Archive for December, 2010

Migration — Market Fare

December 31, 2010

Monday, August 25, 2008

So in my Friday rundown of the fairs I neglected to mention one of the best events of all. It’s not a fair, though it has some of the same features without mud or dust. It’s the Open Air Market and Festival at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown.
The Mansion has had a long and somewhat tortured history that began at the turn of the 20th century. Colonel Clarence Wadsworth built the place as a summer house and with professional help planned to landscape 500 acres of surrounding land. After the colonel died, some of the land became Wadsworth Falls State Park. It really does have beautiful waterfalls and great hiking trails.
The building went to the Religious of Our Lady of the Cenacle. Nuns lived and worshiped there until the 1980s. The place sat unoccupied after that and made news as teenagers set fires in the building, broke windows, and sprayed graffiti on the walls. The immediate grounds became overrun with weeds, and at one point it seemed that the building would have to be torn down. The city, however, was able to put together funding to renovate and now the place looks as it did when Colonel Wadsworth owned it – minus the furniture. It is used for weddings, conferences, and other events.
The annual market stretches down the back lawn with a  double row tents for vendors – crafts, jewelry, flowers, and all manner of food. Non-profit organizations offer information about their services: the Middlesex County Community Foundation, the Middletown Commission on the Arts, the local recycling center.
The crowds – and there are crowds – are entertained with classical, rock, jazz and country bands. (Not all at once!) There is face painting for the children, who seem eager to participate, though I did hear one mother say to her little girl, “Why do you want to get your face painted when you’re going swimming?”
A big attraction – aside from the hamburgers and hot dogs – is the Cold Goats Farm because of the two little Angora goats in a pen next to the tent where Viv McGarry, the owner, was spinning their wool – now dyed orange, brown and burn umber. Standing about two feet tall, the little guys (girls?) looked awfully warm in their shaggy coats. But the owner said their horns drain the heat from their bodies. And they’ll be cooler in about a month when they undergo their semi-annual shearing. Since their hair grows at about an inch a month, they’ll have plenty to keep them warm for the winter. From mohair to no hair!
They were certainly vocal little critters – and after the children started “baa-ing” back, Viv said, “All right, put the children in the pen!” One of the little girls looked up aghast, then realized the woman was joking.
Not a joke for the kids (the ones inside the pen) were the two Jack Russell terriers that showed up and tried to climb in with the goats. Viv explained, “Those are natural predators. The goats see them as little wolves.” They backed away and acted nervous.
After drooling over the v. expensive turquoise and silver at several booths (I did not buy), it was time to sample some wares: pasta sauce, olive oil, balsamic vinegar from Capa di Roma; piquantly delicious marinated mushrooms and atomic barbecue sauce from Norm’s Best. I skipped the cashews from the same place, likewise the chocolate sauce from another vendor – hadn’t had lunch yet. Took care of that with an excellent (but overpriced) wrap of mozzarella, artichoke, tomato, and pesto sauce from an unnamed stand. Wandered a bit more and bought: a huge yellow tomato, lemon cucumbers, and some small hot peppers from Northfordy Farm. I’d already tasted his produce, Crenshaw melon and some absolutely mellow garlic, so I knew the stuff would be spectacular, as it was.
Also got the last jar of marinated mushrooms – and the most fascinating of all  – some amazing Bridgid’s Abbey raw milk cheese from Cato Corner Farm. It was basically mellow like Jarlsburg but not as heavy. It has a tiny bite but none of that heavy cheesy odor. I remember having raw milk squirted into my mouth direct from the cow when I was little. Decided that I didn’t like it because it was warm. (The farmer’s kids wouldn’t drink the bottled stuff my mom pulled out of the fridge.)
All these years later, the cheese passed every taste test. And now I’m wondering why the government is so squirrely about raw-milk products. If people know the risks they’re taking, they should be able to eat what they choose.

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2010

I was going to post a Sushi Friday review but I trashed the place and don’t want to end the year on such a down beat. So I’ll end on a positive note. It was heart-warming to see the responses to Deb’s letter. I cried when I read the the comment from the mom who said that Deb’s son makes it easy for the boys to be on the court with him.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Migration — Fairs of State

