Bye bye, Books!

18 Jun

As many of “my readers” already know, we have finally accepted the fact that financial exigencies require us to sell our beautiful, wonderful Pasadena bungalow, and move to a less exorbitantly expensive location. And so the Great Divesting process begins! Our greatest accumulation, after 40+ years of academic life, has been, of course, BOOKS. I think when we moved to Australia in 1990, we had 70+ boxes of books to ship; I distinctly remember that one of our moves in Canberra involved 95 boxes, and a vow on the part of friends who were helping us move that they would never volunteer to help us again! When we returned to the States in 2003–and had to pay for the transport ourselves–that number had been somewhat whittled down, but still totalled about 80+ moving-size boxes. We have since then had bookcases in every room of the house (including the bathrooms and the porch!). all of them packed to the gills with volumes. A lot of these were ones we had had since we were undergraduates, and many had very nostalgic stories connected to them. But to be honest, we had not read nor even looked through many of them for years; they were often just talismans for humanists like us. We are not talking about fiction–most of our current reading needs for mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy novels have been provided by the library or items we have been given or found in one of the many Little Free Libraries around town. Most of these volumes on our shelves served us in our scholarly pursuits, and for me, for writing books myself.

We already knew that there was little market anymore for hard copies of books. I had a few years ago begun to sell books online, and found it a frustrating and tedious process. So when we confronted all these shelves and shelves, we knew we would be lucky if we found anyone to pay us much for what was the necessary accumulation of intellectual efforts over four decades. In the end, we found them!

Well, sort of. The photos above show what happened to the books for which we received $1,000. I don’t even want to calculate the percentage of the real value this haul may generate. I really shouldn’t have looked at the way the books went from intellectual tools to heaps of “product” dumped into bins, where they will then be sorted at a huge warehouse, run by a man whose father was an old “book scout”, in the days when this was a real occupation. The son is more of a businessman, who handles volumes on an industrial scale at a huge warehouse out in the Simi Valley. (A few other volumes were sold, at a better price to The Last Bookstore in downtown LA).

So now we are surrounded by empty bookshelves! Surprisingly, I don’t yet have any emotional reaction to this loss–I was more affected when I tossed two file cabinets’ worth of research files, the source of at least three books and several articles. That upset me, more for the wasting of all that paper than anything else. We have kept at least 20 boxes of our most beloved volumes, so it’s not as if we are completely bereft of books now. And I’m sure that we will start accumulating more, as soon as we move to wherever we are going to end up.

The cats, on the other hand, are totally confused by all this upheaval. Zuma is making the best of it, sleeping in empty boxes. But Kolo is just hiding, then meowing his head off.

Moving and Many Houses

25 May

Now that we have finally faced the inevitable, the financial realities that require us to leave our Pasadena home and move to God knows where, I counted up the number of houses I have occupied in my peripatetic life. I have lived in 35 homes since I was born, 20 of them since we were married. This does not even account for vacation stays or temporary summer housing while in school. We really did live the life of “gypsy scholars”, as I labelled us. Most of these accommodations were the result of looking for jobs in increasingly meager markets for penniless academics, and most of them rentals. We were never able to buy a house until I had my first real teaching job in Wisconsin, and then only after we received a tiny inheritance when my mother died, so we could afford the down payment in the very moderate housing market of Appleton. When we moved to Australia, we were in rentals but had to move frequently because the owners decided to sell or the property was going to be demolished for other developments. I now feel tremendous guilt that our son had such a turbulent upbringing, with moves every 3 years or so. In every one of these rentals, we planted gardens and new landscaping, only to see our efforts annihilated when forced to move. We finally were able to buy a house in Queanbeyan, NSW, only to have to move back to the States 18 months later.

This house in Pasadena was and is our perfect house; we’ve been here now longer than any place either of us have lived, now going on 19 years. I could hardly believe it when we were able to buy a real, genuine California bungalow! We were able to buy it in 2004, when the banks were just giving money away. Unfortunately, they were also giving away equity lines of credit, which we maxed out on necessary expenses (like central A/C!), thus ending up with a mortgage debt that once we retired has become burdensome. We are now spending more than half our monthly income on the mortgage. And so, after years of resisting, we are now resigned to the fact that we have to find a cheaper place to live. Since we now have a considerable equity amount in the house–SoCal prices are insane!–we are hoping we can sell and make enough to find a place to buy outright, or at least have a loan for such a minimal amount that we don’t have to withdraw all of our retirement funds to meet our monthly needs. At our age, we just want the security of having a place that is our own, that we are free of worry about foreclosures or whatever. The problem now is finding that place in a state or region that we like. We want to stay in California if at all possible, although that’s becoming increasingly difficult. All coastal places are out, and the Central Valley is just too polluted and too conservative to appeal. We are hoping that Chico will work for us.

I am doing my best now to get my head around the complexities of selling a house, dealing with the problem of two 16-year-old cats, and finding another comfortable place to spend our “golden years”(!)

Wish us luck, everyone!

Denver & the kiddos

28 Apr

Well, the young Hamburg family that we were supposed to do a house exchange with but backed out of is happily ensconced in our Pasadena house until the middle of May. So here we are in Denver, having found very nice Home Exchange accommodations in Highlands, the trendiest (and doggiest!) suburb I’ve ever lived in. This neighborhood is filled with homes dating from the 1880s through the 1920s, and now, as the hottest area in one of the hottest markets in the country, is acquiring lots of newly renovated houses and apartment complexes. When I last lived in Denver, in the late 60s and early 70s, this part of town–which was originally founded as a separate community–was a better-than-average middle class neighborhood, brick houses with alleyways and one- or two-block clusters of small shops every few streets. Now, with the enormous influx of young families and hipster professionals interested in an outdoor life style close to the mountains and famous ski resorts, the housing market has boomed, leading to insane real estate prices. Median housing costs in Highlands run to the $800,000s and beyond. As far as our hope of finding affordable housing in Colorado, it does appear rather unlikely. Scratch another place off the list.

Our kids would love to live in Highlands, but know that it is already out of their price range. They were able to get a comfortable house in nearby Lakewood, about 10 miles to the south of here; they just got into a nice neighborhood about 6 years ago before the most astonishing explosion of real estate prices . Their house is big, and they have a great yard for the kids. On Easter Sunday, they had a wonderful Easter Egg Hunt for their friends with kids–about 15 children, along with their adults. The fathers went out and hid the eggs (a mixture of hard-boiled dyed ones and plastic eggs filled with sweets and some as cascarones). The littlest kids were given a head start to search, while the older ones chomped at the bit to get out there to ransack every nook and cranny of the yard. It was really a lovely morning, if chaotic–a fun-filled chaos!

