Prosciutto and Melon

9 Aug

At Brown’s County Market, we know our customers.  We know what they eat and how they shop.

This lady holding up the line today, she shops every day.  Every day.  Maybe that is how they do it in France, but I think she’s just disorganized.  It’s ridiculous how much money (and time) she spends on groceries.  Sad.

Take today, for instance.  She’s got a whole two items in her cart: a honeydew melon and a something from the deli with no price on it.  Does she happen to know the price?

Uh, no, sorry, no she doesn’t. 

You don’t have to be sorry to me, lady, you’re not being careless with my money.  And this happens all the time.

Now, I would never have paid $7.95 for two paper-thin slices of ham, even if it is called prosciutto.  How dumb.  It’s just food.  I could get two pounds of ground beef, hamburger buns and potatoes and feed my whole family for that kind of money.  But I don’t say that to her.

Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

I make conversation with my customers.  It’s the polite thing to do.  So I ask her about the prosciutto and melon combination.  Just to be nice.  These foodies, with their fancy coffees, imported cheeses and organic produce, always turning their nose up at what the rest of us eat, she says:

You like ham and pineapple, don’t you?

You like ham and pineapple, don’t you?  That’s the line that gets a laugh at my kitchen table over a glass of wine, if this is a story about snobs in the Midwest who think about food too much.

Melon and Prosciutto

8 Aug

At Hy-Vee or Brown’s County Market, I can often find a good melon.  Especially in August.  We grow them around here.

But I’ve never seen prosciutto at Brown’s before.  For a split second, I think about taking all six packages on the shelf.

Be the change you want to see in the world, right?

I’ve totally forgotten why I came to the store now.   All I’m thinking  about is my paper-thin slice of prosciutto with some melon and a glass of wine.

The cashier looks tired.  And now she’s annoyed because my prosciutto has no price tag.

— Ma’am, you wouldn’t happen know the price on this, would you?

— Uh, no, sorry, no, I don’t.

The boy who bags groceries will have to ask the manager.   I’ll have more conversation with the cashier than I expected.

— So, what is this stuff anyway?

— It’s a kind of ham.  Sort of.

— Yeah?  Is it any good?

— It’s delicious.  Especially with melon.

— Seriously? With melon?

— Sure, you like ham and pineapple, don’t you?

The grocery bagger hollers: SEVEN DOLLARS AND NINETY-FIVE CENTS.

— $7.95?   That’s not much ham for $7.95.  You sure you still want it?  I can put it back on the shelf for you.

— No, no I’ll take it.  It sounds expensive, I know, but you only need a little bit of it.

— Really, it’s that filling?  It plumps up when you cook it, I guess, huh?

It plumps up when you cook it.  That’s the line that gets a laugh at my kitchen table over a glass of wine, if this is a story about provincial Midwesterners who don’t know what prosciutto is.

All Happy Families

30 Jul

Anna and I walk past a cemetery on the way to preschool.  She looks at the markers, beaming:

“Mama, we don’t have any dead people in our family.”

That’s right, dear: no teenage mothers, no drug addicts and no dead people.   That’s the kind of folk you come from.

Can you blame her for feeling lucky, maybe even a little smug?

We have a few crazies, and a couple more rich uncles would be nice, but at least we don’t produce dead people.  Count it among our immutable characteristics: Medium-sized, middle class, educated family of live people.

That’s one of our beloved family stories starring my daughter.  And it sums up her outlook.

I am her mother: Brown hair, hazel eyes, fair complexion, reasonably intelligent, young.

We dance

20 Jul

30th high school reunion.

I am sitting at the bar by myself, waiting for the DJ to start the music.  I’ve got to have a break before I hear another person tell me that I haven’t changed a bit.  And I need a drink before I hear (again!) my ecstatic: “Neither have you!”

Just let the music begin.

Jeff comes over and sits down next to me.  He starts to talk.  I remember him immediately.  We never had a class together, but our parents were friends.

He talks and talks and talks.  Just as I remember him. It’s a torrent of whatever is running through his mind, I guess.

I try to pay attention, but it’s a struggle: his intonation doesn’t change much.  I ask a question from time to time to register participation.

I catch his eye, just for a second:

I haven’t seen you in 30 years, I say.

Jeff says, “I remember John Cunningham from school.  John Cunningham went to school with me.  But I haven’t seen him…”

There’s more about John Cunningham, but I’m checking out fast.

I try this: It’s nice to see everybody after so many years, isn’t it?

