Katie H’s Summer Cottage

August 2, 2011

This entry is another walk down memory lane, at least sort of. I spent some time at La Hepburn’s twenty-plus (story says twenty-one; the occupants said twenty-three) room “summer cottage” when I was young because I babysat for her brother Dick’s four kids. The place was considered a cottage because that’s what the Hartford on the Rocks people called their Fenwick abodes. Despite the size, the houses really were very basic – no heat, some had cold water outdoor showers to rinse off the salt. The era of year-round mansions didn’t come along until some years later, about the time that KH added central heating. After that Dick could dress normally during winters and not arrive at our house in layers of sweaters that took him ever so long to remove.

KH”s mansion was a summer cottage also in the sense that it was in addition to the family home in Hartford, the gorgeous apartment in mid-town Manhattan, which my parents and I got to visit when Dick’s play Washing the Car was being performed, and I don’t know what places in California and elsewhere. All I remember about the play was that the actor seemed to channeling Dick in some sort harangue about one of his brothers.

Those twenty-whatever rooms at the cottage were not all usable all the time. The house faces Long Island Sound with a just patch of lawn, a small seawall, and a small strip of beach as a buffer. The photo accompanying the story makes the lawn appear much larger than it is, or at least than it used to be. To the north (behind the house) is the water hazard for the golf course. During storms the two often met in the living room. It didn’t have to be a particularly bad storm, either. Just the right combination of wind, high tide, and a full moon would do the trick. Dick rigged pulleys for the furniture on the ground floor so when bad weather threatened everything could be hauled up to the ceiling and the residents would adjourn to the second floor. I hope jacking up the place five-and-half feet will be enough.

The enduring mystery for me is why KH built the house in that location. As the story mentions, the structure that’s just been renovated went up after the infamous hurricane of ’38 washed the previous house from the identical spot. There’s a great photo of KH sitting, fully clothed, in a bathtub on the lawn with debris around her. The rest of the house was at the bottom of the Sound, except I think for a desk that was found on a beach a couple of miles away.

I send thoughts to the Infinite that it doesn’t happen again.

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Blast From the Past

August 2, 2011

Today: a blast from the past, the distant past. I ran into someone yesterday that I haven’t seen since kindergarten. And his grandmother was our teacher! Mrs. Pardee (I still don’t know her first name) was the best. We had story time, nap time, snack time. We learned to sit quietly in a circle, to share, not to hit each other, and not to cry (well, not much anyway.) I don’t remember that we had to do anything tough, like reading or writing. That came along in first grade.

We were in school during the era when teachers didn’t feel strange about doling out hugs. And Mrs. Pardee was always generous with hers. She also seemed to know just how to handle the squirmy five-year-olds – made us feel we were loved. It’s funny because my teachers in later grades seemed old, even the ones who weren’t. I don’t remember that about Mrs. Pardee. She was just a sweet lady.

I had very fond memories of kindergarten because it was the only time I got to ride a school bus. My parents’ house was just inside the mile-radius so after that brief idyll, I had to walk to school. Mother picked me up if I had a dentist appointment (frequent); otherwise I walked. The one exception was the day lightning hit the quarry behind our house. I guess it scared Mother because she gave my aunt permission to pick me up when she went to get Anna. I was so surprised I almost said no but then it began to pour rain so I hopped in.

Jeff and I talked about people who had been in school with us – most of them I haven’t seen since at least high school. Jeff well remembered the time the neighborhood kids (boys, of course) found an oxygen tank in that same quarry and decided to see what would happen if they set it on fire. The explosion reverberated throughout the neighborhood with two results: 1) the doctor’s kid broke his collar bone; 2) my mother wouldn’t let me play with those kids any more. I think we were about eight or nine so boys were pretty icky anyway.

Jeff also said that later on he and another group (all boys, of course) packed a crate with snowballs into a VW camper with a sun roof and drove around town throwing the snowballs onto cars.