December 31, 2010

Friday, August 22, 2008

It’s that time of year when the towns around Connecticut put on their state fairs. Actually they’re town fairs, but I guess that sounds too much like a tire company. In central Connecticut the Durham Fair reigns. It runs for three days at the end of September and along with the usual fair fare – tractor pulls, biggest pumpkin, cotton candy, etc. – it has musical entertainment at three venues, plus extra entertainment for the kiddies. There are all manner of local curiosities, too. Last year one sister-in-law bought goat’s milk soap and another a heavy sweater made of alpaca that she wore as a coat all winter. I no longer attend this fair. For one thing, when I worked at the local paper our Durham reporter covered the event 365 days a year, it seemed. If she couldn’t find something else to write about, there was always the fair, before, during, and after. And then there are the crowds. It’s pretty much jammed from opening day until closing night. Parking is impossible because all the close-by spots are occupied by the volunteers. In fact, locals know not to drive through Middlefield too because that’s where most people mark.
Smaller and more traditional, the Berlin Fair falls at the beginning of October and is better from my point of view. The exhibits are more accessible, and there is much less emphasis on commercial vending and more on fund-raising for local groups, including the Lions Club, which sponsors the event. I’m partial to this one, too, because one of my friends won a ribbon for her embroidery a few years ago.
If you want to meet a politician, Chester begins today. And this being an election year, there will be folks seeking your vote. The last time I attended this one, I was still living in Philadelphia, and one of my former classmates tried to get me to move back just so I could vote for him for state rep. This one is small, also, and easy to navigate. For extra fun, drive down the hill and take the Chester-Hadlyme ferry across the Connecticut River. The trip is worth it just to see Gillette’s Castle perched up on the hill as the ferry swings out from its mooring.
Unlike several of the other events, the Guilford Fair has plenty of room to spread out on the spacious green. This one was a destination for my mother, my aunt,  my cousin and me for years when Anna and I were kids. Everyone else wandered around while I planted myself in front of the glass blower. I’d stand for an hour or more watching him work the pieces of glass over a Bunsen burner and then twist – add dots of color and voilà, a perfect little Dachshund! I only left when he took a break. I doubt he’s still there, but I’m sure someone has taken his place.
My one visit to Hamburg , which is actually part of Lyme, Connecticut, occurred when many of the festivities were winding down – I believe there was some sort of fund-raising dance being held in the evening after the place closed up. The event is postage sized, but very accessible.
This is just a small sampling. The Association of Connecticut Fairs lists more than 50, so anyone can get their fill of farm animals, flowers, and funnel cakes.

Get the Message, People

December 31, 2010

Middletown has been embroiled for months in an epic battle between the mayor’s office and the Board of Education. I won’t rehearse all the sordid details, which have included fights over spending, sending police officers to the school administration building, and pulling school resource officers. For an overview of this sordid mess, put the words Middletown, “board of education,” mayor, and police into any search engine. As you read, be prepared for outrage and depression to set in. I’ve been walking around for weeks saying, “A pox on all your houses!” This nonsense is a waste of the taxpayers’ money and a huge waste of judicial time.

I strongly urge all cast members in this comedy or tragedy of errors to act like the players and coaches described in my sister-in-law Deb Petruzello’s letter to the editor of the Middletown Press. Her son has some academic limitations but is a member of the basketball team. The other players make way for him in a selfless fashion. She said it best: “Personal goals are given up for the team goal to allow so this young man can get an opportunity to play and score for the team.” These are not-yet adults who see their way clear, not once but over and over again, to behave in this mature fashion.

If middle school students can do it, why can’t the people in charge of their education do better? They pay lip service to putting the needs of the children first. They should act that way, too.

Migration — Cam Seal Blues

December 30, 2010

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Feeling distracted. Just as I was settling down this a.m. to look for a topic, the car dealer called. It seems that the one needed repair had morphed into 4, and the bill is now $1,000 – oops! Make that $1,300. So this may be a short post today unless inspiration can march over all the stuff floating around in my head.

Recap

December 30, 2010

It occurred to me that I haven’t said a word about the various holiday celebrations – I’ve been too much immersed in them. So here’s a quick recap:

