Our civilization lost a shining light, as guitarist Paco de Lucía has died of a heart attack at the age of 66
Trail Blazer and Traditionalist
With fluid fingering, a flare for the dramatic, and compositions that flit and flutter like birds over a pastoral valley, or soar like eagles atop the winds of the world, de Lucía was among the most highly regarded guitarists of the twentieth century.
That is what they always said. And for the past ten years, I did get the flu shot, at the annual “autumn health fair” where I worked. And I did not get the flu.
My job was outsourced over a year ago. So I did not get a flu shot this year. Instead, I got the flu.
I used to get the flu each and every year, at some point, basically since my college years. The flu shot changed all that. I would still get colds, including the one in 2012 that had me starting 2013 with pneumonia. I have even had West Nile Virus, six years ago or so. But I never got the flu.
Actually, since recovering from the pneumonia and leaving that job, I embarked on a year-long fitness and health regime, consisting of enormous amounts of vegetables, typically steamed or simmered in coconut milk and curry, supplemented with sauteed chicken breasts and other such things. And began and kept with an exercise program of my own devising, focused on my wonderful rowing machine, made by WaterRower, low impact dumbbells, and basic pushups and ab exercises.
On February 1st I considered myself to have lived for a full year without getting sick. This may be my longest streak of wellness ever. On Tuesday I started feeling a bit odd.
By that night I was feeling achy, and my throat was feeling prickly. I told myself it was probably nothing, I was far too healthy to get sick these days, and I went out to dinner as an emotional pick-me-up. All that positive thinking and endeavoring to ignore it all didn’t help.
Bed Rest and Plenty of Fluids
Chills and headache were constant, as my fever peaked at 101, which is not too bad for a flu. But my tonsils turned into enormous monstrosities, swelling to the point they came forward every time I coughed or cleared my throat, and would sit on the back of my tongue, like twin Jabba the Huts that had to be swallowed back down.
After two days of insanely painful swallowing and unmerciful insomnia, my tonsils and body temperature returned to normal size. I still remember the old Bayer Aspirin commercials extolling the virtues of “bed rest and plenty of fluids.” Who has time for bed rest, even when they are home sick? It is too boring. Well, this time I had little choice. Fortunately I was able to go to bed and stay there, for basically 48 hours. I believe that helped a lot in allowing my body to fight against the virus.
So, after two wretched days, the ride through the Fun House From Hell was over. But I was marooned on a plateau a long way from Vitality, where I have remained ever since. The sore throat got better each day, but it has been replaced by one of those scratchy throat coughs that only gets worse when laying down. The fatigue and sinus inflammation remain as bad as ever, so I am still spending a lot of time on my back, coughing. Many people claim to have the flu when they just have a bad cold. And I tried to tell myself that was my fate as well. But a cold does not last this long with this kind of soul-crushing fatigue.
I was supposed to attend two rehearsals and perform at a dinner later this week. Unfortunately my voice sounds something along the lines of an elderly Jeromy Irons doing a bad Tom Waits imitation. Perhaps some instrumentals are in order.
The most common surnames by European nation, are surprising.
Sure if my mother’s maiden name isn’t Murphy
And Unto the Seventh Son of the Seventh Son
This week’s map does not the whole story tell, however. For one thing, I find it fascinating that in Iceland they retain the ancient custom of a last name simply denoting who one’s father is (or mother in some cases.) Where having the English name Johnson once meant you were the son of someone named John, in Iceland a last name of Jónsson literally means your father’s first name is Jón. While everyone with last names starting with O’ or Mc or Mac, or with any number of endings, retain the vestiges of this custom, in Iceland it holds fast as the way things are done.
If your name is Baldur Jónsson, and you are an Icelander, and you name your son Árni, he is not Árni Jónsson, he is Árni Baldursson. If he decides to junior his own name, your grandson isn’t Árni Baldursson, he is Árni Árnasson. His sister Ása is Ása Árnadóttir.
But when it comes to places that do use modern surnames, there are many of them with multiple spellings. As laid down in an interesting forum discussion on Reddit, prompted by the posting of this map, someone suggests that the most common name in Germany would be Schmidt, if one considers all the various spellings such as Schmitt, Schmitz, or Schmid. And that this may have disqualified many other common names with divergent spellings.
In response, someone quipped that the only reason Smith won in Scotland was because McGlauchmluchantire is sometimes spelled McGlauchmluchantyre.
And that reminds me of my dear college chum Diane Muldrow, who has at times been affectionately referred to by more than one of her friends as Diane McMacO’Muldrowskisteina.