I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out on all of this stuff. It was great fun to revisit the olden days, but kind of scary when we couldn’t remember what buildings were where on the commercial strip. I put that down to the quick turnover that preceded the permanent establishment of fast food restaurants, gas stations, and real estate offices.

The blog will be up and down, on and off this week as I’m cleaning the office, undergoing car and teeth repairs, and catching up on a huge pile of magazines and newspapers before the place becomes a fire hazard.

Sushi Friday XIII

July 30, 2011

Sakura Garden Japanese Steakhouse

120 Hebron Avenue

Glastonbury, CT )6033

860-430-5600

Here’s a lucky thirteen review as this place improves each time I visit.

What I like: The restaurant was one of the first to adopt the blue-light-under-the-sushi-bar motif with beautiful paintings on the walls. The music has improved from weird hip-hop electronica and Euro-dance club on the first few visits to great jazz from SiriusXM Radio most recently. The place is large and never feels crowded even when busy. The hibachi smells never seep into the main dining room. I didn’t know the place had hibachi until I surfed to the menu online. The sushi chef has begun offering a welcoming treat – at last visit it was seaweed salad, which rendered the garden salad superfluous. The chefs are personable and stay busy. On one visit, the head chef was giving lessons on the biggest piece of yellowtail I’ve ever seen. The miso no longer has huge portions of scallion. That’s the best that can be said about it. On every visit the fish is absolutely fresh – though only seven pieces in the lunch box, but the extras compensate. Shrimp shumai has a more interesting sauce than usual, and the ubiquitous Cali rolls have a crunchy something extra as well. The platter of sashimi is more generous: ten pieces with two of salmon, three bluefin three yellowfin and two real white tuna, not escolar.

What I don’t like: Navigating to and from can be a challenge with cars zooming in and out of the parking lot at odd angles. If one approaches the upscale mini strip mall from New London Turnpike, it can take forever to cross the intersection. The sushi chefs use a Mouli-style hand grinder to chop the cucumbers. That’s cheating. The miso soup consists of an insipid, luke-warm broth, not really redeemed by the seaweed, which varies from stingy to overwhelming, nor by the tofu, which remains stingy. I learned to order the lunch box rather than the sashimi lunch, because when I asked for rice the waitress had the sushi chef dish up a bowl of the stuff flavored with vinegar and sugar to save herself a trip to the kitchen. She asked as she put it down, “Is sushi rice OK?” and didn’t wait for a reply. The service has otherwise been fawning.

Grade: B+ because of the improvement

Wine Club V

July 29, 2011

These wines arrived last September. but none of them seemed the worse for sitting around on until this spring/summer. Three of them lack vintages, two specific locations. The color managed to fall off the tasting notes. And the total price is $86 – so where’s the promised $100 value?

  • Double R Zinfandel 2007 from Lodi, California ($15/14.5%). I saved this bottle till last, and I’m glad I did. Zin was my default red until I discovered the Argentine cabs. Now it’s a tossup. This wine poured well on the first day, with heavy fruit, notes of chocolate and a smooth finish. It’s not a summer wine, but it paired well with a terrific California cheese that my neighbor gave me. On days two, three, and four it went from early lightness to an explosion of the same flavors as the first day. By Day 4, my only comment was I’m buying this one.
  • Sierra Batuco Syrah-Malbec from Valle Central, Chile. ($15/13%).A bit syrupy but the pepper of the syrah lessens the blow, which is too sweet for my taste. Aeration produces an aftertaste of weird tartness, followed by a sweet flatness. That’s the impression from the first three ounces spread out over forty-five or fifty minutes. Day 2: not nearly as complex and hence uninteresting. Day 3: just plain sour.
  • Roca Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina ($15/14.1%). This is a good, full-bodied, not perfum-y cab. It lacks the power punch of Cali cabs, and that’s a good thing. I tasted a good dose of chocolate on the first day. Day 2: Better and more complex with cherries and chocolate combined. Day 3: I said I’d buy this again, and if I hadn’t tasted Double R, this bottle would have been the hit of the demi-case.
  • Stallion Cellars Meritage 2007 from somewhere in California. ($13/13.9%). This Meritage is fifty percent merlot, with the balance malbec and cab. The first impression was of the longest legs I’ve ever seen on first pour. With that blend of grapes it should be more complex – it was a hair on the sweet side and grew less and less interesting as it sat in the glass. Day 2: Flat and still uninteresting. Would be OK for a picnic and might be better with more of a chill than reds usually receive.
  • Jump Rope Semillon-Chardonnay 2010. South Eastern, Australia. ($14/12.9%). This wine wins for prettiest label. In terms of taste, it had a bit of that Welché that I don’t like but the chard is crisp. It would make a good spritzer or a white sangria. Day 2: The foretaste was OK, but the follow-up is again too grape-y. Day 3: Just boring.
  • Chestnut Peak Chardonnay also from somewhere in California ($14/12.5%). Sour – not vinegar sour, but that mouth-puckering something that comes from too much lemon. I haven’t figured out how it can be crisp and not taste good. It did not have super oak, but was a bit metallic. Day 2: insipid and thoroughly uninteresting except for a bit of fizz after it’s been sitting for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Freakonomics on the KKK

