Ithaca Day 2

moose

After a quick entry in the journal, I walked across the street to the Tops supermarket. The woman at the hotel’s front desk had assured me that the store would have “an actual physical copy” of the Sunday New York Times. I didn’t want to ask what other sort might be sitting on the rack.

There was no traffic to speak of, as the other  stores in the strip malls had not yet opened.

And yes, indeed, the paper was there, costing the same $6 I pay at home but without the Metro and Real Estate sections and with even worse photo registration.  I still haven’t finished – or last week’s for that matter. The only article of note so far is a business story about a company that is buying old screenplays in bulk, turning them into novels, and then back into books. I hope it works.

Brunch was a decent veggie omelet, biscuits, and a generous portion of fruit.

Got down to work, which produced many questions. Not sure whether I’ll be able to answer them, but at least I’m narrowing the issues. The process was aided by pacing and walking inside with a quick foray outside. The result was more questions.

We had dinner at the Moosewood, which I’ve known about for years since I own two of the thirteen cookbooks. Did not realize it was located in Ithaca. The place has a distinct moose theme, including a picture over our table of a “chocolate moose for dinner.” It was an image of a chocolate moose, sitting at a table wrapped in what looked like a shawl.

After that, it was all good: sweet potato soup, a large salad (they meant it when the said olive, singular) with tofu and marinated artichokes on the side. The lemon-tahini dressing bordered on the sublime.

I did a repeat of my 5K Sunday night, so I didn’t have to  struggle out at an ungodly hour in the morning.

Ithaca Day One

HA

Somehow I managed to date all my notes and journal entries from the 22nd to the 25th as June, rather than July. Maybe it’s a wish to revert to cooler temps. Or maybe it’s the desire to go back and start this project over again. How does one unthink assumptions? The notes are growing in volume if not coherence.

A brunch break consisted of cold eggs, squishy bread, slightly greasy potatoes, decent honeydew and cantaloupe.

Then more notes, which I wrote while pacing the halls of the hotel and a quick tour outside. Even if I didn’t achieve much with the project, I finally worked out the kinks in my legs with lots of stretching and a 5K on the treadmill. Going on the road was out of the question because the hotel is squished among three strip malls with no sidewalks. The cars I didn’t encounter on the drive to Ithaca were all cruising the thoroughfares and parking lots. Plus the temps surpassed 90 with ditto humidity.

The exercise shook loose more helpful stuff for the project and  produced a couple of decent insights. I have the sense there are vast pieces of the work floating just beyond my grasp. It does feel good to be living somewhere besides the State of Insanity during this   election season.

Betsy chose our dinner location – Le Café Cent Dix. Two of its three owners went to the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, and it showed in the details. My Bibb lettuce salad let the greens shine with the dressing and herbs (including sorrel, flat-leaf parsley, and a whisper of shallots) in a supporting role. The cod Provençale contained all my favorite stuff – olives, capers, tomatoes, and garlic, perfectly cooked and flavored. The anchor of potato contained vast quantities of butter, an odd choice for a dish that comes from the olive-growing area of France.

Slept through about half the compressor groans.

To Ithaca

cayuga
Cayuga Lake

Just returned from the annual writers’ weekend with my friend Betsy McMillan. As a change of pace from Williamsport, we decided to meet in Ithaca, New York on Friday. It was for the most part an improvement.

Waze helped me escape the worst road construction, except around Waterbury, which remains stuck in permanent gridlock regardless of time of day or day of week.

The route took me through one-intersection towns, into the Catskills, and past miles and miles and miles of farmland, mostly growing corn.

Some of these places have wrecks of barns that would make a great photo collection. In a couple of places I drove parallel to streams strewn with small- to medium-sized stones that reminded me of the approach to Lake Placid. The water level testifies to the drought that has been plaguing the Northeast, along with good chunks of the rest of the country.

The Catskills are of course baby versions of the Placid’s Adirondacks , but there were still places where tractor trailers crawled in the right lane, flashers blinking. Even sedans faced a challenge. Once I left the interstate, I encountered an oncoming car maybe every twenty minutes with none visible ahead or behind. A little unnerving for someone used to speed demons or endless delays.

As I crossed the Susquehanna, I realized I had traversed it in  Williamsport. It’s a whole lot skinnier in the northern reaches.

