Post #72: More Than a Nibble

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THE FIRST FANCY PLACE

I am starched, white gloved and frilled.  Neatly tied into a dress with bows, anklet socks precisely  turned, Mary Jane’s patented and shining.  Lifted to my seat in the restaurant I  am perched on a pedestal of telephone books.  A tiny empress, surveying the gleaming forks and knives and spoons. What is the right thing to do?   I have no idea. Terrified, I sit so still. 

A single question, “Do I like tuna fish?”   I nod carefully. Is “yes” the right answer?  Lunch is ordered.   In a blur a black jacketed waiter flourishes a plate in front of me with the insouciant panache of a bullfighter flicking his red cape. Is this my lunch?  My sandwich is sliced into into beautiful little triangles and stacked three stories high on a mountain of potato chips.  Do I eat it or stare at it?  I don’t know.  Then I spot it at the edge of the plate.   A tiny paper cup filled with mashed potatoes.  At last, something I recognize!  In a rush all at once I squeeze the whole thing into my mouth.

And my eyes brim with tears.

Alas.  Horseradish!

***

MITCH’S

Growing up in the Motor City one’s life is simply guided by cars. We Motor City folk cruise Woodward, glide up and down the hills of Maple, bump over the potholes of Orchard Lake.   We don’t just drive to get places. We drive to drive. We drive the rippling  highways and byways of our state, The Big Mitten, but in truth we are always dreaming of skimming by the shore. It’s not hard to do. Wherever you are in Michigan you are no more than six miles from a lake and no more than 85 miles from one of the Great Ones.   We Michiganders are happily waterlogged.

If the salty Atlantic imparts a certain tang to Eastern Clam Chowder than I’ll argue that being squeezed between Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Erie and Superior impart a certain freshness to our foodstuffs.

So after lazy Sunday afternoon car rides we invariably would end at Mitch’s on the lake.  Which lake?  I never knew.  But my Dad would slide the gigantic Oldsmobile into parking lot, crank down the windows for those of us sweltering in the back seat, and then disappear into the vast and bustling restaurant.  After a few minutes he would emerge with a wonderfully greasy bag of Mitch’s special soft breadsticks, hot from the oven, dripping with butter,  sprinkled liberally with salt. They were gone by the time we reached our front door.   At the table we ate plate after plate of Mitch’s special salad.  The recipe for the dressing is still a mystery.  But no matter.

Seven o’clock and  time for The Wonderful World of Disney!

***

HOWARD JOHNSON’S

Skip breakfast.  Skip lunch.  Skip dinner. 

Crowd into the hand me down Pinto, the Gremlin, or the Opal Manta. Careen down Lone Pine on the way to the corner of Telegraph and Maple. Spot that gleaming orange roof from a mile away!

Scoot into a booth. Squeeze in tight.  The waitress taps her pencil on her pad. “What’ll it be?”

“FUDGE RIPPLE  with strawberry sauce, extra whipped cream!”

“BUTTERCRUNCH  with butterscotch topping, marshmallow, double cherries!”

PEPPERMINT with hot fudge, pistachios,  pineapple and sprinkles!”

Enormous goblets filled with ice cream and sauce overflowing are placed before each of us. A conspiratorial click of silver spoons and we begin!

Afterwards a plate (or two) of french fries, the perfect palate cleanser,  for all to share. 

***

STEVE’S LUNCH

Really it’s  little more than a slice of a place.  Just enough room to squeeze through the door and pull yourself up to a red counter stool.  Twirl meditatively while checking the menu but really for naught. The order is always going to be the same. 

“Cheese and bean sprout omelet, please.”

The order is taken with a swift nod. Then the counterman swirls the eggs in a bowl and gently spreads them on the grill.   A shovel of hash browns fills the whole of an oblong platter and with a few quick flicks of his wrist the omelet is filled then folded with an origami like precision and placed delicately on top.

Since nothing could possibly ever match this for perfection, no need to eat for a week.

***

CAMMERARI’S BAKERY

You could almost eat the smell. But that isn’t nearly enough.  Walking down the streets of Carroll Gardens, if you are lucky enough to catch the scent, your nose starts twitching like a pup who had caught the aroma of a grilled steak.  Breathe and breathe in deep.  It is invigorating, exhilarating, blissful.   I am swept along the streets of Brooklyn bleary and floating,  then joyously flying through  air like a girl in a Chagall.   And suddenly I am there. Right on Henry Street at the window of Cammerari’s Bakery. 

I press my nose to the glass.  Living paycheck to paycheck, I have only two dollars. But here at Cammerari’s  that’s more than enough. In a moment, crinkled bills are on the counter and soon a whole loaf of warm bread is cradled in my arms.

