Friday, November 22, 2013


I admire the old-time movie freedom fighters, especially Ingrid Bergman, who won World War II several times without ever breaking a sweat. In fact, as these scenes from CASABLANCA and NOTORIOUS show us, she saved civilization in diamond chandelier earrings,  romantic garden hats and a ruffly bolero.

We know that the Nazis will totally fail at world domination when Bergman symbolically rests her exquisitely manicured hand on the globe.
In NOTORIOUS, her fellow warrior is Cary Grant.
No reason you can't beat the Axis Powers in silk socks!
If you're Bogey, you can be sad, fight the Nazis, drink champagne and wear black tie all at the same time.
Well, maybe Sam won't ever play it again... but these thrillingly
invincible and glamorous combatants, plunging bravely through their hair-raising world-saving adventures,
will always make my heart glad. I stand, raise a glass and cheer.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


You'll rarely find a more interesting read than the memoir/cookbook/rant, EAT ME: THE FOOD AND PHILOSOPHY OF KENNY SHOPSIN. Shopsin is a tough, eccentric New York diner cook, one of the best in the city and certainly the most articulate. He says what's on his mind. Not every cookbook writer will tell you that in his youth he'd been in Freudian analysis, five days a week, for years. He sometimes uses language that would knock a buzzard off an outhouse. And you can tell that he's a strong family man. His adult children are the energetic crack crew who run the restaurant. This sometimes includes his son Danny, who is a talented artist and is also bipolar. Danny has a home with Shopsin, a job at the store and the protection of everyone in the family, whenever he wants them. You also know, reading between the lines, that Shopsin fears that Danny's mental struggles arise from his own. In Shopsin's young years he suffered intensely from what was then called manic depression.

The restaurant is Shopsin's kingdom, and he makes sure you know it. There are rules. For example, a party of more than four will not be seated. He doesn't want larger parties hogging space in his diner, and he also feels that conversation becomes inferior when the group is big. Don't try to sneak in extra friends a few minutes later. He'll throw you all out, and remember it forever. Shopsin remembers things the elephant has forgotten. Another rule is that he refuses to do substitutions in a listed dish. He figures that with 900 items on the menu, you should be able to find something you'd fancy. He will also sometimes take a dislike to new prospective diners and refuse to seat them, saying, "They're nothing but strangers."

But if you happen to be a very longtime friend, or if he likes your face, or if he just feels like it that day, he might suspend the rules for once. And although he never makes home deliveries, friends who become seriously ill will often find vessels of delicious hot food at their door.

The book is a headlong gallop of Shopsin's redhot opinions and fearless recipes, but there is a peaceful spot for your eyes on rest on, if you need one. This is the portrait of Shopsin's late wife, Eve, on page 100. She has a gentle, kind, dark-eyed face and rich, reddish-brown hair. Apparently she put up with her proudly impossible husband with patience and grace. Shopsin does not wear his heart on his sleeve, but you know that he has one. The book is dedicated to Eve, her name is huge type. And you sense his tenderness for her in his description of a meal they often shared when they were young and poor:

"Around that time Eve and I were in the habit of going to a restaurant on Bleecker Street," where they always ordered a dish called the Brown Rice Special. Kenny goes on, "It was hot rice and melted cheese drizzled with soy sauce and with a bunch of crunchy vegetables and walnuts strewn throughout. They served it on a cake stand: a big gooey mound of stuff all piled there on top of the pedestal."

The hungry young couple would sit on opposite sides of the Brown Rice Special and attack it with forks, stabbing and securing the luscious nuts and vegetables, digging in with such passion that every time, "we'd end up tipping the freaking cake stand over."

Shopsin's advice on how to eat this meal has to be told. It's not much of a stretch to see that he's also giving his opinion about how to savor your life.

"The rice is what I call 'mouth food' get a bite you stick your fork through the rice and cheese. You then take your fork and stab through a vegetable, and you score a little lettuce along with it. You now have a bite of every ingredient in your mouth at the same time, and when you chew, all those flavors and texures transform into something that didn't exist until that moment. If you pick at it and separate the ingredience like a persnickety ass, you are not going to have the same experience, and the experience you do have will be inferior."

