Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Mourners

Marble mourners from the Court of Burgundy, the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, are on display at LACMA. As we were going into LA for a baby shower/cocktail party we decided to go early, beat the traffic and visit the exhibit. The thirty-seven mourning figures are delightful, almost elfin, being sixteen inches or so tall. In their original positions, under the tombs in Dijon, they apparently couldn't be seen very well. While redoing the museum, where the tomb is housed, the mourners were released by their captors after centuries of living in the dark, to travel on exhibit around the world. At LACMA they stand in brilliant light, uncrowded, and you can see each of them from every angle. Some have their faces hidden or are pictured brushing away tears; we found them all lovely, in particular the marvelous flowing robes in marble; their beauty and artistic genius negate their mournful aspect.
On we went to the famous Pizzeria Mozza for dinner, where we optimistically ordered three starters: stuffed squash blossoms, bone marrow, pig trotters - followed by the fennel pizza and the butterscotch boudin for dessert. Our meal was pretty terrible - only the dessert was acceptable.  The squash blossoms were greasy and tasteless, the bone marrow so over-salted it was almost inedible (although service, sizzling hot in the bone was great) and the pig trotters could have been anything; they tasted like nothing. The pizza looked beautiful and the edge of the crust was divine. About an inch in from the crust the bottom was downright soggy and doughy in the center. Even the fennel sausage was bland. Despite our disappointment, lines of diners,waiting for a table, snaked out the door - it's hard to get a seat in the place. I can only think we hit an off-day. We should have sent the pizza back, but I stupidly thought it might be a pizza style, new to me. Looking at reviews on line I realize it should have been crisp all the way through. Some people say it's the best pizza in the country. Hmmm.

Menu, after the fire

At least we had a laugh. The menu was presented on a large piece of paper; the tables are small and adorned with an uncovered candle. Richard let his menu sag slightly and in a second it was afire. He snuffed out the flame with his hand, but it did flash up and once out, leave that burned paper smell hanging in the air. The shocking thing is that nobody looked up; nobody looked our way - the incident seemed to go unnoticed. Why? When we told our waitress what happened she said we were the 4th party to do it on her shift that day. What!!! Why wouldn't they cover the candles? I got the feeling that the place is such a roaring success that even the things which are clearly dangerous or undesirable are left alone. Kind of a ritualistic thing (I've run into this in the food service business before) - "we're a success - so don't change anything". 
The Talmadge
Our day ended with a chic cocktail party/baby shower at the Talmadge on Wilshire Blvd. in a beautiful gracious and spacious apartment; four bedrooms with servant's quarters and a large foyer, where the bar was set up. A gorgeous home - it belonged to the parents of one of our hostesses. About fifty people milled around snacking and drinking and rubbing our cousin's tummy. She's having a boy in July; we are her only currently available family but thankfully she has a mob of great friends. The Talmadge was a present to Norma Talmadge from her director husband. They lived in the penthouse at one time and many other movie stars have resided there over the years. Quite a place.

Apartment at the Talmadge

The Talmadge

Friday, May 13, 2011

Little Drama at Joe's

Joe's hardware today - plant not for sale?? But then I noticed the tenants in the hummingbird nest. Apparently, there were two eggs and two babies. One chick flew away left yesterday - too darn crowded in the nest and it's falling apart. The second chick is hanging on for dear life. Mother left yesterday and wasn't back for more than 24 hours - a big hint to the remaining chick that it's time to go. Will he need a  boot out? If he gains 1/4 gram, the wispy little nest will likely collapse under his weight and Mother Nature will foreclose.
Not for sale?? Notice the baby hummer in the nest.
Okay I'm awake. Where's lunch?
Grabbing a little shut eye and hanging on to the worn out nest.

Two babies were in the nest until yesterday. Mom had been gone for more than 24 hours.

Mom returns. She has to stand on her tiptoes on the nest edge. 

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Europe on $5 a day

Wallowing in nostalgia, I'm leafing through Frommer's "Europe on $5.00 a Day", 1969 edition. Considered a splurge, a double room at the Hotel d'Inghilterra in Rome near the Spanish Steps would cost you 6200 lire or $10.00 including two breakfasts, tax and service.  Current published rack rate is 430 Euro without tax or breakfast - comes out to $678.00 for room and tax, $78 for two breakfasts making a total of $756.00. 