We have now been able to visit with every person we know in Colorado (except George’s brother, who he will visit next week): old friends that we have known for 40 years or more, plus a few newer friends. And without masks! And with hugs! This is the first time in two years that we have been so social. Masks seem to be optional in Colorado now, and since all of our friends, including the children from 5+, have been vaccinated and in most cases boostered as well, we feel pretty safe being friendly again.

The pictures above show us being grandparents: I’m showing Lyle images of St. George and the dragon–he’s obsessed with dragons right now, and on St. George’s Day (April 23), I realized I could get in an art history lesson via dragon images. Lyle was riveted. The image of George & Lyle shows Baba (the kids’ name for him) putting together the race track for a battery-operated car; the plastic parts were nearly impossible to assemble without a lot of grunt power. The kiddos squealed in delight when it was operational! Boys and fast cars!

The race track was a big hit!

Also pictured above: the boys in their dragon shirts waiting for their friends to arrive on Easter Sunday; me with an otter sculpture found in Loveland’s Benson Sculpture Park; and the front of the lovely house where we’re staying in Highlands. We really do like Colorado! The weather is more changeable than I remember–we’ve gone from 80F & intense sunshine to freezing temps and dark clouds & high winds in a 24-hour period. I really think that I was oblivious to such things as weather when I was younger, although old-timers tell us that these dangerous winds are a relatively new phenomenon.

Finally, no blog entry would be complete without a cat image, so here is the inestimable Freddy, the family’s absolutely enormous kitty. He came with them from North Carolina as a tiny kitten, and has grown to be the biggest, most laid back cat I know. I adore Freddy!

The majestic Freddy

Oakhurst and surrounds 2022

12 Apr

In order to explain how and why we’re here in my sister’s house in Oakhurst, California (about 20 miles from the South Entrance to Yosemite), I need to give a little background information. We have in the past been members of Home Exchange, a great organization that allows you to exchange houses with others wanting to visit elsewhere. We have used it several times, staying in someone else’s house for free in Austin and San Francisco and Vienna; people from San Francisco and Florida and Washington D.C. have stayed at our place. The exchanges don’t even have to be reciprocal, i.e., a mutual exchange at the same time; you can use accumulated Guest Points to stay anywhere that exchanges are available. Last summer, we received a request from a young couple in Hamburg, Germany, asking if we would like to do a reciprocal exchange. The woman is American, married to a German, and they had just had a baby; since Germany gives new parents 13 months (!) of maternity leave–that’s right, thirteen MONTHS!–they wanted to come to California to spend time with her mother. But they needed someone to take care of their cats, so proposed a mutual exchange of accommodation. At the time, the offer was very tempting, so we said yes, we would be up for such an arrangement, if my August knee replacement surgery went well. The family were ecstatic that we would agree, since she had gone to Occidental College and remembered Pasadena fondly. Since Hamburg is the one major German city I had never been to, we thought this would be a nice way to get back to Europe and visit parts of the northern cities we had never seen.

While knee surgery went fine and we thought we were ready for such a trip, by December and in to January, Covid cases were surging in Germany, and we were having doubts about the idea of being in Europe–and in a less than salubriously warm part of Europe at that. So we backed out of our side of the exchange. I felt so guilty about leaving the Hamburg family in the lurch that I said they could come stay at our house for 6 weeks (and use our car, too!). (They found other friends to take care of their cats.) They arrived last week, and we came up here to my sister’s place, to take care of her cats while she and husband are happily puttering around their new second home down on the Central Coast near Morro Bay. In a few days, we will fly to Denver, where we have used up all of our Home Exchange guest points to stay at someone else’s house for a month while they are in Europe! So it all worked out well! We’ll be able to see the kiddos, but will have our own place to stay, so we’re not underfoot 24/7 at their house.

And now about Oakhurst: my sister has lived here for more than 40 years now. When she first came here, and when we first started visiting, the town was really a poky mountain village, where everybody knew everybody, businesses were mostly small, and it was just starting to show signs of tourist development. She and her husband ran a very successful nursery and garden business until retiring a few years ago. Being so close to Yosemite, it was inevitable that the businesses to support the steady stream of tourists heading to the South Entrance and the Giant Trees would change the town along Highway 41 into a bit of a strip city of motels, fast food franchises, and a few supermarkets to service tourist busses and locals alike. But there are still lovely areas off of the highway, and my sister’s place is one of them: on the Fresno River, with lots of trees (despite die-off of many, caused by drought and bug infestation), with wildlife in abundance.

As many of our friends know, we are still desperately trying to resolve our housing dilemma. We love our house and life in Pasadena, but increasingly realize that we cannot afford our mortgage–we are routinely spending more than we are bringing in as income, all of which is the result of mortgage payments, so we are rapidly eating into retirement funds. At the same time, the outrageous cost of housing in California means that by selling we would make enough to solve our financial quandary. But then the question arises: where else would we go? We have been wrestling with this problem for years now, and are soon coming to a critical juncture. For a lot of reasons–weather, politics, friends–we really don’t want to leave California if it is at all possible to stay. So it’s logical to ask why we wouldn’t consider Oakhurst as a desirable spot, since we already know the area, the housing prices are not as astronomical as they are elsewhere in the state, and there are enough like-minded people here to offset the strong redneck presence in town.

So here are the reasons that we are hesitant to move to Oakhurst or surrounding towns. First and foremost are two important points: lack of healthcare facilities and the ever-present threat of fires. When we stayed here for several months the year before the pandemic hit, we experienced first hand what a lack of healthcare means. George had a problem with his eyes, which worried him terribly and also made it impossible for him to drive down to Fresno, an hour away. Having no urgent care or hospital, he ended up going to a doctor here and being referred to another doctor in another small town about 40 minutes away. When we tried to have our insurance pay for these visits, the claim was denied because he hadn’t gone to urgent care first! When we told the administration we were somewhere that had no urgent care, and after much wrangling, they finally agreed to the claim. While this has a lot to do with America’s dysfunctional healthcare systems, it also highlights the problems for retirees like us if they live in rural or isolated communities. Oakhurst does now have an urgent care facility, but people are still required for most medical visits to go down to Fresno. This also applies to most everything else that people need: there is no place in Oakhurst now to buy clothes, linens, most household goods, since everyone goes to malls in Fresno instead. The era of local shops is gone.