July 28, 2011

… with more on real-estate agents. I read “How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real-Estate Agents?” So after posting last night and finishing a couple of sections of the NYTimes and a weeks-old New Yorker, I went back to Freakonomics. And read the truly depressing chapter on the similarities between the two groups. At this point I’m getting the impression that the Freakonomists (?) hate real-estate agents, a lot. The beginning of the chapter is a truly enlightening description of how one man almost single handedly exposed the Klan and blunted its impact, apparently forever. He revealed passwords, sent information to the lead media guy of the day, and generally laid bare the dirty underbelly of ties to business people, law enforcement and so forth.

The similarity to real estate agents has nothing to do with terror or with territory, for that matter. It has to do with the power of words, which they had fully developed in the KKK section. People  have questioned the Freakonomists’ assertions.  If I call them assumptions, then I have to loop back to yesterday’s post.

Speaking of the power of words, did anyone ask Levitt and Dubner why in all their references to the people who sell property, they never used the word Realtor? There’s a history there – and it has to do with that capital R, which you better use if you don’t want a nasty letter from the r.e. association.

What I’m Reading Now

July 27, 2011

I first learned about Freakonomics on Marketplace. It seemed a bit less intimidating than most economic stuff. All I’ve been able to glean from the bits I’ve read here and there is that econ theories are built on assumptions – but no one could ever explain to me how the gurus established that their assumptions are accurate. Laffer Curve? Schiller Index? It’s kind of like nutritional theory – don’t’ drink coffee, it’s bad for you. Oops, nope. We goofed. Coffee is great for you. The econ example du jour is the theory built on erroneous assumptions that led to the Great Recession of 2008. It had to do with allowing financial institutions to run amok, sort an anti-Keynesian position launched by Ronald Reagan. I’m not sure what all the assumptions were, but they failed miserably.

Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner seem to make no assumptions — they just have fun with what’s already out there. The Freaks episodes on Marketplace involve avoiding holiday gifts and other goodies. So I decided to dive into the book. And dive I did. The introduction is twenty-five pages – before I realized it, I’d read that plus the next fifty, laughing at the outrageousness of fixing sumo wrestling; growing more upset at teachers changing test scores when pay, promotions, and district funding came to depend on those almighty numbers; and wondering why I hadn’t heard about the direct correlation between the declining rate of violent crime and the legalization of abortion.

The thing I realized when I came up for air is that Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything is utterly approachable. Levitt and Dubner write like most of us talk. Here’s their description of the first book about “bizarre baby names; self-dealing Realtors; and crack-selling mama’s boys.” I especially want to know “How is the Ku Klux Klan Like a Group of Real Estate Agents?” What’s so surprising is that Levitt teaches at the University of Chicago, home to Milton Friedman and one of the most conservative econ locales on the planet.

