Pour prendre conge . . .


Mes tres chers amis:

J’ecris juste pour dire que Partenaire et moi allons prendre conge pour plusiers jours en Florida, chez Mickey et Donald et Goofy.

Ce blog continuera cette semaine, parce que j’ai ecrit des petits cybercarnets en avance!

On depart pour l’aeroport demain – samedi matin – a quatre heures de matin.


Mais c’est sur et certain que je vais recuillir des bonnes histoires la-bas en Florida . . .

A bientot, mes amis.

(Now go to translate.google.com and see how elegant my French is.)

(‘Bye, kids.  Talk soon.)

Loren Williamses of the world, unite!



About a year ago I wrote about Googling myself and finding all kinds of other people with my name.



Well, I did it again, just for kicks, and I have to tell you that I appear to be proliferating.



First of all, I know you’re thinking that I didn’t just Google myself as a scientific experiment. Well, of course not! I am anxious to see myself come up first, and second, and third, in a Google search. I am hungry to become famous, without doing anything to deserve it. This is called “being a Kardashian.”



Loren Williams the fly-fisherman and expert on fly-tying is still easily the most popular of us. He dominates the Loren Williams community on Google.



Next down the line are Loren Williams at Georgia Tech and Loren Williams the Canadian artist. LJW/GA is a handsome Christian scientist who specializes in cellular biology; LJW/CA is a Francophone woman in Montreal who does lovely photography. Go figure!



A new figure is Loren Williams, the teenaged athlete from Iowa. There are lots of photos of him; he’s an all-state wrestling champion, I guess. Go figure! (The football player from last year is gone. He was “Lorenzo,” however, so he wasn’t really a full-fledged member of the community.)



Also still lurking around the edges is Loren Williams of Maryland, convicted of both real estate fraud and sexual offenses. And wouldn’t you know that he’s the only one with whom I share a middle initial?



I’m international, of course. In Scotland I am a type of mattress. In New Zealand I’m a competitive rower.



Every year, something new. Loren Williams the chemistry professor at Western Washington University! Loren Williams the dentist in Pikeville, Kentucky! Another Loren Williams the dentist in San Mateo, California!



(Also, a few months ago, Loren Williams, originally of Cheyenne, Wyoming died at the age of 69. Actually, according to the obituary, he “went home to be with Christ.” I hope he’s at peace.)



But the best new addition is Loren Williams from Tomball, Texas. I quote:



I was born on November 19, 1998! . . . I love animals. I have a puppy and a dog. They are so sweet! I have a sister who is 25 at the time. She is sweet… but you know how siblings can be!!!! I will be going into 5th grade this year and I am so nervous!!



Bless her heart.



The whole Loren Williams family is out here rooting for her.




Movie review: “Caesar and Cleopatra”


The other night I watched a British production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra,” starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh. The Romans were, I swear, wearing designer bedsheets, and the armor looked like something you’d buy at iParty. The Egyptians were drab for the most part, surprisingly, although some of them had things looking like kitchen utensils sticking out of their heads. It was Shaw, so I expected the dialogue to be brisk and clever; sadly, apart from an occasional epigram, it was pretty limp.

In a word: costume drama at its most languid.

There were, however, two bits of entertainment, buried away like raisins in a dry scone:

There was Flora Robson, who played Cleopatra’s nurse Ftatateeta. Yes, I spelled that correctly. Caesar / Claude Rains can’t pronounce her name, and calls her “Teeter-Totter” and “Titty-Totty” and such. Flora Robson was a very distinguished-looking actress, but they gave her (to use Wallace Beery’s expression) “a hell of a make-up”: they dyed her skin a rich dark mahogany and gave her a hairstyle like a mangled throw pillow. She is ridiculous and superb.

And there was also Stewart Granger, as Apollodorus the rug merchant. He had a pretty good body, and he gets to flaunt it here. His bedsheet toga is a little more colorful than everyone else’s, and it keeps falling away to show off his big strong arms and chest. He generally enters every scene with one arm held high in the air, like the little man on top of a swimming trophy, shouting “Ha ha!” He is supposed to be a wit, and gets to call Flora Robson a “venerable grotesque,” right to her face.

But the best line in the movie is one of his.

Scene: our protagonists are trapped on top of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Enemy soldiers are coming up the stairs. The Roman galleys are a quarter mile away. What to do? “Ha ha!” Farley trumpets, leaping to the parapet. “I will reach the ships!”

