The Days of Wine and Roses…Well, Mainly Wine.

June 1st, 2020 § 2 comments § permalink

When HG/BSK began their marriage (57th anniversary this year), great wine was cheap. One could buy superb bottles for less than five dollars. HG/BSK began married life on W. 67th Street (just off Central Park) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The 67th Street Wine and Liquor Shop was on the northwest corner of Columbus and 67th. If dining at home during the summer, HG/BSK began dinner with cold splits of very good champagne. Price was $l.50 each. As a weekend house guest in West Hampton, HG/BSK brought a case of Chateau Mouton Rothschild as a gift. Went nicely with grilled sirloin. Price was was less than 50 bucks for the 12 bottles. During early courtship. HG/BSK once had a casual meal of Zito’s bread, ripe French camembert and Irish ham. Drank a bottle of Chateau Margaux ($3.00). These days in New Mexico, BSK acts as wine selector. BSK finds superb values in the nine to thirteen dollar range. BSK favors Pinot Noir from France and California but finds values in Australian Shiraz/Cabernet, Spanish Tempranillo, Italian Chianti, Argentine Malbec, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Annoying aspect of life on Prince Edward Island is the high price of wine (due to tax policies). Makes HG/BSK lower HG/BSK’s drinking standards.

My Yiddishe Momma

May 18th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

Mother’s Day has passed and BSK was appropriately honored by husband, children and grandchildren. Deservedly so. There are lots of songs about Mother. Sentimental and soporific. However, one stands out for pure schmaltz. It’s the tearjerker: “My Yiddishe Momma.” Big hit in 20’s and 30’s vaudeville as sung by Belle Baker, Sophie Tucker and other lusty Jewish ladies with big voices. Song has legs. You can still hear it today. A good venue would be New York’s Sammy’s Romanian Restaurant, a joint that still dispenses schmaltz in the form of chicken fat and in aged, sentimental melodies. (“Beltz, My Shteteleh Beltz” is a big winner). “My Yiddishe Momma” was written by songwriter Jack Yellen ((1882-1991) in the 1920’s. Google the saccharine lyrics. Yellen was prolific. He wrote hundreds of songs (Big hits were FDR’s theme song, “Happy Days are Here Again” and the standard, “Ain’t She Sweet”) plus many film scores. “My Yiddishe Momme” could reduce Jewish (and other) tough guys to tears. Many, many decades ago, journalist HG would join reporters, cops, detectives, loan sharks, bail bondsmen and other raffish characters (including a Lepke mob hitman) at Moe Dubiner’s bar and restaurant on Stanton Street in the Lower East Side. Perfect spot for late night drinking and conviviality. Closing time was very flexible.The group was often joined by Alice C., an attractive young Broadway press agent. She had run away from home at 15 and was a chorus girl in las Vegas and then a singer and entertainer in Jewish Catskill Mountains hotels. Alice was a very heavy drinker and liking the drinks on the house it encouraged, was often coaxed into singing “My Yiddishe Momma” (in English and Yiddish with many encores). Tears rolled down the faces of the tough guys and there were even some sobs. Drinking even more than usual, Alice befouled herself in the bathroom. HG cleaned her up a bit and brought Alice to her apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood. HG stripped Alice (No, HG and Alice were not lovers, just close pals) and plunged her into a hot shower. Comfortable in a fleece bathrobe, Alice was soon sober (black coffee helped). HG delivered a fierce lecture. You sank low tonight, Alice. You are better than this. You are a brilliant and beautiful woman. No more Dubiner’s. No more booze. Make a life for yourself. Never saw Alice again. Years later HG learned Alice became a doctor (a pediatrician), was married (happily) to another doctor; had two children and lived in a Connecticut suburb. Surprising happy ending. By the way, the best version of “My Yiddishe Momma” is in French, sung by the late Charles Aznavour (“The French Sinatra”). You can hear it on Youtube.

Do I Miss New York?