The other problem is that Oakhurst sits right in the midst of a major forest fire region. The fires last year were so bad that the air quality caused many people to leave, some temporarily but some for good. There is no guarantee that these kinds of fires, even if just smoke pollution, will not continue to plague the area, as fires become ever more a part of the climate of the West.

There are other reasons having to do with culture–museums, performances, and the like–and inconveniences of mountain living, but we recognize that those may not be valid concerns as we age and have to accept our financial limitations. We have taken this opportunity while here, however, to continue our quest to find a place to live where we can afford the housing. On that quest, we thought we would check out some of the Valley towns. We drove through the charming little town of Mariposa, down to Merced. Knowing that a new University of California campus had opened there about 20 years ago, we thought perhaps its presence in town would have enhanced the community’s cultural offerings.

By sheer luck, we found the campus:

Still sitting far removed from the center of town, the campus is completely isolated, surrounded by the remnants of old fruit orchards and a few farm houses. We were amazed that there were no shops, bars, cafes, or university-related businesses anywhere near the campus. Its construction at the time was seen to address the needs of underserved students from the Valley communities–low income, first generation university students. Unfortunately, the university opened at a less than auspicious time. First of all, the high-speed train project that was meant to service the campus and the region was stalled; then the recession hit in 2008; and finally, the pandemic was disastrous to the momentum of building up a new institution’s reputation. Going into town, we found the same dismal situation that has affected all these once thriving agricultural hubs: a nearly dead downtown area, depleted housing stock, and mediocre restaurants and other businesses. Again, not an inviting or attractive option for retirement.

So we continue our search for housing and community, and in the meantime, we enjoy our mountain community respite. Hawks and rivers in a glorious springtime environment do feed the soul, even with dramatic swings in temperature: we arrived here in 90 degree heat, but today it’s raining and will get below freezing tonight….

And of course, there are cats:

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A Boomer’s ruminations

25 Mar

[Note from Erika: Prompted by our son’s critical remarks about Boomers, my husband George has spent a week or so ruminating on our generation’s triumphs and failings. As he says below, this is a good thing to consider at this point in our lives, and at this stage of world history. Take it away, George! ]

No generation is comfortable when called to account by a subsequent one.  The call prompts a sting of guilt and disappointment and a wariness about collective guilt.  To account, nonetheless, should be a positive act of self-knowledge and historical description.

Each generation has its own failures.  The post WWII population boom, aka by younger generations as the Boomers, started well, particularly for those of us who were politically active.  Coming into our 20s in the late 1960s, we were first shepherded by the people about 10 years older than us to demand civil rights and racial equality.  This effort led to a related call for women’s reproductive rights and workplace equality.  Simultaneously, a vocal opposition arose to protest against a nonsensical, imperialistic war in Vietnam and conscription to fight in that war.  Finally, an ecological movement began in earnest, originating in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and groups such as the Sierra Club’s activism in the mid- 1960s.  One cannot underestimate the impact of The Whole Earth Catalog, the ZPG (Zero Population Growth) movement, and those living in committed communes.

Response by the state and corporations was direct and effective.  Our leaders and spokespersons were assassinated; JFK had been killed in 1963, when we were still quite young, but in retrospect signaled the end of an era of confidence in the American Way.  Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both murdered in that astonishing year of 1968.  The supposed peaceful gathering at Woodstock in the summer of 1969 was a blip; our disasters continued with the Altamont concert’s violence in 1969 and drug overdoses by Joplin, Hendrix, and Morrison in 1970 and 1971.

We were totally unprepared for the resounding 1972 defeat of George McGovern and the re-election of Richard Nixon (37% to 61% of the popular vote).  Worse than the lopsided result, those of our generation who had been involved in the campaign were shaken by the recognition that “Everyone I know voted for McGovern.” American society had rejected our world view.  We, or at least that fragment of our generation who were politically involved, took the defeat personally. 

Much to the frustration of a dwindling number of remaining activists, we ceded our influence on the national scene.  Under a thunder of vehement criticisms, we abandoned big-issue activism and focussed our campaign on our personal lives.  The roots of this withdrawal were well established: return to the land, communes, small is beautiful, gender separatism, be straight and infiltrate, and in many cases, seeking serenity or a cause under the greedy wings of opportunistic gurus or faith healers.  The end of the Vietnam War and conscription a couple of years later facilitated this withdrawal.  Our ethics were attuned to our nascent families and, where possible, our careers.  There had been fewer of us to begin with than we had initially believed.  By the 1980s we had retreated to SLN, Prairie Home Companion, and Sesame Street.

It’s worth a note that our entire generation lost financial footing as well.   Our grandparents could save enough to buy their homes.  Our parents’ wages could pay off home loans and buy new cars.  We already had burdensome college loans.  Outside of the rapidly dwindling manufacturing line jobs or interstate trucking, the unions were closed to us.  Service workers gave no complaint when cheap imported goods became available.  A 1971 Toyota Corolla cost $1,200, a Ford Pinto $2,000.  Having become elitist, the unions also became inconsequential; then the most effective unions were obliterated once Reagan and neoliberals got into power.

So, we young folk of the 60s did good things but failed in two key areas.  We should have spent less time on hedonism (a political issue, believe it or not), and much more time speaking with others who would not have voted for McGovern. Having lost the national agenda, we should have changed focus immediately to concentrate on the most modest of local governance: library boards, friends of the botanic garden and local history museum, weekly city council meetings.  With polite, informed comments concentrating exclusively on the issue at hand, we could have had our families and professions while continuing to be politically involved.  On this level, a few engaged people could have had an effect, and perhaps have solidified some sense of the common weal.

Our generation, the Boomers, and their largely societal activism were a spent force 50 years ago.  Having set an agenda, we succeeded with none of its major points.  Prejudice against Blacks and other brown people continues. If you are thoroughly middle class and educated, you can pass regardless of color, especially in corporate settings and buying in to that world view.  The Equal Rights Amendment languishes and women’s bodies are still encumbered by waves of political manipulation.  But women can now get credit cards, bank accounts, and major loans in their own names and have some leverage in the workplace, a real advance made possible by Boomers’ efforts.   The military-industrial complex is alive and well, having moved the war 5,000 miles northwest, trading Communism for Islam as “the enemy.”  Conscription is, for the moment anyway, a thing of the past.  Ecologically, the news is dire.  If we don’t quit burning things and switch to solar power very soon, our world will change irrevocably.    Let’s not pretend that fusion is just around the corner.