A classic breakfast at a local eatery is among the simple yet cherished pleasures in the Western World, and easy eggs at Brooklyn’s Park Cafe is certainly one of mine.
While I enjoy the fancier brunch locations, there is something particularly pleasurable about the basics. And this weekend, my choice to seek out the basic American breakfast proved more entertaining than normal, as I found myself back at the Park Cafe, at 82 7th Avenue, between Union Street and Berkley Place, near Grand Army Plaza.
This establishment has been serving Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood for more than 30 years. There, I once again enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying American breakfast of crisp smoked bacon, home fries and a pair of over easy eggs, or “over lightly” as they tend to be called around here. As much I enjoyed the good eats, it was my timing that provided the entertainment.
Without a table to be had, and with larger groups pondering the choice of waiting or going elsewhere, I sat down as the lone customer at the counter in the back. From that position, I had an intimate view of the staff at the peak hour of 12 Noon.
I was simply astounded by the chief waiter. As the late morning rush collided with the impatience of customers who waited until early afternoon to break their fast, this young man attained speeds of digital dexterity and rapid fire articulation beyond what I thought possible outside of a movie where they speed things up for comic effect. And this went on for an extended period of time, as he went faster, and faster, and faster, trying to insure every detail was accounted for.
No klutzy character, this particular professional elevated the game of all those around him, calling out for the large tomato juice seconds after failing to get a response from his support people the first time around, as he scribbled things on a green pad, while waiting for the toaster, since he had a scant few moments at the counter before rushing off to get more orders. And still he found time to help the even-younger waiter locate the more obscure items on the menu so the kid could complete someone’s bill of sale.
And then he saw me.
“Have you been helped, Sir?” He asked me, as if it was a point of genuine pain, should my answer be in the negative. I said that I had not, quickly adding that I was in no hurry, but knew what I wanted. The even-younger man assured him I would be taken care of, despite all the delivery orders arriving by fax and phone, with every table in the place full of expectant mouths to feed. So, the veteran spun around to collect hot plates from those behind the dressing station wall, where he promptly returned one, to their general surprise.
“These are not well done! I know this customer; he will not be happy unless you burn the potatoes BLACK. Look! I am just saving you from him sending them back.”
And so they ended up back on the griddle, which was in plain view from my seat. There, the short order cook placed them among his many other charges.
Now here is a master at his profession. This slender youngster in the phat ball cap, featuring a Yankees NY logo, but with the crown in Knicks orange set off by a blue bill, moved his long, thin metal spatula with the precision of a surgeon.
As the orders mounted, being shouted around the corner, often in a list of three, or four, or six separate meals, the cook seemed oblivious, as he kept right on flipping, sliding, slicing and dicing. The tickets were hung along the dressing station at his back, so he could refer to them as needed. But I never saw him look at a single one.
At times the flat silvery griddle was festooned with pancakes, and omelets, and cured meats, and bricks of what I assumed where slivered hash browns, as opposed to their normal chunky home fries. The waiter would return with more orders, and vocally prod him for things still on the griddle, and yet the cook remained steadfast, unflustered, but in constant motion, as he scrubbed sections of the steaming surface with steel wool and water, prior to covering each spot with some new portion of an awaited breakfast.
My Time Approacheth
When I saw two plain eggs placed side by side, front and center, I had a feeling they were mine. When he turned them over, I started counting. Far too often in this city I have ordered my eggs too late in the day and found them totally overcooked. Although I must say, that was never in this place of brisk breakfast business, before now.
I watched my eggs sizzling away, as he began someone’s omelet, then scooped up another finished omelet, which was dressed on one of two different plates with their obligatory potatoes and extras, and then he whisked them to the dressing station, before filling the empty space with some new order.
At exactly the thirty-second mark, he scooped my eggs from the griddle, slid on my portion of potatoes before laying the crispy bacon over top, and handed them to those unseen behind the dressing station wall, who promptly placed them under the warming lights.
He was faster than expected, so I waited happily for my toast before I was brought my plate.
The eggs were perfect. My request for orange marmalade was met instantly. My coffee cup refilled, just as I began to refill me.
An Unpretentious Institution
The proprietor was stationed at the coffee maker, just on the other side of the counter from my privileged point of perspective.
Slightly hunched with the resignation of one who knows from experience that there is no influencing Father Time, the slender man of medium height with barely a touch of gray in his black hair and matching mustache, was occasionally shaking the metal dispenser none the less, to hurry the output, as 10-cup pots were depleted moments after they were filled. He shrugged his shoulders, and sighed as he shook his head at the waiters flying around him, nearly frantic in their efforts to stay afloat on the latest wave of customer demands. He knows; nobody’s gonna die if they don’t get their eggs before they wish. They come back anyway. They always do.
