Monday, November 30, 2009

Letter to Edward Espe Brown

on New Directions stationery

November 30, 2009

Edward Espe Brown
Peaceful Sea Zendo
Fairfax CA 94930

Dear Mr. Brown –

How I’ve longed to write to tell you how much I’ve loved the Tassajara Bread Book since receiving it as a gift. As a Jewish girl in an unhappy marriage in Austin, TX, some 30 years ago, your book gave me immense solace for a then unhappy life. Baking bread became the love of my life. I’d cut thick slices and serve it to my neighbors with loads of butter. Who would know that many years later I would teach The Ancient Art of Breadmaking at our local library and other venues?

I remember making chopped chicken livers back then in Married Student Housing at the University of Texas and serving them on your rye crackers complete with caraway seed. I cut the shapes with the removable top of the blender which resides now in my happy home here in suburban Philadelphia.

I like to think, Mr. Brown, I treat food with the same love and respect you do. I can’t bear to throw anything away – yes, I have a compost heap - so for example for breakfast this morning I have boiled a cinnamon stick and a spent lemon in some water and am drinking it as tea, adding a teabag of chamomile.

Although it is a rainy day here in Willow Grove, PA, my kitchen is always cheerful. I have some organic low-sodium chicken broth on my green table reminding me to make fish chowder today with loads of veggies from across this huge land we call America in addition to soaking succulent chick peas – how we love our delicious healthy foods, Mr. Brown! – and later I shall add some fresh tilapia bought at our organically-conscious supermarket.

Over Thanksgiving, my 35-year-old daughter Sarah introduced me to a Yellow Lemon Squeezer which has now found a permanent home in my kitchen.

You have long been there, as well, Mr. Brown, sitting on my recipe shelf next to the only cookbooks I own: the first edition of Joy of Cooking, Tassajara Bread Book (copyright 1970) and Tassajara Cooking (1973).

Wishing you many more days of happy love and cooking, I am

Very sincerely yours,

Ruth Z Deming

Bring out the Tassajara Bread Book!

Written in 1970 by zen priest Edward Espe Brown, my well-used copy of the Tassajara Bread Book is filled with my annotations and I blush to say my renaming of some of his recipes such as Honey Cheesecake Bars for his Cheesecake Cookies. But, I say to myself, what would a gentile truly know about Cheesecake even if Buddah loves him.

So. Wanting something different to serve with our delicious onion omelet for breakfast yesterday (and remember! I buy the most delicious fresh eggs that are laid just for me by local cage-free grain-eating hens) I leafed thru the book and found Flakey Biscuits. Sorry, Ed, but I've gotta rename them. Flaky they were not. Delicious and filling they certainly were.

When I was married and lived in TX biscuits were a staple in the diet. My mom/law used Pioneer Biscuit Mix and made the most scrumptious chicken and dumplings using the biscuit mix. I of course have always made things from scratch. So when it came time to make the Nonflakey biscuits my fingers remembered the procedure tho I hadn't done it for - what? - 35 years.

I was so prouda myself and got flour on my back from patting myself there.

Actually I was wearing my green Starbucks apron.

I've always wanted to write Ed a thank-you note and shall do so today on my New Directions stationery. Shall I enclose a brochure? Or my Steps to Recovery from Bipolar Disorder? Meditation is high on the list for many people with mood disorders. How come I can't get into meditating?

When I was biking yesterday I wondered if that activity constituted meditating, as I've often thought swimming does.

Scott and I biked on trails close to home on Pennypack Trails. At one point, I went faster than I've ever gone. You've gotta keep your eyes open for danger. We were on our way home, on a hilly street where a squirrel could dash into the street as could a car. We always wear helmets when we're out on the street.

Scott, the weightlifter, always feels it in his legs afterward. We can't figger out why my legs feel nothing. During our trek however the hills were so steep we had to push our bikes uphill. My heart was pounding outa my chest. "You all right?" Scott would call.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Road report on Black Friday

Just got home from driving Sarah and Ethan to the Jenkintown train station so they can catch a train back to NY. I drove mostly the backroads (won't do you no good, thanks Bruce)as I always do, esp. today to avoid the madness of Holiday Shopping. The Times is just waiting to tell us Retail Biz is up .09% this year.

So, we're passing La Pergola restaurant in J'town. Sarah is on the cellphone with my mother, saying g'bye, and I say Look how windy it is, when suddenly a lamppost falls boom to the ground. A woman driver in a long car had backed smack into it.

No sweat getting to the station. We left in plenty of time. I did not tell my dtr and Ethan that I couldn't remember how to get to the train station. I figgered it would come to me, which it did.

Earlier I asked Ethan if he wished to drive my car. It's fun for him since they don't need cars in NY. I also photographed him sitting in my car. Forgot to show them my new license plate holder. I don't like advertising other people's products so I got rid of the dealership's license plate holder and replaced it with a plain chrome one that I painted with red dots. It looks great!

My dtr/law Nicole loaded some awesome T'giving photos on Facebook. Are you the family photographer, Nicole? She also put on some videos of us all singing.

We are a family that loves having fun. We love food, music, sex, and the joy of being together.

