Mile Marker Zero

Mile Marker Zero coverMile Marker Zero: The Moveable Feast of Key West
William McKeen
Crown Books (October 4, 2011), 320 pages
Kindle edition $9.99, Amazon paperback $14.99

Much has been written about the Lost Generation of Paris in the twenties, where Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and that gang found refuge. Mile Marker Zero is William McKeen’s attempt to document a similar environment for writers and other artists in the 1970’s: Key West Florida.

McKeen begins well before the 1970’s when the island was entirely off the beaten track and primarily known as a military base. Ernest Hemingway discovered the island and bought the largest house there. By the time the bulk of the narrative in the book takes place Hemingway had not only long abandoned the island but was long dead.

In the seventies Key West was a vacation home to the likes of Tennessee Williams, Hunter Thompson, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. The book also contains a lot about the locals and the island’s place in the marijuana trade, which was more lucrative to shrimpers than the trade of shrimping.

There were times I questioned McKeen’s credibility. He refers to Thomas McGuane, as “the most revered writer of his generation.” Say what? Who? I was in the book business from 1975 until the early eighties, first working at and then managing B. Dalton Bookseller stores, and I never heard of the guy until I read this book.

That aside, Mile Marker Zero was entertaining with some fascinating tidbits about people and places.


baking bread in a time of pandemic

It’s weird when finding a package of toilet paper in the grocery store comes close to making your day. But such are the times in which we live.

One of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (or perhaps simply one of the effects) is that people who never thought of baking before have suddenly started baking. That’s all well and good, but those of us who are long-time bakers are having to change our routines. If you bake, and if you have visited the baking aisle in the grocery store recently, you know exactly what I mean. You’re lucky to find all-purpose flour, and coming across bread flour is like unearthing a diamond.

King Arthur orderThere can be upsides to such adversity, however. I couldn’t find King Arthur bread flour either in the store or online, so when our WinCo supermarket had a small cluster of Bob’s Red Mill bread flour on the shelf, I grabbed a bag. I ended up baking the best loaf of sourdough bread that I had ever made. (Sorry, King Arthur.)

In recent months I have made a variety of heartier, sandwich-friendly breads (while including my sourdough in the rotation, of course), using 10-grain, whole grain, and sprouted wheat blends from King Arthur. None of those are available these days. Nor does King Arthur have regular bread flour or organic bread flour. They are even selling their all-purpose flour in 3-pound rather that 5-pound bags, but I’m fine on the A/P flour right now thanks to stumbling across it on a trip to Grocery Outlet in search of milk (which, fortunately, no longer seems to be in short supply).

What I found available when I went to the King Arthur web site on Friday was artisan bread flour, French bread flour, and vital wheat gluten, that last being something essential when standard bread flour is in short supply. They also let me order pizza flour, which is due in three or four weeks.

I must therefore change the varieties of bread that I bake and put aside the whole grain/multi-grain blends in favor of French, rustic, and sourdough breads.

That will be all right. It’s a change, and it is far better than not baking at all.


Gateway to the Moon: A Novel

Gateway to the Moon coverGateway to the Moon: A Novel
Mary Morris
Anchor (April 10, 2018), 345 pages
Kindle edition $11.99, Amazon paperback $12.99
purchased during a BookBub sale for $2.99

I was looking for my next book to read when I saw Gateway to the Moon discounted to $2.99 in a BookBub email. It looked like intriguing reading so I snatched it up.

The primary character in the story is a teenager named Miguel who loves astronomy and looking at the stars. He has even made his own telescope. However, he is restless and bored in his tiny New Mexico village. He takes a job as a sitter for a well-off woman, the wife of a surgeon, taking care of her two boys.

Miguel identifies as Latino and was raised as such. He doesn’t know that his ancestry is Jewish. His story is interwoven with the story of several generations of Spanish Jews beginning in 1492. Yes, one of them sailed out with Columbus. These were people who nominally converted to Christianity during times of persecution, but who secretly kept their Jewish identity. The book portrays them both in Spain and in the New World, always pursued by their Christian persecutors.

That part of the novel was often hard to read, but the narrative of Miguel, his mother, his father (separated from his mother, but always there for him), his employer, and the man who ran the general store in town made for good reading. With an interesting twist at the end (that one might have seen coming), Gateway to the Moon offers an entertaining family drama.

The feeling of the book stayed with me for some days after I finished it. I suppose that’s a sign of a well-written novel.


