More Redux

  • It seems that I posted more than the usual number of weather related blogs, including this plea to friends and family in the path of Hurricane Matthew. More neon colors and more anxiety. So glad to hear from my cousin Elsie today that Abbeville didn’t get any water. She’s worried, though, about her sister and cousins  in Houston. I remember being incredulous when my environmental law professor said that Houston refused to have a zoning code because people thought it was a left-wing conspiracy. I had just assumed that at some point they had seen the light. But no.
  • Two great sessions on iCRV radio. The first previewed my appearance at Chester Village West, talking about the family letters and the film. The second featured some of the veterans from the writing workshop.
  • My pleas to vote are even more critical now. The way to flatten the waves of racism and xenophobia spreading around the country is to start on the local level. Once again I will cast a ballot in November for those who couldn’t.
  • Still missing the dear little feline . Simon’s Cat compensates to some degree, but I have to ration, otherwise the entire day goes to the cats.
  • The saga of my recovery from surgery (multiple posts) continues, but I decided to spare folks more details.
  • Of course Isis and Simon’s cat weren’t the only felines. I still laugh out loud at I Could Pee on This.


This is the first redux since May 2016, so it’ll appear in several installments.

  • Hachi no longer has the same appeal. It’s OK for take-out, but the waitresses greet every request with “no problem,” and they think a glass of wine is about three ounces.
  • No more Dave Robicheaux novels. These mysteries feature the Cajun deputy sheriff in the New Iberia Parish. I was reading them to learn about my father’s hometown. A frightening and disgusting article in the New York Times Magazine brought that to the end. Published February 12, 2017, “The Preacher and the Sheriff” told the story in the lead-in: ”A young black man, hands shackled behind him, is shot to death – and the police say he killed himself. The resulting investigation has pitted the victim’s father, a Baptist minister, against the most powerful man in New Iberia, La.”
  • The Fire This Time covered three blog posts (Aug. 9,  Aug. 16, Aug. 18 ). It is even more relevant now than it was a year ago.
  • Hurricane/TS Harvey has me flashing back to the night I got trapped in my car about a half-mile from home. (“Farm Hill Road Whitecaps” and “Aftermath”) Can’t imagine being stuck for a day or more.
  • Still missing Luis Carlos Montalván and Tuesday (Sept. 2, May 19, 2017)
  • To end on an upbeat note, I’m plotting a return trip to Maine, a glorious place to spend a weekend in New England.

What I’m Reading Now (Jane Austen’s England)

Another in the series. As a further antidote to the assaults of terrible current events, I’ve returned to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Just a glance at the cover of Roy and Lesley Adkins’s Jane Austen’s England: Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods will make one feel that things aren’t so bad now. At least most of us have indoor plumbing, mostly reliable electricity, and (with the exception of deliberately criminal behavior in Flint) clean drinking water. What’s on the cover? Someone hanging from a gibbet, left there to rot. A woman whose dress has caught fire. Transportation by horse and sail. A child about to descend to clean a chimney that’s still drawing fire.

The Adkinses have created a vivid and gruesome portrait of life in England from the period of the war with her American colony through the years just after the end of wars with France and the United States.

The couple has used a fascinating array of contemporary sources in the form of letters (including some from Miss Austen), diaries, and newspaper articles. This material demonstrates that life was nasty, brutish and very often short.

The maps offer an education by themselves. They begin with England, well really Great Britain, but only the cities and towns in England are labeled. Following this overview are maps of Hampshire or “Jane Austen territory,” then the areas where two of the principle writers lived, and then vintage maps of the country and more detailed versions of London.

While we may know some customs of the country – deportation or death for minor crimes and repeated epidemics – there are a number of surprises here. They explain the convoluted hierarchy of Anglican clergy. In excellent gory detail, they offer descriptions of medical practice mostly by untrained barbers and sometimes veterinarians. Bleeding, leeches, cupping, doses of mercury no doubt hastened death. Tooth extraction without painkillers meant holes, unless one had an implant from a donation by person who needed money. The authors drop in that this practice meant the recipient might catch syphilis. Yuk.

The biggest surprise so far was their description of a vestige from an earlier period. Women of means who remarried on occasion stripped naked before they walked to the altar. That way they brought nothing to the new husband.

Looking for Reassurance

To my relatives in South Louisiana, please let me know you are OK. Folks from Texas have been checking in. I know you weren’t in Harvey’s direct path on Friday and Saturday, but those larger circles included Abbeville. Also noted that the weather service has added purple to the rainfall measure because it went off the yellow-red scale.