I sigh happily. Once again,  I will be full.

***

The memory of these—and so many other—wonderful places are still sweet and rich on my tongue.  I savor them. With love especially to all who’ve broken bread or shared a scoop with me.

photograph copyright Edible East Bay Magazine

Post #71: Shehechyanu Moments

FullSizeRenderAnxious and jittered I shudder through my days, fizzed and cocktail shakered from top to bottom. Splash me out into an iced goblet, gussy me up with a speared pimento’d olive, a square of sugar, a paper parasol. Ready to go.

Right the ship. Hold fast. Steady on.

I cling to my books like talismans and like life preservers. I carry them from room to room, sleep with them under my pillow, hide them in my purse. Richard Jefferies, Mary Webb, W.H. Hudson. Jean-Henri Fabre. Like a hummingbird dipping it’s beak full of floral nectar, a line or two gleaned as I wait for the morning announcements. a page absorbed while standing in line for a sandwich. A few more inhaled as I wait for a train.

Then too I peep through windows, hoping to catch a sparkling glimpse. Leaves shimmying on their branches undulating with the wind? An elegant caddis fly hovering just out of reach? The shiver of air left by a bird in flight?

A few moments. Just enough. But never enough.

In the classroom we talk about Marcus Aurelius, the man who so beautifully explains himself to himself in Meditations. The book that was never meant to be read has been read a million times over, over the centuries. Do your duty honestly and faithfully. Be virtuous. Aim for tranquilly. Live— and live for the moment.

To be aware and in the moment is essential, as we steer our course. But to remember? We have the right I think to choose our moments. To grab at the happy ones, allowing the others to recede and creep back to the shadows, leaping from peak to peak and from joy to joy.

Once upon a time I had a favorite prayer, one I only heard once a year. First night of Chanukah, the third prayer. The gorgeous chant for that prayer always made my heart soar and my spirit sing.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the Shehechyanu is not meant for just once a year.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam,
shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all:
for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.*

This season, or this moment in time. Or in other words, one is blessed to recite the Shehechyanu at so many happy moments in life. At a holiday that comes around once again. When you see a friend that you haven’t seen in such a long time. When someone you love achieves something never achieved before.

Life is filled with Shehechyanu moments waiting to be experienced and savored again and again. Here’s wishing for many Shehechyanu moments for each of us.

*translation from http://www.reformjudaism.org

In honor of JRF

Post #70: Spectacles

FullSizeRenderThe world was a watercolor wash of cerulean, sapphire and emerald, the blurred edges soft, entrancing, embracing. Ever shifting in the light there was so much to look at, so much to see! The tops of trees blended into sky, houses undulated into lawns, sidewalks dreamily rolled and buckled and puckered under my regal gaze. Were things near or far? Hard or soft? I didn’t know. I didn’t mind. I moved slowly. Why rush? The world was a kaleidoscope of softness, the lines beautifully and comfortably blurred.

When I was seven my father the optometrist gently curled the arms of a pair of spectacles around my ears and took a step back. A blink. A sharp intake of breath. And my world jumped sharply into jangly focus. I could see.

But that other world was still there and I knew it. If I took off my glasses I could still see it.
***
Unquestionably it was one of my oddest assignments. And yet, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

At last we had reached my long longed for moment: the tour jete leap, high, higher, highest from the heart stopping canvasses of Cezanne, and his explosively condensed blots of color that led to the rocket launch into twentieth century painting and beyond. How could I explain the brilliance of one who did not impose his vision on the world so much as unmask the visual world itself?

I had only a few heartbeats left of class time. So there was only one thing to do.

The assignment: I sent them all outside.

Walk and walk alone. No earbuds or other electronic distractions. Just look closely at the world around you. See the familiar in an unfamiliar way. See whatever it is that there is to see.

Give one one photograph seeing something in a way you’ve never seen it before. Give me one paragraph describing your experience.

Fifteen minutes to relearn a lifetime of visual experience? See the world anew? Absurd. Impossible. Ridiculous.

And yet…

The assignments trickled in, slowly at first and then tumbling over each other like school children finally released from the classroom on a hot May afternoon.

—“The grass seemed to get greener the longer I looked at it.”

—“The sky glowed with streaks of pink!”

— “I looked and suddenly my street was a mass of angles and curves.”

Is the world as it is or is it remade anew viewed through our own individual lenses? What do each of see when we really see? Go and look. Outside, through the window the world is waiting for us, to be discovered and rediscovered again and again.

***

PS For a fascinating look at vision through the eyes of a child, find Ellen Raskin’s marvelous  and beautifully illustrated Spectacles.  And if you like puzzles and mysteries, you might like her Newbery winning The Westing Game as well.