Incarnations

Incarnations coverIncarnations: India in Fifty Lives
Sunil Khilnani
Narrated by Vikas Adam
Tantor Audio, September 20, 2016
print version published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
$20.97 for Audible members, more for non-members
purchased with an Audible credit

I had saved this book in my collection of Kindle samples a while back. When I was looking for the next audiobook to load on my iPhone Incarnations seemed like a plausible candidate. I was not disappointed.

The author delivers profiles of fifty individuals who were significant in the history of India. He starts with Gautama Buddha, who lived, as best as we can tell, in the fifth century before the Common Era. He ends with the industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani, who died in 2002. Perhaps ironic or perhaps appropriate, as the Buddha was all about simplicity while Ambani was all about the acquisition of wealth.

The book offers a fascinating history of India through the lives of the individuals that shaped it. We see Hindus, Muslims, British, and even a black African. The latter portion of the book provides an enlightening perspective of pre- and post-independence India.

The author does not pretend to be objective. He has strong opinions about liberals, conservatives, and Indian nationalists. I had no problem with this. I would rather know about his biases than have them hidden in a pretense of objectivity.

The audiobook is ably narrated by Vikas Adam. He has just the slightest trace of an Indian accent, but capably and accurately pronounces all of the Indian names and terms. If you are interested in the history and culture of the Indian subcontinent Incarnations is well worth your time.


not what we had planned

Terry and I were perfectly happy with our over-the-range microwave. It worked well and did everything we needed it to do. The vent cover was broken and held together with tape, so Terry went online to the Whirlpool parts store and ordered a replacement. Before it even showed up, however, our microwave experienced a sudden and unexpected death.

I was minding my own business on Sunday morning, fixing breakfast before it was time for online Zoom morning prayer with my friends at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. I put my bacon in the microwave and set it for one minute. The microwave started, the turntable turned, the light came on, and the timer beeped. My bacon was uncooked. I tried it again with the same result. Oh, and there was the distinct smell of burned electrical components in the air.

new microwaveOn Monday, therefore, Terry and I ventured out, wearing our face masks, to our locally owned Appliance Showroom. Owner Larry Soares is, one might say, politically incorrect and perhaps something of a redneck, but his staff is loyal and he sees that his customers are well taken care of, as we have experienced first-hand more than once. This is far from the first appliance purchase for which we have visited his store. I briefly toyed with the idea of buying a countertop microwave to use until we were past COVID-19, but our counter space is so limited as it is (we still miss that remodeled kitchen in Gilroy) that we decided to do the right thing and replace the over-the-range unit.

There were three models of the over-the-range type available in white. We selected the middle-style mama bear option (think burgers at A&W drive-ins). The woman who helped us was able to squeeze in our installation for Tuesday, as our old microwave was completely nonfunctional. We appreciated that as the next proper open slot was Thursday.

The two installers showed up around 2:00 p.m. yesterday properly wearing masks and social distancing. They set about the task while we took the late lunch that we had just begun out to the patio, Tasha accompanying us. They made quick work of the job and departed with the old microwave and all the packaging and packing materials from our new one.

We’re pleased. It looks better than the old one and has a larger capacity. It has all the capabilities we need.

We have now replaced three of the four major kitchen appliances that came with the house (where we arrived five years ago today, by the way). In those five years we have replaced the refrigerator (twice), the stove, and now the microwave. The dishwasher is still going strong, knock on wood. We hope it keeps going for a while.


Parisian Lives

Parisian Lives coverParisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir
by Deirdre Bair
Nan A. Talese (November 12, 2019), 341 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $21.99

Deirdre Bair has written several biographies, but two of her best known and most highly regarded works were her studies of Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir. What they had in common was that both individuals lived in Paris, and she made frequent trips there to work on both books.

Beckett was interesting because he told Bair that he would “neither help nor hinder” her efforts, yet he seemed to track her every move as she interviewed friends, relatives, and associates. Beauvoir was fully cooperative but could be difficult to work with at times. While Bair’s relationship with Beckett remained strictly professional her work with de Beauvoir was complicated by Bair’s admiration for de Beauvoir’s feminist philosophy.

Throughout all this Bair describes managing the projects in the midst of her personal life: getting a PhD, finding an academic position, the politics of getting tenure, and giving proper attention to her husband and children. Her life was busy, complicated, and at times downright frustrating.

Bair’s writing style is engaging and the book at times reads like a novel. She is honest about her personal life and candid about her relationships with Beckett and de Beauvoir. If you enjoy reading about things literary consider this book.


still going

Today is May 1st, and those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that means I am writing about our child Tasha. We long ago designated May 1st as Tasha’s birthday. We brought her home from the shelter on November 1st, All Saints’ Day, in 2005. When we took her to the vet in Gilroy a few days later she said that Tasha appeared to be about a year-and-a-half. We decided to designate her birthday as May 1st in honor of my beloved late Grandma Monaghan. That makes Tasha sixteen today. Amazing!

