Rick Santorum, the false prophet


I have begun sketching out little pieces about Rick Santorum several times over the past few weeks.  Every time, I work myself into such a blinding fury, I short-circuit myself and go back to square one.



So I will now try again.



Rick Santorum is a Catholic politician from Pennsylvania.  I say “Catholic” because it is important in his case.  I would not, for example, say “Mitt Romney is a Mormon who used to be governor of Massachusetts”; it would really be irrelevant and borderline offensive (although I don’t have much respect for Willard M. Romney).  Santorum makes a big deal of his religion.  He is intensely anti-abortion.  No, check that; he’s intensely anti-birth control.  Birth control is, after all, against the will of God.



Hello, Mahmoud Ahmedinedjad!



Presidents have to be religious.  If they’re not, no one would vote for them.  Someone recently retold the story of Eisenhower joining the Presbyterian church shortly before the campaign season in 1952, so that no one could accuse him of being irreligious. 



But Santorum is insisting on his religion.  He intends to run the country based on his religious principles.



Does this make you break out in a cold sweat?  It does me.



Let’s face it: lots of Americans are irreligious.  I grew up in a non-churchgoing family, in a Western state to boot.  We were not unusual.   Going down the list:



        Dad never seemed interested in religion.

        Mom was baptized Catholic, but never really practiced it.  She talked about it a lot in her later years, but never acted on it.

        Eldest brother was married in a church, but has never (so far as I know) practiced any religion.

        Eldest sister was proudly non-religious to the day she died.

        Younger sister married a moderately devout Seventh-Day Adventist and became observant.  She told me, very seriously, several months before her death in 1995, about things she planned to do in heaven.  I told her, with similar seriousness, that she would have to look for me and Mom in Hell, because that’d be where she would find us.  We both laughed over this.

        I went to a Catholic college, (predictably) converted to Catholicism, practiced it on and off for some decades, and have as of this date sworn off it.



Here, Rick Santorum, is the typical American family.  How many potential votes do you count there? 



One.  Out of six people.



And she’s dead.



And I would like to think that my sister Susan would be smart enough not to vote for a preening phony like you.



So that makes zero.



So huh.



The cigarette lady


I was waiting for the University shuttle the other day when a tough-looking broad approached me.  “HEY!” she said, a little too loudly.  “YOU GOTTA CIGARETTE?”  She moved her hand in front of her face in a smokey-smokey gesture.



“No,” I murmured demurely.



“I’LL PAY YOU!” she blared.



I shook my head.



She shrugged and turned away.  There was a guy parked across the street with his window rolled down; she bulldozered over to him and gave him the same line (I could hear the same dialogue, and his muttered reply).  She tilted back her head and bellowed: “DOESN’T ANYBODY SMOKE CIGARETTES ANYMORE?”



She stomped back across the street.  As she reached the sidewalk, I saw her look down.  She paused, and reached down into the gutter –



Please, god, I prayed to whatever god I pray to.  Let her be picking up a quarter.



Nope.  It was a cigarette butt.  She held it up and triumphantly displayed it to someone back inside the building she’d come from.  Hobo’s delight!



Hey, listen.  I used to smoke.  I remember waking up and realizing that I’d forgotten to buy cigarettes, and gone through the ashtrays to find some nice juicy butts.  Late nights, no cigarettes, same thing. 



Addiction is a terrible thing, kids.  It makes us do grimy horrible things.



I’m not hooked on cigarettes anymore.



I am probably blind to my real addictions.



I wonder what my real addictions are?


The worst (and best) places to visit


Partner and I argue over places to vacation and places to retire. Partner likes warmth and comfort (Key West, Palm Springs, the south of France); I like oddball places (Timbuktu, Nouakchott, Ouagadougou).



Where will we end up?  I’m sure we’ll compromise.  But in the meantime, here (from the Huffington Post’s travel section) is a list of the worst places to go.  And how to get there. (I’m sort of relieved that my three destinations of choice above aren’t among them.) 



