Happy National Grammar Day

grammar

We should celebrate by finding good grammar, but that effort verges on the impossible these days. Instead, I’m making a list of the errors that set my teeth on edge and send me screaming for a calming pot of tea.

  • It’s vs. its. Microsoft doesn’t know the difference as I discovered in 2010.
  • Their vs. there vs. they’re. Spel Czech tried to change these, too. The outrage continues.
  • Using “due to” when “because” is intended.
  • With apologies to Star Trek, especially to the late lamented Mr. Spock, split infinitives.
  • Using “interrogate” when “investigate” or “research” is intended. Between you and I.
  • Farther vs. further.
  • Over vs. more than.
  • Lie vs. lay.
  • Referring to corporations as “they” unless one is writing in Britain.
  • “Reason why.” One or the other will do.
  • “High rate of speed.” Why not just say “fast” or better yet, give an exact mph?

To end with a quote I found in an article about a man who earned a fabulous living writing porn: “Writing Factory/Beware of Flying Participles.”

New York, New York

credit: Istvan Banyai

credit: Istvan Banyai

It’s been a Big Apple couple of weeks. Here’s the first part of the finale.

Happy Birthday, New Yorker

I’m a bit in arrears offering congratulations on the magazine’s ninetieth birthday. What I like and don’t like (mostly the former):

  • The nine covers on the anniversary issue, though I had to go on line to figure out Istvan Banyai’s depictions of Eustace Tilley. Turns out his were the most traditional – no color, no women, no angst. And encapsulating the magazine’s class with a bit of whimsy. All those covers are an improvement over the dreadful version Tina B. produced in 1994 of Eustace’s slacker grandson in baseball cap. That one brought the end of my parents’ fifty-year subscription. It was a bittersweet parting as The New Yorker had provided my mother with some munificent checks over the years.
  • Tina B. added photographs. For the most part they suit the topic and the narrative.
  • Limiting errors. David Remnick informed Terry Gross that one editor found “four mistakes in a three-word sentence.” Accuracy lives: My friend Raven spoke of how the fact-checker of Rivka Galchen’s article on Misty Copeland (“An Unlikely Ballerina: The rise of Misty Copeland“) kept her on the phone, kept asking, kept asking. This for a few paragraphs in a seven-thousand-word article. On this eve of National Grammar Day, it is so reassuring  that some things don’t change.
  • Editor Remnick said of the story on Scientology: “… putting pressure on power, nonsense and chicanery of all kinds.” His variation of “oppressing/comforting” is far more eloquent than the original.
  • The “fist bump” cover, depicting the Obamas as ’60s style black radicals actually occasioned my first blog entry, since wiped out. My headline was “Where’s Alfred E. When We Need Him?” I’ll post it in a couple of days and link back here. It put The New Yorker on a par with Mad Magazine. I went looking for marginalia, “Spy vs. Spy,” and “Inside Celebrity Wallets.” My reaction occasioned one of the rare arguments with my mentor, who said those who didn’t understand the satire shouldn’t be reading The New Yorker. Ouch.

eustace2

Tomorrow: I’ll celebrate National Grammar Day. Thursday: the second part of “New York, New York,” featuring the not as successful revamped New York Times Magazine or as it wants to be known online nytmag.

What I’m Reading Now

storyAnother in the occasional series and another book that I’ve already finished. The Story of Land and Sea for the most part lives up to the praise heaped on it. Katy Simpson Smith draws the reader in with an engrossing story of three generations of a family living in North Carolina as the Revolution winds down.

The characters evoke sympathy: the creative and imaginative little Tabitha; her father the former pirate John, who still mourns for her mother; Moll the slave; her son Davy; even Tabitha’s hidebound grandfather, Asa. Their intertwined lives offer a real sense of the ending of the Colonial era and the budding of the states.

For all that Ms. Simpson builds her plot and characters well, it is her language that captivates. Writing of Asa, who is trying to remember whether he was afraid during his very limited encounter with war against the Spanish in 1747: “This is what parents do: shape the emotions that will color memory.” A brilliant insight, elegantly written, as is his later observation: “Regret only exists once the opportunity for change is gone.” Not all the language belongs to the white masters. Young Davy comes to the “big house” in search of merchandise for John’s store. “The hearth room is shambled with boxes and jars and loose paper and dust. Davy picks up a few of the smaller boxes and stacks them in a corner on top of a wooden trunk. They leave behind empty mirrors of themselves in the dust, ghost outlines.” Ghost outlines rule my house. Now I may leave them alone so I can recall those beautiful words.