Ethan thoughtfully brought copies of Beatles' lyrics for a singalong after dinner. He accompanied us on the piano as we sang loudly and w/great gusto tunes such as Hey Jude, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Eleanor Rigby. I marveled that the Beatles were only in the their 20s or 30s when they wrote the deep Eleanor Rigby about lonely people. What cosmic minds they had to consider all segments of society. Their songs contain numerous characters such as Dear Prudence.

Sarah noticed I replaced my Gettysburg photo montage with one from Barcelona. Hanging on the living room wall is a huge bag from La Pedrera, the apt house Gaudi designed, with a map of Barcelona tucked inside, and then ticket stubs from museums and the Metro taped to the bag, along with the see-thru blue plastic spoon from which I ate Italian gelato. The gelato, it should be noted, tasted richer and more flavorful than our ice cream.

Traffic was heavy. I so enjoy driving my new car. While I was in Europe for 14 days, I gave Scott a couple assignments since he was on strike for 4 days. One was to wash my car which was inexplicably full of mud. He not only washed it, but waxed it, and showed me how, after a rain, the raindrops form beautiful beads on the car.

Keep it short, Ruthie, keep it short.

Will do.

Life is meaningless if I'm not working on a major project. MY major project may be different than yours. The thing I'd like to do more than anything else is write a good poem. It's been awhile. I sure loved swimming in the salt water pool aboard our cruise ship. How could I work that into a poem?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Birds sing on Thanksgiving Morn

When I awoke at six this morning I heard birds singing in my backyard. How I miss the little creatures as they began their trek to warmer climes with many of us to follow later this year. Why is it that the sounds of birds invariably lift our hearts?

Walter came to visit yesterday. The one thing this 90-year-old sage hasn't mastered is using the computer. 'Perhaps I will,' he told me, 'if I'm still alive.' He'll spend Thanksgiving with his girlfriend Amy and her three-month-old baby Jaiden who spent a harrowing two months at Children's Hospital. I'd met Amy and baby previously, before the hospitalization, when all was well. She nursed the baby at the kitchen table and actually asked if it offended me.

I told her I'd nursed both my kids. Amy started her own business but had to give it up to take care of Jaiden full-time because of his medical problems. The prognosis is excellent and she couldn't be a better mother. She's a devout Catholic. Walter said his own father, back in the 1920s, disabused Walter of the notion of a deity by introducing young Walt, who grew up in the seaside town of Bristol, PA, to the writings of one Mr Ingersoll.

Did I tell you I felt a vast sense of relief when I too decided my relations with the Deity were nil, my prayers felt false, and I feel liberated at having declared yet again my deep pride in being Jewish and being a godless woman.

My gods are You, the people - my backyard maple (of course it's not mine) - and the water I gratefully drink each day.

My sister Ellen and I went apt. hunting for her yesterday. She needs a big place where she can store the stuff she sells on EBay. I suggested she move into my old apartments Village Green and found the following video. Click here.

When I was making my dinner salad last nite I remembered to cut up the lettuce into tiny pieces. I watched my hands nimbly tearing the Bibb lettuce and thought What a marvel are these hands. You simply command them to do something and presto, it gets done!

It can never be said I don't appreciate life. And this new window in my living room! A room air-conditioner was stuck in there until I had the idea of making a window out of it. I see rhododendrons with their sticky buds preparing to bloom next May when I come down the stairs.

Last nite I read a very moving piece in the Times by a veteran from the Afghanistan war. Here's the short piece plus my comment (the 5th one down) below it. Life is too thrilling not to get involved when we feel so moved.

Listen to your heart. Life is short, gone in a wink. Do it now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If you wanna be sad, read the newspapers

Each day I check the NY Times to see what's happenin in the Big Bad World. Ach! Don't ask. My primary concern is the Healthcare Package. A lead photo showed a female senator ascending the stairs and I said to myself, Senators: What pompous assholes. This, as distinct, from the pompompitous of love as espoused by Steve Miller.

What I'm trying to say, Dear Reader, is I'd rather be Anywhere but Afghanistan. Which is why, when I went to the Willow Grove Post Office, I picked up a flyer announcing Moms Stuffing Stockings for the Marines in Afghanistan. I thought this would be a great thing for our group to get involved with.

A small group of us went forward to the Upper Moreland Intermediate School. I got to ride in Fontaine's borrowed Lexus where at the touch of a finger you can control every aspect of driving comfort including starting the car with a push of the button. My jaw dropped open and she and her daughter laffed.

Arnie was following us in his beautiful newly painted van.

The moment I got there an attractive blond woman came up to me.

Are you Ruth Deming? she asked.

I was in a state of confusion cuz there were no signs telling us where to go in the huge gymnasium.

I am, I said.

Dyou know who I am? she asked.

I looked at her and her beautiful blond hair.

Denise so-and-so, I said. You called me twice and never left me your phone number.

Anyway, Denise is a former member of ND and wanted to reconnect about 6 months ago. How frustrating not to have her phone number.

I called her this a.m. and invited her to be our first Spotlight speaker in December. She's been off all meds for about 8 years - hallelujah! - and thanks the Lord for this great feat.

