Our summer: their winter

July 17, 2016

Savannah Morning News

I can think of a million things to do in this heat. Just not at this moment. Not in the middle of a long afternoon where the plants are droopy, the cat is sprawled on the porch and I’m still bleeding from an unexpected encounter with the Spanish bayonet. The chickens are burrowed in some cozy and crazy pile of dirt. The hens look dead. I know they’re not. I also know this: none of the million things I can do in this heat involve going outside at this moment. Not while the sun is high. The cat is hungry and we have no cat food? Give her dog food. We’re out of milk for coffee? We’ll make do.  “The book you ordered is at the Bull Street library,” says the automated voice on my cellphone. I’ll take one off my shelf instead. Why read “Killing a King” (even though I’ve been waiting for someone to finish and return it) when “War and Peace” is steps away. Lots of day – and daylight – to read “War and Peace.” So what if there are all those multiple Russian names that make no sense at all. I’ve started it six times and gotten nowhere. Seven is a charm. Maybe now that I’ve been watching “The Americans,” a riveting series about a KGB-trained couple transported to the U.S. as spies, I’ll understand a little more about the Russian psyche. Maybe. Must be a Russian summer. Now I’m rereading Julian Barnes’ novel, “The Noise of Time,” an artsy, imaginative narrative about composer Dmitri Shostakovich. A little light reading, you know, a quasi-biography (but more fiction, methinks, not that memory can be anything but fiction), a commentary on mortality and death. Cheerful subjects, right? Perfect for 100-degree days. Gosh, I didn’t even mention the challenge of living under the authoritarian arm of Soviet rule. Yikes. Talk about strict.

We’re in the thick of summer. C’mon, people. Toughen up. This is our winter. This is pay back. We can do it. We don’t shovel snow, look for mittens, cover every square inch of skin before venturing outside (except for following the dermatologist’s instructions and slathering expensive and special sunscreen on our faces). We don’t worry about scraping ice off our windshields, turning the steering wheel back and forth, back and forth on black ice at 5 o’clock in the afternoon in the winter on a hill when it’s already dark, heart in throat all the while, or slipping and sliding all the way to that giant room at Optim Orthopedics, which is usually filled to capacity with people who are really not in the best of spirits. You haven’t been there? Good. I hope you never have to.

Nope. None of that for us. We wear flip-flops, sleeveless shirts, bathing suits under loose dresses. Frocks, we like to call them. We carry towels in the car.  Just in case. We walk the dogs through what seem to be empty streets, past empty houses. Where does everyone go? It’s ghostly, desolate. It’s quiet. We know which streets are shady, which lanes are sunny and when. We keep our eyes on the fig trees. They’re getting close. We plot to beat the birds. Ready, set, go.

We go to see 3-D movies like “Tarzan” and take a sweater. Maybe we go twice. We could have missed something the first time. We drive to Tybee Island at dawn to swim with the pelicans and the gulls while the giant freighters make their way against the horizon. We do a little swimming, careful to keep an eye on the shore, aware of the undertow. But mostly we bob in the water. We float. We let the waves take us where they wish, all the while knowing that July is the best time to be in the ocean because August brings jellyfish and swimming with jellyfish means long sleeve shirts and long pants.

We revel in the overhead breeze. Did you feel it? Did you feel it? Quick. Find the list. It’s time to do chores. it’s safe to go outdoors.















Walking our way through NYC

Savannah Morning News column

April 10, 2015

Distance. It’s a wonderful thing to have when you visit another city, when you don’t know the players in city hall, when you don’t have to choose up sides and you don’t have a dog in a fight, any fight, pick a fight. You just walk and laugh and take what comes.

At least that’s the way it is in New York City, the ultimate walking city where there’s no such thing as getting lost, where no one will even give you a chance to get lost. Anyone who sees you studying a subway map, holding the folded and wrinkled outline of the city every which way, will stop and ask where you’re trying to go, and that’s before someone else stops by to offer an opinion and give you a better way.

It pays to travel light (and not just because of hauling your luggage up and down the multitude of knee-challenging, concrete subway steps) because nothing you could want is too far away. Colder than you thought it would be? Stop along the way, pop into a shop and buy a hat in the shape of a mohawk. Five dollars. Forget your sunglasses? (And it can be bright in New York.) Stop, look around, pick out a new pair of shades. Six dollars, the vendor says. But will you take five, you ask. Sure. Fi’ dolla, no holla.

Hungry along the way but you don’t want to stop because it’s a beautiful (bright) day with the bluest sky possible? Aha. There’s a food cart on the corner selling pickles and olives stored in barrels. Garlic-stuffed pickles, new pickles, old pickles, sour pickles, horseradish pickles, black olives, green olives, blue-cheese olives, brine olives. Five dollars. What a concept: food vendors with posted licenses, permits and photo ID badges. You can eat while you walk or you wait to find a pocket park with benches.

And when you exit the Met Breuer building (the old Whitney Museum of Art) at Madison and 75th and you think, “I’m in the mood for a knish,” bingo, there it is, right in front of you, a stand selling knishes. With mustard, of course.

Then, when you’re about to go to a showing of “City of Gold,” a sumptuous movie at the IFC Center about a prolific and daring food critic in Los Angeles, Jonathan Gold, well, you know you’re going to need a wee bit of a snack because dinner at the Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street is hours away. That’s when you stumble into Faicco’s on Bleeker Street, where one dollar buys you a fried risotto ball, maybe the best (okay, the only) one you’ve ever had in your life. In fact, you wake up the next morning thinking of this risotto ball because it’s got that “morish” taste, as in “I need more.” And that’s when you have your first NYC dilemma: to cross 6th Avenue to the Waverly Restaurant, the quintessential 24-hour diner that has the same trio of venerable indoor potted plants in its window (avocado, Easter lily and spathiphyllum) that it had last year and the year before and the same reliable service – or return to Faicco’s on Bleeker Street for that risotto ball.

Except then you remember you are meeting friends at Tom’s in Brooklyn. Tom’s is another old-timey corner restaurant from 1936. It sits a few blocks from the Brooklyn Museum, which houses Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” (an epic piece of feminist art) and the Brooklyn Botanical Museum, boasting bonsai plants that are hundreds of years old.

Tom’s is the kind of restaurant that calls you back. Maybe it’s the freshly cut sections of orange the waiter was passing around. It never hurts to be nice to your customers (why don’t other restaurants know this?) or the hand-cut crispy hash browns or the leisurely way they let you stay at your table to talk, café-style.

But NYC is like that. It lets you talk. It encourages you to talk. People sit up and take notice. Even the d.j. at Henrietta Hudson, a cool West Village dance bar where a friend of mine bartends. When the d.j. saw us dancing she left her post to join in. Age be damned.

It’s noisy (the whining warning those trucks make when backing up: oy; enough already). Housing is expensive (more than I could wrap my arms – or my wallet – around). It’s competitive (there’s a writer and an actor every five feet). But it’s alive (even the plastic bags caught and flying in the trees have a certain beauty) and it’s unpredictable (like that facial I got at the JFK airport; perfect timing). New York is a hoot.