Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Make My Day

We all have ways to cope.  When life brings its stresses, as it always does and will continue to do, we seek comfort.  For some it is drink, for others it is shoe shopping.  Some of us get a massage or a manicure, while others scope out the nearest French bakery.  I can personally attest that chocolate works quite well.  All of the above sound very fine and I would welcome any one of them.  But the ultimate for me is walking into a book store, which is what I did yesterday.  The smell of a book store is probably as alluring to me as an opium den was to Sherlock Holmes.  The world suddenly seems a kinder and gentler place.

As always, I headed straight for the sale table.  Even in the distance I could see it.  At first, I doubted my perception thinking my eyes must be cruel deceivers.  I could not...simply could NOT...believe them.  Stacked in beautiful, plump splendor were three copies of "Essential Pepin", the cookbook by Jacques Pepin that accompanies his PBS TV cooking series.  I honed in on the table like a hawk that had spotted a mouse (fearing a hoard of shoppers had noticed the same thing at the same time and was hot on my heels to grab them up before I got my chance) to snatch a copy.  I ran my hands over the cover and hugged it.  Yes.  I hugged it.  My mission was accomplished in spades.  No.  More than spades.  In fireworks and a brass band.  No.  More than that even.  Not a brass band.  An orchestra...with Pavarotti singing the famous aria from Nessun Dorma. "vincero,  vincero,   vinceeeeerrrrrooooo".  Well, I might be exaggerating just a bit.  But it was pretty darn exciting nevertheless. The TV show is on The Create Channel, a public broadcasting channel in South Carolina.  It comes on in the middle of the night, though, and unless I can't sleep (which is not usually a problem) I miss it.  And now, here he was...Jacques, in all his adorably handsome and culinary splendor for the bargain price of $11.68 - with my B&N membership card - a substantial savings over its original $40 cost.  I admit it might not work for everyone, but it made my day.

After returning to work and doing what I  get paid to do, I finally went home, patted the dog on the head, scratched the cat under her chin, and put dinner on to cook.  I poured myself a glass of Pinot Grigio and hit the play button on the stereo - Doo Wop on that day.  Comfortably seated in my reading chair, I released Jacques from his shopping bag and noticed for the first time that the cover announced the book came with a 3 hour DVD!  Could this get much better?  Yes.  When I opened the front cover I saw that the book was signed!  In the DVD Pepin shows in detail all the techniques I would ever need to know (from how to tie an apron - seriously, he explains the correct way a chef ties an apron - to proper knife work, prepping vegetables, making meringues, the difference between croissant dough and puff pastry and why the techniques are different, the special preparation needed for certain vegetables, classic French omelets, correct techniques for making proper French breads, dealing with shell fish, as well as the preparation of certain wild game - which I admit I had to fast forward through because, let's face it, French cuisine or not I doubt I will ever need to know how to remove the lungs, liver and kidneys from a fresh rabbit carcass.  And then, of course, there is some discussion of wines.  It just goes on and on and on.  3 heavenly hours of learning at the feet of the Master.)

The book itself is hefty and is lovely to hold.  It has what I can only explain as a padded, hard cover.  The pen and ink artwork is, well, artsy - with lots of flourishes.  There are no pictures of the dishes, but my favorite cookbooks don't have them anyway.   But the endpapers do contain photos of Jacques in his many stages of life, my favorite being the one of him and Julia Child facing the camera.  He is seated and she is standing behind him, with her arms around his neck in a warm hug.  I felt a warm hug myself as I slowly turned the pages.  Once again, life was good.

Monday, May 13, 2013

LOL, "Like" and IMHO

"The human mind is so constituted that in many instances it finds the truth when wholly unable to find the way that leads to it." ~ Justice Logan E. Bleckley (1879), Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Georgia.

 If I were able to have a conversation with Justice Bleckley I would add sometimes we simply get "gob-smacked" with a stinging truth for which we were not searching. This happened to me recently when I e-mailed an old and, I thought, dear friend about the recent death of a former classmate. I admit I was surprised that my friend did not remember the Dear Departed One, since I recall a letter she sent me decades ago about a conversation they had during a particularly trying time for the classmate. So troubling, in fact, that the letter stuck in my memory even though I was not involved in the conversation. By return e-mail my friend stated she did not recall the girl and I explained why I had gotten the impression they were close friends at one time.  I told my friend that I knew she was of some comfort all those years ago to the (now dead) classmate. Something I said apparently sounded "terse" to her.

