Friday, December 31, 2010

Trapped by the Wrap

On Christmas, if you've been good, you get things, like this fine laptop. You also get useful gadgets of the the tech variety. What you also get with these gadgets, and food, and toiletries, and household products, is that which contains them, many times a rigid, transparent packaging which looks like glass but is apparently made of Kryptonite. These containers are dangerous, requiring the use of a box cutter, hatchet, screwdriver, pliers and a large box of Band-aids and maybe the occasional tourniquet. I think the purpose of this armor is to prevent thievery, since products are now available freely from the shelves of the modern store. I remember the bad old days when you had to ask the person behind the counter to fetch whatever you wanted to buy. Who wants to go back to that? Who even remembers that besides those of us of great age? There must be an easier way to make this packaging more accessible and still discourage the light fingered nerd who desires some futuristic device at the local Best Buy.

Because the modern toddler cannot resist drinking drain cleaner, we now have most household products almost impossible to open. I am at the age where I even have trouble opening a package of gum. Right now in my kitchen is a new bottle of dishwasher liquid, the top of which is the kind you have to press really hard to release the tabs that lock it, in order to screw it off. I cannot do this without a wide jawed wrench of some kind, which I am not in the habit of having at hand among my kitchen utensils. Fortunately, I have a son handy for such things, but what about geezers who live alone? Hey, new job op - opening things for geezers!

Ian Frazier has written some hilarious short pieces in the New Yorker featuring "The Cursing Mommy." It's as if he's living next door and has bugged my house, since that is how I cope with my frustration over trying to open things, even the goddam waxed paper inside the freaking cereal boxes. When I'm in that state I should not even be around sharp things, like knives and scissors which I need if I want my breakfast. I know I am not alone in this. In fact, I think I read somewhere that there have been some serious injuries from the damn clam shell packaging. I wonder if the insurance industry is behind this?

I don't have access to my scanner right now, so I had to do the illustration for this piece with Photo Shop, which I haven't done for a while and almost forgot how to. Got the plastic thing from Google and the photo from my camera. Such fun!

Monday, December 27, 2010


I am composing this on my new gigantic laptop. I think John got tired of hearing me curse using my very slow Dell, and decided to provide me with one that has speed and a lot of bells and whistles. It's lovely. By coincidence, Sally got me a neat little Passport portable hard drive, so I can empty the old one and pass it on to a deserving citizen who can take over the cursing.

As is usual when Polly and Sally are here at the same time, there is very little conversation, rather the clicking of computer key boards as they commune with people who are elsewhere. On Christmas day, with my new computer's built in camera, we had one of those broken Skype sessions with Emily and Chris and visitor DCB in Germany. The main problem was with the heavy Skype traffic, the result of which is frozen pictures, many "Can you hear me nows?" and un-Christmas spirit frustration.

We had an nontraditional, for us, Christmas dinner. John decided that we should have duck, rather than roast beast. He went to Difeo's, a poultry purveyor in Akron, and brought home a 6 pound Long Island duckling. He also was the cook for the fowl, basting it with red currant jam and orange juice. It was sooo good. Polly prepared roasted sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and maple syrup. Sally made a red and green salad with baby spinach and raspberries. I did nothing, ab-so-lute-ly nothing. It was the most flavorful, delicious Christmas dinner ever. Polly also made bread pudding in lieu of the plum variety, but it was equally spicy and filled with raisins. walnuts and apples. Feast!

We made the usual trek to Cleveland for the Boar's Head Festival at Trinity Cathedral. It seemed to be bigger than in the past, and wonderfully colorful. There's nothing like hearing a brass choir in such a beautiful stone cathedral. They even serve ham and mince pie afterwards, and this time we partook before we took off for the Number One Pho, a Viet Namese restaurant housed in what looks like an Edward Hopper painting in a rather dodgy industrial section of East Cleveland. I tired to emulate a Hopper with my camera, but the light was just not bright enough and all was blurred. Besides, I was not sure that the other patrons wanted to have a picture taken that may show up on Facebook some day, especially if they were there with someone their wife or husband may not approve of.

We're having some very fine left over split pea soup made by the chef du jour from Provincetown, who is as much an artist in the kitchen as in the studio. At some point this week, we are going up to the Police Museum in Cleveland, which promises some very gruesome artifacts from a number of unsolved murders, an interest my children seem to have developed on their own. Makes me wonder what may be in store for me as I get older and creakier. I may need to hire a bodyguard.

These are some Ladies of the Court, who entered sweetly singing a lullaby for the Holy Infant so tender and mild. So lovely were their voices in that huge space.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas

Woolworth's Five and Dime

I want my dime store back. That's where I used to do m y Christmas shopping. I would have 50 cents to buy gifts for the entire family, and I would get wonderful things for them there. I remember the pseudo cloisonnne incense burner I bought for my mother one year. It was orange and green and brown, with gold beading, and I thought it was beautiful. I don't think we had any incense, but that didn't matter. To a seven year old it was magical. I bet if it was on "Antique Road Show" now, it would fetch a pretty penny. Woolworth's was full of bright, shiny things, which was what Christmas was all about. In those days, there were tons of things that were actually five or ten cents in price. I think that incense burner was a whole quarter, which meant that the other family members got lesser treasures. You could also find great wind-up toys, little china dolls or animal families, tops, marbles, Big Little books, and all those things that no longer exist in the world of children, so are not missed.
These stores were still around when my children were little, and that's where they shopped at Christmas, too. I still have a few things they bought down at the Woolworth's at University Plaza years ago, like a gold-sh locket , in which I put their pictures, and a necklace with a big "G" on it. Never go me a fake cloisonne incense burner. I think they had better taste, or figured that I had.

