of Clay and living in Black Mountain NC, posted the above film clip to match the prompt photo of
a man standing in a window. She added the following clips from GIPHY to show how they (Harold Lloyd et al) created the most famous scene from the film. The year was 1923. More of Captivating Gifs Reveal the Magical Special Effects in Classic Films can be seen here.


via GIPHY

via GIPHY

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Really Short Fiction - Creative writing class


Writing Assignment: In 300 words, write a story with a beginning, middle and end that incorporates conflict and tension. (At the class meeting after the reading, it was suggested I get rid of two cliches
I'd used—those are crossed off in the text.)
A recent escapee from midwestern winters, I enjoyed being outdoors in January and decided to walk to church that day. I dismissed warnings about danger for pedestrians on the streets of Culver City as the unfounded fears of car-obsessed Southern Californians. Sauntering along enjoying the warm weather, I noticed a young man hurrying my way. I stepped aside to let him by, but he reached out and grabbed me on the breast as he passed. Half grope and half punch, it hurt. I stood, shocked and stunned, rooted to the spot. After a few seconds of feeling like I was handcuffed like a mouse cornered by a cat, I turned to see him vanishing down the hill. Everything that had constituted the confident and happy me drained away in that instant but I collected myself enough to continue to church.

Inside the dark cool chapel, a few parishioners were kneeling, preparing their confessions. Settled into my regular pew, I felt momentarily safe, but outrage over the incident washed over me and I wept. a classic damsel in distress. As I snorted and snuffled into a wad of tissue, a handsome blond man slid down the pew, leaned in and whispered in a heavy accent, “You know they’ve heard everything in here. It can’t be that bad!” In spite of my distraught state, I laughed and replied, “It’s not my sin I’m crying about—it’s someone else's.”


I couldn’t stop myself. In a rush of words, tears and nervous chortles, I told him what had happened.

He listened as I disgorged and I could feel him, like a chamois cloth, soaking up my pain and 

frustration. After the final snuffle, he gazed at me with luminous blue eyes and so much compassion, 

I forgot all about confession for a long, long time.

304 words.

Should cockroaches eat the last few pages........

“Here's the news: I am going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes, for a billion bucks! Starting when I was only twelve years old, I have never chain-smoked anything but unfiltered Pall Malls. And for many years now, right on the package, Brown & Williamson have promised to kill me. But I am eighty-two. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats. The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”

― Kurt VonnegutA Man Without a Country


In the current creative writing class at the library, KB played a wonderful short video of one of Kurt Vonnegut's lectures. He's a good teacher. I love this letter he wrote to Richard Gehman.





Vonnegut - Eight Tips for Writing a Short Story

  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Here's a few more of his writing tips.
  • Find a subject you care about. “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style. I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way — although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.”
  • Keep it simple. “As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story ‘Eveline‘ is this one: ‘She was tired.’ At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.”
  • Sound like yourself. “English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench. [ … ] No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue. I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have?”
  • Say what you mean. “My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. They hoped that I would become understandable — and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.”

Sepia Saturday 351: Aging


For the prompt this week, we have Bertha Wegmann, a Danish painter, young and old.



“When you're young, you always feel that life hasn't yet begun—that "life" is always scheduled to begin next week, next month, next year, after the holidays—whenever. But then suddenly you're old and the scheduled life didn't arrive. You find yourself asking, 'Well then, exactly what was it I was having—that interlude—the scrambly madness—all that time I had before?” 



This week was an easy match. The first photo is of my Mom at age 32 and the second is of her in her late 80's. I'm writing this on January 10th which would be her 106th birthday. She would kill me if she knew I'd posted the older version. I think she aged pretty well but she worried over every line and wrinkle. She stayed physically in good shape until she died...no major illnesses save a gall bladder removal and a broken hip. Mentally....not so good. She had dementia when she died which included a personality change and some delusions, but her memory of people stayed pretty good.







The second set of pictures is my mother-in-law, Patty. In the first photo, she was about 30 and in the second photo about 95. She died at 97 unable to move around much but with an intact memory and all her marbles.


“The curse of mortality. You spend the first portion of your life learning, growing stronger, more capable. And then, through no fault of your own, your body begins to fail. You regress. Strong limbs become feeble, keen senses grow dull, hardy constitutions deteriorate. Beauty withers. Organs quit. You remember yourself in your prime, and wonder where that person went. As your wisdom and experience are peaking, your traitorous body becomes a prison.” 
― Brandon MullFablehaven

And how about man's best friend? Photo by Amanda Jones of Lily as a puppy and as a senior
dog citizen.




Sepia Saturday 350: At the Window



My match for today's Sepia Saturday centers on the window frame. I can't even guess at what the man in the window is doing...coordinating with the activity on the street? cleaning the window? or just getting a bird's eye view of things. 

I found this photo of myself and my sister sitting on the Bank of Canada window ledge in Winnipeg. Fortunately, Dad wrote that we were waiting for the Decoration Day parade and it was June 8th, 1947. I was so excited, I fell asleep—the only sensible thing for a 5-year-old to do at a parade of Veterans. The second picture is of my Dad scooping me up before I slid off the sill and landed on the concrete. Unfortunately, I harbored this disinterested attitude toward my Dad's military experiences throughout my youth. I've wished a thousand times since that I'd listened to his stories. 
"Waiting for the Parade 8/6/47"


"June 8/47 Waiting for the Decoration day parade"

Sepia Saturday always drives me to Google something! This week it was the origin of Decoration Day in Canada. I have to admit I knew little of the Fenian raids. It's quite a story. 