Whatever works!

Here's some of the gifts we're sending the Marines in Afghanistan at a cost of $20,000 to ship. Each volunteer took a stocking and went to various stations where young voluntters, such as Cub Scouts, or children of Marines, threw a gift in our stocking. When finished, we put our stocking in a huge plastic tie-able bag where more gifts were thrown in.

Everything was tiny:

Whitman Sampler

Lunch was furnished afterward, some tasteless hoagies which I doctored with hot peppers and mustard. Ada sat next to me on the bench. Denise came over to her and thought Ada was a Family Members. No, said Ada, I run the Depression Group.

But you keep smiling, said Denise.

That's because I'm feeling fine, smiled Ada, who looked even more beautiful than usual.

Just then her husband Rich walked into the room. We stood up and waved so he'd find us in the crowded room. They were gonna stop in to see Ada's mom, who turned 100 last month.

Fontaine dropped me off at home and I went to Scott's house. He was in the basement lifting weights. He wears a belt when he does it. I watched him do it once but never again. He said he procrastinates sometimes for 45 mins cuz it's so demanding.

It's beautiful out, I said. How bout a bike ride? Jack goes to a certain Pennypack Trail in Philadelphia.

Sure, he said. Just lemme finish lifting.

We went for the most arduous and wonderful bike ride ever, up these excrucatingly difficult hills where we'd walk our bikes, and then zoom quickly down very steep hills. I love going really fast but you must be really careful cuz you share trail space with

whole families
moms pushing babies in strollers
people walking dogs
other zooming bikers
piles of manure
mud and leaves

Fortunately I only fell once cuz Scott passed me on the right and didn't say, Coming thru! As soon as I fell, I called I'm fine, cuz there was a walking couple behind me and I didn't want them to worry. To my left was a steep cliff where I could've tumbled down to the Pennypack Creek. It was actually no big deal.

I did nap when I came home and then made a fab dinner of salmon, asparagus, brown rice, cranberry sauce sweetened with maple syrup. Scott's dad gave us a bunch of movies so we watched This Gun for Hire, a film noir which made Alan Ladd a star.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Day in the City

They get up in the morning and go to work. I used to be one of them. Yesterday morning I pretended I was one of them again and made the 7:59 train to downtown Philly for my allday kidney appointment at Jefferson U. My son Dan met me on the train. Sarah was to meet us at Jefferson.

Look who I see, Dan said, while we were walking down some dirty street in Philadelphia. There, in her new gray suede boots she bought in Italy, was Sarah! She didn't see us and was walking really fast.

Let's surprise her, I said to Dan. Follow me.

I began running, with my backpack on, and my Kidney Packet under my arm. I passed a well-dressed woman and said, Pardon me, I'm playing a trick on someone.

Dan and I jogged across the street.

In our wonderful American healthcare system, it takes 4-6 weeks for one of my doctors to fax out crucial information. So I dunno if I'm a candidate for a kidney transplant cuz this vital info is still sitting in the doc's office in Abington PA. Four to six weeks!

Because the kidney recipient must be on immuno-suppressants their entire life, diseases find us. Cough cough cough. Ah-choo! Oooh, look at this weird thing on my skin. Is this the skin cancer Dr Maria was talking about? I didn't catch her last name since her badge was turned around. She was from Madrid.

Seems like doctors still do not believe in prevention. I DO, however, and have ordered from Amazon The 12-Step Program to Prevent Dialysis. I've scheduled another appt w/Mary Ann Moylan at the Willow Grove Giant Supermarket. I still can't get the hang of the kidney diet where we watch our intake of


but are still allowed to

do great home interventions for people in denial
use artwork to reach some of our opaque clients
moderate the coffeeshop writers group
listen to coldplay on youtube (the scientist and when i ruled the world - did he have bipolar?)

hey, we have a nice group of folks gonna help stuff stockings for the Marines in Afghanistan tomro at a local school. Grabbed a poster from the PO.

Must I hop on my stationary bike now?

Yes, you must, Ruthie. Dyou wanna keep your kidneys?

Oh, all right. I'll put a few more pages into the library book I stole off the cruise ship, Ruth Rendell's The Rottweiler, a fine story about a serial killer. We actually feel sorry for him. Exercising is so frigging boring I read while I pedal.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reality versus The Dream

Ah, yes, I did indeed just return from my first trip overseas, not counting the Carib and Alaska and Mexico, memories all tightly packed into my cerebellum or wherever memories go.

While putting in my contax this morning in my downstairs bathroom, I flashed to the cruiseship's bathroom. Darn. I forgot to take a picture of the tiny but ever-so-compact room. Imperative not to drop one's contax down the drain. That was no. one on the WorryList.

Best part of the trip was the food ashore. We went to plein air markets in Barcelona, Antibes, and Florence. Will I ever forget the way the strawberries tasted? They were not all bloated and spongy like American mass-produced berries. And the dates! They're sold on a sprig as they come off the tree. Never knew dat, did you?

I can't get over how beautiful my house looks. You see things afresh when you come home from vaca. I love my house. I still have Carl Yeager's photograph on the wall and a collage by Claudia McGill. I so love my artist friends. To greet me when coming home from Europe I picked some blue hydrangea and pink hydrangea from the backyard and they look so nice in the windowsill.