On this last topic, the Millennials face a far more serious issue than the Boomers did.  They must stop the corporate class from burning coal and petroleum. The survival of civilization is at stake.  The necessary actions are well-known:  replace subsidies of coal and petroleum with exceedingly high taxes, massively increase subsidies for solar and, if necessary, nuclear-generated electricity.  Faced with the depletion of the ozone layer or the extinction of bird species, we must continue to fight to stop the production and use of the causative agents.  Disgusted by apartheid, we did force the divestment of South African holdings.  It is possible to act and to make a difference, but be prepared for an aggressive, dishonest, and possibly violent response from the people who are going to lose financially, as well as those who have been brainwashed into thinking that progressive thinkers are the enemy.

And to the younger generations:  we of the so-called Boomer generation did make some real progress, but in the end, we were, on so many fronts, defeated. We do wish that we had left you a better world in which you can continue the fight.

An anniversary note

17 Mar
George & me at Daikokuya Ramen in LA, 2018

WHERE DID I FIND THIS GUY?

We met 51 years ago, over morning coffee before a cataloging class in library school in Denver. We got hitched in Logan, Utah, on this day in 1974. George was at the time the Director of the Public Library there, and the highest ranking non-Mormon in the entire county. I had flown secretly to Logan from Germany, where I was on my Fulbright year; it was my spring break from the Technische Hochschule Darmstadt, but we weren’t supposed to fly back to the States, so I had to be surreptitious about it. Even my family didn’t know I had flown back, and thought that we got married in July, until I eventually fessed up to the true details some time later. The flights both ways were eventful; this was the year of the great oil embargo, so I almost got stuck in New York flying in, then going back to Germany was done in short hops Logan-Salt Lake City, SLC-New York, NYC-London, London-Frankfurt. We chose this day because being St. Pat’s Day, we thought we would remember the date! And so we have, these 48 years later! You are my heart, George! Happy Anniversary! ❤❤❤

Maydee

12 Mar
Maydee at 2, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1928

My mother Maydee Rahm Scheunemann Esau died on February 26, 1988, of breast cancer. She had been fighting the disease for more than a decade. She was only 61 when she died, and she had fought so hard to stay alive. This picture helps me remember that she had been a sweet child at one time; my girl cousins look a lot like her, and my sister Christa is the one of us who takes after her most closely. It took me many years to reconcile myself to the fact that she did the best she could, that she had been through so much and had no one to help her overcome her own demons. She just wanted so badly to be loved, and had no idea how to express her love for us. I am happy that she lived long enough to see both of her grandsons–boys were something new for her! I am now grateful for all she did for me.

My mother and I in Portland, Oregon, 1974

My memories of Russia and oil

28 Feb

In my peripatetic life, I have memories of only two incidents involving Russia when it was the Soviet Union, and both of these involved (if indirectly) the great Mammon that is oil:

In 1969-70, I spent a glorious, life-changing year in Vienna as a participant in my college’s Junior Year Abroad program. I lived with a family that had close relatives in Prague, so visited this fascinating Czech city several times. My first visit was just before Christmas in 1969. This was still the era of the Iron Curtain, and only a year since the 1968 invasion of Prague by Soviet troops, clamping down on Alexander Dubček’s attempts to reform the Communist regime running the country. The situation was still tense, and conditions in the country were still bleak enough that I carried not only money for relatives, but also products that the Czechs had trouble acquiring; the family’s daughter in law, for example, was having a baby, and there were no safety pins or diapers to be had in the entire city. Naive and young as I was, I was nonetheless nervous crossing the border on the train. The border guards, however, even knowing that I was carrying such things (not the money, which I hid), examined everything but let me through without any questions. They were most interested in my copy of Time magazine, which I unwittingly had been reading. One of the Czech guards even showed me his Nixon pin!

The family were more than welcoming, and went out of their way to entertain me. Herr Rydel spoke perfect German, and his wife spoke some, too; their grown children did not. I stood in endless lines with Frau Rydel to find meat, and then in another line to find good vegetables for a celebratory meal. She pointed out to me the bullet holes still evident in the statues and buildings where the invasion had taken place, and commented pointedly about the arrogant overlords occupying their country. There was hardly anything to buy in the shops with the Czech money I was required to exchange; I ended up spending it all on beautiful Czech stamps. But the most direct evidence of Russian oppression, in this extremely frigid season, was in the Rydel apartment, where the heating came on intermittently and sporadically throughout the day and evening. Herr Rydel explained to me that the “authorities” had been punishing the Czechs with electrical and heating outages ever since the “hockey riots” in the spring of that year, when the Czechs had beaten the Russians in the World Ice Hockey Championships and the entire country came out to celebrate Russia’s defeat and to protest at the same time. This had been going on all autumn and winter, he said.

Sure enough, here’s what Wikipedia tells me about this event:

“The Czechoslovak Hockey Riots were a short lived series of protests, mildly violent on occasion (several people were injured), that took place in response to the 1969 World Ice Hockey Championships.

After the Soviet invasion into Czechoslovakia the political ideals of the Prague Spring were slowly but steadily replaced by politics of accommodation to the demands of the Soviet Union. People in Czechoslovakia, unable to find other ways to express their opinion, reacted with few very visible but ultimately ineffective manifestations of disagreement.

On March 21 and 28, 1969, the Czechoslovakia national ice hockey team beat the Soviet team in the 1969 World Ice Hockey Championships in Stockholm. Throughout Czechoslovakia, possibly 500,000 fans crowded the streets of their cities to celebrate the wins. In some places, particularly Prague, the celebrations turned to protests against the Soviet military who continued to occupy the country after the Warsaw Pact invasion the previous August. The first night the celebrating fans vocally started showing their displeasure with the military oversight cheering and chanting “No tanks were there so they lost!”.[2] The next night many of the protesters had brought signs they created showing the score of the second game (4-3), and chants stating “Czechoslovakia 4 – Occupation forces 3!”. While the majority of these demonstrations were peaceful, some turned violent as protesters attacked Soviet military units. In Prague, protesters ransacked the Soviet Aeroflot office on the Wenceslas Square, though some have suggested they were encouraged by State Security agents.

The protests were suppressed by the Czechoslovak military and police, now under full control of the hardliners from the Communist Party. The events were used as a pretext to oust the remaining leaders of the Prague Spring. Among them, Alexander Dubček was forced to resign as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, to be replaced by Gustáv Husák who started the politics of “normalisation“.”

