Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Taste of Honey

Yours was the kiss that awoke my heart,
There lingers still, 'though we're far apart,
That taste of honey...
tasting much sweeter than wine. - "A Taste of Honey", Scott & Marlow, 1960

"I look at Guy Fieri and I just think, 'Jesus, I'm glad that's not me.'" - Anthony Bourdain as reported in Bob's Blitz

It was a blast from the past. From the days when the world was black and white and gray. Rita Tushingham - I'd forgotten about her - in the British movie, "A Taste of Honey", directed by Tony Richardson who was later to become one of the big names in British film.

Apparently the movie wasn't popular in America when it was released, and I'm not surprised as the main actors were not good looking, the setting bleak, and the ending - far from happy.

"A Taste of Honey" was a "kitchen sink" film - a new genre at the time epitomized by social realism, and which often depicted the domestic situations of working-class Britons.

A time when there were no cell phones, no color TV, no Internet, no iPads, when travel by air was a luxury and women were not allowed to fly airplanes in Australia.

I tried to think of what was better back then, and it was hard. What new thing has happened that we in the West at least, were better off without. And the answer, for me at least, is ... celebrity chefs.

The first celebrity chef I didn't like was, and still is, Gordon Ramsey. I used to watch his aptly-named reality TV show "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" when I felt like being annoyed. Watching "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" would take my mind off things I really needed to be annoyed about - like preparing US tax returns, or George Bush. Ramsey yelling at some poor family for daring to have a lousy restaurant that was losing money. Talk about kitchen sink! Talk about nightmares!

Michigan Meals
Now we live in even more enlightened times - we don't have Bush. So I don't need to watch Ramsey anymore thank god.

Still there's Santorum, a possible US presidential candidate who thinks that god created the world in seven days and that all Americans have the right to be unable to have health care. If HE gets in I'll need more than Ramsey to get me up in the mornings.

I'm so not into celebrity chefs. The only one I sort of like is chef Anne. I think it is because she has a boring name and looks a little vague and fey.

Possible second to Ramsey is Jamie Oliver. "Jamie" - it's a child's name. Grown-ups aren't called Jamie! ASIF! Jamie Oliver who called an Australian reporter a "bitch" for asking about his apparent weight gain, when he was visiting Australia this month to promote a healthy food initiative.

Next to Jamie is Anthony Bourdain. I used to quite like watching his TV show, "No Reservations" where he went to different countries and tried out the local cuisines. Who couldn't like a man who ate a raw seal eyeball and an unwashed warthog rectum, and who says the most disgusting thing he has ever eaten is a Chicken McNugget. But when he started to get stuck into other celebrity chefs I became fed up with his boasting ways.

Not content with making money from TV shows and cook books, celebrity chefs are dominating kitchen speciality shops and the kitchenware sections of major department stores. What's the difference between a Wolfgang Puck fry pan and a Gordon Ramsey fry pan? Apart from the fact that they are both most likely made in China?

Still, the way the run-up to the 2012 American elections is panning out, I might surprise myself and start watching Gordon Ramsey again.

Anything to keep me from thinking of a "President Santorum".

Friday, March 16, 2012

Asymmetry on Madison

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry? - William Blake 1757-1827, "The Tiger"

The lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue - Bob Dylan, 1965

My Jensen Rings Minus #1
When people comment on my Georg Jensen rings (I normally wear round five at a time), I explain that there is one from each of my lovers. A lie really. In fact only three of my lovers have given me a Jensen ring and two of them have given me several. But it's the thought that counts, as they say ...

My first Jensen was given to me, appropriately, by my first lover. I've written about him in past posts, most notably in Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Although we'd split in circa 100 years ago, we'd kept in touch, remembering each other's birthdays, for decades. Then I wrote something about black and white movies and men in the sixties and he "spat the dummy". (For my American readers, a 'dummy' in OZ is a pacifier and spitting the dummy is akin to having a temper tantrum.)

And that was that. It's all over now baby blue!

Back to the ring. I loved it. He got it for me when I turned 21. I kept it on, wearing it for years. Occasionally it broke in half and I had it repaired. The first time it broke I was on the top of one of the Swiss Alps. It was so cold that the ring literally snapped in two. It's a design fault. I have a vivid memory of one half of the ring going down one side of the mountain, and the other going down the other. Of course this cannot be true but that's what I remember.

I used to have a thing about that ring. I had an obsessive compulsive belief that bad luck would come if I wasn't wearing it. You can see me here with my baby daughter (insert) wearing it. Then, when we officially broke up, me and lover #1, after I wrote something about not understanding Fellini movies and men in the sixties, the ring broke in two again, and I thought, why bother even fixing his bloody ring! But later when I was on Madison Avenue having my latest lover buy me another Jensen at the New York Georg Jensen store, I had ring #1 put in for repair.