Goodbye, Harare, Kinshasa, Port Moresby, Mogadishu.



But I have been to places like El Jadida, and Sliema, and Sfax.  None sounded very promising.  All of them were very nice.  Cheap, too, actually.



Sometimes you want a vacation a la Disney, with no problems and everything taken care of, nicey-nice. 



Sometimes you want something interesting.



I still want to see Nouakchott and Timbuktu.  A friend of mine in Tunisia said Nouakchott was the worst place she’d ever been.  Someone else said the same of Timbuktu.



Listen: I spent a couple of days in Settat, Morocco, back in the 1980s, during my Peace Corps training.  They sent me there just to see if I could handle it.  I handled it just fine.  The hotel doors didn’t have locks, so I just piled a bunch of stuff against the door.  And the café down the street had something called “ckae” on the menu; it was supposed to be “cake,” but evidently no one noticed the error. 



And I still had a good time.  



Of course, you have to worry about cholera and typhus and things like that. 



But at least I was seeing the world.



And it was glorious.



So let’s go to Timbuktu!  I can handle it.


Corned beef brisket and champ


Partner and I are always both very hungry when we get home from work, and neither of us wants to spend an hour making something fancy.  Or even half an hour.  This means we eat lots of soup, lots of pasta, lots of frozen / defrostable things.



But then came the slow cooker.



We bought one in December, and we use it about once a week.  We fill it with meat and vegetables and broth in the morning, or the night before, and we turn it on before leaving for work.  It produces about as much heat as an Easy-Bake Oven, but it’s steady and relentless.  Within a few hours there’s a little simmer going on; by afternoon it’s bubbling steadily.  Meat becomes incredibly tender and juicy; vegetables are rendered completely helpless.  (Onions are pretty much liquefied.)  We bought a big cooker, about the size of a standard bathtub, so we tend to cook three or four pounds of meat at a time, and I invariably double the amount of vegetables called for in any given recipe. 



On Friday, in honor of the St. Patrick’s Day season, I did a corned beef brisket.  The recipe called for all kinds of interesting seasonings: Worcestershire sauce, mustard, balsamic vinegar, garlic, allspice, brown sugar, tomato sauce.  Also green peppers and onions.  (No cabbage. Not very Irish, I know, but cabbage really stinks up the house, so that was probably for the best.)



The end result was very nice.  The brisket was fall-apart tender; the onions and peppers were succulent.  I made some gravy out of the broth and a little cornstarch, and it was nice too.  (A local Irish pub has introduced us to “champ,” which is just mashed potatoes with chopped spring onions; I’ve started using cream instead of milk in my mashed potatoes, because it makes a real difference, and hey, you only live once.  Anyway, I made a side dish of champ.  Also very nice.



From Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”: “The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come on time. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn’t really anything the matter with them, — that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.”



(Most people, when they write about food, describe elegant recipes and elaborate techniques and exotic ingredients.)



(I write about slow cookers and Jell-O and fishsticks.)



(I’m a natural for the Food Network, aren’t I?)



All the pretty little flowers!


The weather this week has been unbelievably warm for Rhode Island in March.  Monday, the last day of winter, was mid-70s and balmy; I walked to the downtown library at lunchtime and had to take off my Mister Rogers sweater when I got back to the office.



(I say not a word about climate change.  Not a word. I said to Partner the other evening: It’s done.  There’s nothing that can be done at this point, nothing more to be said.  The climate’s changing.  We may as well use up all the fossil fuels as fast as we can, because it won’t make a bit of difference. Oh kids. I hope we’ve got a couple of decades left before we all go phffft.)



The vegetation hereabouts – I can’t even tell you.  It’s in total confusion.  I think the snowdrops committed suicide, I never saw them bloom.  The big witch-hazel tree on the corner of East Manning and Ives is still squeezing out red/yellow blossoms, even though it usually blooms in the January snow.  The crocus (croci?) are on fast-forward: the leaves came up, then the buds swelled and bloomed in a day or two, and now they’re drooping in the heat.  Daffodils realized that it must be spring and bloomed almost literally overnight.  Tulips are leaping up a month early.  Vinca is already blooming (doesn’t it usually wait until May?).  The magnolias on the Brown campus are blooming here and there.  Forsythia is coming out.  The violets in the lawn outside aren’t blooming yet, but the leaves are turning peculiar colors.



