Thursday, August 31, 2006

Miss Manners Thursday

The first letter in yesterday's Miss Manners begins this way:

Dear Miss Manners:

A few nights ago my husband and I went out to try a new Italian restaurant. When our food arrived, Waiter 1 set down my plate, then set down my husband's. Not five seconds later, Waiter 2 arrived, asking, "Would either of you care for some fresh ground pepper?"

This prompts me to share with the world the two things I dislike most in restaurants:

1) Being asked if I want fresh ground pepper. Either the chef seasoned the dish properly or he didn't. If I want to prepare my own food, I'll eat at home.

2) Being asked if I'm "still working on a dish." The chef worked on the dish in the kitchen; I'm eating it and, it is to be hoped, enjoying it. What's wrong with "Are you finished, sir?"

Before anyone responds:
1) I never share these thoughts with the waiters asking these annoying questions at the time. I respond quite politely, "no, thank you" to the first and "yes" or "no, you may take it" or "no; would you please wrap it up"--as appropriate--to the second.
2) I always tip 20%.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What I did on summer vacation

See if you can guess where I was last week...

Sunday: lazy day at in-law's house;
Monday: morning in town A with coffee and a book I'm reviewing; lazy afternoon; James Taylor concert in the evening, sitting on lawn of beautiful estate turned music festival with 18,000 other people (James: lovely performance except for your bizarre cover of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning");
Tuesday: busy day: 2 art museums--one mainly modern art, the other contemporary art and "anti-art strategies" (really), mini golf, Mark Morris Group performance in evening at a farm turned dance festival (the man himself did not perform--the group was in residence at this place all week, but he only performed for the big-money crowd Saturday night);
Wednesday: morning walk through grounds of beautiful estate turned music festival; afternoon in town A with coffee and book review; dinner on the porch of a nice restaurant in town A; Yo Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax all-Beethoven recital in the evening (well, the program said Yo Yo Ma was playing but we were so far back on the lawn that I barely detected a cello especially for the first two pieces that were played on period instuments);
Thursday: hang out in town B; picnic at playground; ice cream in town A (because the ice cream place in town B was booby-trapped with candy at every turn and we generally only allow candy on weekends); rented video in evening ("Matchpoint" by Woody Allen; review: oddly un-funny for a Woody Allen movie; barely a drop of comic relief mixed in with the philosophizing);
Friday: reception at Daughter's week-long art day camp in morning; lunch at home; early afternoon visit to opera singer classmate from college now living in lovely vacation area to see her new baby; late afternoon: book sale at Town A library; evening: dinner at organic restaurant a little north of Town A, follwed by orchestra concert at beautiful estate turned music festival: Bernstein's Candide overture; Beethoven Piano Concerto #1; and one of my favorites, rarely heard in its entirety, de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat (we did hear one of the best orchestras in the country but I would love to hear the de Falla and the Beethoven played by an orchestra that emphasizes a richer tone from the strings, like the Philadelphia Orchestra or the Pittsburgh Symphony);
Saturday: morning walk around beautiful estate turned music festival, listening to orchestra rehearse; afternoon: Rubberband Dance performance at farm turned dance festival (newish group from Montreal that combines break-dancing, martial arts moves, and ballet; hmm...).

Rested and ready for the semester and feeling lucky that my wife's parents live in a part of the country with beautiful scenery and fantastic summer cultural events.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Categorization is a tricky thing

I was in my local public library this afternoon for a few minutes and passed by the shelves for the booksale run by the "friends of the library" group.
The Living Talmud: The Wisdom of the Fathers, ed. Judah Goldin, was shelved with the mystery novels.