I was so struck by the Czechs’ perseverance, their dark sense of humor, and disdainful attitude to their plight. It made me understand how they were able, years later, to have their so-called “Velvet Revolution.” And in the midst of these freezing temperatures on the night before Christmas Eve, 1969, the Rydel family took me to one of the most moving performances I have ever experienced. We trudged through deep snow to the Michaelskirche, Kostel sv. Michal, to join a very well-bundled crowd, most of them from East Germany, to hear a performance of the Czech folk mass, the Česká mše vánoční (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czech_Christmas_Mass). No cold weather was going to deter the Czechs from their traditions nor were the Russians going to impede on living their every day lives. The next day, Christmas Eve, hoping to get back to Vienna in time for that evening’s festivities, I boarded the train that was supposed to get me there by that evening. Instead, the authorities, knowing that most of those on board wanted to be back in the West that day, delayed the train’s departure by ten hours. I spent Christmas Eve in a train compartment, in freezing temperatures, with an Austrian businessman who had hoped to get home to his family, too. We shared our meager supplies as our Christmas Eve meal, and said good-bye in the Westbahnhof on Christmas morning, where my Viennese family greeted me.

On to 1974:

I was lucky enough to have had a Fulbright to Germany for the year 1973-74. I was sent to Darmstadt, but had to spend much of the time at various libraries and museums in Berlin, so got to know that Prussian city fairly well. This was the year of the first big oil crisis, which had caused major disruptions across the globe. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis). In Germany, we had “autofrei Sontage,” car-free Sundays, when no one but emergency services could drive, and we took walks on the Autobahn and through completely quiet streets. It was quite heavenly, actually. Homesick and in love, in March I flew back to the States to see George, then in Utah, and almost got stuck in New York because of the severe gas shortages. Things started to ease by the spring of 1974, but it was the beginning of recognition of our severe dependence on foreign oil, as well as the beginning of inflationary rises that continue to this day.

So how does this relate to Russia and oil? The postcard above, sent to George when I was in Berlin in May, will explain, if it’s at all legible. After a morning in the library, I was sitting in the most delightful, now-defunct, canary-populated cafe in the Berlin Museum, housed in a beautiful 18th-century villa that is now part of the city’s Jewish Museum. I was drinking a Weiss-Bier, Berlin’s famed light beer with raspberry syrup, when 3 boisterous Russian businessmen, already a bit in their cups, came into the cafe. After some cheerful banter at their table, they spotted me, and invited me to join them–or, more accurately, they came and joined me. They were celebrating, they told me, because they had, as my postcard outlines, just sold 4 tankers of Russian oil to the Americans. They were so proud of themselves, and found it hilarious that in the wake of the traumas caused by the Arabs’ oil embargo, they had pulled off this great coup. I have no idea if this was the first of the American purchases of Russian oil, but it sure made these guys deliriously happy! I don’t now remember how I extricated myself from their largesse, but I think they were going on to even more boisterous surroundings and greater lubrication. I do remember thinking that the card I sent to George, with Vermeer’s rendering of a flirtation, captured the mood of the day perfectly.

These memories come back to me as we face this most recent and most terrifying of crises involving the Russians–and, it would seem, the economics of oil plays a part as well. Now is the time, I hope, that we will all push very hard to promote alternative energy sources, something we should have been promoting way back in 1974.

Memorable Meals, Part III: Australia!

12 Feb

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So in 1990, freezing to death in Wisconsin and seeking escape to warmer climes, I applied for a position at the Australian National University in Canberra, the nation’s capital. I still remember the day I got the phone call to come for an interview. It was a particularly snowy and cold January day in Appleton. I was working on an exhibition of the college’s Sepik art collection–objects from Papua New Guinea which had incongruously ended up in the Art Department of Lawrence University. I had trudged my way home through huge snow banks, the boys had taken sleds out to the park. The phone rang, and a voice began, “this is the Australian National….” and I panicked. I was very worried that the Sepik objects I was dealing with may have been national treasures illegally removed from the country; since Australia still had some authority over Papua New Guinea, I feared this was some governmental agency calling to tell me I was under arrest! Thankfully, that was not the case: the voice went on to tell me that the Australian National University wanted me to come to Canberra for an interview, all expenses paid. I thought that even if I didn’t get the job, I had a free trip to the Land Down Under. I was so excited, I put on all my winter gear again, and went trudging down the street to the sledding hill, yelling to the boys “I’m going to Australia!”

I got the job. So our greatest adventure began. 15 years later, I could happily write in my big book about Australia: “My family and I were successful transplants. We took up Australian citizenship as soon as it was allowed. We learned all the verses to “Advance, Australia Fair” and we followed every incident in cricket and three different football codes, none of them gridiron (as Australians refer to American football). We revelled in the magnificent birdlife and the beautiful beaches. After a few years in Canberra, I was commissioned to write, along with my husband, the Blue Guide Australia, a cultural tour guide of the entire country. We considered the book, which took seven years to complete, a love letter to our new country.”

Food, of course, was a big part of that love. More than anything, we were struck in our first few years as ex-pats by the freshness of Australian produce and seafood. We were lucky to arrive when the country was overcoming its traditional dependence on stodgy English cooking, and were finally recognizing the abundant possibilities of developing an innovative food culture, with the creation of its own brand of “Pacific fusion” fare. Creative chefs and skilled amateur cooks–home-grown and imported–discovered what Australia could offer in the way of dining experiences. Add to that the continuing arrival of immigrants, not only from Europe as had happened in the 1950s & 60s, but also from Thailand, Vietnam, and the Middle East–so ethnic restaurants began to proliferate in the cities. This is not to say that fresh and innovative dishes have completely overtaken ersatz English dishes–we had our share of pub food that was a victim of the “battered food syndrome”–but at least one can now easily find a good cup of coffee almost anywhere, along with a perfect pot of tea. For a summary of these exciting developments, check out our section in the Blue Guide on food and drink: http://www.esauboeck.com/guide-to-australian-culture-and-history#Food . Here are a few standouts from our Australian years:

1990s: LAMB

Unlike most Americans, raised as they are at the Altar of Beef created by the cattlemen’s lobby and generations of invective heaped on sheep farmers, we have always loved lamb. Everywhere we lived in the U.S., we had to seek out special places that sold lamb, as if it were a rare commodity. If we did find lamb chops or cuts of any kind, it was always outrageously expensive, so we reserved these sheep-seeking ventures for special occasions. Imagine our delight, then, to arrive in Australia, to find that an entire quarter of lamb cost less than we would pay in America for 6 lamb chops! In those first few years in Canberra, we ate so much lamb that we came to consider beef an infrequent guest at the table. Since returning to the States, we more easily find lamb than before, but it is invariably from Australia or New Zealand.