So I’ll continue reading just so I can learn which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool. I’m betting on the swimming pool. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the radio show, and will begin reading the blog, which they call the “bleg.”

Slut Walk: The Neo-Feminist’s Dilemma

July 26, 2011

Germaine Greer wrote the Walk manifesto, so lector caveo. (I have a feeling that’s not the right formulation, but I’ll deal with that another day.)

The Slut Walks began some weeks ago in Toronto after a police officer who was teaching a self-defense class said, “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.” That line has been used by men and women (likely more women than men) probably since the first rape – “Her bear skin revealed too much bare skin.” “That toga was just too tight,” etc. etc. A related article at the bottom of the page has the headline “Half of women blame the victims of assault.”

Even more fascinating were the teasers to the right of Greer’s article. “Liz Hurley’s tips for looking good.” And the ad to the right of that was some Manolos that looked like what Carrie would wear on a date with Mr. Big – at least for the first three or four minutes.

Of course a woman’s clothing should not determine whether she is assaulted. Anyone who has spent any time in any part of the criminal justice system knows that rape is not about sex, it’s about power. I  truly don’t believe that most rapists pick their targets on the basis of clothing, but the cop was right. Why offer temptation?

I totally get the outrage of women who say – I’ll dress however I want. Hell, in the past few days which have felt like the inner circles of Hell, I’ve wished that it was acceptable to appear in public sans clothes. But then I’d burn my thighs on the leather car seats. Never mind. And there are ways to dress “cool” without exposing a whole lot o’ skin. As my cousin Anna observed, a breezy dress – just above knee length — is far cooler than a pair of tight shorts and a halter top.

The Greybeards, as they would be called in Toronto and the UK, say that women should not waste their time with sluttiness but should condemn violence. Ms. Greer opines that liberation begins as people are “set to prance the streets of dozens of cities in underwear and fetish gear for weeks to come.” Don’t we normally call that Halloween?

She also dismisses the idea that “slut” is to feminism what the N word is to AA liberation. I must say I agree with her on that score. Calling someone the N word depends entirely on context – sort of like that line from The Virginian which was published back when no one could print “son of bitch.” But the response was totally appropriate: “When you call me that, smile.” That works for s.o.b., and the N word (in whatever language, one uses – I’m talkin’ to you, Larry and Sal!) Conversely, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Hey, slut!” and mean it as a term of affection.

Greer traces the history of the word, which implies dirt, not promiscuity. Interestingly an obscure definition of the word was female dog. I still dive under the bed to pick up the mounds of dust, cat fur, and Liz hair that gather there because my mother said that my great-aunt called the stuff that accumulated there “slut’s wool.” I prefer to think of it as killer dust bunnies. As for the rest of the cleaning, I keep the bathrooms and the kitchens as germ-free as humanly possible, but live with the advice, “You don’t have to eat off  the kitchen floor.” Nor should you want to.

As for the slut walks, many of the folks who are showing off their bodies probably shouldn’t but I’m not going to stop them.

Make Up Post

July 24, 2011

Having neglected to file on Thursday, here’s the make, another of odds and ends.

  •  RIP, Tony Labbadia. You were a wonderful, fun-loving guy with a terrific sense of humor. Also a great cook. Larry and I will miss you, my friend.
  • Kudos to the town of Lyme for suing to keep the ferries operating.
  • Scary story of the week (except for the budget debacle): “Koch, Exxon Mobil Among Corporations Helping Write State Law.”Must say I’m not surprised, just sorry that the info is just coming to light.
  • Murdochs: FBI about to move on Rupert. Does James think members of Parliament are stupid or is he’s just completely deluded?  And now the Mirror supposedly joins the phone hacking fray.
  •  Silly story of the week: Victoria, Canada,  has a novel way to control drunks – slip ’em a lollipop.
  • Found some substitute cartoons which are not as good as what the Times gave up, but they’ll have to do.
  •  Happy Birthday, Jon Stewart! May the next fifteen be equally outrageous.