To the bicyclist on Fifth Avenue Monday afternoon:

I am sorry that I honked at you. But before you leave Pittsburgh and spend the rest of your life telling people that you had to move to Seattle or Austin or wherever because of those terrible old-fashioned, planet-destroying Pittsburgh drivers who would honk at you and who just couldn't understand how wonderfully progressive biking is and how it would save the earth if we all did it, I just want to tell you the following:

Tailgating a bus in the opposite-flow bus-only lane and following said bus through a yellow light is not cool. Nor is it progressive or avant garde. It's quite stupid. It's especially not cool because the person waiting to turn left from the middle of the intersection and waiting until the bus clears the intersection to do so (that's me) can't see you and certainly does not expect to find a bicyclist breathing the bus's exhaust. Lucky for you, I'm the responsible sort who checks for oncoming traffic and pedestrians before turning left. Next time, you might consider a) being in the proper travel lane; b) maintaining a safe following distance behind buses and trucks so that drivers can see you.

I tried to tell you all this with my honk. I hope your hostile glare was simply trying to tell me that it would be much better not to honk and to put this all on my blog. If so, I apologize for honking.

Otherwise, enjoy Portland or San Diego.

All the best,


What does Sephardic mean?

This article from the Forward, about Spain and its Jewish heritage, is interesting, but it left me with some questions and comments.

Certainly all of the 40,000 Jews now living in Spain are "Sephardim" in a certain sense--that is, they all live in "Sepharad" (the Hebrew term for Spain since the Middle Ages). How many, however, are Sephardim in the sense of being immigrants or children of immigrants from Sephardic diaspora communities in North Africa, Turkey, or elsewhere? And how many are Ashkenazim? I would guess that a good number of contemporary Spanish Jews come from Morocco, as does the current president of Federation of Jewish communities, quoted in the article, and are "Sephardim". I would guess that a certain percentage come from elsewhere in the European Union and some of these are Ashkenazim. I would also guess that there are a certain number from Latin America, the overwhelming number of whom are children or grandchildren of Ashkenazic immigrants from Eastern Europe to Mexico or Argentina or elsewhere in the New World. But the article does not say, and I would expect the reporter to have paid some attention to this question.*

Secondly, the article suggests that most of the "renaissance" in interest in Spain's Jewish heritage is driven not by the presence of a Jewish community in Spain but by the tourist industry. Thus, the lead-in emphasizing the Jewish community seems a bit misplaced.

Finally, what is the time-frame here? Like nearly all newspaper travel features, things are a bit vague.** Since the death of Franco in 1975? "especially over the past decade", i.e. since 1996? Certainly, it's been a gradual process. But why isn't 1992 mentioned? Either this was the watershed year that sparked things (that perhaps only got underway after 1995), or--contrary to expectations--the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from Spain was not such a big deal in the on-going resurgence of interest in things Jewish in Spain. Either way, strange that it wasn't mentioned.

*I spend a lot of time when I teach medieval and modern Jewish history explaining to my students the changing meaning of the terms "Sephardic" and "Ashkenazic" over time.
(Brief version: Jews from Yemen are not "Sephardim" despite what some Israeli tour guide may have told you once.)

**What I mean by this is best seen by the New York Times which discovers that Philadelphia and Boston are undergoing cultural renaissances approximately every two years (on an odd-even cycle: e.g. Philadelphia in 97, 99, 01, 03, 05 and Boston in 98, 00, 02, 04, 06.) High turn-over among the travel-writing freelancers? Ingrained literary trope in travel feature-writing?

Miss Manners Wednesday

1) Of course Miss Manners gives exactly the right advice on etiquette to this woman whose ex-boyfriend has "dumped" their friendship at the behest of his fiancee. There seems to be something in the zeitgeist of advice columns these days (see this "Cat's Call"--scroll down--from Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) about women who can't stand for their future husbands to maintain a friendship with former girlfriends.

I suppose every relationship is different and the ways of the human heart are strange, but are there really still people who believe in the dictum of the "Harry" character from "When Harry Met Sally"?

2) I've missed a few Wednesdays, but going back over the recent columns, I noticed this from Wednesday the 2nd:

Dear Miss Manners:

I recently visited a remote tropical island where, upon my departure, the local inhabitants insisted on killing and eating a giant sea turtle in my honor. I do eat meat, but not turtle. Though I thanked them and ate it with a smile, was that the wrong thing to do?

I should never suspect Miss Manners of making up letters, but I do harbor a slight suspicion that someone out there is pulling her leg.