1991-92: : Steak & Penfold Grange Hermitage

We also found that Australian meat was cut and aged differently than in the U.S., so often we had to learn to cook these cuts differently than we had done at home, and we often miscalculated cooking times and methods of preparation. This may have something to do with our memory of the best steak I’ve ever tasted. But, then, it could also just be that the cook was such a great connoisseur of food and wine. My colleague (and former student) Peter introduced us to his friend Dick Carson. Dick had at one time been the eloquently named Usher of the Black Rod in the Australian Parliament–a kind of Sergeant-at-Arms–but when we knew him, he was semi-retired and cooking in restaurants as a hobby. One unforgettable night, in a small Canberra cafe, he prepared for us steaks, accompanied by a Penfold Grange Hermitage ’82–the only time we ever had such an exquisite and expensive glass of wine. Never able to afford any bottle of a real vintage, we had never really developed a nose for distinctions in the middle-range wines we did buy. But I can go to my now non-drinking grave at least understanding what a truly great wine tastes like. Accompanied by that perfectly cooked steak and good company, we have never been more content with an evening out than that night.

1990s: Seafood with the Swalwells

We had met Bruce and Diane Swalwell when we were in graduate school at Penn in Philadelphia in the 1970s. They had arrived from Sydney so Bruce could study architecture, and Di took classes in Occupational Therapy. They were, along with us, RAs in Hill House. Once they returned to Australia, we stayed in touch, at least by Christmas card greetings and announcements of babies arriving. When we came to Oz, they were the first people we contacted; we have been part of each other’s lives ever since. Our kids grew up together, and we see them whenever we go back to visit.

Both Bruce and Di were fabulous cooks, and we spent many a weekend at their Pearl Beach house watching Bruce prepare fish to cook on the grill, while Di and the rest of us stuffed calamari or set out oysters. And what oysters they were! The Swalwells introduced us to the best of Australian seafood: yabbies (crayfish), barramundi (Asian sea bass), prawns (no one in Australia calls prawns “shrimp”!). But the very best, the most exquisite, food experience with our friends was travelling the 7 kilometers from Pearl Beach over the high hill to Patonga on the other side of the bay. There in a little shack we bought the biggest, best oysters, fresh from the oyster beds in the bay. Like shrimp bought off the boat in New Orleans, Patonga oysters are the gold standard for bivalve molluscs.

1992: Radio Cairo with Henry & Val

Our dear Scottish friends Henry and Val (and daughter Sophie) are inveterate travellers, and came to Australia several times. On one of their trips for a medical conference, we met them in Sydney; Max was then about 8 and Sophie was 4 or 5. In one of those stories that has become part of family lore, we ended up on an exhausting and treacherous forced march down into the canyons from Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, goaded on by Henry, the intrepid hiker, for whom a 20km trek is all in a day’s walk. This would not have been a problem if I hadn’t been dressed in a frock and thin sandals, unprepared for 10 km down and then UP the canyon, watching all the time while our little ones nearly fell off the side of the slippery cliffs. Once we left the Falls and headed down into the bowels of the mountain, there was no way to turn off or cut the hike short. As I huffed and puffed my way up the final ascent, cheered on by Henry at the top, my panting rebuke to him is unprintable, but is now firmly etched in my son’s memory. We laugh about it now, but at the time we had some moments of awkward silences. All was forgiven when we finally got back to Sydney in one piece.

To celebrate–or, at least, to recover–we went to our favorite North Shore spot, Radio Cairo. It was a relative newcomer to the Sydney dining scene at that time; it is still there in a different, less ambitious venue. We had ravenous appetites after our day in the mountains, and the Middle-Eastern, chiefly Egyptian, cuisine was perfectly presented. All I remember of the meal now is a number of spicy sauces, and some fruit sauce for beef. The atmosphere was fun and noisy, and we all ate with great gusto. A great ending for an all-around memorable day!

1995-96: Melbourne’s Chinatown

As we were writing the Blue Guide, we made frequent trips to Melbourne, staying at the funkiest rabbit warren of a hotel on Little Collins Street, Hotel Victoria. This was only a few blocks from Chinatown, which is considered to be the oldest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western world. Almost contemporary with its San Francisco counterpart, the Chinese arrived here during the Australian Gold Rush of the 1850s. Just like the Chinese in California, these immigrants set up restaurants and in Australia’s case, became the main provider of vegetables in the Victorian colony, and the first and sometimes only “foreign” food that Australians knew before the arrival of other ethnic groups. To this day, one can find in nearly every small town in the state a supposedly “authentic” Chinese takeaway restaurant, serving watered-down versions of usually Cantonese-style dishes. The infamous Aussie chiko roll is a Western version of a Chinese spring roll.

But the food found in Melbourne’s Chinatown is the real deal. We didn’t have that deep an understanding of the varieties of Chinese food before we came to eat here. I remember very clearly the first time we went to a well-known and enormous dim sum restaurant, Shark Fin, when Max was in high school. This is one of those “palaces” with a fish tank at the front of the restaurant, and an army of waitresses and waiters bringing around carts of delicacies about every 5 minutes. We didn’t understand that we could choose or not choose from these carts, so we just took whatever was offered, until we realized we were stuffed to the gills and the bill was enormous! But we have loved dim sum ever since. On another occasion, we were in Chinatown for a late lunch, and wandered in to a place that served congee, another dish we had never had before. George devoured his, and now is always on the lookout for this rice porridge in every Chinese cafe we try. We have such fond memories of Melbourne, and it is largely due to its remarkable Chinatown.

1996: Sepik pig

No, we didn’t make it to Papua New Guinea, but we met several folks from PNG in Australia. (The article above is just a serendipitous connection–the show I was working on in Appleton when I got the call to come to Australia).

For some reason, we made a lot of friends in Canberra who were involved in food, either as foodies or working in the food industry, or both. One of the friends who fits into these categories is Di Carey (or Lijuan, as she was at the time). We met her when she was a server at The Gods, a cafe on the ANU campus. Di had a fascinating history, having lived in exotic places like the Marshall Islands (hence the married name of Lijuan) and as a young person, in Papua New Guinea. Her house in Canberra was always filled with interesting characters and children, including many friends from PNG. She would cook up a storm for whoever happened to be there. On one memorable day, these friends decided to roast a pig the “PNG way.” I can’t remember now what it was called, but the method is much like other Islander methods, involving digging a pit, starting a fire in the pit with charcoal and stones, then wrapping the whole pig in banana leaves and burlap. They threw in a bunch of roasting chickens, too. They then buried the whole thing, and we waited for hours. I think we may even have gone home and come back later. They had assured us they would know when it was ready. And by god, they did! When they uncovered the feast, the pig meat was falling off the bones, and the chickens were moist and tender. I vaguely remember music, too. A splendid feast!