It must have sat there for over six months. I heard nothing from them, but wasn't expecting it to be returned quickly as all Jensen repairs are sent to Denmark.

But I found the receipt last Wednesday and decided to pick it up. I was having a bad day. The passport section of U.S. Department of State had called to tell me my name was too long to fit in their database. "Really?" I queried. There must be heaps of people like me and what about Poles and Indians?

The woman at the other end of the phone agreed. I've been calling people all day" and added that she'd shorten my name and put an endorsement on the back page of the book explaining what my legal name really is. "But won't this cause problems at Immigration?" I asked. She assured me that problems were surprisingly infrequent, leaving me, a worrier at the best of times, feeling uneasy.

Juliff, Texas - at least my name fits on the sign!
So it was probably a silly day for me to pick up the ill-fated Jensen ring, but I did. I don't much like Madison Avenue at the best of times. The store people who are now called "associates" seem to believe they are superior sorts of human beings and that they are doing the public a BIG FAVOR by deigning to attend to us.

Still, I waited at the counter and gave my legal name (not my passport one) and after much dilly-dallying a gentleman associate presented me with my ring with a flourish.

I put it on. "It's crooked!" I told him, taking it off. "Is not!" he said. "Is too! I said. Shades if Simon and Garfunkel. It was like being Back in the Schoolyard with Julio.

A female associate came over to give her opinion. Of course she sided with Julio. "It is asymmetrical by design," she claimed. I later discovered that she couldn't even SPELL symmetrical. Perhaps she doesn't know what symmetrical means. That'd explain it.

Julio was frantically looking up catalogs and pointing out faded images of my ring to prove his point. He even photocopied a page and waved it in the air triumphantly.

Julio's Photocopy
I persisted. "I've had that ring for a hundred years," I told them. "It breaks a lot because of the bad design but I like it and want it fixed properly."

"It is properly," repeated Julio. I was getting to really dislike the man. I looked at his photocopy. "That photo was taken at an angle," I said. "You need to see a photo taken front on to see the symmetry".

Meanwhile the female associate was filling out a receipt. She looked at the old one. "You took a long time coming back," she complained. "I've been sick," I said hoping to shut her up and get out of the store. "What was wrong with you?" she asked.

"What sort of shop is this? I didn't come here to be argued with and be asked for my medical history." "I was only asking as I care about you," she lied.

I was about to go when Julio said to her, "Write down, 'customer prefers symmetrical.'" "NO! Write down, 'fix as originally designed,'" I countered.

"Same thing!" he shot back.

I gathered my things and as I turned to leave I made one parting shot. "You don't like to be wrong, do you?" I said, addressing Julio.

He looked stunned and asked me to repeat it.

"You don't like to be wrong, do you?" I said again.

"Yes I do," he said back at me.

"Good!" I replied, "You should be happy then."

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Long Black, a Flat White, and a Spider

If this is coffee, then please-bring me some tea. But if this is tea, please bring me some coffee" - Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

Can I get a three quarter double-shot fifty-fifty coffee decaf soy latte with one and a quarter Equal in a take-away cup; make it bonzoi" - from "The Life Organic", Dom and Adrian

Oh no! The Melbourne coffee scene is coming to New York.

But I suppose it was only a matter of time, because in reality the Melbourne coffee scene is quintessentially New York; in fact it WAS "New York" even before it came here. Pre avant garde if such a thing is possible.

The coffee culture à la Australien hit the "Menu Pages" column of New York Magazine (February 2012) where "flat whites" and "long blacks" are described in words that New Yorkers can understand.

A long black is defined as "a sort of antipodean reverse Americano (hot water first, expresso second)". And a "flat white"? "a single or double shot topped with milk that's been steamed into velvety 'wet' foam, smaller and less milky than a latte, served in a cappuccino cup but without the froth."

Surprisingly "Menu Pages" doesn't go into the decaf soy thing; perhaps because they've already arrived here. I wouldn't know, as I never get to Brooklyn, which I think of as a soy decaf latte organic kinda place.

When I'm not at work I tend to stay on my island, in Manhattan that is.

Most Manhattanites are like me - loathe to stray into any of the other boroughs, though most of us HAVE been to Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. That leaves Staten Island. I've never been there. I used to think that I was unusual in that respect, but recently one of my New York friends mentioned in passing, with an element of horror in her voice, that she had to go to Staten Island to meet with her new attorney. "What's it like?" I asked her.

"Oh I have no idea," she told me. "I only went there once and that was forty five years ago on a school excursion and we only just stepped off on the pier for a sec when the ferry stopped before taking us back."