Shopsin has not been a "persnickety ass" in the way he lived his life. He found relief from severe depression when he bought an old grocery store. He worked incredible hours to revive it, and this seems to have dovetailed with a manic phase which was useful for once. He and Eve developed the store into Shopsin's diner. He found that he could keep his demons at bay by working hard at tasks he loved, projects which made sense to him, every day. And that is what he still does.

And the Brown Rice Special? Shopsin perfected his own recipe as a tribute to Eve. Many a fine valentine is not made out of chocolate. You can figure out on your own how to make a good version of Kenny and Eve's Brown Rice Special, or you can buy Shopsin's book. And when you eat this food, keep in mind all the meals shared by struggling young lovers in their early days--including, no matter how many years ago it was, or how it turned out, your own.

Friday, April 26, 2013

THE ACE OF FACE, and The Other Cards They Were Dealt....

I've heard that if you told Tuscans or Romans that beauty was only skin deep, they'd be totally baffled. They would think you were babbling nonsense. Of course they believe in beauty of character (especially in their mammas), but as to the exterior, they think that skin deep is just right.They don't see a thing the matter with worshipping good looks.  It's sort of like in France, where they're only gradually beginning to understand the concept of sexual harrassment.

For the space of this post, I want us all to be a little Italian and to enjoy studying the faces of people who are known for looking fine. But in every case, the mind behind the beautiful face is interesting...and some of them deserve our admiration.  Let's begin with:
This is our own Gena Rowlands, who grew up in our state and went to our university...and who is a brilliant actress. See her in FACES, or in GLORIA, or even the recent HOPE FLOATS. She has a rare quality that she shares with Michael Caine: even in piece-of-crap movies, their talent and distinction shine. In Rowland's case, the piece-of-crap movie was often directed by her husband, John Cassavetes.  And whether the film was good, so-so or a real stinker,  she loyally showed up and shone. Friends told her she was damaging her career. She didn't care. Her main thought was for the man she loved to look good.
This is the passport photo of a young nobody named Hemingway, at the very beginning of everything.  His mother feared he was a bum who would never amount to anything. But when she looked at those eyes and that jaw, it seems to me she should have said to herself, "My son the black sheep is one determined SOB. He wants to be a writer.  He is going to do what he sets out to do. And if I have a brain in my head, he will set forth with my blessing."
This is Francoise Gilot, the only woman who ever told Pablo Picasso to go to hell. In the past, when Picasso mistreated his former lovers,  they were like meek animals who'd been gutted.He abandoned them, and they spent the rest of their lives wailing and shriveling away.  In Gilot's case, when he attempted to mistreat her, she  fought him toe to toe, then left with their children. Later she had a successful career as a painter, and a long, happy marriage with Jonas Salk. Picasso never forgave her, and he never stopped missing her. 
Rudolph Valentino, in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE film that made him famous. In the beginning  his character is a dissolute Argentinian playboy. Valentino's  career was made in the instant that "Julio" entered a lowlife saloon and danced a blazing tango. Valentino was a brilliant dancer, so he didn't have to fake it. Women swooned over the strength with which he threw around his little monkey-woman partner. Wow. Or even Wowwowwow! A stud, right? No. An idealist and a romantic. A few years later, in real life, he was breaking his heart over the one woman he couldn't keep: his wife, Natacha Rambova (real name: Winifred Hudnut). He died soon after.
The term Rock Star hadn't yet been invented in the 20's and 30's, but if a poet could qualify, Edna St. Vincent Millay would have been it. Critics raved over her books. She won the Pulitzer Prize.   She also translated ancient Latin and Greek for fun. A chilly intellectual, a bluestocking, right? Well, not completely. She wrote the famous poem about burning the candle at both ends, and that is what she did.  When she died, her sister went through her papers and found over a thousand love letters that men and women had written her...
Eric Schweig went through the most abusive childhood that anyone could, and survived. Slowly he found his way to the life that he was meant for.   At first he was given movie roles because of his handsome looks, but gradually, directors noticed what a good actor he was. And he kept getting better. His portrayal of Uncas in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS is unforgettable, but my personal favorite is his lovelorn, conflicted, heartbreakingly closeted, and finally very brave Pike in BIG EDEN. And that kiss at the end? You'll cheer! Schweig is also a respected artist whose beautiful traditional Inuit carvings are displayed in museums. But he is happiest when he gives them to friends.
Carolina Otero, a gypsy adventuress (her own description) became a famous dancer, and the toast of La Belle Epoque in Paris. Otero was also famous for a notorious remark. A friend of hers once spoke with horror of the hideous ugliness of Otero's current lover. Otero gently responded, "My dear, a man of the baron's tremendous wealth can hardly be described as 'ugly.'" Even in old age, Otero's favorite activity was to have a huge Argentinian feast with friends, to empty two, three or four plates, and  then to dance the flamenco all night long, just for fun and because she loved it. Does she look like she knows how to have an adventure, or what??!!
I've added Jeremy Irons, because---well, just because. He's a fine actor (DAMAGE, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, SWANN'S WAY) but I have a soft spot in my heart for him because, apparently, he's one of those innocent people with no filter. I once heard a radio interview in which the news guy raved about Irons' and Meryl Streep's performances in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. "Yes," Irons answered in his distinctive voice, which is both plummy-plush and eager, "and we loved the roles so much, and we adored the director, and when the scenes were coming up for our characters to be lovers, Meryl and I decided to give it EVERYTHING WE'D GOT and to become real lovers for a day. And so we did. It was marvellous!"  There was a long, long silence in air time as the gobsmacked news guy absorbed this. Of course he knew Streep and Irons were married, but not to each other.  When he finally spoke again, it was about something else entirely and he kind of stuttered. You can't really blame him.
The Ace of Face, if anybody ever was. But also a loving, brave, warm-hearted woman who steadfastly supported friends with AIDS at a time when everybody else shunned them.   She gave generously to AIDS research, long before it was fashionable, and also twisted the arms of wealthy colleagues good and hard so they gave generously too.  You know her name. Enough said.