“A hundred pots, on Saturday and Sunday. So, that is… What? A thousand cups a day?” He answered me with a voice that suggested mild fatigue and remnants of a Greek accent.
And yet, he always finds time to engage the smallest children among his clientele. It is something he has never grown tired of in all those years. Taking genuine delight in their antics, he teases them wryly, while keeping his jokes well within their sphere of comprehension, and leaves them with a sense of being appreciated for their expert opinion on Raisin Bran, or the French toast, which comes in the normal white bread variety, or made with Jewish challah bread. No one seemed to complain that the usual Cartoon Network had been replaced by the Olympic Games, on the two wide screen TVs set high up over the crowd.
Honed to a Comfortable Edge
The Park Cafe is not a Grecian diner, although the newest waiter slipped into Greek when seeking clarification from more experienced colleagues. He was always answered in the same flowing tongue, tipped with k’s and p’s like white caps on a busy surf. None the less, this place is as Brooklynese as Bugs Bunny.
While they do have the obligatory section of Greek dishes, centered on feta cheese and “gyro meat,” they have as many dishes that claim to be Italian, or Mexican. But really, the menu is decidedly American diner-style food, where even the Mexican named dishes like the Huevos Rancheros are Anglicized into their own unique yet enjoyable versions. And then there is the Sombrero, which has a foundation of corned beef hash. The Park Cafe is known for its “Sloppy breakfast,” a sort of bubble and squeak of meats and vegetables chopped to bits and mixed with eggs, before being entombed in a coating of thin, melted cheese. And there is the “Healthy Sloppy,” a version featuring turkey-based meats, along with broccoli and mushrooms rather than potatoes.
For another thing, the Park Cafe it is not open 24 hours a day, which means it does not qualify for the traditional title of Diner within the five boroughs of New York City. So, cafe it is. But it is more American coffee shop than a cafe as Europeans might know the term. With some irony, the coffee is basic diner brew, sightly nutty with a tinge of burnt around the edges. But it is good enough that I tend to drink it black and on the weekends it is guaranteed to be fresh. But some of my coffee snob friends lament that this otherwise excellent breakfast nook has such average joe.
What the Park Cafe is regaled for are the pancakes, among many other things. But the pancakes are far and away superior to all the other coffee shops and diners that fall within the original historic district of Park Slope, which is centered on 7th Avenue and runs from Flatbush Avenue to 9th Street. While one may find a snootier restaurant along 5th Avenue that has enjoyable pancakes, or perhaps on 7th Avenue, beyond the old 9th Street border, they will also pay considerably more for the privilege.
Here, the pancakes are typical, nicely priced, and most importantly, good. Golden, of medium weight, they are satisfying from start to finish, without ever seeming like some nondescript hunk of dough, like those found in similar places. They are available as a regular stack or silver dollars, as well as wheat cakes.
I wish they would offer a short stack, which could be easily matched to the usual bacon and eggs. But perhaps it is best they do not, since that keeps me from ordering them too often.
But really, I tend to stick to the basic breakfast, and the Park Cafe is just far enough away from my dwelling to require a genuine choice on my part when seeking out my easy eggs. It is an effort I gladly make.
The Park Cafe on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn offers fast friendly service, and food generally a step up from all other 7th Ave diner/cafe eateries in its class. The bacon comes crisp, and is of notably better quality than the competition. The home fries are a little salty, but they have just enough green pepper and onion mixed in, while other places either fall short in this respect, or over-do it. But a customer may order their bacon or eggs or potatoes cooked as they prefer, and odds are in their favor that they will get them just the way they like them.
And for all those people who choose to go there, rather than other places, most of them rarely notice just how much effort goes on around them to make their experience as enjoyable as possible. While I was already aware of how busy the waiter is when I visit the Park Cafe, after this weekend I will be even more appreciative of just what he is dealing with when not focused on me and my needs.
Your Favorite Breakfast Spot?
Everyone has their favorite breakfast spots. If you love Huevos Rancheros in Flagstaff, Arizona, it is MartAnne’s. If you are into the classic American fair in Southern Connecticut, it is Huxley’s Bookmark Cafe, in Meridian. Some of the grits and biscuits eateries across the South are national treasures, while the chili cheese omelets found along the beaches of Malibu hold a special place in my memory. The incredible edible egg is a true joy of existence. But having someone else fix them for you, in a way that leaves you immensely satisfied, elevates the experience enormously. Which would YOU recommend?
One Man’s World would love to hear from you about your favorite place for breakfast, or brunch. Please, feel free to contribute your favorite breakfast nooks, and what you recommend there, by using the comments field below this post.