The ending of The Story of Land and Sea constitutes the only less than stellar experience. This problem has arisen in a number of contemporary works I’ve read lately. It leaves the feeling that the authors don’t know how to arrive at a conclusion that, even if it doesn’t wrap up every loose end, at least gives the sense that a resolution is possible, or that the characters are satisfied with the ambiguity. None of that is true here.

Sushi Friday

minghung

A revisit to Min Ghung in Glastonbury.

This place seems to change hands every couple of years, so here’s another update. Many things impressed on my first visit in 2010:

  • the setting, which gives the impression of dining in the woods and makes use of the natural light coming through the skylight
  • the lack of television with a good variety of background music from satellite radio
  • the cordial sushi chef who remembered me after my second visit 
  • elegant presentation of excellent sashimi, which included octopus.

There were negatives, too:

  • uneven sometimes inattentive or rushed service
  • indifferent miso lacking flavor and warmth.

Because of the dramatic, fresh, and flavorful sashimi. I gave it a B.

New management had arrived by my revisit in 2013. The fish had that fresh bite, meaning it was top notch. Another personable sushi chef explained that he received deliveries three times a week, compared to one at most places, which might account for the higher prices. I received more pieces of sashimi than advertised, plus a fabulous lagniappe of salmon topped with caviar on a slice of avocado in jalapeño sauce. The white miso soup proved flavorful this time. Service remained uneven, but I raised the grade to B+ based on the sashimi and its presentation.

Another management group had taken over when I visited two weeks ago. The perky waitresses still don’t quite have the service down – standing too close, yakking to each other. The flavorful miso had slipped a notch, as it was barely lukewarm and overloaded with scallion. The sashimi remains stellar, equal to my gold standard of Sushi California, and the presentation has escalated as the photo demonstrates. They serve no rice, fine with me, but the huge piles of ginger seem to be a waste.

Grade back up to B+

NYC, Part 4

February 21 snow

February 21 snow

Raven and I talked about her friend Katherine Butler, now Katherine Butler (Jones). They attended Ethical Culture Fieldston together. She said they encountered a fair amount of unintentional racism, and some intentional. The teachers kept confusing Mrs. Butler and Aunt Anne. Aunt Anne called Mrs. Butler over and said to the teacher, “This is Mrs. Butler. I’m Mrs. Wilkinson. I’m Mrs. Wilkinson. This is Mrs. Butler.” Repetition may or may not have prevented a repeat of the error. Raven said she had a teacher from the South who deliberately called her “Katherine.” The woman stressed her southern roots and identified with a girl in the class who was from Kentucky.

I told Raven that I had been thrilled to find her mentioned Katherine’s book, Deeper Roots, which also has a reference to her father’s dental office.

As the time to depart approached, we caught High Class Limo and Car Service. It’s like a taxi, less icky than Uber, and it appeared in the promised five minutes. Only downside, credit card payments have to be arranged ahead of time. Raven instructed the driver to drop us on the Eighth Avenue side of Penn Station. That was my mistake in leaving the building. I had walked to the LIRR side.

We discovered the train was listed as 45 minutes late, so we chatted in the waiting area. I tried to Facetime with Anna, but we kept missing each other, probably something to do with the amount of metal and the demand on the Wi-Fi system from all those texting, gaming, video watching folks. Raven and I chatted some more about her memories of summers in Old Saybrook and about her brother’s family. I toyed with the idea of changing my ticket and staying another night, but I had a speech to make on Tuesday and needed to finish preparing.

The delay proved to be more than an hour, as it was 4:17 when we pulled out of the station. The train was crowded and the “quiet car” this time had two little kids, one of whom let out a scream somewhere near Bridgeport.

The guy sitting next to me looked like a college student who was either writing code, or designing a building on his laptop – maybe both except when he took a nap. I continued reading The Woman in White, which I will write about after I do another “What I’m Reading Now.”