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As I read back over this section, I see that what has made most of these Australian meals so memorable is the people we were with. We miss them all so much! And we could write of so many more, but this will have to do for now. Some day I may get back to writing a continuation of this series, but for now, I’ll leave it here, at the end of the 20th century, still in Oz.

Memorable meals, Part II

5 Feb

In Memorable Meals, Part I, my nostalgic tale of food came up to the point where meals became shared ones with my husband George. This is also the point at which our lives became that of “gypsy scholars,” itinerant intellectuals moving from post to post in our search for permanent employment in a place that we liked while doing jobs that were at least somewhat fulfilling and had something to do with our qualifications. Our palates and our taste buds thus expanded exponentially, we discovered new favored cuisines, and our travels introduced us to ways of cooking that were beyond the practices of our suburban upbringings. Here are just a few stories of these culinary journeys:

ca. 1976: Giorgio’s sauerkraut soup (Jota) & in 2017 in Trieste

One of our first adventures as a couple saw us move to San Antonio, Texas, where I worked as the Visual Resources Librarian in the Art Department at the newly minted campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). On the recommendation of the person whose job I was taking over, we moved to one of the many German towns of the Hill Country, Boerne, named for a liberal journalist of the 1848 revolutions by the intellectuals-turned-farmers who arrived in Texas after the failures of said European revolutions. There were still people in Boerne in the 1970s who spoke Texas German, sometimes mixed with a bit of Spanish (in Fredericksburg, they still do: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwgwpUcxch4 ). George then landed a fascinating job with the Texas State Library, as a kind of “boundary rider,” driving from library to library in the huge district that the library served. The community libraries he visited ranged from La Raza Unida headquarters in Crystal City (the Spinach Capital, with a statue of Popeye in front of the library) to the small towns of Poth and Schulenberg founded by Czechs, as well as German and Alsatian settlements throughout the Hill Country. When at headquarters in downtown San Antonio, George tried out every Mexican cafe and taco stand, greatly enhancing our understanding of Texas versions of Mexican dishes. In the 1970s, you could still get a breakfast burrito–not the enormous California loafs that pass as burritos now!–for 35 cents on the way to work, and tortillerias were still making flour tortillas with lard. Tex-Mex food of every stripe was, of course, a central feature of our Texas experiences, and we revelled in its diversity. All of these explorations were wonderful to us, still in our late 20s; it was a heady, exciting time, as we delved into all the ethnic diversity of the state, and ate our way through this multicultural soup of Hill Country Texas.

Along with these geographically determined discoveries, we made great friends with colleagues and neighbors who also expanded our heretofore very limited palates (we were only beginning to know how to cook anything!). I will here mention only two of our greatest inspirations in this culinary education. First was Giorgio Perissinotto, a colleague at UTSA teaching Spanish linguistics. Although Italian, born in the wildly multicultural city of Trieste, his family had moved to New York State when he was 16. At university, he had fallen in love with Mexico (and with his Mexican wife, Gloria, who we knew as Chacha). He liked to cook, and brought his mother’s recipes with him, adding Hispanic cuisine to his repertoire. One time he cooked for us what we then simply called sauerkraut soup–a broth with sauerkraut, sausage, white beans, and herbs. We thought it was divine. He told us that it was such a peasant dish that his mother would be appalled to know he had served it to guests! We tried over the years to replicate his dish, with various levels of success.

Years later, we were finally able to get to Trieste (the author Jan Morris affectionately refers to this city as a metaphor for “the meaning of nowhere”). When we told Giorgio where we were going and asked him where and how we could find his sauerkraut soup there, he told us it was known as Jota, and that it might be hard to find in May, since it was considered a winter soup. But we did find a restaurant that served it–and lo and behold, they actually knew Giorgio! The picture above is George eating Jota at this Triestine cafe. (For more about our Trieste adventures, see my blog entry https://esauboeck.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/trieste/).

Giorgio died in 2018, after an illustrious career teaching at UC Santa Barbara. We miss you still, Giorgio, and think of you every time we make Jota.

ca. 1976: rabbit & stuffed onions with Judy Sobre

The other inspiring San Antonio friend was UTSA art historian Judy Sobre (that’s Judy in the front of the picture above, with Giorgio and George; she has only recently retired from teaching and still in San Antonio). She was already a great cook, having grown up in a Jewish household in New York and having lived in Barcelona. I can’t now recall how we started cooking together, but we planned several feasts as a team. One of the most memorable of these undertakings involved the acquisition and preparation of a freshly slaughtered rabbit. We were still in Boerne, which was in the mid-70s still in the countryside at the edge of the Hill Country (it’s now essentially a bedroom community of San Antonio). We had met there, at the local cantina, a young hippie couple who were raising rabbits to sell. (Our stories about this cantina would fill a whole book, but will have to wait for another blog entry!). We went to his house, picked out our rabbit, and watched our friend slaughter and dress it so carefully. To my amazement, it didn’t upset me at all to see this being done, I think because he was so adept at doing it. So many of our friends, however, even the ones who considered themselves gourmets and would eat anything else, could not bring themselves to eat bunny. I don’t even remember now how it was prepared in Judy’s kitchen, but I’ll never forget that the menu also included onions stuffed with sausages and herbs. I can still see us peeling onions and tearing up while we drank wine and put the mixture into the onions. It was a divine meal, and I think established our love of rabbit as a lean, tasty meat. Perversely, rabbit has become the main ingredient of our traditional Easter repast.