Decoration Day in Canada:

On June 1, 1866, after nearly fifty years of peace since the War of 1812, Canada was invaded from the United States by an insurgent army of Irish-American Fenians determined to expel British rule from Ireland by taking Canada hostage. A 1,000 man heavily armed vanguard of battle hardened Civil War veterans from the US and former Confederate army seized the town of Fort Erie and began moving towards the Welland Canal next, threatening to destroy it. On the morning of June 2, near the village of Ridgeway west of Fort Erie, they were intercepted by a brigade of Canadian militia from the Queen’s Own Rifles (QOR) of Toronto and 13th Battalion of Hamilton (today the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI) in what became Canada’s first modern battle to be fought exclusively by Canadian troops and led entirely by Canadian officers: the Battle of Ridgeway.

Nine riflemen from the Queen's Own Rifles, three of them University of Toronto student volunteers hastily called out from their final exams on the day before, were killed in the battle before the Canadian forces were forced to fall back by the more experienced and better armed Fenian insurgents. Twenty-two more Canadians would die of either wounds or disease sustained during the fighting or on frontier duty during the Fenian Raids that would also extend into Quebec in the following week. Beginning with the first casualty, Ensign Malcolm McEachern killed in the early minutes of the battle on June 2, these thirty-one casualties were the first 31 of nearly 120,000 Canadian servicemen to fall in military service from the South African War to Afghanistan.

Except for miniscule payments to those severely wounded in the battle, or to the widows and orphans of those killed, the veterans received from the government no acknowledgement, honours, decorations, pensions or awards for their service in the defence of Canada during the Fenian Raids. The Canadian Volunteers Monument, raised in 1870 near Queens Park (Toronto's currently oldest standing public monument) was paid for entirely by private donations. As Canadian-American relations warmed towards the mutual "undefended border" further public discourse or commemoration of a battle defending against an invasion from across the U.S. border became unpolitic, inconvenient and impolite. The more than eight hundred veterans who fought at Ridgeway were forgotten and ignored for twenty-five years following the battle.

Following the First World War, Decoration Day in late May or early June (and even as late as August in some communities) had continued to be Canada’s national memorial day for all veterans until an Act of Parliament in 1931, in order to "harmonize it with Commonwealth practice" transformed November 11 "Armistice Day" into "Remembrance Day" while Thanksgiving Day was moved back a month to October. The Ridgeway veterans, of whom those still living were aged men, were forgotten and excluded from the new Remembrance Day, the honour extended by Veterans Affairs Canada only as far back as 1899, to those who fought in the South African War. At this writing, the fallen of Ridgeway are not listed in Canada’s National Books of Remembrance and their graves scattered across Ontario, the land they defended with their lives, remain forgotten and uncared for by the government, abandoned without national historic monument status or as Canadian war graves.

"Look out" for more Sepia Saturday stories HERE.






Monday, January 09, 2017

The final Christmas Tableau

Tomorrow the tree goes into the storage box for a year or... who knows how long? This year was the first in four or five that we've been home long enough over the holidays to justify hauling all the stuff out.We liked the tableau of the slightly listing tree, guard cat and skull. I think I've been spending too much time studying Dutch still lifes where every mote of dust or ray of light has meaning. To sum this all up, Christmas is over.
 Cashew sneaking around.

He likes to play on the stairs and be chased, hide, be found, chased. Repeat about 50 times until he finally gives up and sleeps.
He has a new cousin, Quinn Doodle, who lives up north. If they ever meet, it should be a monumental event. 
As Quinn is already somewhat famous, Cashew will have to work on his wardrobe. 
Ready for the Coachella music festival

Ready for anything



Chillin' at home. 


Sunday, January 08, 2017

Trying to put a square peg in a round hole.

If you think you might losing your mind, is that a sign that you are indeed losing your mind or is it corroboration of your sanity? This morning I opened the LA Times to the crossword puzzle which is now printed in the comic section. It used to occupy a place of distinction on the last page of the Arts and Entertainment section - where I liked it better. Now, instead of having a literary air about it, it's relegated to play. Oh well.

This morning I looked at it and couldn't make any sense of the grid. The numbers of the clues didn't match the grid at all. Ah....I said to myself, Paul Colter has really outdone himself today. I tried everything I could think of to get words to fit but couldn't get ONE word to properly fit. Half convinced that my brain had collapsed on itself overnight, I went to the Times puzzle-solving website and found that the wrong grid was printed. What a relief! Well...a relief to me, but I'm sure Rich Norris and Joyce Lewis, the editors, are having fits today. 

Here's what it was supposed to look like.

Here's why I thought I'd lost it....look at 72 down. The answer is "kettle" of course. But on the grid, there actually is no 72 down. Spoiled my Sunday morning. 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Man in the High Castle

We're streaming The Man in the High Castle on Amazon. If you've read the 1962 book by Philip K. Dick, you'll be fascinated by this adaptation. It's described as a dystopian alternate history tale. Very complicated and at times hard to figure out. We're thankful we can roll it back and repeat scenes.

Here's how our country looks in the story.....