Even when prices rose above 5 and 10 cents, dime stores were great places to find simple things: dish towels, kitchen gadgets, gold fish and turtles, coloring books and paper dolls. What reminded me of this is that yesterday, John decided that we should make gingerbread men. I had tossed out all my cookie cutters years ago and I realized that there was no dime store to go to to find a new one. All of that stuff is now relegated to specialty kitchen stores, which carry over priced gadgets for people whose hobby is cooking. Coking as a hobby! What a concept.

The same thing happened a few years ago when I broke my glass juicer, a simple reamer I had had for 40 years or so, which I had probably gotten at Woolworth's, along with a spatula or a slotted spoon. I went to the only outlet available to me - ugh - Walmart - which had destroyed the local very fine Kmart, which was a really good substitute for the old dime store. In fact, I think Kmart is descended from the old Kress' (in the South) or Kresge's in the North. So I'm at -ugh- Walmart, and I ask where the juicers' are, and the guy led me to the housewares department and shows me this cheap plastic thing. I said, "But I want a glass one like the one I broke. I'd had it for forty years." He smiled and said,"You 'd had it for forty years or more. That's exactly why they don't make that kind any more." So I ended up finding one at an antique store, and I treat it very carefully.

So, anyway, there was no handy Woolworth's, McCrory's or Kresge's to go to to find a gingerbread man cookie cutter. As I was on a bit of a journey to find a gift, I realized that I was going right by one of those complexes (Aurora Farms)which has tons of shops, including a couple of kitchen ones, I drove around and found a parking spot not too far from one of them, went in , asked a lady in an apron if they had such a thing and they did. It wasn't even expensive. It wasn't exactly the shape I was looking for, and it looked like a person of indeterminate sex, but a person for all that, so I bought it. Since I wasn't in a dime store, there was really nothing else to look at except that they had tons of sample's of their specialty dips, so I grazed thorough a number of them and left. When I got home, I discovered that John and Polly had found an almost identical one, even cheaper, at another kitchen shop in Hudson, a very posh one that offers gourmet cooking classes for those for whom cooking is a hobby instead of a *&#$@% chore that you have to do every day.

But I digress. Had there been a Woolworth's handy, it would have been so much more fun and lots more things to browse. I used to buy a very fine journal there every year until they closed. No one else has them, so I don't even keep a journal any more. There were still Woolworth's in England , at least a few years ago in Scunthorpe, where I bought a very fine tea cozy. It was just like the ones we used to have here. Lovely. I always loved dime stores.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beware the Grand Inquisitor!

This is not about a Monty Python skit, although I half expected Terry Jones to appear when one of the characters sang this phrase twice - in Italian, which I don't understand, but there were subtitles. I went to see "Don Carlo" on Saturday, the live from the Met HD version. It's the reddest opera I've ever seem. The set and costumes designers went a bit too far here with the most blazing shades if red in the spectrum.

The story is as follows: Don Carlo, the prince of Spain, is betrothed to Elizabeth, Princess of France, one of those deals they used to do with helpless royal offspring, where they'll meet for the first time on their wedding day. BUT - they accidentally meet in a forest, so they can sing a duet and fall in love. Their countries are at war, and unbeknown st to them, Carlo's Pa, Filippo, decides that HE wants to marry Elizabeth, as part of a deal to end the war, the bastard! A side story involves Carlo's BFF Roderigo, who's a baritone, so that he and Carlo, who's a tenor, can sing a really great duet professing their BFF-ishness, and they hug a lot during this number and swear their undying love and all, and you start to wonder. Roderigo goes off to help the Flemish (at least the people of Flanders, and I don't think they're call Flanderish) and asks Carlo to ask his Pa to call off his Spanish conquerors and leave the Flanders folks be.

Well, there's a lot of singing and all, and there goes Elizabeth walking around in very red clothes with Filippo,m who's also clad in crimson, and Carlo, in black as befits a heartbroken prince, weeps and moans like a bastard. This is 16th century Spain and the Inquisition is still the main hobby of the Church, and when Roderigo comes back from Flanders and confronts Filippo about his unjust war on Flanders, Filippo tells him, "Beware the Grand Inquisitor!" Since the Church pretty much ran the world in those days, if you piss off the king, you're dissing the Church, so you'd better beware the Grand Inquisitor and all

So there's this scene with Filippo singing this gorgeous aria, about how Elizabeth never loved him - duh!- an he makes a deal with the G.I. to turn his own son into the Inquisition, along with Roderigo. At least I think that's what the deal was. Anyway, Roderigo gets shot during an Auto da Fe, with people getting burned all up behind a huge scrim with the face of Jesus on it, in case you didn't get the irony. Carlo cradles Roderigo in his arms. Roderigo singes "Morire" or something like that which means "I'm dying here, but first, I'm gonna sing ya a little tune," which he does, a very beautiful aria and all He's singing this while lying on the ground with this huge starchy collar almost covering his mouth. He dies, finally A few minutes later, Carlo gets stuck with a sword by somebody I didn't know, and the ghost of his grandfather - Filippo's father- takes him away to Paradise, where Roderigo awaits! And Elizabeth is left with Filippo, the bastard.

It's a five hour opera and the best music is in the last act, and I enjoyed the whole thing Those wacky royals and priests! Those folks who want a theocracy should check out this opera.