Leaning against the front door is a big brown packet labeled Kidney T'plant for my appt this Thursday. Both kids will accompany me but I'd prefer a cadaver transplant. Our Irish buddy Coleman Smith, from Cavan County, works in the ins. business and says they don't insure motorcyclists or scooter drivers cuz of the high fatality rate. Terrible to think that in the future one of these people might furnish me with their kidney.

My friend Denis also lost his kidney function due to lithium and he and his wife are wonderful guides as to what I might expect.

Life, for me, will become Before and After the transplant. I try to keep in as good shape as possible and will mount my stationary bike for 15 minutes later on. I did this aboard the ship while reading a Ruth Rendell mystery I got from the prison library. Oops, ship library.

After our bike ride at Lorimer Park yesterday, Scott and I were starving. BTW, he was very pleased with the SEPTA contract. The union negotiator worked very hard to ensure the workers received a 3 percent pay increase this year, no increase in amount paid for health benefits, and a continued secure pension plus audit of pension plan. The contract is for five whole years, guaranteeing peace of mind for all concerned.

So, I know you're all wondering what I made for dinner. Quite frankly, my dinner was better than anything on the cruise ship where the food was only mediocre.


Baked chicken - basted with olive oil and sprinkled with sodium-free Mrs Dash spice

First-time ever Broccoli Slaw - it comes in its own package, trim strips of broccoli stems and carrots. I added Craisins, chopped onion, and olive oil mayo mixed w/cider vinegar

Brown rice

For dessert I drank a glass of cranberry-raspberry juice.

"I'm out of control," I said to Scott. "I can't stop drinking the stuff."

Yes, I'm a juice-a-holic. So I poured it down the drain. Sadly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is it true I went to Europe or was it all a dream?

interestingly enuf, i have all these souvenirs all over my house seemingly from my first trip to europe. here's what i've got - and some of them are gifts:

- small green see-thru plastic spoon from Italian gelato shop (make mine creme caramel)

- 25 postcards including one of "The David" which I saw at a museum in Florence

- a picture book about Pompeii - was I really there or did it appear in a dream?

- cute laura ashley-type plastic bag with more postcards

- a book on gaudi's la pedrera, his whimsical fantastical apartment house in barcelona

- two packets of bigelow's camomile tea bags in yellow wrappers to remind me to begin drinking herbal tea in the morning like i did aboard the ship

- business card from limo service that took me to and from jfk airport inscribed w/email address of the driver who had bipolar disorder but then changed his hectic lifestyle, went off all meds, and is doing fine. i gave him the most recent compass and my life story and keys to recovery. he was blown away by meeting me but i'm used to these amazing coincidences. a woman from pakistan was the other rider. she's studying for her medical exams here in the states cuz she wants to emigrate. a year ago in lahore the insurgents became the talk of the town and everybody's afraid now. can you imagine if there was gunfire and high death tolls at the edge of my county? oh, i forgot there is. north philadelphia.

when i woke up at 10 a.m. this morning, i felt the ship rocking beneath me. when i closed my eyes last nite to go to sleep a stream of images from my trip flashed by my eyelids like a fellini movie. i was so tired i could barely speak to scott. speaking in fact seemed useless. how could i explain my trip to him? or anyone other than sarah, my constant companion?

'you went to pompeii?' he said, sitting up in bed. 'i didn't know that.'

'yes,' i said, scrambling outa bed to show him the picture book of pompeii. 'it was the highlite of my trip.'

'how about michaelangelo's david? did you see that too?'

'yes, i said, 'that was the highlight of my trip. it was pure white. huge.' exhausted, i went to fetch a postcard.

'what else did you see?'

'well, it was a tour of some ports on the caribbean.'

'you mean mediterranean.'

'yes, mediterranean. i'm very tired. we went to florence and i saw the most beautiful countryside i've ever seen. it's unexplainable. i'll have to show you photos. the countryside was the highlight of the trip.'

sarah put some of my photos on flickr. she goes by the name 'saperday' which is what i called her when she was young find them here.

people said to me today, i'll bet you're so tired you slept all day. to them i said, not really, scott and i just got home from an hour-long bike ride at lorimer park, the best bike ride of the year. you know why? there were whole stretches with no people and we zoomed real fast on our bikes, hair streaming (well, he hasn't any and i'm not quite all bald yet) but it felt fantastic. when it was over i said to him, we shoulda worn our helmets.

forgot to mention the real highlight of the trip: being with saperday, my beautiful daughter. when we went to sleep in our cabin i sat on her bed and kissed her softly goodnight. that was a thrill.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Travel: Ultimate cure for solipsism

Copernicus, are you there? So understandable that you thought the sun revolved around the earth. I, Little Ruthie Deming, thought the world revolved around Les Etats Unis - the USA. While walking the streets of Barcelona among highly civilized people and their children and their dogs noticed there are worlds other than mine. I think that is the great lesson of travel.

