Flashing back

The past month has been overwhelming for me in many ways.  Work has been incredibly busy, there's some family stuff going on that is just adding to the sadness and angst of the past few months, and then there are two other things that have made me sad/stressed (strassed?).

When I lived in Switzerland in 1973/4 we got our news from The International Herald Tribune, which was a co-production of the Washington Post and The New York Times.  This was perfect for staying abreast of what was going on with Watergate and I would occasionally spend my allowance on a copy (when my parents weren't buying one).  Yes, I was a bit of a geek.  Ok, I still am.

So when this year's Spring Break included a trip to Amsterdam (the one in Europe, not the one in Central NY) at the same time that there were going to be two big developments, the Manafort sentencing and Brexit votes, I was excited to see what the IHT would say.  But there's no IHT, it went defunct in 2013.  But there is an international edition of the NYT so that's just as good, right?

Nope.  Here's the front page of the NYT the day Manafort was sentenced and the day of the big Brexit vote:

The Boeing MAX pane being grounded and Facebook's problems?  WHAT????  I have a friend who works for this edition of the Times, and I do understand the business model.  But still... these are two fairly major news stories and the NYT totally failed.  

Then, last week, the fire at Notre Dame.  During my several trips to Paris it's been a required destination; when I was in Paris for eight weeks I went to Sunday Vespers weekly, and when I was there in 2012 I lit a candle for my uncle (who had died only a day before).  So there was that sense of loss, that a "friend" wasn't going to be there when I next visited.  And totally self-centeredly there was also a feeling that I'd seen this before, in 2007, when the library I worked in burned down.  Now, I'm not comparing the loss of a cultural/religious landmark like Notre Dame to a school library, but the images of the firemen with their hoses and the flames were similar enough to make me want to crawl under all my covers and never come out.   The good news is that as with my library, Notre Dame will rebuild. 


Is this real?

Today, checking the spam folder for the library's account (not my "personal" work account, the library's account) I found this message:

Not only did MPOW point out that this message didn't come from gmail, the address itself says that (see the "via Yahoo" at the top?).  Plus, I'm pretty sure that Mr. Koch wouldn't send out random emails like this, especially not to an "individual" with an email address that's clearly a building.

Still, for a few moments it was nice to dream.


A Valentine's Day cautionary tale

(this was supposed to be published in December, but then life got very complicated... the sentiment still holds, so here it is)

Recently I read this article in WaPo about how The Donald regifted even monogrammed items, even those given to him by his son. Forget who this is about, focus on the idea of "regifting" and the pain (or amusement) it can cause.

There are many moments when we're supposed to give a gift: an engagement, a wedding, a birth, birthdays, Valentine's Day, Christmas/Hanukkah, and many more.  Teachers get gifts before Winter Break and before Summer Break, usually from advisees or grateful students (or parents).

One year, a student at one of my schools gave me a gift.  This student, and a sibling and their mother, had become friends of mine (we're still in touch nearly 20 years later) and it was a lovely gesture.  Or so I thought.  Of course, you don't unwrap the gift right there in front of the student, you smile and say "thank you" and wait until later, right?  Which is what I did. 

And when I unwrapped the gift, there was a gift tag on it.  From this student's uncle to the mother. 

Because we were friends, the next time I saw the mother I mentioned the gift - it was so typical of this student that that's what they'd have done, I was amused more than angry, but also, what if she'd been looking for that gift?  Or worse, if the uncle had asked about it?  Her response was a chuckle, a sigh, and an "Ohhhh, [name]... No, I didn't know about this."  She'd suggested a number of items as a gift and this had been near them, but it wouldn't be a problem if I either wanted to keep it or give it back.  I kept it as a reminder of both this family and the dangers of regifting.

As Valentine's Day approaches, do your due diligence if you're regifting: take off any tags, and make sure you weren't given the gift by the person you're giving it to (or that it wasn't given by someone who will see you've regifted it and be offended).


Maybe it's me

I've been told by some that I can be too sensitive, that I read too much into things. So perhaps this is one of those time, that what I'm seeing isn't really there.  You be the judge.

Let's forget that those heartwarming "do a DNA test with your mother/father and get closer as a family" ads on tv are really painful to those who have lost a parent or who are adopted and would have no biological family with whom to share the results.  And let's forget all the issues around finding out that your family may not, biologically, be your family after all.

What I'm upset about is this recent ad, where a man discovers that his family is not, in fact, Italian.

 Instead it's.... Eastern European.  Not as specific as Italian, just generic "Eastern European".  And the tone in which 'Katherine' says Eastern European is one of disgust.