“How?” says Grumpy Roman Soldier #1. “Do you have wings?”

“Ha ha!” laughs Farley triumphantly, yet again. “I have water wings!”

And he raises his bronzed arms above his head and performs a swan dive into the Mediterranean.

Water wings?

And that’s why I love old movies.

The coffin delivery man


(Here’s a riddle: What is it, that 1) if you see it, you don’t want to buy it; 2) if you buy it, you don’t want to use it; 3) if you’re using it, you’re not aware of it?)



(Keep reading for the answer.)



During jury selection this past summer, I was thrown together with five other people: a wiseguy cable installer who kept moaning about how bored he was; an older man (what am I saying? I mean “a man around my own age”) with his nose buried in a 1982 “Quick & Easy Crosswords” magazine; a raven-haired beauty wearing a teensy bit too much makeup; a nineteen-year-old girl, very nervous about missing work (it turned out that she was the Keno-machine operator at a local restaurant); and a short plump cheerful gray-haired man.



I was sort of fascinated with this last guy; he talked about growing up in Brooklyn, and he knew the whole state of Rhode Island, which is pretty unusual here (most people only know their own communities).  He was smart, and cheerful, and calm, and unaffected.



And he finally revealed that he worked delivering coffins from the warehouse to regional funeral homes.



I have always been fascinated by the business of death. Partner and I watched “Six Feet Under” straight through on DVD. And funeral directors are always so courtly and polite and considerate! Partner and I were at a funeral home a year or so ago, planning a “pre-need” funeral for a family member, and I was really charmed by the Italian-American funeral director who worked with us; the room was full of memorabilia of his immigrant father, and he had a big piece of Simon Pearce crystal on the table of which he was very proud, and I looked him up later online to discover that he is a very long-established community benefactor.



I think living with a constant reminder of mortality must be very bracing. To paraphrase Lady Jane Gray: it teaches you to live and learns you to die.  Monks used to sleep in their own (future) coffins, and drink from cups made from human skulls, just to remind themselves that life is, um, short, and probably you should get about your business, whatever it is, before it’s too late.



I hope Coffin Delivery Man is doing well.



Someday I’ll need his services.



(By the way: did you guess the riddle yet?)



Cherry blossoms in September


It’s happening again this year.



Walking to work yesterday morning, I could see a filmy white cloud around some of the trees on the far side of the Providence River, as if they were in bloom.



In late September!



Ridiculous, right?



I saw them close up later yesterday morning.  Yup.  In bloom, and lovely as an April day.



In late September!



Waiting for the shuttle yesterday evening, I was examining the shrubbery nearby: some low-growing azalea-like thing.  And oh my dears it was plumb full of flower buds.



I know I wrote about this last November.  And I am a broken record on this subject anyway.



But the bloody climate is changing.  Isn’t it obvious? The plants are confused. They’re blooming at inappropriate times.



Back in the Northwest where I grew up, flowers bloomed deep into November and December; it was a gentler climate.  Those of you who are familiar with New England know that, while September and October can be (and usually are) glorious, they also (usually) grow gradually colder day by day.  I even remember seeing snow on the grass in October once or twice.



But that was quite a while back.



What can we do about this? Nothing, probably.  This is one of my “hopeless glance into a dark unfriendly future” blogs, in case you can’t tell.



The change will continue.  Maybe in a hundred years the Yukon and Nunavut will be garden spots.  (And maybe Copenhagen and New Orleans and poor low-lying Providence will be under water.)  Maybe Canada and Siberia will become the breadbaskets of the world.  (And maybe Cape Cod and the Elizabeth Islands will be washed away.)



Not to mention that I don’t do so well in warm weather.



Probably it’s a good thing that I won’t be around for much longer.  I’d be complaining incessantly.


Golden years


The other day I was coming down the stairs in my office building, and a woman about my own age, who has worked for the University almost as long as I have, was coming down behind me. We didn’t converse; we just occupied ourselves with our thoughts.



We were both walking very methodically. When you’re our age, you don’t dash down the stairs. You take your time.



Finally, about halfway down, I said (without turning my head): “I never dreamed this would be how I’d spend my golden years.”



She laughed aloud. “It could be worse,” she said.

“Exactly what I was thinking,” I said.



Who knows, in his/her twenties, what he/she will be doing in thirty years? I was telling a story not long ago, and I began with: “When I came to Providence thirty-five years ago . . .”






Most of the people in my office weren’t born yet!