The Wages of Budget Cuts

July 23, 2011

OK, so it’s even hotter today than it was when I posted “Too Hot to Think.” In fact when I went to the grocery store this afternoon, the temp in the car registered 104. I think the official high was 101, but what’s three degrees between “friends”?

So yesterday I spent the day at the state library. I’d been postponing a visit since last winter and the unanswered questions kept piling up.

Things did not start well. I got within two blocks of my favorite parking spot, and the oil light screamed at me. Made it to the quick-mart/gas station two blocks farther north on the borderland of Frog Hollow (yeah, it’s the putdown for French Canadians, not the little green amphibians) and bought two quarts of oil. The guy at the counter asked me if I needed a funnel. I told him I had one in the trunk, that this had happened before. He kind of looked at me, and I know that every one of the people in the store watched.  There I was, Ms. Professional, retrieving paper towels, funnel, dispatching the oil with maximum efficiency.

The rest of the a.m. was great once I’d escaped from the heat, which at 9:45 was 90 something. I found some terrific material in a quiet, people free, if rather dehydrating setting. All those old documents don’t take kindly to having water around so the only personal items allowed are single sheets of paper and laptops.

At lunch time I ventured across the street to the Legislative Office Building – that monument to governmental excess, which I believe includes Italian marble walls. The food does not reflect similar excess, and I had a satisfying lunch of Stacy’s pita chips and a veggie wrap with lots and lots of water and a mega cup of coffee for about $5. The only distraction —  the handful of young men and women from the National Guard Armory next door: camouflage shirts (long sleeves) and pants (long), tucked into heavy boots. They seemed the least bothered by the heat.

The fun began after lunch. I had ordered some documents before I left, with the assurance that they’d be available at 2 p.m. At about 2:15 when I returned an earlier document, one of the very nice librarians asked, “Has anyone talked to you about this?” I said no. Well, Mel said, they’re not where they’re supposed to be. There are two empty spaces. As soon as someone came to relieve him, he’d go check another location. I said fine as I had other items to look at in the open stacks. I had to go get my sweater for that part of the building as it was probably about 50 degrees, and my body was still adjusting to outdoors, which at that point was 100, or maybe more.

I looked at a couple of books and then decided to check some microfilm. The drawers indicated that the records I wanted went from 1650 to 1881, but when I looked at the actual boxes, they only went through to 1850 – not what I wanted. So I asked Carol, another very nice librarian. She looked – said she’d never noticed before. We went around in circles before figuring out that I could order the actual documents, the day before I wanted to look at them.

I moved on to the next item on my list, which I had found in the catalog of manuscripts with an old Dewey Decimal number. I thought  that was odd but noted it down. Carol directed me to this drawer sort buried at the bottom of a cabinet filled with other stuff. She said the library was in the process of renumbering to Library of Congress numbers and transferring the film to the newspaper room. We looked, and the films I wanted weren’t there. Since I had retrieved the information within the last two weeks, there was no chance they’d been transferred but seemed to have disappeared off to the ozone.

I was not the only patron who’d won the “lost lottery.” Carol finally asked, only half joking, “Is there anything else we can not find for you?” The staff is so conscientious and dedicated, I felt terrible for them. After all, I have other options for this information from local town halls and whatnot. But the state’s resources are going astray, and it is obvious that the declining staff is taking its toll on the people and the material.

As the clock ticked down to the last of the day, Mel asked if I planned to return on Friday. I said no, knowing that I had to review what had seen, go to the grocery store, go the drugstore, do laundry, etc. etc. Plus I could not bear the thought of more extended hours of dehydration in 100 plus heat and lunch in the tension of an LOB filled with people freaking about layoffs, and the rest of the budget woes.

Gone All Day

July 22, 2011

I managed to remain in cyber silence for ten full hours today — no news checks — no weather checks, thank God. As result, blog will have to wait a day. Will make up over the weekend.