  • 12/17: I posted presents to West Coast cousins. Anna’s arrived on time. Ash and Kathryn’s did not. Larry and I celebrated his birthday a day late at Max Fish. We had the usual fabulous meal in an unusually crowded place. I could only eat half my entrée of blackened salmon. Larry cleaned up his surf and turf with lobster. The two women at the table next to us talked nonstop and drank two bottles of wine before they ordered their entrées.
  • 12/18: Baked a cranberry coffee cake to take on the bus to NYC for the Maggie Dixon Classic.
  • 12/19: Arose at 6:30 a.m. to race to Stop & Shop for the paper and a bagel for Larry. Boarded the bus just before 8 a.m. and had the smoothest, quickest ride to the city ever. Mid-town sown up like a war zone with police everywhere. Despite large quantities of food on the bus, ate little. Went to brunch with Harv and Nancy at Europa Cafe across from Madison Square Garden. Excellent omelet for $5. Girls beat Ohio State without a problem and tied the all-time college basketball win record. Various naysayers are discounting their efforts because the people being defeated are men. Booo!
  • 12/20: Shopped for the Christmas Eve family gathering and cleaned the house, being thankful that darkness at 4 p.m. hides a multitude of sins.
  • 12/21: Took the car to the shop. Retrieved it after learning that I needed a $200-plus power steering pump. Merry Christmas! Picked up odds and ends of party stuff. Caught bits and pieces of the UConn women’s record-breaker against Florida State.
  • 12/22: Wrapped packages, ran to Staples but couldn’t find what I wanted – proud of myself for not spending a fortune. Picked up booze for the party.
  • 12/23: Baked a mince pie and a fruit pie. Did “mise en place” for the sour cream coffee cake, a recipe from a friend of my mother’s from the late 1960s. Flew down Route 9 to Old Saybrook to visit my former neighbors. We caught up on local gossip. The house behind has five children; the one next door has six!!! Came home, baked the coffee cake. Ran to my friends’ house with the pies.
  • 12/24: Got things together for the family gathering. Wound up going to the store because I didn’t have cups! Family visited from about 4:30 to 9:30. Great fun time. Ate way too much. After the guests left, Larry and I each opened a present. I already knew that Santa had given me my request, an iPhone. If I have two seconds next week, I’ll actually go buy it.
  • 12/25: Gave myself my annual Christmas present of sleeping as late as possible. Arose at the civilized hour of 10. Made coffee, ate coffee cake. Opened presents. Went to Deb’s at 1 for dinner. Ate way too much, again. Came home and talked to Ash and Kathryn. Later talked to Anna.

All in all a Merry Christmas.

Now I’m spending the week putting the house back together and gearing up to make Hoppin’ John for New Years.

Migration — Best Buys

December 29, 2010

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

So today we’re shopping. Actually today we’re having lunch with friends and taking the car for its FOURTH doctor’s appointment in the past two months. Maybe this time the specialist – that is the dealer – can finally restore it to health.
Anyway – a few of my favorite things. The best buy in the past year has to be the Vino Globe. [Link is broken.] It really does what it claims – to give the wine the same oxygen exposure as if it was uncorked for an hour. I was so thrilled by the way it worked, I bought two more as gifts for friends who buy good wine but can’t be bothered to let them breathe before pouring. The wine tastes best when they’ve reached the end of the bottle. The only drawback to the Vino Globe is that the wine doesn’t keep as long – but that’s true if you aerate it for an hour, too. Just a great excuse to finish the bottle!
Mxyplyzyk has other great stuff, too. Love the manly bookends and the drain stoppers. But the owl tape measure is scary.
Next up, vetivert soap (also spelled vetiver). I don’t remember how we came to have this in the house when I was a little girl. Maybe my uncle brought it back from one of his trips down to the bayou. But the smell is just heavenly, even though the word derives from “root that is dug up.” The promotions describe it as a “woody, earthy scent.” I find it a bit smoky. There are lots of places to buy it online, but we had the pretty pink boxes from Hové. Some places claim that vetivert is a masculine scent, but it’s unisex for Hové. And they say that the Creole folks used the roots as sachet in the olden days.
So much for personal scent. When it comes to room scents, I generally favor nothing. Incense makes me sneeze, and most candles seem overpowering. I’ve walked in and right out of Pier One and a couple of other stores that have multiple candles to scent the air, just as I run from those spritz ladies in department stores. There is one exception, however, and that is the Redwood candle from Woodwick. Woodwicks sparkle and crackle as they burn. I first encountered the candle in Lake Placid where a couple of the shops and hotels used them. The scent returned me to the forest where I had been walking earlier in the day. The company doesn’t seem to have its own online addy, but here’s a link to Bed Bath & Beyond which sells it.

Now that we’ve got the beverages and the scents lined up, let’s move on to the clothes. I used to be a dedicated worshiper of that other Liz. The clothes fit, and the price was right. But, as I mentioned a while back, Ann Taylor has come to town with a Loft outlet no less. These clothes fit better than Liz’s – pants have less material around the rear and the colors are less preppy and more New York fashion, though I do plan to wear mostly black (again this fall).

Haiti, Mon Amour

December 29, 2010

It’s been almost a year since the vicious earthquake devastated Haiti and nearly two months since Hurricane Tomas brought floods and a cholera epidemic that threatened to destroy the tenuous hold the survivors had on life. I’ve saved Madison Smartt Bell’s “Sampler” as a way to celebrate the beauty and to expiate with the pain. The “sampler” shows the country to be richer in heritage than our sterile monochrome Starbucks-McDonalds-Walmart world.