You took a major hit during Rita, plus you’ve been through lots of smaller floods since. Having been there in just a normal rainstorm, I know that it only takes a bit of water to close roads and turn the bayous into one big lake.

I tried to call on Friday and Saturday but got no answer from Cousin Elsie.

It looks as though you had at least one tornado, which is not surprising, and already some flooding. Now the storm is headed back your way, so you may be in more serious danger. The weather forecast is that you’ll have heavy rain through Wednesday and continuing showers etc. till Friday at least. Those are not good signs for an area that’s scarcely above sea level.

I love your little town and hope you will all be safe and back to normal in just a few days.

What I’m Watching Now (Young Frankenstein)

In the struggle to transcend the evil and hatred in the air, I’ve taken to escaping via Netflix into vintage films and a few TV shows. Not long ago I watched Young Frankenstein. I got as far as “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and had to stop. Breathing had become a problem. Recovered and was able to get to the end the following evening.

The only things I remembered from first viewing  were Gene Wilder’s eyeliner, the changing pronunciation of “Frankenstein,” and Igor’s traveling hump. Wilder gives Dr. Frank a comic and weird turn, but I could only see him in Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex, lying in a gutter with a bottle of Woolite.

Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Teri Garr rock their parts, especially Leachman as Frau Blücher. The “Car Talk” boys adopted the neighing horses that follow any mention of her name in their credits. It was even more meaningful to hear it in the original.

Young Frankenstein holds up much better than other archival shows. I’m thinking especially of Fawlty Towers. It now comes off as sexist, racist, violent, and cruel.

Next up: Star Trek, the original series. I never saw all the episodes, but reviews suggest that Gene Roddenberry’s work remains even more contemporary than Mel Brooks’s.

Is This a Joke?

ALJ disapproves.

Black Then needs to learn basic research and grammar. Thank you to my friend and former colleague Susan Dunne for pointing out this travesty. There are so many errors, I’m numbering them:


Anna Louise James was born on January 19, 1886, in Hartford. She was the ninth child 4) of a Virginia plantation slave who escaped to Connecticut. The name on Anna Louise James birth certificate identifies her name as being Louise Clegget James. James grew up in Old Saybrook, 5,6) and dedicated her early life to education. In 1908 James became the first African-American woman to graduate from the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy in New York.

James later operated a drugstore in Hartford until 1911, when she went to work for her brother-in-law at his pharmacy, making her the first female African American pharmacist in the state. The pharmacy where James worked started out as a general store for the Humphry Pratt Tavern in 1790. The store moved to its current location at the corner of Pennywise Lane in 1877, 7) where it became Lane Pharmacy. 8)

Peter Lane, one of only two black pharmacists in early 9) Connecticut, added a soda fountain to his establishment in 1896. 9) When Peter got called away to fight in World War I, 10) he left the pharmacy in the care of his sister-in-law, Anna Louise James. In 1917, Anna took over the operations and renamed her business James 11) Pharmacy. Anna, known to local residents as “Miss James,” operated the business until 1967.

After her retirement, Anna Louise James kept residence in an apartment in the back 12) of the pharmacy until her death in 1977. The store itself remained vacant from 1967 until 1980, when it was renovated and reopened in 1984.

1) ALJ was born twenty-one years after the end of the Civil War. She was NEVER a slave, which means she couldn’t “escape.” 

2,3) She was the first African American woman pharmacist in Connecticut. No one has ever said she was one of the first in the country. The word “pharmacist” needs to be plural.

4) She was Willis S. James’s tenth child. Cleggett has two “Ts,” but I didn’t feel like renumbering.

5,6) ALJ lived in Hartford until she was nine or ten and then moved to Saybrook. The town was not called Old Saybrook until 1947.

7) He didn’t open the pharmacy until 1900. The street was called Pratt Street. Again didn’t feel like renumbering.

8) Lane’s Pharmacy needs an apostrophe.

9) Peter Lane received his pharmacy license in the 1890s. “Early Connecticut” would be the seventeenth century (1600s), two hundred years earlier.

10) Peter Lane did not fight in World War I. That’s a falsehood promulgated by some P.R. person.

11) James’ Pharmacy needs an apostrophe.

12) Her apartment was above the pharmacy.

Hope you regret the errors and that you obtained permission from Harvard to use the photograph.

Peach Cobbler


Well, the peaches disappeared before I could make the cobbler. My friend Pem McNerny requested the family recipe. I can’t find it and haven’t made it for so long, I couldn’t reconstruct it from memory. So here’s the Epicurious recipe, with my commentary. This is closest to the one that Mother made.