(This, if you can’t tell, is a blog about getting old. I write these from time to time. They are a pressure release, like the little steam-vent on a pressure cooker.  They keep my head from exploding.  So bear with me.)



I had a haircut recently. You remember my barber: he’s a sweetheart. We talked the whole time, mostly about real estate in downtown Providence. When I got out of the chair, I looked down and saw huge wads of gray hair on the floor. “Oh my god,” I said wanly. “Look how gray I am.”



“Don’t complain,” my barber said, who must hear this kind of comment all the time, and who is mostly bald. “At least you have hair.”



But – do you know what I mean? I’m inside this rapidly-aging body, here, now. I’m a husk, for heaven’s sake! I feel dry and evanescent, as if I’m becoming transparent.



And here’s the bitterest joke of all: my soul, or whatever it is inside me that’s looking out through these dull nearsighted rheumy eyes, is still young.






Try explaining that to someone who’s younger than you.



Sunday blog: Devo sings “Space Junk”


By the time you read this, the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will have fallen to earth.



Just like old times!



Back in the summer of 1979, we were all breathlessly waiting for Skylab to fall.  Some people even had radar hats, which gave warning signals if they sensed anything falling on them. (Probably these would not have worked very well.)



Anyway: here’s a song from that same period.



I’m all burned up about / space junk

Walk and talk about / space junk

It hit my baby’s head

And now my Sally’s dead . . .



Devo_-_Space_Junk_[Album_Version].mp3 Listen on Posterous





Good eats in Rhode Island: a guide


Rhode Island is food nirvana.

I’m not a foodie, trust me. I do not flip out over broccoli rabe sauteed with saffron and minced capers, and I do not turn up my nose at TGI Friday’s once in a while. But Rhode Island has an incredible variety of restaurants and cafes and bistros and delis and bakeries. In fact – ahem, ahem – I just read that Providence is the #3 city in the country for foodies. Who says so, you ask? Oh, no one. Just Travel & Leisure.

Take Italian food, for example. Some years back, a New York food critic said in print that there were only two places in the United States where the Italian food was any good: Manhattan (naturally) and Rhode Italian. Amen! Costantino’s. Angelo’s Civita Farnese. Camille’s. And (hats off to them) Twin Oaks in Cranston, the ultimate old-fashioned Italian restaurant, with Provimi veal, and waiters who look like Italian versions of Victorian footmen, and huge platters of food. Here’s how you can recognize Rhode Islanders: you say the words “Twin Oaks,” and you watch them close their eyes and shiver with delight.

Feel like Chinese? My two favorites are Shanghai on the east side of Providence, not far from Brown, and – a sentimental favorite – the China Inn in Pawtucket. I first went there on New Year’s Eve 1978, when it still had red-checked tablecloths. They’re in a nicer space now, but they still serve elegant excellent food.

And the local mini-chains, naturally. What Rhode Islander doesn’t eat at Gregg’s? (I’m a card-carrying customer. But I confess Partner and I don’t go as often as we used to. Too aggressively bland – what a friend of mine used to call “gentile food” – and too many other good choices.) And Chelo’s (although I was never a big fan; their specialty, French meat pie, isn’t one of my favorites).

And every ethnicity you can think of. An Ethiopian place called Abyssinia just opened on Wickenden Street, and I am trying to prevail upon Partner to go there. Japanese food is still underrepresented, but when my friend Pat comes to town, we go to Tokyo on Wickenden for dragon roll and ahiru donburi and ginger ice cream. And there is Latin food everywhere, sometimes even authentic: Bolivian, Peruvian, real Mexican. You want Turkish? Efendi’s Mediterranean Grill is right down the road in Cranston. I can think of at least two rodizio-style Brazilian barbecue joints, where they just keep bringing meat to your table – on swords! – until you signal them to stop. (There’s a new cafe a few blocks from here called Tea in the Sahara, which displays a Moroccan flag in the window, but I haven’t been there yet; I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed.)

The Portuguese and Azoreans and Verdeans have made their own contributions. If you have never had bitoque – steak with a fried egg on top, and a side of thinly-sliced fried potatoes soaking in the steak’s juices – you have not lived. (Riviera over in East Prov is good; Madeira, also in East Prov, is better; Estrela do Mar, also in East Prov, is supreme.)

If you want Tex-Mex for comfort, join Partner and me at the Cactus Grille for nachos. (Last time we went, the new kitchen manager introduced himself to us and told us that he’d be revamping the menu soon to be fresher and more authentic.  We look forward to seeing what he’s going to do.)