As I noted in “Answer to a Prayer,” Edwidge Danticat has been one of my heroes for some time. Her brief contribution, “Tenacity,” best evokes the contradictions that govern existence “We are ugly but we are here.” Our appearance doesn’t matter, she writes, our presence does. A total statement about the women who have survived in this horror. Except that these women are not ugly, they are beautiful in their strength, their resilience, and their sheer survival.

The most startling entry comes from In the Parish of the Poor, by the country’s controversial former leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who watched poor “loungers” push a disabled car containing a woman in labor to a hospital before she and the baby died. I wondered if he was watching on foot or could perhaps have given the woman a ride in his car? limousine?

My final surprise hit close to home. Dr. Joseph Bentivegna is a Connecticut ophthalmologist whom I interviewed when he ran for United States Senate. I was impressed because he was the first anti-abortion candidate who also opposed the death penalty. The others took inconsistent positions. Bentivegna has spent months and moths in Haiti providing medical care. His vignette about one man, given a brief reprieve, sees all hope destroyed in a matter of two days made me cry.

One can only hope that 2011 will be a better year for Haiti and her beautiful, tragic people.

Migration — Old Enough To Kill But Not For Votin’

December 28, 2010

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The presidents of 100 colleges and universities are urging a re-examination of the drinking age.
These leaders of a number of the country’s most prestigious schools are not saying that the age should be reflexively moved back to 18. Rather, the Amethyst Initiative urges “informed and unimpeded debate” on the issue. The motive for this discussion is that binge drinking afflicts their campuses, that a policy urging abstinence has not produced “significant constructive behavioral change,” and that the use of fake identification forces “students [to] make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”
These arguments fall into the category “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” And maybe they should prevail. After all Prohibition didn’t work either and gave rise to excruciating deaths from “bathtub gin” and various other social ills.
The Initiative’s most cogent argument is that the government recognizes 18 year olds as adults for pretty much every other purpose. When the voting age changed from 21 to 18, the federal government was drafting young men to go fight in Vietnam. At that point they could fight and die for their country but couldn’t help pick the president who sent them there. States also treat 18 year olds who commit crimes as adults. Many hedge their bets when it comes to 16 and 17 year olds, recognizing that they are not fully mature. Commit a robbery when you’re 17, you might get tried as a juvenile. But the day you turn 18, watch out. On the civil side, 18 year olds don’t need the signature of a parent or guardian to sign a contract. And there’s other stuff that’s legal way before 18: A few states put the age of consent for sex at 14, and good ol’ Mississippi allows girls to marry without parental consent at 15.
I support the Amethyst Initiative without reservation. When I was in college (shortly after the Middle Ages), the drinking age was 18. All freshmen under 18 at Vassar were asked to sign a pledge that they wouldn’t drink until they were 18. I was and I did sign and I did honor it. Because drinking was legal for most of the students, we pretty much ignored it. There was a bar right outside the gates, and I think I went there twice during my entire four years. At Dartmouth (whose president signed the Initiative), we had cast parties after the opening night of each show. Liquor was served, but no one got drunk. In fact, most people drank very little because we all – students and faculty – had to get up for class the next morning.
The southern Europeans seem to have the most sensible approach to alcohol. They serve it to children in small quantities. I went to a birthday party where the guest of honor received a small glass of watered wine on the occasion of her 10th birthday. Allowing children to drink small amounts takes away the forbidden aspect. It seemed to be working when I was in France. While the older people drank a demi bouteille, the young folks were swigging Cokes. Unfortunately almost everybody had switched from Gitanes to Marlboros. Thus the U.S. had managed to export two bad habits.

If the complaint is that young people will abuse alcohol and then drive, we can follow the example of the Scots: Get caught once for drunken driving, lose your license, permanently. At least that’s how it was when I visited, and I hope it hasn’t changed. That way people feel free to drink as much as they want. They just can’t get behind the wheel afterward.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving disputes the arguments in favor of discussion of the issue and says that the Amethyst Initiative serves as evidence that the college presidents have not been enforcing the current age limit. MADD questions whether the schools would enforce a younger limit. I say that reducing the age would make enforcement that much easier as the schools would have to police only a small percentage of the freshman class. Supervising a few 17 year olds would be much easier than trying to ban drinking among three-fourths of the school population.

This American Life

December 28, 2010

Note 1: WordPress is now importing all my rewrites, so I’m typing this from scratch. AARRGGHH!

Note 2: They’re haunting me! After my rant and update, I turn on Terry Gross and what do I hear?! Keith Richards!! Again!!! Enough already!!!! Now we know that Mick is a combo of James Brown and Maria Callas. Whoopee!!!!!