May 16th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

That’s a song by the delightful pianist/composer/lyricist/singer Dave Frishberg (a Los Angeles resident). Wistfully, Frishberg admits he does. HG, born and bred in New York, does not miss New York. The New York HG loved has vanished. HG/BSK have lived in the west (where the deer and the antelope still roam) for 34 years. And, yes, HG/BSK’s home is truly part of The Land of Enchantment (New Mexico state motto). However, HG does miss New York food. Most of the restaurants HG enjoyed are gone. Happily, The Grand Central Oyster Bar is still serving their lush oyster pan roast. Russ & Daughters, Zabar’s, and Barney Greengrass still provide smoked fish. Manhattan’s Chinatown, Queens’ Flushing neighborhood, Brooklyn’s Sunset Park area are still wonderlands for lovers of Chinese and Asian food. Keen’s is still broiling huge mutton chops and many steak houses serve prime New York strip steaks (none match the wonders of the demised Christ Cella). HG’s all-time favorite restaurant, Gage & Tollner (ah, those clam bellies and shad platters) in downtown Brooklyn, is slated to reopen with refurbished interiors and astronomical prices. Alas, traditional dairy restaurants (Ratner’s, Rappaport’s, Steinberg’s, Famous, etc.) and great Jewish delicatessens (Gitlitz, the old 2nd Avenue Deli, Ben’s in Queens, etc.) are no more. HG expects to encounter them in Jewish Heaven (not too soon, HG hopes). Back to Dave Frishberg. He is the author (and singer) of the baseball song, “Van Lingle Mungo” Yes, Mungo did exist. He was a winning and cantankerous pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The song consists of the names of baseball players of the 40’s and 50’s with Van Lingle Mungo as a haunting refrains. If HG is blue (rarely), HG listens to the tune on Youtube. Lifts the spirits. Don’t miss it.

Mom’s Cuisine: The Highs and The Lows

May 6th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

HG’s late Mom, Ida Kopkind Freeman, fed growing HG cuisine ranging from the celestial to the abysmal. Celestial soups: In hot weather, there was icy beet borscht and “schav” (sorrel soup). Both served with a boiled potato, sour cream and chopped onions and radishes. In cold weather: Chicken soup with noodles or “kasha” (buckwheat groats) or fluffy matzo balls. Sometimes all three. “Kapusta” (robust Russian meat and cabbage soup). Mushroom and barley (little HG’s fave). Celestial appetizers: Chopped liver (heavy on lush chicken fat). Gefilte fish (with fiery fresh horseradish grated by HG). “Kreplach” (Jewish dumplings fried in chicken fat). Celestial main dishes: Brisket (“gehdempteh brust” in Yiddish). Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage. Celestial “dairy dishes”: Blintzes; broad egg noodles with pot cheese, kosher salt and cracked black peppercorns; potato “latkes” with sour cream (never apple sauce); matzo brei. Also, bananas or seasonal fruit with sour cream. Celestial baked treats: Noodle and potato kugels; rugelach; “Lekach” (honey cake). Abysmal: All vegetables and salads (a honey and ginger dish of shaved carrots cooked with garlic and chicken fat was known as “tzimmes” was the exception. It was served warm and was delicious.) Absymal: Kosher steak (gristly, tough and broiled beyond well done). Tasteless boiled chicken. Hamburgers fried in Crisco. Mueller’s spaghetti cooked into a sodden mess and covered in canned tomatoes. “American” fried chicken: boiled chicken covered with corn flakes and cooked, once more, in Crisco (this dish made abysmal move into horror). Abysmal desserts: Stewed prunes or canned pears. In retrospect, food winners outnumbered losers and HG thrived. Hey, there was the best after school snack ever. A slice of Pechter’s (or Stuhmer’s) pumpernickel smeared with chicken fat and sprinkled with kosher salt and black pepper (sometimes a slice of raw onion was added). (Patient HG fans: Yes, many posts about HG’s Mom. A pre-Mother’s Day tribute).