I staggered into the hotel – having taken two breaks but not long enough to keep my leg muscles from screaming. The pain dissipated by the next day.

We ate lunch at Sumo, a Japanese restaurant across the street from the hotel. It’s wedged in a strip mall with a party store, True Value and Rite-Aid. Excellent sashimi with the usual plus shrimp and two slices of a mystery vegetable, perhaps Kiiro Ninjin.

Then we began work – Betsy’s editing project and my fits and starts for a new book.

We broke for dinner, since I still had a food deficit. We found our way to Maxie’s Supper Club, a Creole-style place. It occurred to me as we were looking for restaurants that Ithaca is a serious college town and thus offers terrific variety.

Maxie’s proved excellent if loud. It was far from traditional, though, as the accompaniments to my blackened catfish included red beans and collards sans pork. The fish could have used more kick, but that’s what one gets for eating bayou food in New York. Appetizer was two small, briny, excellent Cotuit oysters. Betsy loved the corn bread and was thrilled when the waiter brought her a full basket to go.

The one downside to this new venue was the hotel, a Ramada Inn. It hadn’t been renovated since the Middle Ages. The power strip was well hidden, The Wi-Fi was low speed, not high. The exercise equipment needed replacement even more than the rest of the place. I couldn’t get the shower to stop dumping most of the water into the tub. Betsy couldn’t turn off the cold water. Lumpy floors under the hallway carpeting kept everyone on their toes, sometimes literally.

I woke up every few minutes because the compressor on the air conditioner groaned every time it kicked in.

I Know Those People

road

As I was making my way through On the Road I came across this:

He was a tall, gangly, shy satirist who mumbled to you with his head turned away and always said funny things. His wife and baby were with him the dobe house, a small one that his Indian stepfather had built. His mother lived across the yard in her own house. She was an excited American woman who loved pottery, beads, and books.

The character’s name was Hingham, and he lived in Tucson where Sal and Dean and Marylou go to borrow five dollars.

Something clicked – I said Hingham = Harrington as in Alan Harrington whose mother had married and divorced a Navajo (turned out it was a Papago). I knew Alan Harrington because after he divorced the wife Kerouac mentions, she and her son moved to Old Saybrook and lived first next door to us, then around the corner, and finally across the street.

Alan (he insisted even the littlest of kids address him by his first name at a time when that was unthinkable) came to visit on occasion, bringing wife No. 2 and later wife No. 3 and children. These visits were also the occasion for long sessions between Alan and John Clellon Holmes, who lived down the street from our pharmacy. All I remember about those visits were chasing a “Pluto Platter” (early Frisbee) around in the twilight. Mother was supposed to be part of the discussions but rarely spoke and we left early.

I didn’t know about the shy part, but Alan certainly was tall and gangly. Mother thought he had double-joined ankles and knees. And his books were acerbic. The Revelations of Dr. Modesto as I recall was a take-down of the world of salesmanship.

I had only a vague recollection of his mother, not enough to  to verify Kerouac’s observations.

Before I verified any of this online, I made one more connection. Hal Hingham is the protagonist of Dr. Modesto. It is also an upscale town in Massachusetts, about an hour from Newtown, Massachusetts, where Alan was born. Jack Kerouac, son of working-class Lowell, would have known both. Dig or compliment?

A Quick Revisit on Reading

food

Having finished The Language of Food, I have add a few observations. Dan Jurafsky keeps up the momentum till the end:

  • dishing up fantastic humor along with fabulous and outrageous recipes written in old English
  • calling out his wife for testing his perception of the smell asparagus in urine
  • taking me back to the years of Screaming Yellow Zonkers
  • explaining why the Chinese don’t eat dessert
  • adoring M.F.K. Fisher
  • letting his readers hear his mother’s New York accent without audio

The big message is this. Without the free flow of people and goods, none of us would be eating the variety we do. We owe great swaths of our food to Muslims and other inhabitants of the Middle East: sherbet, ice cream etc., also fish and chips, and anything starting with macar-, including pasta and almond-flavored cookies. Asia, specifically China, Africa, and Latin America make similar contributions. Jurafsky shows that food can bring us together.

Best of all, The Language of Food offers a terrific education in food, and language.

What I’m Reading Now

dunceAnother in the series, another on Bowie’s list, and another that has me thinking, “What took so long?”