Monday, April 1, 2013


This great-looking Etruscan guy and the ravishingly lovely Etruscan maiden lived in a very advanced society hundreds of years before Christ...and do you notice that they seem to have no race issues at all? Nada, none, zippo. And that they look really happy? There are many people alive in 2013 who would benefit if they spent more time studying ancient murals.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Sometimes world-famous tango dancer Pablo Veron likes to dance elegantly in international competitions.
And sometimes he likes to get down and go crazy cutting a rug with a friend.
Here's to all your moves, classy or crazy, and here's to friends whose hearts and minds tango with yours.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Smoking is a terrible habit, unforgivably stupid. But.....!!!!! 

Monday, March 11, 2013


Below is an image of a crazy Etruscan (2000 years before Christ) dancing his socks off in a frenzied boogie with all his flouncy red clothes flying. As you can see, this guy could rock a petticoat and not even break a sweat! If this doesn't cheer you up on Blue Monday, I don't know what will. 

Monday, February 4, 2013


Every blogger gets to gas on about themselves in a special MEMEME post, at least once a year. I have a friend who likes to grill me in interview form and embarrass me in public. All I can do is let her rip (sigh).

F:  So, let's start out slow. What is your idea of a perfect beginning to the day?

ME:  I'm up just before dawn. I sit on the deck and watch my dogs chase themselves all around the yard in the dark. In my hand is a cup of best Nicaraguan coffee, strong enough to leap at me like a lion, and heavy cream bellying through its black depths. There are still stars and gemmed planets belting across the heavens.

F:  Now I'm going to shout some questions at you freaking  fast, and you have ten seconds to answer them. Why do you like those terrible Asian movies that you keep boring me with?

ME: That deserves a whole post. But for now, I'll say it's the intensity mixed with stunning surprises. Like in ASHES OF TIME, where the great Chinese actor Leslie Cheung ("Who I never heard of, what a surprise," mumbles F) plays the cruelest, coldest thug you ever imagined in your worst nightmares--he drives ice into your bones--and at the end, you find out that this monster has been eating himself alive for years because of a lost love. He's terrible. But--his intensity? Wonderful!