“I remember John Cunningham.  He was in school with me…”

I start to plan my escape.

I throw this out, partly as a good exit line: You know what, Jeff, when the music begins, we should dance.

Then the world stopped.  John Cunningham vanished.  Jeff looks at me.

He looks at me:

“I would like to dance with you.”

And I look at him.  And I believe him.

Swapping Recipes with Ferlinghetti

2 Jul

Recipe For Happiness Khaborovsk Or Anyplace
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day

Recipe for Discontent Khabarovsk  Or Anyplace
sweat and sprezzatura

One distractible reader with wanderlust
with one letter missing a vertical line,
making one oh! instead of ah!

One not necessarily very beautiful woman now dreaming
of going to Khabarovsk or Khaborovsk or Anyplace

One fine day.

Satoshi Kanazawa, In My Alternate Reality

25 Jun

A fiction.  Not the actual Mr. Kanasawa’s words.

In a parallel universe, Satoshi Kanasawa gives this exclusive interview to our very own Sweat and Sprezzatura correspondent about his recent blog post:

“Why are Asian Men Less Physically Attractive than Other Men?”

sweat and sprezzatura asks:

Mr. Kanazawa, tell us about your process in researching and writing this post?

SK responds:

I was interested in exploring racial differences and the relationship between race and physical attractiveness.

My first impulse was to court controversy by focusing my findings on black women.  Black and women: It’s a winning combination.

Scientific findings of black inferiority have the air of daring in the politically-correct West. But, really, it’s just good business. Both sides of the culture war mobilize, and that means buzz!  Eventually, the buzz subsides, and both sides go home even more entrenched, but my name is on everybody’s lips.

As for women, I know what I’m doing when I talk about women.  Women have beauty, and beauty is power.  And men, at their most vulnerable, resent the power of female beauty.  I successfully harnessed that resentment in a blog post called “Are All Women Essentially Prostitutes?”

Great title, huh?  And, by the way, they are all whores.

And so are popular writers.

For this post, I intended to advance the thesis that black women are less attractive than other women.  Our male frustration at female beauty, and its inaccessibility, is assuaged by reminding women that some of them are dogs.  It’s a reassertion of power.  That’s the marketable concept.

sweat and sprezzatura:

And, yet, Mr. Kanazawa, that’s not the post you wrote.  Why?

SK :

I remembered David Chappelle’s Black White Supremacist, and how Chappelle used humor, even a self-deprecating humor, not to exploit prevailing controversies swirling around race, but to force people to think about race and racism.  It’s funny, unexpected, perverse and effective.  And I thought I could do the same, if I turned my own theory against myself.

Everybody likes an Asian girl, as t-shirts proclaim.  But on the hierarchy of sexy, Asian men rank fairly low.   I point out that Asian men have less hair than men of other races.  I throw in the cringe-worthy assertion made by Psychology Today that Asian men have sex less frequently than men of other races.  Asian men, I conclude, have less testosterone than other men.

Men with lower levels of testosterone have less masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why Asian men are less physically attractive.

And the sad truth is that I don’t stand a chance with Beyoncé.

Mr. Kanazawa, that’s the blog post you could have written.  It would have made your point with humor and elegance.  Beautifully, really.

Beauty: we yearn for it.  In women. And in writing.

Imagined by a woman with enough testosterone to enjoy competing in the arena of taking A Look at the Hard Truths About Human Nature.

Yellow, Yellow, Yellow

19 Jun

Did Vincent Van Gogh see yellow because he took Digitalis to control bouts of epilepsy? It’s an idea I took from Ferrebeekeeper.


I like the William Carlos Williams explanation of xanthopsia.

A Love Song

What have I to say to you
When we shall meet?
I lie here thinking of you.

The stain of love
Is upon the world.
Yellow, yellow, yellow,

It eats into the leaves,
Smears with saffron
The horned branches that lean
Against a smooth purple sky.

There is no light—
Only a honey-thick stain
That drips from leaf to leaf
And limb to limb
Spoiling the colours
Of the whole world.

I am alone.
The weight of love
Has buoyed me up
Till my head
Knocks against the sky.  See me!

My hair is dripping with nectar—
Starlings carry it
On their black wings.

See, at last
My arms and my hands
Are lying idle.

How can I tell

If I shall ever love you again
As I do now?


Added as a postscript, on the fine recommendation of Dafna, who kindly reads:

The Lady the Epilogue

2 Mar

It is not the fashion to see the lady the epilogue; but
it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord the prologue.