So here's my problem.  I (and virtually all my family) are "Eastern European" - Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania and Russia all count as the Old Country for them.  There's a word after Eastern European that I didn't add, but is added by Ancestry: Jewish.

Ancestry.com is based in Utah.  Owned by Mormons.  Perhaps I'm being overly sensitive (again).  You tell me.


Credulity, strained

There are things we all did in high school or college we look back on with some dismay.  Had I gone immediately from college to graduate school, there probably would be more such things, as I suppose there are for those friends of mine who did make that choice. 

Between from seventh grade through college graduation, I appeared in ten yearbooks (two of which I got to design my page and had responsibility for the photos on those pages).  As a faculty member, I've appeared in a further 23 yearbooks.  And even for those where I had little or no control over where my picture was placed, I looked at the yearbook.  While I might have missed one or two "candid" shots in which I appeared, I know what my "official" picture (or page) looked like. 

It's a rare person who doesn't, no matter how much they might not like what the photo looked like or where it was placed. 

It's an even rarer politician who isn't incredibly aware of anything that might - in this day and age, if not back when the picture was taken and placed - pose a problem.

So when the medical school yearbook photo of the Governor of Virginia showing a person in blackface and a person in a KKK robe appeared, I didn't believe for a second that he didn't know that the photo would some day surface.  And yesterday, on Twitter, came this:

I call BS.

There is no way he wasn't aware that the photo was on his yearbook page.  And if it was, as he claims, put on the page in error, and even if he didn't purchase that yearbook (another claim) surely someone on his campaign staff or a friend from medical school would have told him that the photo was out there.

I'm reminded of another  yearbook recently in the news, that of our newest member of the Supreme Court.  Just as with those explanations, I'm not buying the explanations/excuses.

Are you?


Not my childhood

Growing up, I knew that there were a few food/drink items that the city near SmallTown was known for: Utica Club and Matt's Beer and the half-moon cookie. When I say "growing up" I mean the years between 1969 (when we moved to Central NY) and about ten years ago.  But about fifteen years ago, something changed.

No, it's not that Matt's was superseeded by Saranac (same brewery, more upscale beer). And no, it's not that the original bakery has gone out of business as a retail outlet.  It's the sudden appearance of two new "traditional" items on many menus around town, greens and chicken riggies.

My father, inordinately proud of SmallTown and various institutions and events around it, like the 'Munstitute' and the Boilermaker Race, started talking about these items as though they were around for decades.  And perhaps they were, but not in any restaurant I'd dined in as a child.  My sister confirmed that no, she'd never heard of them until recently, either. Turns out, they weren't part of the dining out experience until at least the late 80s when they moved from grandma's kitchen to restaurants.

That's not to say they are bad or that I wouldn't order them when visiting SmallTown.  But they weren't part of my childhood.  Sorry Dad.


When is an owl not an owl?

Answer: when it's a hedgehog

No, that's not some strange version of a Japanese koan.  Rather, it's a tribute to my mother's love of owls.  Over the years, she collected many owls: figurines, stuffed (not taxidermied!), printed on dishtowels and t-shirts, jewelry, statues, etc..  Here are just two "clusters" of them:

It might actually be more accurate to say she hoarded owls.  She knew the origin and composition of each of them, sometimes organizing the collection by type of owl, where it came from, or which year it got added.  Of course, it made gift buying very, very easy.  On a trip?  Buy an owl.  Mother's Day? Find something with an owl.  Etc..

Sometime in the 90s, my parents visited Prague (they visited a number of times, I just forget the exact date).  When I then went to visit them, Mom - as usual - showed off her most recent owl acquisitions.  The Czech Republic, if you don't already know, is noted for crystal and she was excited to show me a crystal owl she'd obtained.  I took one look and laughed.  Here's why:  

No, you're not missing anything.  It's not an owl.  It's a hedgehog.  Yes, my owl-obsessed mother saw "owl" when everyone else saw "hedgehog".  To me, it epitomizes her collection and her love of that collection.  So when she asked what from the house I wanted written into the will, this was the "owl" I wanted.  That puzzled her, because by then she'd accepted that it was, in fact, not an owl and exiled it to another, non-owl-filled shelf.  

Last week I was showing one of my cousins some of the collection and the hedgehog, and mentioned that this was going to be mine one day.  My father overheard and immediately said, "take it" "Now?" "Go ahead - if you want it."

So here I sit, in my bedroom, looking at this hedgehog and thinking about all the other owls she collected.  I think Mom would approve. 


A Tale of Two Christmas Eves

Once upon a time (back in 2001) I lived in Brooklyn. It was Winter Break and I was sick. Not just sick: I had bronchitis. Even worse, Thing One was sick with a cold (fever, cough, etc.). We were pathetic.