HG’s Late Mom VS Vermin

May 5th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

HG’s Mom (Ida Kopkind Freeman) did not fear insects vermin. She would grab big, scary spiders with her hands and crush them. Same went for water bugs, hornets (even the “Murder Hornet” had they been around) and other creepy-crawlies, big and small. Hands were vigorously washed with strong “laundry” soap. Very busy woman: Cleaning. Washing. Dusting. Making beds and changing sheets. Cooking. Pickling. Canning. Knitting. Sewing. Crocheting. No idle moments. Mom grew up in a tiny Belorussian “shetl” Life was rugged. When Mom was seven years old, she went out into the summer warmth to tend the vegetable garden. A very large rat was nibbling a cucumber. Mom kicked the rat with her bare foot. Enraged, the nasty rodent sunk its teeth into Mom’s big toe. The bite cracked a bone. Mom strangled the rat because it wouldn’t let go. No doctors in the “shetl”. So, the bloody wound was treated with a salve made by a neighbor, an old woman named Pesha. Never healed properly. Left a big bump. Painful when walking or standing for a long time. Mom shrugged it off. Hey, worse things happened to Jews in Europe. In the late 1930’s, after family pressure, Mom finally went to a hospital for a toe operation. Loved being in the hospital for a few days. Total leisure. She could lie in a comfortable bed and listen to favorite soap operas on the radio as well as the Yiddish station, WEVD. That was Mom’s taste of luxury.

Yinglish

May 4th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

Yiddish was the language of Ashkenazi Jews. Scorned by Zionists who felt it echoed the European ghettoes, they replaced it with Modern Hebrew. However diminished (millions of Yiddish speakers were murdered in the Holocaust), Yiddish lingers on. There is a splendid body of literature (and much poetry) in Yiddish. I.B. Singer, Nobel prize winner, was one of many important writers whose work was in Yiddish. HG’s late Mom. was born Ida Kopkind in a Belorussian “shtetl” in the Minsk province. She spent the majority of her life in Bronx apartments before her death in a nursing home. Yiddish is a very flexible language, reflecting the nomadic life of Jews in the diaspora. Mom adapted Yiddish into a language HG calls “Yinglish.” How did Mom identify her apartment house neighbors? The woman next door was the “nextdoorehkeh.” And, so on: “upstezzehkeh”, “downstezzehkeh”, “groundfloorehkeh”. An unsavory person was a “nogoodnik.” A flighty young woman, possibly free with her favors, was a “bummerkeh.” Mom Yinglishized geography. HG’s family lived in “Duh Bronix”. Relatives lived in “Brunzevlle” (the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn). A non sequitur: Mom was very gracious when it came to complimenting unmarried women. No matter how unsightly, Mom would always focus on a desirable feature. About a spinster with a face like a potato, Mom pointed out: “She has lovely hands.”

Reading

April 28th, 2020 § 2 comments § permalink

Reading has always been a solace for HG. Did not have the money to buy books growing up during the Great Depression but, armed with a library card, literary riches were available for HG (starting at age five) at the Highbridge and Bainbridge public libraries in The Bronx. During this period of isolation at HG/BSK’s New Mexico home, HG (as always) is finding pleasure in books. Yes, books. No Kindle. The old guy likes the feel of a book in his hands. And, an illustrated book adds to the pleasure. So, what has HG been reading? There were two gifts from gifted daughter, Lesley R., and husband, Profesore Massimo R. One was “The Europeans” by Orlando Figes, an illuminating analysis of the making of a cosmopolitan culture. (Figes books on Russia and the Russian revolution are essential reading.) The other gift was “The Seine: The River That Made Paris” by Elaine Sciolino (she also wrote a delightful book about Rue des Martyrs, HG’s favorite Parisian street). HG is a devotee of everything English so had a good time with Penelope Lively’s “A House Unlocked” (learned much about the English countryside during World War Two; was taught the difference between a walk and a ramble). John Le Carre’s “Agent Running In The Wild” was not up to the master’s scintillating standard. “Boulevard of Dreams: Heady Times, Heartbreak, and Hope Along The Grand Concourse In The Bronx’ by Constance Rosenblum, is pedestrian but brought back many memories from HG’s youth. While browsing the bookcase, HG discovered “Italian Holiday” by Ludwig Bemelmans. Haven’t read it in 37 years but it remains relevant and sprightly despite some dated and condescending remarks about homosexuals (illustrations are as charming as ever). Brendan Gill’s: “A New York Life: Of Friends and Others” is the best bedtime reading. His mini-profiles of New Yorkers and others are clear-eyed, graceful and devoid of sentimentality — the product of a steely intelligence, a searching eye and a satisfying prose style. Ben Katchor’s “The Dairy Restaurant” is a very eccentric book. The drawings by Katchor are magnificent. Page after page of prose tells the reader more than he or she might ever want to know about Jewish dietary laws and the tortuous history of New York’s (and Europe’s} Jewish dairy restaurants. Happily, the book ends with profiles (and reproductions of their vast menus) of HG’s favorite four dairy restaurants (all gone) Rappaport’s (Second Avenue); Ratner’s (Delancey Street); Steinberg’s (Broadway in the West 80’s); Famous (West 72nd Street). Made HG very hungry.