1976: Bobby Hausey’s family in Baton Rouge: Thanksgiving and wild duck

As UTSA was just establishing their Art Department when I worked there, a host of artists came to teach for a year or a semester. Several of them–remember, we were all in our mid 20s–have remained life-long friends. Bobby Hausey arrived fresh from a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting, in tandem with his Philadelphia comrade Ron Cohen (they knew each other from Penn’s Fine Arts program). What a year we had, with adventures too embarrassingly hilarious to recount! Bobby was at heart a good ol’ boy from Baton Rouge, Louisiana; when he left San Antonio and after a few more teaching gigs at other schools, he began a distinguished career teaching at LSU. A serious diabetic since childhood who didn’t always take care of himself, Bobby died way too young in 2009. (You can get a sense of his personality from this notice: https://www.lsureveille.com/news/lsu-school-of-art-hosts-work-of-deceased-professor/article_e68437fc-4a6f-5bc2-9b25-a866d16fe810.html)

In that exuberant year, Bobby invited us to his family home for Thanksgiving. Having never been to Louisiana, we accepted with alacrity. It was our first experience of the REAL South (Texas is something different). His parents were incredibly welcoming, and we saw parts of that city that we would never have seen without a local guide. We met Mary, the black woman who had worked for Bobby’s family for some 20 years or more; we attended his brother’s guitar playing in a local band; and we had a Thanksgiving dinner comprised of a wild duck that a local hunter had brought them the day before. And like all good Southern meals, the side dishes are what really count: cornbread, macaroni and cheese (yep!), greens, Dirty Rice (a classic Cajun dish: https://www.thespruceeats.com/cajun-dirty-rice-3052306), and lots of pies and other desserts. So another new taste sensation was added to our tasty list: duck! To this day, George always orders duck if it’s on the menu, whether Chinese, Cajun, Czech, or any other variation.

We miss Bobby, too. He was a great artist and teacher. Thankfully, we do have one piece of his, a landscape in Skowhegan:

1980: starvation rations

Not all memorable meals are memorable because they were delicious or elegant or involve a comforting ambience. Some are memorable for being meager and/or inventive. In the summer of 1980, we had just finished up our graduate programs’ classes, and were setting out for a year of research. We had hardly a penny to our name, but a professor had let us stay in his house as they went to their summer residence in Maine. We made meals out of whatever we could scrape together, and spent an entire week making crepes out of flour and water, perhaps an egg, and throwing in whatever else we could find as filling. Having found a bunch of carrots in a backyard garden, we made carrot crepes for days on end. Yes, memorable, if not something we want to make ever again.

1982: Szechuan after birth

George reminds me that I’ve forgotten to include one of my most memorable meals! Max was born in Fort Worth, in the evening. As all mothers know, as soon as labor begins, all food stops entering one’s mouth! Given that I was in labor for about 15 hours, and that it started in the middle of the night, I was absolutely ravenous by the time the baby made his entrance into the world. The hospital’s kitchen had just closed for the evening, apparently, so all they had to bring me was a relatively cold soup, saltines and jello. When George saw this, he knew what to do. While Fort Worth’s dining was still dependent for the most part on barbecue and diner meals, a few ethnic restaurants had opened by 1982, and we had sampled them all. The best of these was a Szechuan place–another new cuisine for us–which had become our staple go-to spot for a night out. When George went in and told them I had just given birth to a boy, the owners–who had seen me in there pregnant–were so delighted they gave him a celebratory special soup, usually made for new mothers. I have never enjoyed a Chinese meal more than that one! The nurses on duty thought it was such a sweet thing to see, if a bit eccentric.

1984-85: NOLA

After several peripatetic years, including graduate school for both of us in Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr, and a stint back in Texas at the Kimbell Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum, we ended up making a rather perplexing detour to New Orleans–perplexing in that I really can’t now figure out why we gave up the jobs we had in Fort Worth to go there. George’s position in New Orleans was not a success, but I did end up finishing my dissertation there, thus making it possible to look for teaching posts. And what foodie could be unhappy being in NOLA for any length of time? This city is by far the most exotic, fascinating, story-rich place we have lived. It’s a voodoo town! SO MANY stories….Here are only a few of the foodie ones:

Upperline with Max

Before we packed up and moved to NOLA, we came to the city to find a place to live. Max was at the time 2 years old. Having found the great guide to NOLA cuisine, The New Orleans Underground Gourmet by Richard Collins, and taking the advice of natives, we decided to go to Upperline Restaurant, which was near the hotel where we were staying in the Garden District. It was apparent as soon as we walked in to this intimate space that this was not a restaurant catering to families with children. They didn’t even have a high chair! But they accommodated us by bringing Max a phone book to sit on. We were so nervous that he would disturb the other diners that the moment he made any kind of noise or fussing, one of us took him outside. We ordered a carrot soup for him, and we had fantastic seafood dishes. Max ate all of his soup, and didn’t spill a drop on the white table cloth. The staff complimented us as we left: “pas de tâche!” It was our first experience of NOLA dining, and we came back here for delicious meals many times–without Max.

We have just learned that Upperline is a casualty of Covid: the owner regrettably closed its doors in November 2021. But she served the city for 40 years, and never changed the menu or the decor: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/18/dining/upperline-closed-new-orleans.html

I could go on and on with memorable meals in NOLA: Chez Helene’s, the best fried chicken ever made; coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde on a Sunday morning; the discovery of “debris” in a seedy-hole-in-the-wall downtown; meeting the ancient gentleman who was the owner of Tujague’s; and mirliton and shrimp etouffee made by our neighbor in Algiers. But nothing can beat the taste memory of New Orleans SHRIMP!

–fresh shrimp right off the boat

My parents came to visit several times when we were living in Louisiana. It was the year of a World’s Fair in the city, and we watched the fireworks every night from our upstairs windows. The last time they came was during shrimping season. My father adored shrimp, and we could go right down to the boats at Westwego on the West Bank, where the shrimpers could bring their vessels right into the canal. (We lived in Algiers then, on the other side of the river across from the French Quarter.) Nowhere have we had shrimp as good as those we got right off the boats! Tiny ones and jumbo-sized, we cooked them on the grill, in a poaching broth, or fried them. My father couldn’t get enough.

We couldn’t know that this would also be the last time I saw my father. He died about 6 months later, of a heart attack, just as we were getting ready to interview for new jobs at a conference in Los Angeles. He called to say he would pick us up at the airport when we came. Three days later he was gone, only 57. I still hear his voice.

1990s: AUSTRALIA

I did get hired in 1985, as an art historian at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. It was a great place to teach, with great students, but there were few opportunities for George. My department was rather vexatious, and I feared that I might indeed get tenure there, and we would be stuck in Appleton. As a native Californian, I also was stretched to the limits of my weather tolerance by Wisconsin winters. So I applied for a position in Australia. And that leads to another chapter in this increasingly lengthy exploration of food as autobiography! I think I’ll close out Part II here. Stay tuned for Memorable Meals in Oz in Part III!