If you left our apartment and turned either left of right and walked about a block and a half there was a Chinese take out. One had better ribs and mu shu while the other had better soup and wontons. On this Christmas Eve, we didn’t care who was open, we just wanted soup.

Now, Christmas Day and Jews and Chinese food are a great tradition.  Christmas Eve? Well...

I lost the coin toss and bundled up to find the soup. I went in one direction, got half a block, and realized that the shop was closed. Turned around, walked towards the other... oops. That one was closed as well. Thus began a hunt for an open Chinese take out, a hunt that lasted nearly an hour as one after another of the shops in our neighborhood (there were a lot) failed me.

I did finally find some, rushed home, ate and miserably curled up in bed. The next day, Thing One went out and was back with more soup in less than 15 minutes.

This year, I’m sick with a cold. It’s been waxing and waning since just before Thanksgiving. And Thing One is on day three of a fever. It’s a new city, with far fewer Chinese take out places. So I’m heading out (in a car) in the afternoon to get tonight’s soup.


Ice Cream Therapy

My family's relationship with ice cream goes way back.  My mother's parents started married life as owners of an ice cream shop in Salem (MA), but by the time I came along my grandfather was the comptroller for a chain of department stores founded by his father-in-law, and my grandmother had died 12 years earlier.  Ice cream, when we lived in Boston and later visited, meant Brigham's.  With jimmies.

Mom's favorites back then were rum raisin and butter pecan, but I stuck with "white" ice cream (note: it wasn't vanilla, because there was the pale yellow/cream version that was French vanilla and I just wanted the white version - none of the other colors appealed) Even today, I prefer vanilla but have graduated to allowing mix-ins like chocolate covered almonds, cookies, chocolate chips, etc. And, of course, jimmies,  Imagine how happy I was to move back home to find Brigham's Vanilla with Jimmies!

When we moved to SmallVillage in 1969, my father bought a hand-crank ice cream maker and for years one Thanksgiving tradition was to make homemade ice cream using snow from our background as a cooling agent.  Licking the dasher was a reward for helping.  More recently they've made ice cream at home using the stand mixer given to them as a wedding present. Despite being fervently lo-cal/no-fat, using heavy cream for this was an absolute must.

My uncle, for health reasons, lived in dry places like LA and Addis Ababa, finally moving his family to Jerusalem in the early 1970s.  Israel is not known for its ice cream, and one of his great pleasures when visiting my mother was taste testing various brands and flavors of ice cream.  Towards the last years of his life, on his Anchises blog, wrote about dying, ice cream and what would constitute a lesser quality of life.

Recently, my mother's health has seriously declined.  There's a gasping thing, Meige syndrome (or some other form of oromandibular dystonia) that makes it difficult for her to eat.  One of her doctors thought perhaps cold food would help - so my father brought in ice cream.  Not homemade, but store bought.  In her favorite flavors.  And it's working!  She went from unable to eat to eating 8oz/meal of high fat ice cream. 

Just as well one of their favorite musicals is She Loves Me, which includes this number:

(This was about to be published when the situation changed.  I'm still posting this, but with a heavier heart.)


Culture Vulturing in a void

As with previous schools, MPOW has various endowed funds to bring speakers and artists to campus.  There's one fund for French cultural experiences and this year we were lucky to have Coeur de Pirate perform.

You've never heard of them?  Well, they're huge in la monde francophone:
Nominated for Francophone Album of the Year at the 2009 Juno Awards, Cœur de Pirate was released in France in 2009 in association with Universal Music. It became a big hit there, reaching the Top Ten of the French albums chart for several weeks in summer 2009 and spawning the Top Five hit single "Comme des Enfants." The French version of Cœur de Pirate features a duet with Nouvelle Star season five winner Julien Doré on the song "Pour un Infidèle," whereas the Canadian version features a duet with Jimmy Hunt. The French version of the song topped the singles chart in France... [in 2011] Cœur de Pirate's second album, Blonde, saw release and reached the Top Five in France, Canada, and Belgium. (via)
They've also released two albums with English songs, Trauma (2014) and Roses (2015).

The song Oublie-moi was also released as Carry On in English:

Anyway... I've seen them twice before.  So yes, I was excited.  

But the students?  Not quite so much.  They didn't know the music.  They didn't know the group.  And when Coeur de Pirate played, there was polite applause (granted, it got warmer and more excited as the evening went on) but no one got up to dance or any of the other things that usually happen at concerts.  For the band, it must have been so strange to have such a lack of response when the big hits were played.  Imagine if the Beatles, four years into Beatlemania, didn't get a response when they launched into Love Me Do or Help! (or if Taylor Swift didn't get a response to any of her hits).