Arthur's dining "Big Splurge" in Rome, 1969 would be the Trattoria Romolo where for $1.95 you could start with spaghetti alla boscaiola followed by abbachio all'cacciatore, an ensalata mista and a dessert. Arthur describes this dinner as "unequalled" but even in 1969 I'd be a little suspicious of a restaurant in Rome serving a Charlot for dessert - sponge cake, covered with whipped cream, chopped cherries and grated peanuts. 

I think the best tip he had for Rome was the free tour offered by five, multi-lingual Dutch nuns, "Foyer Unitas" who wore ordinary street clothes and offered tours only to non-Catholic visitors. The non-proselytizing sisters delivered their own kind of tour and would examine a particular site in depth. They might spend an entire morning showing you one building or one particular area of the Vatican. "They'll spend hours discoursing about the history and background of one of the Roman catacombs, another morning taking you through the Vatican Museum". 

A Google search revealed that these nuns were still conducting free tours circa 1989 (see Q and A below) but the Foyer seems to have morphed into something quite different once the nuns grew elderly and eventually died. 

Frommer included a "sub-starvation budget" section in some of these books. Why did we think it was so much fun to travel on the cheap this way? I didn't make it to Europe in the 60's but according to my husband, every American traveling in Europe during those years was clutching their Frommers, studying it on trains, quoting it to friends and underlining the best parts.  My second hand copy is full of underlined sections, has notes written all over it and has sections ripped out.  Maybe the reader ate the pages!!

In Brussels Mr. Frommer suggests the sub-starvationer go to the cafeteria of the Au Bon Marche department store, order a plate of french fries for 8 francs or 16 cents, request the free bĂ©arnaise sauce ( a huge portion), preceding it all with soup for 6 francs and a roll for 1.5 francs. A satisfying meal cobbled together for 31 cents which you can further "enliven" with a glass of red wine for 6 francs - 12 cents. 

Let's go pack!


Q. I have heard about a group of nuns who conduct tours of holy places in Rome. Can you tell me how to contact them? - L. R., Bronx, N.Y.

A. The Ladies of Bethany are Dutch Roman Catholic Nuns who offer travel services at Foyer Unitas, 30 Via Santa Maria Dell'Anima; telephone 6865951. They conduct tours of Rome and the Vatican and give lectures at the Foyer Unitas, and the subjects are not only religious. The sisters are also available at Foyer Unitas to give information about Rome to anyone who stops by. Generally they conduct walking tours every Tuesday and Thursday morning and two Saturday mornings a month and give one-hour slide lectures Monday and Friday evenings at 5:30 (visitors are welcome at 5 P.M. for tea). They also arrange for Wednesday morning audiences with the Pope. Tickets for audiences must be booked ahead; a preparatory talk is given Tuesday at 7 P.M. All the services are free. 

Dinner at Roy's

As soon as we sat down at Roy's they presented a plate of edamame. Edamame doesn't stand up well to close up photography. The tiny cilia on the fringes make them look like millipedes crawling all over each other on the plate. I feel a kinship with the lowly edamame having reached the age where I'll never again be ready for my close-up either.

It was Richard's birthday. Last year we celebrated the occasion in the Jordanian desert, under the black dome of diamond studded sky in Wadi Rum. This year staying closer to home, it was dinner at Roy's where he loves the butter fish.

I took a huge chance by disclosing to the restaurant that it was his birthday. They asked if it was a special occasion - I usually say no, even it is, to avoid the deadly restaurant sing-along or whatever their particular birthday ritual might be. My husband despises these antics. I hate to confess that I sold out for the promise of a free chocolate souffle. They assured me there would be no singing or fuss.  But when we sat down, I cringed when the server put a curled piece of shiny foil ribbon around our candle, looked at Richard coyly and said in a sing-song, "Somebody has a birthday at this table!" With a flourish she presented Richard with a menu which had a special birthday insert reading "Happy Birthday Richard". He looked at it, looked up at me and said painfully "I can't believe you'd do this to me". Fortunately these small relatively discreet gestures were the end of it. Whew.

Dinner was great. Richard had an exquisite salad of fuji apple, pork belly, white cheddar, brioche croutons and baby bok choy with a lemon foam and a cream dressing (sweet cream and pepper). I had the wild mushroom salad which came with roasted grapes. The grapes go into a hot oven for a couple of minutes - not enough time to shrivel, but just enough to concentrate the flavor.


Fuji salad with pork belly

Birthday dessert

I had macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi which was served draped over a couple of perfectly cooked red potatoes ( a rarity), asparagus and sauced with a luscious lobster/butter blend. Richard had the misayoki butterfish in a sizzling soy vinaigrette. Both our entrees were perfect. The restaurant brought him a complimentary birthday dessert - not the promised chocolate souffle but instead, a macadamia nut tart. The crust was crumbly, a few berries on top were perfectly ripe (not just good looking) and the macadamia nut flavor was deep and rich.