Arrived Old Saybrook at 6:30, an hour late. Called Larry to say I’d be home in 45 mins. It turned into a hellacious hour and twenty-minute drive on unplowed roads, snow blowing into the windshield, and rotten visibility in the spots where the road goes by the river. On the positive side, there were not many cars on the road, and everyone was driving cautiously, in some cases too cautiously. I don’t understand why people insist on launching high beams when all they do is reflect the snow and fog.

Sooo glad to be home even if the deck looked like the above the next morning.

One terrific insight: It is possible to find quiet, unchaotic places to eat in midtown Manhattan. Ask a local.

NYC Part 3

raven

Raven Wilkinson

 

I slept well – no sirens or car horns blaring, probably because the crazies were in hiding from the cold just like everyone else. Only disturbance occurred at 4 a.m. when yelling, door slamming, and foot stomping jolted me awake. Reflecting afterward, I thought, “Alcohol may have been a factor.”

Spent a quiet morning reading and listening to the radio. Did not want to eat breakfast since lunch would be at noon. Found Car Talk and Wait, Wait… and stayed happy until it was time to leave. It was much warmer (20 degrees and calm, compared to 10 and windy) as I walked the few blocks to the restaurant. Realized (at last) that Ninth Avenue changes name to Columbus Avenue at 60th Street. Anyway, I had walked past Rosa Mexicana on Friday and found it with no problem.

I almost burst into tears when Raven walked in, but she said, “Please don’t.” So I didn’t. She looks just like her mother, whom I called Aunt Anne. She said the same of me. We enjoyed a perfectly delightful time. She was the first African American ballet dancer to perform nationally and internationally, beginning with the Ballet Russe. She retired from dancing in Europe with the Royal Dutch Ballet at age 39 and was back in the States for six weeks when she was invited to dance and then act with the New York City Opera. She continued to do that until just a couple of years ago. Bravo for her!

I showed her photos from O.S. – the cottage damaged in Irene a couple of years ago, which her parents had rented for years from our family, and the destroyed Dock & Dine. She had fond memories of wonderful dinner parties with my parents and hers. I was too little to participate.

Lunch was fabulous. We had an excellent Malbec, a variety we both love. The wait staff  served fresh-made guac, much better than any I’ve had before. It had no lemon but lots of tomato, a bit of onion and wonderful cilantro. It came with two sauces – mild and not particularly hot, plus chips, and tortillas. That could have been my meal, but we decided to forge ahead.

Raven ordered shrimp over rice, a large portion, and I had chile relleno, also the best I’ve ever had. The outside crust was delicate and light, inside, brown rice, cheese, a bit of mushroom, served atop red and green sauce in artistic swirls. We also received a bowl of brown rice and one of refried beans – black beans in this case and all veggie. It was way too much food, but we talked and slowly ate and ate a bit more and talked even more.

At about one o’clock I looked out and saw it had begun to snow. The prediction was for a two p.m. or later start, and I had hoped that I’d be able to get out of NYC beforehand it began. No such luck.

Tomorrow: luncheon conclusion and a long ride home.

NYC Part 2

atrium

Walter arrived exactly on time. We caught up on bits and pieces of the twenty-five years (!) since we’d last seen each other. He was a professor at Fairfield University, specializing in Latin American studies for forty-eight years and is still mentoring young academics.

I told him how his mother, my Aunt Lois, was my favorite relative. She just seemed so warm and loving. He confirmed that she was a fabulous teacher, which I’d always suspected.

Sapphire offered an excellent Indian buffet with great choices of vegetarian samosas, chickpeas, palak, bread to sop up the sauces. Also various kinds of salad, including a wonderful mélange of cucumber, tomato, and onions.

They closed the kitchen without announcing it, meaning that Walter couldn’t get coffee. Then they kicked us out so we walked a couple of blocks to the Lincoln Center Atrium where one can buy tickets and wait for performances.

A typical NYC gathering including a number of older folks, a gaggle of students, and the requisite wacko. The young man who let us share his table works for PBS and promised to pass along Walter’s praise for a program.

We got coffee (tea for me). Walter recommended the documentary Timbuktu, about life in Mali. I was pleased to discover that it’s playing in Hartford so will not have to watch it on a little screen.