Main event: This entry should have gone up ages ago. I love the radio show This American Life. The title defines its mission with stories real and fantastic that grab the heart and stimulate the mind. I’ve never heard a bad story, though some are more stellar than others.

TAL producer Ira Glass started his radio career in NPR news programs. One of his early successes was finding a gem of a performer and writer in David Sedaris whose “SantaLand Diaries” aired years ago for the first time and nearly paralyze me with laughter every time I hear it. This part of the Christmas episode is a must listen. The best: As Crumpet the Elf, Sedaris tells a naughty boy that Santa no longer delivers coal. Instead he comes into  steal things — the furniture, the electrical appliances, everything.

Sarah Vowell, another TAL star, has an outrageously unradio voice, rather like a five-year-old on helium. My favorite is her squeaky “Trail of Tears.” Despite her voice there is real pathos here as she revisits the places wehre her Cherokee ancestors lived and and died, and traces their painful voyage from Georgia to Oklahoma.

TAL covers the landscape literally and figuratively, and Glass’s vision keeps it together. The key elements remain the same, as he told the Seattle Times: “characters you can relate to. The plot has to be surprising, leading to thoughts about the world that are interesting and universal. Even stories of life-changing, traumatic events can lack surprise.”

While each show generally has three or four acts that follow the theme of the week, TAL sometimes offers an hour-long episode as it did with “Trail of Tears.” “Petty Tyrant” is another such, the seemingly fantastic but true story of a man who terrorized an entire school district for years.

And perhaps the best all time TAL story, also a one-episoder (is that a word?), concerned the international price fixing conspiracy operated by Archer Daniels Midland. “The Fix Is In” had more twists and turns than a John LeCarre [no accent aigu] and as much suspense. Anna and Ashley and Kathryn and I listened to the story as we were driving up the coast north of San Francisco. TAL episodes make for perfect travel companions.

There is also a TAL TV show but early reviews discouraged me from watching. Perhaps someday soon. …

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This American Life

They’re haunting me! After my rant and update, I turn on Terry Gross and who do I hear?! Keith Richards!! Again!!! Enough already!!!!

Main event: This entry should have gone up ages ago. I love the radio show This American Life http://www.thisamericanlife.org/.” Its The title defines its mission with stories real and fantastic that grab at the heart and stimulate the mind. I’ve never heard a bad onestory, though some are more stellar than others. .

TAL pProducer Ira Glass started his radio career as a producer for in NPR’s news programs. One of his early Earlysuccesses was on he found finding a gem of a performer and writer in David Sedaris whose “SantalLand Diaries http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=161Fyi6fid0” aired years ago and nearly paralyzes me with laughter every time I hear it. It is a must listen. The best: As Crumpet the Elf he tells a naughty boy that Santa no longer delivers coal. Instead he comes into the house and steals – the furniture, the electrical appliances, everything http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqYw5ZQU6Mk&NR=1. David also channels Billie Holiday in fabulous fashion.

Of course David spawned a career for his sister Amy, whose Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People includes a wind chime made from rusty nails.

Sarah Vowell, another TAL star, has an outrageously unradio voice, rather like a five-year-old on helium. My favorite is her squeaky recreation the Trail of Tears http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/107/trail-of-tears. Despite Sarah’s voice, there is real pathos here as she revisits the places where her Cherokee ancestors lived and traces their painful voyage from Georgia to Oklahoma.

Though the show TAL covers the landscape literally and figuratively, and Glass’s vision keeps it together. The key elements remain the same, as he told the Seattle Times http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/thearts/2012672399_glass20.html: “characters you can relate to. The plot has to be surprising, leading to thoughts about the world that are interesting and universal. Even stories of life-changing, traumatic events can lack surprise.”

While each show generally has three or four acts that follow the weekly themethe theme of the week, they Glass sometimes produces one an hour long episode as he did with “Trail of Tears. “Petty Tyrant” is one another more recent version of suchthe long form. It The story seems too fantastic to be true, but Steve Raucci really did terrorize the Schenectady, New York, school system for years before being brought to justice.

And perhaps the best all-time story, also, a one-episoder (is that a word?), concerned the years-long international price fixing conspiracy operated by Archer Daniels Midland. “The Fix Is In http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/168/the-fix-is-in” had more twists and turns than a John LeCarré spy novel and as much suspense. Anna and Ashley and Kathryn and I listened to it as we were driving up the coast north of San Francisco. They TAL episodes make perfect travel companions.

There is also a TAL TV show, but early reviews discouraged me from watching it. Perhaps someday soon …