If all life is a lesson, what, Dear Reader, have you learned of late? I do encourage these litle dialogues between the two of us, asuming, that is, that I am real and not a compilation of ... well I AM a compilation of many things and many themes, all wrapped up in this material being who at 7 am Barcelona time is sitting in the lobby of the Balmes Hotel.

How many times must a traveler humble herself before the holders of the predominant culture to ask for help? As many times as she dares. My traveling companion dislikes asking for help. Yes, it is fine to be independent but I do not have the rest of the morning to ask, for example, how to turn on the computer particularly when the instrux are in a foreign language.

So, you see, English is not the center of the universe. I remarked to Pepe, hotel mgr last nite, Whatever must you Spaniards think of Americans with our latest shoot-em up, this time in Fort Hood, TX? Dyou think There go those gun-crazy Americans killing out of anger and hatred again.

Pepe is a diplomat. He does not judge us. He walked us to the street corner and pointed the way to the interestingly named Muffins restaurant where we had another great meal last nite. More tapas.... including codfish croquettes and mushroom croquettes. Sarah´s main course was pigs feet while mine was codfish swaddled in crepes.

Diners poured in beginning at 10 pm. Ah, they love going out for an evening in their black clothes and meeting their friends for huge multi-course meals.

Did I tell you most people are slender here? Not many fatties like at home where people are obsessed with their weight. American culture has so many obsessions, I´m not talking about our obsession with famous people and movie stars, but with health concerns - always these new diets, plus new medications for what ails you instead of taking care of the underlying problem.

Do you know the work of the artist Joan Miro? We went to his museum on a tall hill at twilight yesterday. I shall keep my ticket as a souvenir. He´s a favorite artist of both Sarah and me. She reports I took her to a show of his at the Gugg in NY when we were growing up. How good of me! I certainly have no memory of this.

His paintings and sculpture are positioned in huge rooms with high ceilings so you can fully appreciate the scope of his often childlike work and brilliant use of color. These artists we have seen - Picasso, Gaudi - were highly political in a time of great social change. Here in Spain with its ancient civilization its layer upon layer of conquerors and victors, it is easier to see America in the throes of such social change under Obama, our administration´s handling of world events, of wars on foreign shores now and in the past, always waging wars, and now our health-care reform which has opponents marching on Washington. Who are such people who wish to deny universal healthcare to everyone? Krugman writes that the healthiest people in society are those over 65 who are on universal healthcare - Medicare.

I see now in my mind´s eye the beautiful park we traversed last nite outside Miro´s museum. Sculptures pierced the graying cloudless skies as we saw a magnificent view of the city - a panoramic aerial view - beyond an iron grating. These are the vistas, I said to Sarah, making a play on words of one of Ethan´s albums. When I say Ethan I mean The Bad Plus of course.

Breakfast is served later on the weekends. The Catalonians are not a hurried people but pace themselves, enjoying life. It would be a good city to live in. Until this trip I never really understood how Americans could live aboard. How long would it take for me to learn Spanish?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This is the meaning of Ancient

I mean, like, everything here in Barcelona has a history. You walk and the sidewalk has been trod on for a thousand years. The walls of some buildings are five hundred or more years old. I can´t get over it. Sarah and I walked around the Picasso Museum which is housed in a 13th century palace. We ran our hands along the cold stone walls.

I´ve never been around such an old bldg, I said to Sarah.

That´s cuz you´ve never been to Europe, she said.

I mean, I really could not get over it.

The museum cost 18E for the two of us. Hurry, said the guard, it closes at 8 o´clock. We had plenty of time, actually, nearly 2 hours, which is about all my feet could take. We Metro´d over and walked thru an incredibly long indoor tunnel to switch trains. Per my travel guru Rick Steves I carried a money belt, aka fanny pack, in which I keep my euros, my camera, and my hanky. I do not wanna get my money stolen.

The Picasso museum is billed by our travel guide as the most comprehensive collection of his work tho not the best collection. It shows his earliest works including the famous The First Communion (I´d never heard of it either) which he painted at age 16. Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) was a child prodigy. Strongly encouraged as a child, his paintings went thru many phases, all shown at this museum, including his blue period and his rose period. His ceramics are also on display - fabulously colored pitchers and platters.

My sister Donna, a gifted potter, should come here to be inspired, I said to Sarah. Yeah, she said, Donna is really talented.

Picasso, like all artists, had his own favorites including fellow Spaniard Velasquez. The museum showed a couple of V´s paintings and Picasso´s own take on them. In one fit of painting, Picasso did 58 variations on a V painting that had a girl in a yellow dress.

Sarah and I were in awe. It is good to travel with someone who loves art as much as I do.

And food. Afterward we ate at another one of those restaurant bars, this one recommended by Reid Anderson, the bassist in Ethan´s band, who lived in Barcelona for a couple years. We waited about 35 minutes for a table, standing up of course leaning against a mirrored wall, until the owner motioned for us to sit at the counter. We watched the food being prepared as the owner ordered several courses for us.

We´ve learned that There is no bad food in Barcelona. Everything is tasty. My favorite was the grilled haik (I had actually bought my first haik recently and put it in my fish chowder) but this haik, well, this haik, was quite something, much more succulent with its olive oil garlic sauce and side of potatoes.