Bear in mind that this is basically fruit baked with a sweet, rich biscuit topping. You need the biggest, ripest, juiciest peaches possible. If they’re really sweet cut back on the sugar. I think we also used more lemon juice. Anyway this is one of those recipes that’s going to taste good even if you improvise a bit. Just make sure the proportions on the dry ingredients stay the same.

Peach cobbler – serves 4


6 large peaches, cut into thin wedges

1/4 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. cornstarch

the topping

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 425

Toss the peaches with the next three ingredients in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Meantime, mix the flour with the next three ingredients. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add hot water and toss briefly.

Put the cobbler mix on top of the peaches. Bake about 25 minutes or until the top is golden. Check by sliding a knife into the dough. If it comes out clean, the cobbler is done.

Note from me: Mother always served it warm, à la mode.


NPR may well have uncovered the source of problems at Uber (and maybe Harvard, too). Monday’s “All Things Considered” included an interview of Frances Frei who has taken a position at Uber of “senior vice president of leadership and strategy” and also serves as associate dean at Harvard business school.

It started with Frei giving interviewer and co-host Ari Shapiro the answer she thought he wanted to the question, “Have you ever seen a company this large without a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer?” She responded, “So what you want me to say is unusual, and I will. It’s unusual.” She proceeded to blather on in some incomplete sentences and concluded that everyone is working “diligently,” though she didn’t actually say they were trying to fill the positions.

Then Shapiro asked, “As long as we have you here, would you like to make any news about who the CEO might be?” Her response: “That’s – that is really quite adorable of you.” She followed it with, “I reward you for trying.”

Adorable? I had to go back and look at the transcript to make sure I heard her.

Think about the uproar if he had described her that way, or if any male interviewer had said the same to a female guest. No doubt firing on the spot would have led the demands.

Maybe she’s of such an advanced age that she falls into the “too old to change behavior” slot, but if I were folks at Harvard – and at Uber – I’d have a quiet sit-down with her. The message: Don’t patronize your interviewer, and don’t act like an old fogey. At Harvard, re-education might be in order, especially if she’s transmitting patronizitis to students. Maybe the powers that be should look around to see if other faculty have caught it.

Frei obviously knew the question was coming. Couldn’t she come up with a more sophisticated answer? Maybe – “I knew you were going to ask me that. We are searching in all the places that Uber goes – and some where it doesn’t. We will let you know as soon as we have the passenger on board.”

RIP, Dick Gregory

Dear Mr. Gregory,

You have been in my life since I can remember. We didn’t have a TV so I only watched you very occasionally, but you were still in and around my world.

You were a man far ahead of your time. Your emphasis on helping African Americans live healthier lives needs to be delivered again and again. Maybe renewed interest in your books will help us survive the current storms.

We collectively thank you for your comic progeny: Chris Rock, Dave Chappell, Richard Pryor.

Every time I watched or read it made me take a harder look at this country as I was laughing. The one item that has stuck must have come from one of your early publications, but I can’t find it online.

You began your alphabetical list of American states with Alaska.

The interviewer asked, “But, Dick, doesn’t Alabama come before Alaska?”

“Not in my book!”

What I’m Reading Now (Miss Manners’ Guide)

To counterbalance the serious Being Mortal, I’m also reading Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin. At 827 pages, not including the index, that’s a lot of excruciating.

Much of it is a sad commentary on the state of culture. The people who wrote in at least know there are problems. Given what’s going on in the larger society, I guess it’s no surprise that we are failing at the smaller things, too. Do people really have to be told that deliberately hitting someone with an umbrella, refusing to give directions, or slamming doors in people’s faces represent uncivilized behavior?

In her attempts to rectify this situation, Miss Manners ranges across the landscape of behavior from the proper way to introduce people to responses to noisy neighbors (“Basic Civilization”), to writing and responding to invitations (“Intermediate Civilization”) to proper etiquette after someone dies (“Advanced Civilization”).

Some of the advice is truly philosophical. A reader asking about people who wear backpacks in crowded places received this in part: “ … etiquette, unlike the more forgiving social sciences, is interested in action as well as motivation. Good-hearted people who hit others with their burdens are rude.”

There’s lots of enlightened humor, too. My favorite so far, in part because of its brevity: “Dear Miss Manners: What am I supposed to say when I am introduced to a homosexual couple? Gentle Reader: ‘How do you?’ ‘How do you do?’ ”

After realizing that Miss M. spent all those pages delivering corollaries to the Golden Rule, this Gentle Reader plans to follow her to the porch swing with a mimosa and a copy of Jane Austen to read as Miss M’s peruses the novels of Henry James.