TashaWe did have a health scare recently. She had some intestinal bleeding, so the vet here in Hemet prescribed her a probiotic and told us to take her off the arthritis pain medication (which she had just started and which was helping her greatly). We had an appointment scheduled for a few days later. (Spaced out appointments due to COVID-19 and social distancing, you know.) The vet took an x-ray and thought he saw a mass on her spleen, so he sent it to the radiologist. Turns out that it was just the position her stomach was in for the x-ray. Tasha is now on the probiotic long term and on a less harsh (but more expensive, of course) arthritis pain medication. A hefty vet bill, but Tasha is well worth it. She is a happy girl and it’s a relief both to see her poop looking normal again and to see her moving around comfortably.

We have always made a point of taking good care of Tasha and feeding her quality food. We don’t know her origins, as animal control picked her up on the mean streets of Gilroy all those years ago, but clearly she contributed some very solid and healthy genetic stock.

We are both so delighted that Tasha is still going and still going well.


Zen in the Art of Writing

Zen in the Art of Writing coverZen in the Art of Writing
Ray Bradbury
RosettaBooks (May 2, 2017), 126 pages
originally published in 1990
Kindle edition $14.99
Purchased during an Early Bird Books sale for $1.99

I am always looking for ways to improve my writing, so when this title turned up on Early Bird Books for $1.99 I grabbed it.

Zen in the Art of Writing is a collection of essays Bradbury wrote over a period of years on the topic of, obviously, writing.  He writes about the importance to him of writing every day. He also describes how he would simply make lists of words, nouns mostly, and how much of his work came out of a word that got his attention on the list.

Bradbury writes about the importance of reading broadly. He writes, “I have known Bertrand Russell and I have known Tom Mix, and my Muse has grown out of the mulch of good, bad, and indifferent.”

He makes one point that particularly struck me:

quoteThis does not mean to say that one’s reaction to everything at a given time should be similar. First off, it cannot be. At ten, Jules Verne is accepted, Huxley rejected. At eighteen, Thomas Wolfe accepted, and Buck Rogers left behind. At thirty, Melville discovered, and Thomas Wolfe lost.

Just because I loved Tom Robbins in my twenties doesn’t mean I will enjoy his work today.

Some great stuff here from one of America’s most respected authors.


Returning to Emmaus

Today we have a Sunday morning lectionary occurrence that happens only once every three years: the reading of the Emmaus story. True, the story is in the lectionary for Easter evening each year, but for Sunday morning it is only found in Year A, the year of Matthew, on the third Sunday of Easter. This is one of those oddities perpetrated by those lectionary elves, as the Emmaus story appears only in the Gospel of Luke.

Emmaus stained glassThe Emmaus Road passage is my favorite narrative in the Bible, and I have written about it many times. You’ll recall that in the story Cleopas and his companion encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him until he has departed. One interpretation of the story suggests that Cleopas’s companion, due to not being named, was a woman. This has to do with the mores and conventions of first century Palestine; since Cleopas is named had his companion been male he would also have been named. I have always rather liked this idea and so for this week’s Good Shepherd e-news I selected the image on your left.

Emmaus stained glass windowIn the days when we were able to meet in person for worship I would always sit in a pew at Good Shepherd near the stained glass window on the right. I always thought that this depicted the Emmaus story, but in a video we created when we were searching for a rector a relative of the person who to whom the window was dedicated said that it was the Last Supper. Oh, well. Then again, as my spiritual director pointed out, perhaps they’re the same story.

What is important about Emmaus, however, is this, in the words of the Rev. Dawn Hutchings, “Each and every one of us has at one time, or indeed for some of us, many times, traveled along the road to Emmaus.”


grilling again

I wrote a while back about how our outdoor gas grill never got used last year. This was due to a couple of factors: we had a new stove that we loved and on account of my surgery I was not allowed red meat until late August. So the grill sat there unused.

grillThis year we decided that we would get back to grilling, but our grill was in serious need of cleaning. Due to social distancing we discontinued the services of our housekeeper, but thinking that she might appreciate the work we told her that we would pay her the regular house cleaning rate to clean the grill. However, she failed to call us on the agreed-upon day after the rain was to have ended, so Terry undertook the task of cleaning it herself. She completed the task and we’re now good to go. Given the current heat spell I think that we’ll probably give the newly-cleaned grill its first use tomorrow.