If it be true that good wine needs no bush, ’tis true that a good
blog needs no epilogue. Yet to good wine they do use good bushes;
and good blogs prove the better by the help of good epilogues.

What a case am I in, then, that am neither a good epilogue nor
cannot insinuate with you in the behalf of a good blog! I am not
furnished like a beggar; therefore to beg will not become me: my
way is to conjure you; and I’ll begin with the women:

I charge you, O women,
for the love you bear to men,
to like as much of this blog as please you.

And I charge you, O men,
for the love you bear to women;
–as I perceive by your simpering, none of you hates them,–
that between you and the women the blog may please.

If I were a woman,
I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me,
complexions that liked me,
and breaths that I defied not;
and, I am sure,
as many as have good beards,
or good faces,
or sweet breaths,
will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy,
bid me farewell.

OK, it’s not necessarily my last post ever, but I am taking a break, and I can’t resist posing (briefly) as Rosalind on the way out the door. Humor me.

Thanks for reading and commenting. Perhaps something along the way was as you like it. 😉

South Island Cathedrals

24 Feb

This is main square in Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island.


That’s how it looked in September of 1998, when my children, then 5 and 7, chased seagulls and ate ice cream cones in the shadow of the Christchurch Cathedral.

One afternoon, we came downtown with a bag of cut-out squares and triangles and circles. And against their will, my children gave in to my hopeful lesson in architecture and geometry.

Lots of red and gray construction paper blew away with the wind, but we built a cathedral.


And, now, on Thomas Stasyk’s blog, I read about the earthquake that rocked Christchurch earlier this week, leaving the cathedral in a rubble, as if we had forgotten to paste geometric shapes securely to the page.

While we were in Zealand, we took a trip up the coast to Kaikoura for the world’s best whale-watching expedition ever. Whales: even mightier than a cathedral.

Here is that day, exuberantly memorialized by my son.


Let me get back to Thomas Stasyk’s post “Something to Think About” for a moment.

Tom refers to a theory linking beached whales with earthquakes. Evidently, there were large whale beachings in New Zealand in early February, with more than 80 whales stranded on shore.

Why would we think we can master Nature?

Whoever is Hungry

17 Feb

Passover is still several weeks away.  We have time to think about how we’ll talk about our flight to freedom at this year’s Seder.

Even if you’re not Jewish, you probably know that the Passover Seder is a ritual retelling (and reliving) of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

All good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and so does this one:

  • Israel arrives in Egypt
  • Israel is enslaved by Egypt, and
  • (finally! triumphantly!) with a little divine help, Israel is freed from tyranny.

More prayers.  A few more songs.

But, the narrative part of the Seder ends on that ecstatic note.

Sort of like that moment in The Graduate, when Dustin Hoffman bangs on the window of the church, Katharine Ross turns from the altar, and the two of them make a run for it, the Egyptians trapped in the Red Sea, crucifix barring the doors.

But, the story of a free Israel didn’t really end that way.

And I’m not talking about the whole catastrophe of modern Jewish history.  I mean the Exodus itself didn’t end with that moment.  It wasn’t all milk and honey right away.

Problem is,  even the wimpiest seder is long enough as it is.

Who has the strength to talk about forty years in the wilderness? We can either have dinner, finally, or keep talking.  Tales about cranky, rebellious, ungrateful Israelites and that nasty incident with the golden calf would just bring everybody down.   Nobody wants to remember that Moses “saw the people were out of control…so that they were a menace to any who might oppose them.”

So, this night is different from all other nights, in part, because we let ourselves graduate from bondage without the postscript; we skip that after-the-mad-dash-to-freedom scene on the bus, when the young couple looks scared and confused and uncomfortable as they enter the world of their choices.

To be fair to our traditions, we do extrapolate a good deal from our literal Pharoah to the infinite varieties of oppression in the world today.

The invocation to our Seder ends with these words:

We are reminded this night that we cannot truly be free as long as others are enslaved.  The message our Haggadah proclaims is a song of universal freedom.

It’s obvious how we must extrapolate this year.  So I’m thinking about it.

Today, I asked my son: “Now that Egyptians have fled their metaphorical Egypt, where do you suppose they’ll go?”

In other words: Yes, but is it good for the Jews?

“Mother, if you are suggesting anything but rejoicing at Mubarak’s resignation, you’re just a hypocrite.”

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.

Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.