They have beef cheeks on the menu which calls for another visit soon. 

Ice Cold Pond's

Sixty five years ago in 1946 my father noted in his diary that he took a suit in to be re-conditioned. He also went to the Brooklands hotel and had "four" with Louis (my Uncle).  Other highlights he recorded during that May ( I was three) were my acquisition of a yoyo which I apparently enjoyed; his buying and selling Canadian mining stocks (following some guru's advise) and the enjoyment of "Barnacle Bill" on Lux radio theatre. He was thinking of getting duplex glasses made. I think these were bifocals?

My Dad owned perhaps a dozen suits and was a bit of a dandy for those days. He had his shirts custom made in Minneapolis and they fit him very well. I never saw him without a mirror-like shine on his shoes and remember the sounds of him spit polishing - mostly the cloth snapping against leather. He sat on the stairs going down to the basement to do his polishing or if my mother wasn't home, in the living room, on the couch. She hated that.

Reconditioning a suit consisted of a detailed inspection of the garment and re-sewing wherever it was necessary. They replaced the pocket linings which got a lot of wear. There would also be a very deep dry cleaning and minor alterations if they were necessary. A suit might last twenty years.

Dad would get to work and remove his coat, working in his shirt sleeves between appointments. He never appeared in "public" while on the job without a coat. In the summer when it was hot, I can remember seeing him a couple of times with his tie knot loosened and his jacket over his arm, but it must have been really hot because "casual" wasn't a look he liked. On weekends he had a pair of loose fitting pants and colored shirts he'd wear untucked. In colder weather he wore a short wool jacket, like an Eisenhower jacket. In moderate weather, like everyone in those "Father Knows Best" days, he wore a cardigan sweater.

In the winter when he came home from "having a couple" at the legion, his suit jackets would smell like cigarette smoke. Mom would hang them out on the clothes line the next day, beating them with the broom to air them out and probably to exorcise her own inevitable frustrations with my father. Although they smoked in the evenings inside the house (Black Cat filter tips) along with their cocktails (rye and water, no ice), Mom was particular about the airing out business. On the heels of the smoking hour came the airing out, no matter if it was freezing outside.  Like many tough Canadian farmers, accustomed to the extreme weather, she seemed to relish the cold. Years later when I was visiting her and wondering how I ever survived the climate, Axel, her wonderful companion would swoop in the door on a cloud of icy air exclaiming about how bracing it was!  He found the cold mentally stimulating and exciting - the colder the better.

Mother always slept with her bedroom window partially open, even when it was seriously cold - even minus thirty. She'd be toasty warm under her electric blanket but frost collected on the windows and you could see your breath in her room. My grandmother, Pulcherie also enjoyed nocturnal frigidity. They practiced a nightly ritual of slathering their faces with Pond's cold cream, wrapping their hair in curlers, then popping into the deep freeze bedroom for 8 or 9 hours. Both of them lived long, Mom to 91 and Grandma to 101 and both looked pretty good in advanced old age. Perhaps a face mask of frozen Pond's cold cream works some sort of magic. I bet it would sell.

Double Duty Blooms

A profusion of weeds have sprouted recently and while pulling them out I bumped into and was surprised by my guava shrub - it's covered with blossoms and buds.

Feijoas or pineapple guava are a common sight in Southern California, making a good looking and slow growing landscape shrub. I don't think we've watered them enough because they don't usually bloom so profusely. This year's rain must have awakened them and triggered the blooms. Not only are the flowers pretty, the light pink petals are very sweet and delicious - almost as sweet as cotton candy.

From Wikipedia: A feijoa may be used as an interesting addition to a fruit smoothie, and may be used to make wine or cider and feijoa-infused vodka. It also is possible to buy feijoa yogurt, fruit drinks, jam, ice cream, and such in New Zealand. It also may be cooked and used in dishes where one would use stewed fruit. It is a popular ingredient in chutney.

Another plant  I'd all but forgotten is the Banana Shrub I put in the ground a decade ago. The flowers are reputed to smell like ripe bananas but I think they smell more like pineapple, artificial pineapple. Sometimes they're called "booby" flowers in the south because women (of a certain age..) tuck them into their decolletage. My plants are small and spindly with yellowish leaves. I'm adding chicken manure to amend the soil around them and to see if they improve.