Sarah, I said. I am not kidding. These are the best potatoes I´ve ever eaten in my life.

You better not eat too many Mom, she said. Sarah knows my diet plan - taters are high in potassium which I must limit.

I know, Sarah, I said. I´m planning on having dialysis the day after I come home.

It was my choice whether or not we wanted dessert and basically the owner insisted so we got flan with a very crispy glacine crust that melted in your mouth. My friend Helene is famous for her flan. Wait´ll I tell her about this flan. First of all, the portion was huge. Sarah and I spooned it out together, she quitting first while I scraped up every last delicious bite.

Then our ramble around this hip and fancy part of town and its beautiful shops encased in ancient architecture. Beautiful high glass doors and windows that gave glimpses into specialty shops. Along one rather dark side street - it was now around 9 in the evening - did I tell you Spaniards stay out very very late? We stopped in an art gallery run by Prudenci Sanchez.

The artist sat in the back at his laptop amid a huge spread of catalogs. Sarah loved his jewelry and selected something for herself but he said it was too complicated to run her credit card. I was on the other end of the shop admiring his paintings so I didn´t hear the story. But I did hear them speaking Spanish together.

What a little tiger my daughter is. She doesn´t even know Spanish, yet she dares to speak it! On and on they talked. Barceloneans stand very close to you when they speak. I came over to them and asked Prudenci a question. I was so tongue-tied - it´s really quite difficult when you can´t speak the language - that my question came out in fractured French. ´vos oeuvres´I managed to say.

Ah, he said, noting he speaks French better than English. His works, he said, are sold in NY, San Francisco, and many other galleries. I asked how much my favorite painting of his was - a female nude - and he said 800E. Later I said to Sarah, that´s not bad, but she reminded me the euro is worth about 40 percent more than our dollar.

We took a cab home.

Aren´t you gonna tip him, I asked Sarah when very handsome hansom driver let us off at the hotel?

Sarah explained that the tipping system works differently in Europe. People earn more so they´re not so dependent on tips as Americans are.

Tomorrow is our last day in Barcelona. On Saturday we´ll board the ship. We keep the Do not disturb sign on our hotel door as our clothes are spread out all over the room. What a great and forceful shower we have in the bathroom. Nothing like a refreshing hot shower after you´ve been tramping around from morning till night.

We sat on a bench in the square outside the museum. It was around 9 o´clock. People were swarming around, a few babies in strollers, babies on the shoulders of their dads, not too many babies, but you notice them if you´re a woman, it´s in the genes, and I said something like, Gosh, Sarah, I can´t believe we´re in Barcelona, so far from home. But it doesn´t really feel far from home. It feels like it´s right next door.

We walked some more. Small shops are what you find. Some nothing more than a hole in the wall like the gelati shop we found with the revolving containers of flavor. We ordered a small one with two flavors - toffee and cream with chocolate chunks.

For the first gelati I ever tasted, this girl was swooning. Sarah and I shared it until we came to one of the very infrequent trash containers.

Mom, she said, you better throw it out. Your diet, you know.

Thanks, Sarah, I said spooning out a last rich and tasty cold bite. I was gonna do it in a bit but you´re right I´ll do it now, tossing the red cup filled halfway with gelati into the trash.

Greetings from Barcelona!

Here I am in the lobby of our hotel using the computer from the Hotel Balmes. Just had breakfast without Sarah since she´s fast asleep. Food is marvelous! Last nite we dined at Cata and had numerous tiny appetizers called tapas, the best being the duck foie de gras with carrot jam and a dark carmelized sauce.

Earlier we strolled on the huge promenade in Barcelona home to street theater, booths hawking everything from chickens and roosters, tiny ducklings you wanna pet, flower vendors, postcards on twirling stands. Oh I love my postcards but haven´t bought any yet.

Altho I can´t understand a word of Spanish you know what´s happnin thru universal body language. Amazing! While walking the promenade the largest crowd gathered around...a squatting man who was playing some sort of gambling game with people who were sure they could win.

Another crowd gathered around a fallen woman who was lying on her back staring at the sky. You knew right away she was okay - remember body language is all we know - because those surrounding her were relaxed and talking and laffing. They were preparing to load her on a stretcher and into an ambulance.

Today we´re gonna check out a lot of Gaudi buildings. This esteemed and unusual architect met his death from injuries suffered when he walked in front of a ´tram.´When the lite changes around here, it´s like the horserace let out of a gate. You hear this gigantic roar -the scooters - and you better run for your life.

Weather here is like in PA. First thing when I went on the computer this morning I checked the NY Times. Old habits never die. The Yankees won the World Series. There was also an outstanding article by Jane Brody about an important easy to do treatment for asthma. It´s the most emailed article.

The smartest purchase we made in Barcelona was a huge 6 liter gallon of water. Even the natives don´t drink from the tap. People are incredibly friendly here. It´s a city filled with electricity like New York except New Yorkers say nothing on the streets. Here people talk or laugh.

The plane ride over was less than 6 hours. We arrived an hour early. There was literally no turbulence. Sarah showed a movie on her laptop, a clever film I slept thru accidentally, I´m a great sleeper. I noticed that the men and women boarding our American Airlines plane our of JFK were unusually attractive and trim. Later we learned many of them participated in the NY City Marathon.