I am sure travelers would be happy to have a list of the best breakfast spots around America. or for that matter, beyond the borders, as I know a few places where the British bacon is a highly coveted treat.
I should like nothing better than to begin compiling that list right here.
And as I was contemplating that very notion, it brought to mind a favorite monolog from the Sam Shepard play Cowboys #2, extolling the virtues of breakfast in all its variety. And then I thought of a favorite song, by a favorite band, Life in a Blender.
I went looking for it on YouTube, to add some version or other at the end of this post. I find none have ever appeared there.
So now, there is one. And it is posted here below, for your enjoyment.
And that is one man’s word on Easy Eggs at the Park Cafe.
And “Easy Eggs” happens to be the name of the song. Be sure to change the resolution to the highest-def your device can accommodate, for the best sound.
It’s Greek to Me! World Writing Systems Tell An Interesting Story
Some friends where showing me their copy of the Talmud, written in English, but still set out so the pages of the book open outward to the right, basically backwards from normal English language books. And that got us wondering what other languages went from right to left? And that then got me wondering about just how many separate forms of writing are still in use today. And that led me, of course, to Wikimedia Commons and this map of world writing systems.
Dang foreigners. Got a different word for everything!
(click map to enlarge)
The history of writing is in itself a fascinating tale. Some systems, like Korean and Cherokee are relatively modern inventions, purposely devised so specific populations would have their own alphabet and written history. Others evolved in the depths of pre-history, but for perhaps the same reasons, while others were adapted from other peoples over time, for practical purposes of trade, or imposed by a conqueror. And I must wonder how many people across Europe and the Americas would answer “Latin” when asked what system of writing they use.
And that reminds me of a favorite movie quote…
“All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for US?”
In a thrilling discovery, detailed in a paper published February 7 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, the earliest human footprints found outside of Africa appeared in May, in ancient sediment along the English coastline at low tide, near Happisburgh, in Norfolk.
The ocean washed them away, but not before they could be studied by scientists and preserved on video, which is scheduled to be shown as part of the new exhibit, Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story. The exhibit opens at the Natural History Museum in London on February 13, and continues through September 28, 2014.
The paper’s abstract is as follows:
Investigations at Happisburgh, UK, have revealed the oldest known hominin footprint surface outside Africa at between ca. 1 million and 0.78 million years ago. The site has long been recognised for the preservation of sediments containing Early Pleistocene fauna and flora, but since 2005 has also yielded humanly made flint artefacts, extending the record of human occupation of northern Europe by at least 350,000 years. The sediments consist of sands, gravels and laminated silts laid down by a large river within the upper reaches of its estuary. In May 2013 extensive areas of the laminated sediments were exposed on the foreshore. On the surface of one of the laminated silt horizons a series of hollows was revealed in an area of ca. 12 m2. The surface was recorded using multi-image photogrammetry which showed that the hollows are distinctly elongated and the majority fall within the range of juvenile to adult hominin foot sizes. In many cases the arch and front/back of the foot can be identified and in one case the impression of toes can be seen. Using foot length to stature ratios, the hominins are estimated to have been between ca. 0.93 and 1.73 m in height, suggestive of a group of mixed ages. The orientation of the prints indicates movement in a southerly direction on mud-flats along the river edge. Early Pleistocene human fossils are extremely rare in Europe, with no evidence from the UK. The only known species in western Europe of a similar age is Homo antecessor, whose fossil remains have been found at Atapuerca, Spain. The foot sizes and estimated stature of the hominins from Happisburgh fall within the range derived from the fossil evidence of Homo antecessor.
(footnotes appear in the actual paper)
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
The assumed species of human kind squishing that ancient mud between their toes may have reached Norfolk some 800,000 years ago via a land bridge. At many times in the distant past, Britain was a peninsula directly connected to Europe, and that is believed to be true of the era when these footprints would have been made, possibly by a family searching a riverbed for food. But a cooler climate would have removed such peoples to Southern Europe shortly afterwards. The earliest record of human artifacts in Britain dates from about 500,000 years ago, belonging to Homo heidelbergensis, the species believed to have evolved into the Neanderthals, our distant cousins who thrived in Europe and Britain until shortly after the arrival of our own species, Homo sapiens, some 40,000 years ago. And since our own recorded history, including all our various legends and creation myths only goes back a scant 6,000 years, we are still talking about a verrrrrrry long time ago.