Thus began a string of electronic communications that eventually led me to the realization that to her, if maintaining a friendship with me required an effort beyond Facebook postings, it was simply not worth it. I am still trying to sort it out since the entire situation developed over a 24 hour period (which also happened to be my birthday AND Mother's Day) leaving me feeling a little confused, then irritated and eventually just saddened by an argument over something falsely perceived by her which triggered it all.  The best I can piece it together, her criticisms of me were that I had not posted anything on her Facebook page (I assume for a while, although she did not specify) leading her to believe I was harboring some unspoken anger. At first I wondered if she remembered I called her just a few months ago. Eventually the e-mails devolved into her remembering I failed to send her the gift I bought her at the duty free shop in Ireland in 1970. As I remember, the gift was a set of six etched aperitif glasses. I can't recall now why I never sent them.  (I have a reputation in my family for buying cards and then never sending them.  I apologized to my brother, once.  I said I was sorry I wasn't more thoughtful.  Because he is a prince among men, he said, "Linderino, you're're just not do-ful.")  But with respect to the aperitif glasses, only one survived a collapse of the glass shelving of my drinks bar years ago, so it is really too late to make amends in any event.

 Nevertheless, over the years I have sent other things.  I have written letters.  I have telephoned.  But the fact that I failed to comment on her Facebook page was perceived as a snub.  It did not seem to matter that I never received letters or telephone calls in return for mine.  It did not seem to matter that books I sent to her when she was not well, did not warrant a simple thank you note.  I realized that she saw me as her Facebook friend whereas I saw her as my true friend and we have very different ideas about the care and feeding of our most cherished friendships. The "modern" tendency is to eschew the pen and ink, and even the telephone, in favor of a quick posted comment or a tap on the "Like" button.  It appears that is what currently poses for communication (derived from the Latin communis to share.)

 Granted, much of my business communications are quick e-mails, although there are still multiple occasions daily when I must write an actual "letter" letter. A letter written on stationary that someone will take out of an envelope, read, and put in a file to molder away. As I said to her, and as I firmly believe, relying solely on Facebook is a very lazy way to maintain important relationships - if they truly are important. Quick comments dashed off onto someone's Facebook page are fine and have a place. They keep us in touch with people we would otherwise lose track of, with people we were close to at one point but whose lives zigged when ours zagged, or with members of our extended families separated by time and distance. It is nice to hear what an old acquaintance is doing and to see pictures of his or her family. I am happy to have those people back in my life, if only through electronic media. But that kind of communication alone, no matter how heartfelt, is not good enough, nor should it be, for my close family members or dearest friends - especially those relationships that have survived longevity and the triumphs and tragedies of life. It isn't good enough for the people who have walked along beside me, and propped me up when I needed propping up. Not by a long shot.

 I was told that I was obviously one of those "people of a certain age" who was just too stubborn and stuck in my ways to embrace modern technology. And as odd as it may sound, with that comment she finally said something with which I can totally agree. If being "modern" means that a quick sound-bite or thumbs up on someone's public page is all that is required of me in order to maintain my most precious relationships, then I am unashamedly a fossil of the very first order.  But when I think of my children and their friends, Facebook seems to be used "in conjunction" with keeping in touch by telephone...or in person.  They are there for each other both figuratively and in reality.  So perhaps I am not quite the dinosaur I seem.

I will grant you, letter writing appears dead and buried.  There is a reason why schools no longer teach penmanship - aside from the cost cutting reasons. Penmanship is no longer needed; handwriting has become a lost art. Why strive to express oneself in a handful of written pages when you can simply hit "Like" or take brevity to its ultimate economical end and type "LOL". Why call a friend to share your happiness over their good fortune, when a smiley face on their Facebook page should be all they need or deserve? Call me a fossil; say I am an old fuddy-duddy who is obviously out-dated. Write me off as a person of a certain age who will never be cool. someone without aspirations of techno-savvy coolness. In the meantime, I think I'll phone a friend, and then I believe I'll write a letter...a letter in which I will drone on and on my expansive and brilliant thoughts. If he or she is friend enough, it will at least be perceived as semi-brilliant.  It may not be the equivalent of letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, or Avis DeVoto and Julia Child (aren't we lucky there was no Facebook back then?), but it will be a tangible little bit of something from me that, if useful for nothing else, can be folded up and used to prop up the wobbly leg of a table.  Try doing THAT with a Facebook comment!