Here are some interesting symbols on these Spanish keyboard


I can´t find punctuation marks such as the colon.

¿¿¿¿¿¿ Oh, this is my favorite. It lets you know if the next sentence is a question. ¿Don´t you think we should use this in the States?

Okay time to say goodbye. Thanks for reading everyone. Have a great day wherever you are.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

SEPTA on strike but don't blame the strikers!

My boyfriend Scott works for SEPTA, the transit system for the city of Philadelphia and environs. He's a union member. The trains, known as regional rail, are still running b/c they're under Federal guidelines put in by the Truman administration.They're not allowed to strike.

We kissed goodbye this morning knowing we wouldn't see one another until Nov. 14, and then I began packing for my trip. I leave from JFK at 6:55 tonite. Dave's Best Limo will drive me there.

I'm upstairs trying on shorts and I hear Scott call: Hi, I'm home. SEPTA must've gone on strike. Here's the Times story.

Well, I said, at least they waited until the Phillies games were over.

But they didn't, he said. They struck at 3 a.m. SEPTA was just stalling until the World Series was over.

SEPTA, as insiders know, has notoriously poor management. It's a wonder the trains run at all. Union members like Scott have a lot to lose by striking, but also a lot to gain. On strike, they receive no pay and lose their health benefits. Most members are married and have families.

"If we don't strike," says Scott, "we'd be making crappy wages with no benefits if we didn't strike for our rights. This contract is about our underfunded pension and subcontracting. Subcontracting refers to an outside agency doing SEPTA's work which does not save money. It's a ploy."

Why then was management giving the impression that negotiations were in full force? The Philadelphia Inquirer indicated that a solution was being forged in the Philly office of Gov. Rendell.

I laughed when I read this. "You never get the truth from a newspaper," said Scott.

"Every strike is to make union members look like the bad guys," said Scott. "It makes us look like greedy MF'rs willing to strike at the drop of a hat."

Scott will drive into town today to do his strike duty. We certainly hope the strike is settled soon. They've been working w/o a contract since March. This is how management works, taking it down to the wire.

Of course there's two sides to every story. As a journalist I know that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The eve of departure / Poem: Autumn Reverie

Fellow blogger Stephen Weinstein just commented on my previous blog: There is a very interesting book that concerns God and Hitler. It was written by an African American who is Jewish named Julius Lester. The title of the book is “The Autobiography of God.”

Jews have a proud tradition of questioning God. The precedent was set in the Book of Job. I'm definitely gonna read the book. Amazon readers gave it a great review. Great, now they'll say Ruthie, do WE have a good book for you. And they'll send me all their religious books. Spare me!

I rarely buy books. I'm a borrower. I like the soft pages of library books. Hundreds of eyes have pored over the words before mine. We are a fellowship of readers.

Ever heard of Rick Steves? He's the PBS travel author who takes the viewer on dreamy trips overseas. Turns out this guy this is a wonderful person, deeply religious, and a supporter of marijuana reform. Me too! Pass the reefer. I smoked enough in my 20s to last a lifetime and hey it wasn't a gateway into heroin, tho I did write a terrific poem about my one and only chance to try heroin. I was sitting on a friend's patio watching the ducks swim by her backyard creek while her boyfriend was up in the bathroom shooting heroin - or heron, as the black folks say - and I asked if I could have some.

He'll never let you, she said.

Oh, but he will, I said and ran upstairs and knocked on the door.

Come back in ten minutes, he said.

I guess he wanted to finish.

I went back down to the creek and watched the ducks swim by. I never budged.

So much for Nirvana.

Well, nirvana for me is looking at the beautiful scenery esp. the autumn leaves. My friend Marce who traveled from Philly all the way to California to live was the lucky winner of: Who wants to hear Ruthie's next poem and pretend they like it. Thanks, Marce, for saying it's pretty.

I wanted something more effusive.

Lemme call Carolyn and see what she says. Hold on a sec.

She really dug it. Said that my lone maple must be a Norway maple cuz they're the last to lose their green color. Once I had three of them in my backyard but like the Amazon forest I had the other two cut down so I could look for oil and buried treasure underneath.


at dusk
I come to the window
to think my thoughts
and watch for deer

it is a small backyard
with a lone maple tree
her leaves
not a one of them gold like the neighbors
have yet to tremble and fall
in deference perhaps to me
and my need for security
my need for warmth

a good wind came along yesterday
and further back in the little woods that divides me
from what I pretend are the mountains of Galatia
the leaves fled like tears
from the dogwood
I cried inside

down on the driveway
the patterns of leaves
stuck like many pointed stars
to the drive
I watched for random patterns
trying to figure out from them
the order that surely exists
in this universe
but failed

the red car parked across the street
for too many days
is unrecognizable today
covered as it is in many-fingered leaves
that hid the shape of the car and led this believer
to think it was a spaceship sent by god to remind
his erring nonattention-paying children
of the beauty of the day
ever fleeing
ever fled.

Preparing for my Great Escape

Back to reality, said this morning's DJ with a sigh, after talking about attending a Pearl Jam concert.