I’ve known about A Confederacy of Dunces since it appeared more than twenty years ago. When I saw it on Bowie’s list, the only thing I could remember was that people thought it was a Borges-style hoax. That is, someone famous wrote a book under a pseudonym and had a woman posing as his mother doggedly pursuing Walker Percy to get it published.

But John Kennedy Toole was a real person who wrote a real tour-de-force and took his own life before it launched. Confederacy has continued to assault its readers’ senses with outrage, humor, and  a sense of impending ruination.

I’m only a few pages in, but Toole has left Kerouac in the dust. It’s because of the horror/humor. His plodding repetition about traveling all the long way from New Orleans to Baton Rouge engages everyone – except his mother/chauffeur who is slugging down  beers at a bar and doesn’t want to hear the hundredth retelling again. Kerouac wouldn’t have blinked at that little blip on the map.

Toole gives that journey (an hour by car these days, somewhat more by bus) the weight of the Trail of Tears or the Israelites’ passage out of Egypt. He is the only one who can’t see that a lummox with OCD dressed in a hunting cap with earflaps and an odd coat would be the object of laughter. Chaucer’s pilgrims he ain’t.

The bar scene is preceded by a telling scenario of a threatened arrest. He nails the racial divide without overt commentary, but the message is clear.

I need a laugh or five right now, and Ignatius J. Reilly is delivering the goods.

Healing

zen

In an effort to overcome the depression, anxiety, frustration, and anger of these past days, I revisited some websites and links for spiritual restoration. Here’s what I found:

  • St. James Labyrinth: There are a number of these around the country.
  • Chakra meditation: the Fourth with a focus on the heart.
  • Zen Peacemakers . These folks need to visit every place in the United States that’s hurting right now.
  • Continue with Calm or enroll in Headspace.
  • Recite the Buddhist prayer of loving-kindness

Buddhist prayer of loving-kindness:

May I be happy,

May I be safe,

May I be peaceful and at ease.

May you be happy,

May you be safe,

May you be peaceful and at ease.

May all beings be happy,

May all beings be safe,

May all beings be peaceful and at ease.

Reading/Watching

road

Two more in the series. I read most of Geek Sublime but closed it after Vikram Chandra went deep into the arcana of Sanskrit/Indian lit. I’m still enjoying The Language of Food. It’s a series of non-fiction mystery stories with each solution creating more mysteries. Plus it’s got terrific, if arcane, recipes. But of course I had to forge ahead.

So I watched, and am now reading, On the Road. The breathless and severely truncated film offers decent performances by Sam Riley as the Jack Kerouac surrogate Sal Paradise and Garrett Hedlund as the demented  Neal Cassady aka Dean Moriarty with serviceable showings by Kristen Stewart, Elizabeth Moss, and Viggo Mortensen as the William S. Burroughs stand-in Old Bull Lee. The film solves the problem of writerly inaction (no one wants to watch someone scribbling in a notebook or pounding on a typewriter) with few scenes of Sal actually writing. And of course each one is accompanied by chain smoking and frequent gulps from a glass of whiskey. The real star of the film is the road – long stretches of open space beautifully filmed. These scenes of course showcase Kerouac’s poetry.

So then I borrowed the book, which I read years ago. Part of the motive: it’s on Bowie’s top 100 list. The print version is more breathless than the film. Kerouac’s language is searing, capturing the rhythms of the blues and hard bop in New York, along with the drawn-out languor of the men on the truck who take him across the mid-West to Cheyenne. In the book version, the road plays a supporting role to the power of the people that Sal encounters on his voyages and captures in molten amber before it hardens around the flies.

What I’m Reading Now

food

Another in the series. I had to take a break and eat dinner before I could proceed. Dan Jurafsky ventures into the delicious, amusing, and deeply historical in The Language of Food. The opening pages give the history of tomato ketchup — why the label includes the word “tomato” and why we have to thank the Chinese for this ubiquitous condiment. It was the story of what was originally fish sauce that sent me to the kitchen.

What grabbed me next was this: “The language of food helps us understand the interconnectedness of civilization and the vast globalization that happened, not recently, as we might think, but centuries or millennia ago, … You might call this aspect of the book ‘EATymology.’ ”

Stay tuned for good stories and great food.