Happy Bronx Memories

April 24th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

HG grew up during the Great Depression and World War Two. Grim years. Before Stalingrad, it looked like Hitler might win. But, there were many happy times in The Bronx for young HG. The best was afternoon story hour at the Bainbridge Public Library (located between Kingsbridge Road and Fordham Road). During the winter, children gathered in the Story Room. A comforting log fire crackled in a fireplace. A gentle-voiced (tiny hint of an Irish brogue) librarian read stories to the children (dramatic inflections). HG dreamed of living in a home with a wood-burning fireplace (for the last 60 years this has been accomplished in New York, New Jersey, Colorado, New Mexico, Nantucket, Fire Island, Prince Edward Island homes). Few cars during wartime so there were happy games played in the streets: Punchball, roller skate hockey, stoop ball, box ball, “Association” football. Enjoyed walking and bicycling (rented bikes) the majestic (much dazzling art deco architecture) Grand Concourse, with late, beloved sister, Beulah Naomi. Tastiest food memories were of Mom’s blintzes, pastrami and corned beef sandwiches at Tower Delicatessen on Kingsbridge Road, Sunday smoked fish brunches with fresh bialys, onion rolls and rye bread from a local bakery.

Hey Jerems!

April 16th, 2020 § 1 comment § permalink

Sadly, HG/BSK’s son, Jeremy, will no longer hear that greeting from Adam Schlesinger, his lifelong best friend and virtual brother. For HG/BSK, Adam was a second son, watching him from birth to growing up on New York’s Upper West Side and Montclair, N.J. . From his earliest years, Adam was precociously musical. HG will not comment on Adam’s musical career. There have been numerous obituaries (from the New York Times to Rolling Stone) praising his contributions to popular music, movies, and the stage. The best critical analysis of Adam’s work was by Jody Rosen of the New Yorker. What HG can comment on is that Adam was brilliant and funny, a serious wit. It is very hard for HG and BSK to write or think about our second son without becoming tearful. However, we will never forget him. HG/BSK have a memorial grove on HG/BSK’s New Mexico property. There are three pine trees in the grove memorializing three remarkable people: HG’s sister, Beulah Naomi Freeman Katz, beloved by all whose lives she touched; BSK’s father, Roy Kent, a decorated bomber pilot in World War Two. A true war hero; BSK’s uncle, David Kent, a Canadian judge specializing in family and juvenile law. He focused his Christian beliefs on justice and mercy. When the pandemic allows, HG/BSK will plant another pine in the grove. In memory of Adam Schlesinger. Be assured the tree will get much sunshine and water.

Hey New York, Please Get Healthy!

April 12th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

New York City is being devastated by the Corona Virus pandemic. HG’s heart goes out to all those who have lost family and friends or are suffering and sick. New York, one of the very great travel designations in the world, is defined by its restaurants, theater, music, dance, art, style, and sports. All of which have been severely affected by the Corona Virus quarantine. The economic ramifications for people that work in these industries have been dire. HG’s restaurateur daughter, Victoria, and chef/husband Marc Meyer have closed their four restaurants (Cookshop, Vic’s, Rosie’s, Shuka) and put the pre-pandemic Shukette on hold. Typical of Vicki and Marc, they are busy raising money via a GO FUND ME campaign for their employees who have been without paychecks for weeks. HG/BSK hopes restaurant workers are recognized by the city and state’s leaders when enacting government programs to confront this crisis. We can’t lose these dedicated workers who serve millions with skill, industry and humor.

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