I was standing up in the kitchen eating my b'fast and gazing out the window at the white fence and the autumn leaves, all of which will shake themselves loose and carpet the ground.

Everything moves!

The back-to-reality comment made me think. How mankind loves escapes. Since time began. Just sitting around the fire in the Caves recounting our adventures hunting the wooly mammoth was an escape into the past. Our brains had to grow to accommodate our love of story. Yes, let's mate w/people with storytelling gifts and raise them up on the scale of evolution. And, hey, those chicks that can fix us a quick wooly stew, let's preserve those traits too.

I held an Open House yesterday to show off my new windows. Mom and Ellen came. Neither my mother or sister had been to my house in a couple years. They live 10 minutes away. My living room was in disarray from the installation of 3 new windows in the living room so I had to rearrange it. I cleaned off the beautiful filthy window sill with a solution I got off the Internet and which I highly recommend: two parts ammonia, one part water.

I left the door open while I cleaned so the powerful ammonia wouldn't burn my lungs. This is how they killed Jews at concentration camps.

A quick aside. Actually, I'll leave it till the end of the blog.

I ran outside and cut some hydrangeas that still contained color and filled up two gift vases with these puffy verdant fleurs. I can actually notice the slight difference in the happiness portion of my brain when I look at my b'ful windowsill with these flowers and also when I look outside at the colorful autumn leaves. The brain begins to sing.

Sitting with mom at the kitchen table I looked at this remarkable 87-yo woman and felt so happy she'd come to visit. Later I said to Scott this was the best visit ever with my mom.

How come? he asked.

She didn't criticize me, I said.

Mom held onto my railing as she ascended the stairs to look at the upstairs windows. The house is virtually draft-free now. I keep the heat at a ridiculous 72 degrees b/c I like to be warm. I sip hot water when I type to warm my bones.

Walked mom out to the car. She held onto my hand. I never held hands with her before. She has tiny soft hands. I saw her into the car that Ellen drives and kissed her on her cheek. Again, very very soft. For me, it's a big deal to kiss my mother.

She said while she was growing up in Cleveland her family were known as "the cold Greenwalds." (She married a man named GreenWOLD.)

No more. The matriarch of this 'cold family' birthed children who birthed more children and warmth, hugs and kisses now reign supreme.

Okay, back to Hitler. I was having a fantasy that Hitler met the Almighty God. Hitler is standing there with his cap in his hand. He is bathed in light. You can't actually see God as he is total energy and comes across as a glistening beam of light. He wants to make Hitler understand the enormity of Hitler's evil. So he causes a great shock wave thru Hitler's body, but just for a second, b/c God is merciful. Then he allows Hitler to experience Life thru the eyes of an innocent, but just for a second.

Hitler is aghast and begins to grasp what he has done.

God speaks: All life is spirit. It's matter that cannot be created nor destroyed. Since your spirit is so black you must be pulverized into an infinitude of pieces. These pieces of darkness shall reign on the earth and in the heavens, scattered like noxious gas throughout Creation.

And so it was accomplished. Where there is evil - and look around you, listen to the news - there is your Hitler.

But then there are always people like Raoul Wallenberg.

This all reminds me of Milton's Paradise Lost.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Real Tragedy of Stalin's Deadly Rule (1922-53)

I must've been in my 20s when I first heard the famous Fifth Symphony of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. This disturbing and dramatic piece was the subject of a PBS show last nite which attempted to decipher the hidden meaning of this long lugubrious piece - with its clangs of discordant discontent - written during Stalin's reign of terror. Listen to a few bars here.

Under the paranoid Stalin, artistic freedom did not exist. All works of art whether painting or poetry or music were severely scrutinized and if found to be at cross purposes to the Revolution, the artist was either chastised or imprisoned or sent to the Gulag or executed. We here in America cannot fathom what it was like to live under such extreme repression.

While watching the show and sighing about the terrible injustices, I thought to myself, No one ever told Stalin off. His power was so supreme that no man or woman could ever corner him, sit him down and tell him what he was doing to his great nation. The human being has an innate sense of justice and very deeply wishes wrongdoers to be charged with their crimes.

Stalin never was. He died a natural death at age 74. What a tragedy.

Hitler, at least, knew he was a failure. It tormented him. He felt despair. Everything he worked for was destroyed. Hitler knew this and it shook him up. Was he in his own private agony? No matter. He put a gun to his head. He picked up a cold revolver, put it to his head and blew his brains out.

The Russians have the skull fragments today.

But Stalin got away scot-free. He had loved his mother. He had once been a little boy. Soso was his nickname. How he loved his mother. What a beautiful relationship they had. True. But his father was a brutal alcoholic. Soso was as wily as Ulysses in escaping from his father tho perhaps he turned into him later on.

Were there no assassination plots against him? Was there no other way to stop this madman from killing his own people other than waiting for him to die?

Dmitri Shostakovich escaped the censors - and remarkably the clever and cultured Stalin himself - with his Fifth Symphony. His feelings for the Russian Revolution are revealed in his music. Close your eyes and listen. Let the images of Russia roll thru your mind.