It was a thrill to reconnect. We will meet again.

En Route to NYC

lamtrak

There was no blog post Friday because I went to New York, braving ridiculous weather, to see friends and relatives.

As I left to drive to Old Saybrook to catch the train, it was four degrees. I dreaded waiting on the platform because whatever wind is always magnified as it whips along the tracks. The dramatic ice formations in the rocks along Route 9 did nothing to inspire confidence. I also decided that the pitted and rutted highway surface might not survive till spring if we get any more snow.

I made the horrifying discovery that the parking lot is no longer free. Part of my decision to leave from O.S. instead of New Haven was free parking. This time it probably cost me more than if I’d driven to New Haven. Will rethink travel from now on, though O.S. still has the advantage of a less creepy lot, much closer to the train.

Oh, well. Train was “20 minutes” late. Actually turned out to be 45 minutes and never made up the loss. Also crowded. I managed to get the only seat in the alleged “quiet” car across from a couple who talked non-stop. The woman’s cell phone began ringing … Guy sitting in front of them kept glaring at them, but they were oblivious.

Trip otherwise uneventful. I finished A Voice in the Radio. The last twenty-seven percent is index, which was a bit irritating.

Walked through Penn Station, probably in the wrong direction, and waited in a lo-o-ong taxi cue, which moved quickly, a blessing since it was about 10 degrees and of course blowing with NYC intensity. Decided to go directly to my destination as I didn’t think I’d have time to drop my bag at the hotel. Thus I arrived early at Sapphire. The waiters were a bit snooty but generally OK.

Next: reunion with my cousin Walter.

What I’m Reading Now

radio

Here’s a special Sunday edition of another in the occasional series to make up for missing an entry on Friday. Explanation for the omission will emerge during the week.

This is a case of another book that I’ve already finished.

Bob Edward’s A Voice in the Box: My Life in Radio has been on my Kindle since before I got mad at Amazon. It was an on-again, off-again reading experience, completed on Friday.

Bob Edwards has long been a consummate newsman, and it was absolutely infuriating when NPR took its right turn and canned him. He was the most solid reporter on the air at the time. Reading A Voice brought it all back, especially his insightful reporting, his fabulous instinct for a great story, and his stellar interviewing skills.

The book occasionally bogs down with too much detail about particular people or events. He goes into “I’d like to thank the Academy” mode on occasion, but for the most part A Voice is a joy to read. His description of the late Alistair Cooke reveals not the urbane upper-crust Englishman but a down-in-the trenches journalist who used “salty” language and chain smoked.

Everyone should take note of “Bobspeak,” which involved short sentences, easy to present on the radio. It took me a long time make that discovery in connection with public speaking. Wish I’d found Edwards long ago.

Most of all Edwards is a fabulous storyteller. The brief vignette of Father Greg Boyle, cancer survivor, true student of the Bible, and top interview subject, offers just one example.

The arc of the book takes Edwards from one type of new and innovative program (NPR Morning Edition) to another (The Bob Edwards Show on SiriusXM). He said at the end of the book that he was writing at the happiest time of his life. SiriusXM has since canceled the show, but I’m sure that Edwards will follow his own advice and dream more new dreams and work to make them come true.

Exploring Reddit

fuji

I’m probably the last person on the planet, at least the Internet connected planet, to discover Reddit, which I did a couple of years ago. Every once in a while it’s fun to see what the “front page” is reporting. Here are few favorites from Thursday February 19:

  • Mount Fuji overlooking Yokohama is restoring my desire to visit Japan even if the image was PhotoShopped. Credit: 500pix.com. The haiku in the comments are not that great, especially as the syllable count was all over the place, and people couldn’t agree. (It’s five-seven-five.)
  • “They should put a tiny message at the end of chapstick tubes congratulating you for not losing the damn thing.” This thread devolved into a discussion of Burt’s Bees and the fight that broke up the company.
  • From Web & Techs  “5,800 Off-Grid Pakistan Homes To Be Powered by Solar Energy.” Pakistanis seem underwhelmed and cynical that the project will ever be completed. Other folk are sure that the panels will be stolen as soon as installed. Sad.