F: (To herself) Sweet Jesus God.  (Aloud, with a huge false smile) Hell yeah, I can't wait to rush out and rent it!  (Turns aside and sticks her finger down her throat) Now let's talk about something that will be more--to put it mildly--interesting to the readers. Umm...what are some beauty secrets for a mature woman?

ME: Meryl Streep says,  Hold your stomach in, and wash your hair a lot. Sounds good to me. Oh, and if your face is drying up, pour on the olive oil. Elizabeth Taylor used  Crisco.

F: I noticed that in your New Year's post, you threw in this stunner about forgiving your enemies. What's THAT about??

ME: Better than that. I've not only forgiven most of them, I've forgotten who they are! A friend and I were shopping  and she pointed out somebody I thought was a stranger. She told me who it was; and also about something sad that had happened in his family. When you can't even recognize the face of your enemy, and when you do, you're sorry for the troubles he's been through...maybe it's time to give up the grudge you held so dear.

F: I can't decide if you're becoming more Zen, or just going soft in the head.

ME: This last year I understood that we don't know what other people have suffered. That woman I thought of as a 60-year-old Mean Girl? Well, maybe she was. But she's been through hardships and tragedies I've never known. She's survived them better than I would have. Maybe we could at least admire her strength.

F: (Shocked) But surely not that other one, that appalling crone, a stone-cold liar,  and such a pottymouth people thought she had Tourettes... AND there was that rumor she hacked into people's emails and forged nasty messages--

ME: (Thoughtfully) She would have had the skills, but that doesn't mean she did it. Besides, (with a huge sunny smile) she moved away. Forgiven!

F: You said you forgave MOST of your enemies.

ME:  Well, one or two are so malicious they're basically nuts. It would be like forgiving a wart. You can't really do much about the kind of person who takes a year off from work so she can spy on the neighbors at her leisure. Jody--let's call this person Jody--is busting a vein trying to catch somebody doing something naughty.  Jody is obsessed. She wants power over other lives that she never earned or deserved, and that she would misuse if she had.  And eventually you figure out that the real burr under her saddle is her envy of other people's happiness.  Jody is stuck.

F: (Laughing) If Jody is obsessed, she's reading this. Do you have any remarks you'd like to address to her?

ME: Yes. Writers have a saying. 'If you don't like what I wrote about you, you should have behaved better.' But what I like to do is concentrate on the good neighbors, and there are so many. Like the man who sacrificed his own interests to take care of his invalid mother. Or the woman who didn't have a lot of money, but she worked patiently for many years to improve her modest property, to make the most and best of it, and now it's a small jewel. I like the quiet virtues, not noisy ones. I don't like the sort of person who never does anything kind unless somebody is taking a picture.

F: If somebody planted a bug in your home, what would he or she hear?

ME: (laughing)   Lots of shrieked Cantonese and explosions from the Hong Kong movies. A lot of coffee grinding. The normal this-and-that of a long marriage. I try out dialogue and ideas from stories I'm writing, out loud, sometimes shouting. And we've got the sweetest, most devoted,  most vocal dogs in the world. We're never afraid of prowlers, because our dogs would yap one to death. They're Shelties, of course.  Oh, and every once in awhile I read a Psalm aloud, for the beautiful language. Then there's Chopin. Led Zeppelin.  Good luck sorting it out!

F:  What is your idea of a very strange personality disorder?

ME: Voyeurs. Anybody who'd rather slobber over other lives instead of living their own.

F: Most intense recent food experience?

ME: Warm apple tart like a sweet little wheel, the pastry tender and crumbly, drifted with vanilla-scented cream....

F: Are people basically good or basically bad?

M: Basically good. But keep an eye on the ones who are so in love with their religion, or their sexual identity, or their wealth, that they think it's their place to rule. It's not.

F: One word to describe your response to existence.

ME: Gratitude. Or maybe YIKES!

F: And on that high note let's take our leave, because God knows what you'll say next.
Ciao ciao ciao, paisanos and paisanas!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Delicious New Year's Command from Brazil

"Kiss slowly, laugh insanely, love truly and...forgive quickly."
                                                  Paulo Coelho
Have a fine 2013, dear ones.