There's so much to do in Manhattan, and even seasoned New Yorkers can always find something new. Last night for example, my friend Babs who has lived here since the seventies, took me somewhere she's never been before - to "Bill's" on East 54th. She wanted to go there because it is about to close and so it was now or never.

"Bill's Silver Dollar Bar" opened in the mid 1920's when Bill Hardy converted the five-story brownstone into one of New York's most prominent and celebrated speakeasies.

"What are the bar's favorite cocktails?", Babs asked the food waiter when we were seated in restaurant upstairs. "We aren't that sort of place; I suppose you could get you a Manhattan or a Whisky Sour," he said.

"Oh, I don't like whisky," said Babs, declining the Manhattan. "I'll take the Whisky Sour." ... That's the sort of night it was.

Sergio's "Doggie Bag"
The waiter was right about the drinks menu. We ordered wine from the less than extensive wine list, and then crab cakes as the main course. Babs could only eat one crab cake, and New York style asked the food waiter to wrap the left-overs for her to take home.

When the waiter returned he was flourishing his own creation - "Sergio's Doggie Bag". It is meant to look like a silver swan. Fitting, as Babs is from Western Australia.

It was Babs who gave me the cutting from the New York Magazine about the coffee. We chatted on and on, until we both got our second wind when we chatted on some more. When we left to go home, we passed the Silver Dollar bar, now raucous and crowded.

Drinkers at the Silver Dollar Bar
On my way home in the cab I fished out the cutting Babs had given me, and thought about Melbourne. And remembered an old Leunig cartoon from last century - a diner at a café is being offered a "flat white", a "long black" or a "spider", and the bubble showing his imagination contains a flattened white guy lying Casper-like on the street, a tall black guy, and, well yes, a "spider". A real one that is, with eight legs. Not the drink.

Yes, the drink, for the Americans out there, which is a glass of Australian lemonade flavored with a pink, yellow or green coloring with a ball of vanilla ice cream dissolving in it.

Those were the days my friend ...

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Sound of Single

Prim Julie Andrews and cute singing kiddies
Old-fashioned movies with nursery ditties
God-awful plot-lines about nuns that sing
These are a few of my least favorite things
- from "My Least Favourite Things" - The Chaser's War on Everything

"I envy you," a friend told me at dinner last Thursday, "having a part-time husband who only lives you for with a few weeks of the year!" I nodded, only half-listening as I read the menu. Then, looking at the menu she asked, "What's spaghetti bolognese?"

I'm becoming a misogynist, I decided. Did I really want to KNOW someone who doesn't know what spaghetti bolognese is? After all, I recently dumped my hairdresser when she asked me - we were discussing the famous (in America "Tot Mum", Casey Anthony case) - what does "manslaughter mean?" Better to dump her than to explain by example ...

There are some things a person just cannot be expected to tolerate.

Could it be that I am intolerant by virtue of my genes? I remember both of my parents couldn't tolerate most people gladly. Perhaps the worst (or best) memory is of my mother coming home from lunch, where she'd been meeting a past work acquaintance - a woman who had left work on becoming pregnant. "I just HAD to get up and leave!" my mother explained. "That silly pregnant Arlene, she was sitting opposite me at the restaurant at Myer, when she suddenly vomited all over her lunch! I just got up and walked out!"

"You mean you just LEFT her there with the vomit and all?" the then innocent caring Katie, yet to become the misogynist Kate, explained.

"There's such a thing as self-control," my mother explained, adding "and besides, I frequent that restaurant often."

And there you were thinking that I was mean about the spaghetti bolognese.

Part of being intolerant is, I think, brought about from living alone. I read a New York Times article, One Is the Quirkiest Number - The Freedom, and Perils, of Living Alone. It's a definite must read. 50% of New Yorkers live alone.

Alone and yet ... I discovered that I was not alone in some of the "quirky" behaviors recounted by the the people New York Times writer Steve Kurutz had interviewed for the article. Amy Kennedy, a school teacher listed among her "domestic oddities ... removing only the clothes she needs from her dryer, thus turning it into a makeshift dresser". Exactly. I do that all the time. Why take them out to put them some place else only to be removed again?

In fact I indulge in a number of oddities listed in Mr Kurutz's article. I tried to think if I had any behaviors that were NOT listed. I could only think of one. When I need to wear something that is sitting in the dryer not quite dry, I don't have time to run the whole dryer-full for say, a pair of undies. I warm them up in the microwave. Apart from making them completely dry it is extremely fast and it always feels good putting on warm undies.

Now I realize that I haven't even gotten to what was to be the main subject of this week's post - my least favorite things. So dear reader, you will have to ...

Stay tuned.