Dr. Isabelle De Groote of John Moores University in Liverpool concluded they were indeed human footprints, nearly 1 million years old, belonging to multiple individuals who stood between 3 feet to 5 feet 9 inches in height. How many more there were and how permanent was their stay remains a mystery. As the Natural History Museum’s Professor Chris Stringer told BBC News:
“This discovery gives us even more concrete evidence that there were people there. We can now start to look at a group of people and their everyday activities. And if we keep looking, we will find even more evidence of them, hopefully even human fossils. That would be my dream”.
And that is one man’s word on
The earliest human footprints found outside of Africa
On this day in 1815, the world’s first cheese factory began production in Switzerland. The Emmentaler variety, with its distinctive holes that Americans think of as “Swiss cheese,” is produced in a valley east of Berne, using milk from cows fed only hay or grass, no silage. But it is only one of more than 450 types of cheese produced in the mountainous nation barely the size of South Carolina.
The map links to this website, and offers a few of the most popular cheeses from Switzerland.
As I walked down Varick Street in Tribeca this dark, rainy evening, a yellow cab splashed to a stop in front of me, blocking the crosswalk. The couple got out from either door as I stepped out into the street to get around the cab, and the broad overcoat with the long scraggle of white hair over the collar partially obscured my vision of the woman retrieving something from the trunk. But even then I thought she looked an awful lot like Jan Crosby.
So, as I passed David Crosby in the middle of the street, just outside City Winery, I said, “Have a good show, man!”
He turned quizzically, regarding me suspiciously for a moment before looking down at my navy blue hoodie with the gold C.F. Martin & Co. logo. His eyes returned to mine and he gave me a thumb-up in front of one of his signature mustached, squinty-eyed grins.
When he came out on stage it was obvious he was quite ill, with a deep, aggravated cough. While it was all magnificent, he actually lost his voice completely by the end and apologetically had to let others take over the singing the final song. But he still sounded pure as an alto sax for almost the entire show, despite how he sounded between songs. [He cancelled the rest of the tour, as it turned out, due to walking pneumonia.]
After the show I hopped on the 1 train. And there before me were seven blondes, each with that natural barley fading to flaxen hue, dropping like waterfalls around each girl in abnormally long tresses. Aged 7 through 16, they joked and giggled amongst themselves. The three blonde women who sat with them, two of which were obviously sisters, and probably the third, all under 40, were nearly as animated and as glowing as their daughters. At first, I tried to guess if they were Dutch or Scandinavian, when it became clear they were speaking with typical American accents, and got off at Chambers Street, probably heading toward the P.A.T.H. and Jersey.
I crossed over to the 3 train where I plopped down near four boys, aged 11 to 14 or there abouts, embroiled in a lively conversation over experimental harmonies. Each was able to speak of adding a B-flat or dropping to a minor fifth, and the others could instantly imagine exactly what he was talking about, and disagree or nod approvingly. I thought I was onto the next big heartthrob Boy Band, since they were all Ivory Soap flawless with quaffed hair and adorably silly ears, and heading into Brooklyn apparently unchaperoned.
But lo! They were actually horn players talking about playing Jazz. And then, an older couple, far too dated in their hipness to be anything but chaperones of fledgling Jazz cats, appeared out of nowhere when it was time to change trains.
And so, from David Crosby and his band paying homage to the late Great Agitator, Pete Seeger, by performing the Byrd’s version of Turn, Turn, Turn, and the 72 year old voice of Crosby singing his own agitating song about America’s ignoring the slaughter of innocent families in OUR military’s drone strikes, to the promise in that gathering of golden Guinneveres, to the fresh-faced lads exploring the exciting possibilities within Joseph Kosma’s 1945 hit, Autumn Leaves, my faith in humanity and American values was restored.
So here, as we head into Super Bowl Sunday, is my personal favorite version of Autumn Leaves, written by a European, but perfected by the Americans Chet Baker (flugelhorn), Paul Desmond (alto sax), Hubert Laws (flute), Bob James (keyboard), Ron Carter (contrabass) and Steve Gadd (drums)
A M A Z I N G
The Hi-Def Red Bull Stratos Video of the world record free fall, by Felix Baumgartner
“Because it was there…”
In the spirit of intrepid explorers everywhere, those that failed and those that conquered, the Shackletons and Scotts, the Norgays and Hillarys, the Nungessers and Lindberghs, Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner entered the rolls of immortal men on October 14, 2012. On that day, he entered the stratosphere in a helium balloon, rising to a height of 24.2145 miles (39.9694 kilometers) with the intent of plummeting to earth.
Exactly 65 years after Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier in a piloted plane, Baumgartner became the first to break the sound barrier outside of one, reaching a maximum speed of 843.60 mph before deploying his parachute.
I am not even going to embed a post of this, as you simply must see this on Youtube, in full screen mode, in the highest definition your computer and monitor will allow!