(But most of the trees aren’t budding yet.  It’s a strange combination: sunny warm balmy weather, flowers in the grass, and no leaves on the trees.)



(And I see on Facebook from my friends in the Northwest that it’s snowing.  In mid-March!  In the warm sweet welcoming Northwest!)



Everyone’s predicting a hot humid summer.  I don’t know.  I’m picturing one of those stormy summers, with a thunderstorm every evening and lots of hurricanes gestating in the Caribbean.



But who knows?



Enjoy the pretty flowers, kids.  Enjoy the pretty flowers.


Saint Joseph’s Day in Providence


Today is Saint Joseph’s Day.  Yes, Saint Patrick was two days ago, we know, believe me; there are lots of Irish-Americans in Rhode Island / Massachusetts.  But Italians revere Saint Joseph, and today – March 19 – is a special day here.  Mostly you celebrate by eating sweet Italian cream puffs called zeppole (which can be translated as “little Joes”).  In my office (under the auspices of the almighty Apollonia), we celebrate Patrick and Joseph together, with a buffet of Irish soda bread and zeppole from a reputable local Italian bakery.



Rhode Island has a proud and richly diverse Italian-American community.  I’m only a quarter-Italian myself, but I speak the language – badly, nowadays – and that’s the magic key into any ethnic community.



My Sicilian-American boss back in the 1980s had six sisters; he was the only boy.  I was adopted into the family, as I had no local family (which is automatically grounds for being adopted into a traditional Italian family).  Also, since I spoke Italian, I could converse with Mamma (then in her nineties), and was often seated next to her at family events.



This was a big mistake.



She used the opportunity for all it was worth.  “All those little girls,” she told me in trembling old-lady Italian.  “And finally I had my little boy, my Severinuccio.  He is my jewel.  He still is.”



I look up at the family sitting around the table – mind you, these are people in their fifties and sixties and seventies – and the girls, Annunziata and Costantina and Preziosa, are all praying that I’m not understanding what Mamma is saying.  And Severino, my boss, is glowing, knowing (one more time) that he’s his mother’s jewel.



Then Mamma begins with the torture. 



“That one,” she says (in Italian), pointing to Costantina, a dignified retired schoolteacher, “peed her pants all the time.  And that one – ” (this time pointing at Preziosa) “ – wouldn’t go to school.  I had to beat her.”  (Preziosa had recently retired from a teaching post at a local university.)



On and on it went.  Mamma was enjoying this: it was her revenge on her daughters, for whatever reason.  Horribly enough, my boss, Severino, didn’t seem to notice that his sisters were made uncomfortable by this.  After all, he knew that he was his mother’s jewel.



One sister never appeared at these dinners: Susanna.  Finally one of the sisters told me: “Her husband’s on the lam.  They have to lay low.  Besides, you’d be shocked by Susanna. She’s very vulgar.”



Susanna (AKA Susie) showed up at Easter one year, and I finally met her.  She was draped in a fur coat, and she was wonderful.  She told me dirty jokes all night, and I told her a few, and we had a wonderful time. 



And the family was scandalized by both of us.



(This was many years ago.  I’ve fallen out of touch with the family.  I’m sure Mamma has left us.  Probably some of the sisters too.)



(But what a wonderful family.)



Now: zeppole for everybody!


For Sunday: “Burning Down the House,” by Talking Heads


Talking Heads had just gotten famous when I got to Providence.  They were students at the Rhode Island School of Design, and naturally I just missed them; they used to perform all over the place just before I got here in 1978.  All I got was a bunch of wannabe cover bands singing “Psycho Killer.”



Here is a nice video of a live 1983 performance of one of their iconic songs: “Burning Down the House.”  It is electric.









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