Pizza and calzones and spinach pies are a religion here. As with Chinese food, everyone has a passionate favorite. Caserta’s on Federal Hill is good, but – for me – not the best. For a Friday-night treat, we order Ronzio (although someone at work just recommended New York Pizza). For work functions, I order Pizza Pie-er (expensive, but tasty). But the best I’ve had locally – and I have to hand it to her for finding them – is Apollonia’s fave, Catanzaro’s in Cranston, with a caramelized-onion rectangular pizza that was sweet and savory and tore the top of my head off with deliciousness.

All the big national steakhouses are here now: Shula’s, Ruth’s Chris, Fleming’s. Capital Grille started here in Providence, thank you very much. I spent my childhood chewing on huge chunks of red meat, so I don’t crave it so much now; but now and then a nice piece of prime rib, or a nice steak, is just what you want. (I like Fleming’s, because the service is so pleasant, and the lighting is flattering to my pale pasty complexion. Although Shula’s gave us a very nice meal this summer.)

Doris Lessing, in her science-fiction novel “Shikasta,” has an alien commenting on earthlings and our unnatural obsession with food: “In describing the attractions of a city,” he writes, “first of all will be listed the food that is available and even the details of the cooking!”

Sadly – or happily – Doris Lessing got it right.

(And I didn’t even mention doughnuts, or doughboys, or clamcakes . . . .)

Life after death, v2.0


I write these blogs ahead – sometimes as much as two or three weeks. I move them around, and I revise them, and sometimes I write something vital and current (!), and I shift everything around that.



But here’s the thing: if I were to die this minute, my blogs would still post – automatically – for another two or three weeks!



What do you think about that? Creepy? Not really. Presumably I’d be in a coffin, and my hair and fingernails would still be growing. So why shouldn’t my blog be posting too? It’s just a cyberspace expression of who I am.



Or – I suppose – who I was.



Who I was, that is, as I’m here, writing this.



Except that maybe I’m dead right this second, while you’re reading this.



Too complicated!



Providence, Rhode Island: my gritty little city


When I first got to Providence in 1978, most of downtown was being ripped up, in preparation for a walking mall on Westminster Street. I took a stroll on my first Sunday here, not knowing that Sundays in New England in the 1970s were pretty much business-free, because of the blue laws still in effect in those days. The city looked like Sarajevo in the 1990s, or Dresden after the firestorm.



It’s 2011, and they’ve dug up downtown again. For what seems like the seventeenth time in thirty-three years.



Providence has some lovely neighborhoods. Partner and I live at Wayland Square, a residential district on the East Side of the city, and there are some really charming houses around us, as well as some really pretty grandiose mansions. And the Brown and RISD campuses are fun and interesting. But much of the rest of the city looks perpetually bedraggled, like a dog just come in out of the rain. Downtown (locals call it “Downcity,” just to be unique) always looks that way.



There are hints and glimpses of terrific architecture: it’s great fun to look up when you’re downtown, to admire the fanciful decoration on many of the buildings. The O’Gorman Building has a facade decorated with peacocks, their tails running down to street level. The Conrad Building has an gilded onion dome like an Orthodox church. Trinity Rep (which the AIA Guide to Providence Architecture calls “delicious”) is an alabaster jewelry-box, built in the 1920s as a showroom for fancy Packard automobiles. The old Providence Journal building has an exterior like a French chateau.



But, at street level in Downcity, not much is going on. There are Hello Kitty outlets and handmade-soap stores and hipster cafes and SPACE FOR RENT signs. Businesses come and go.



But here’s one of the reasons that I love Providence:



There’s an old used-bookstore on Mathewson Street called Cellar Stories. You have to climb a steep flight of stairs to get to it. Know why? Its original downtown location, back in the 1980s, was in fact in the downstairs section of another building. The owner / proprietor and I have known each other for decades – not as friends, not on a first-name basis, but as regulars, people you know by sight. A couple of months ago I remarked that this was the – what? – third location for the store?



“Well,” he said in his deep imperturbable voice, “There was the downstairs place. And then we moved again down on Richmond -”



His wife – I think she’s his wife, I don’t know – looked on, laughing. This is a typical Providence conversation: reminiscing about where things used to be.



But it was important, for him and for me, to remember.



That’s not just the store’s past. That’s our past, man.



And, in Providence, the past and the present are the same thing.



Or something like that.



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