What Ever Happened to the Simple Sandwich?
The Carls Jr. hamburger chain had a TV ad a few years ago that used as its motto: “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.” It seems that what used to be a rather simple dish has grown out of all proportion. I used to be a big fan of sandwiches; and I still am—if I make them myself!
Over the course of the last few years, what has happened to sandwiches is a microcosm of what has happened to American cooking. In a word, there is more of everything, until it is a major production including the beginnings of a salad and the obligatory glop, whether it is mayonnaise, mustard, Russian or Ranch dressing.
Under no circumstances would I make a sandwich if:
- It wouldn’t fit in my mouth
- Most of its contents would drip onto my shirt
My Father and my uncle used to make fun of me because I tended to make sandwiches out of all kinds of meat dishes, which they preferred to eat in splendid isolation from bread, raw and pickled vegetables, salad dressing, and cheese. In fact, my sandwiches were rather simple affairs, and they still are.
Go to Google Images and search for pictures of sandwiches, or click here. You won’t find anything but rather elaborate productions.
Could Summer Really Be Over?
Our seasons in Los Angeles are very different than in other parts of the country. For the last few days, we’ve had a touch of autumn; but that doesn’t mean that there will be any consistency in the weather over the next six weeks or so. We might very well be in for a spell of hot, dry, windy weather—otherwise known as the Santa Ana winds. Or we could actually get some measurable (i.e., more than 1 centimeter) precipitation, though that is unlikely. It will probably get cooler in the evenings, or not.
One thing for sure: My left knee is aching, and I struggle slightly to rise from a sitting position. I’ve just taken some aspirin, which will probably help some. And I will probably get my flu shot sometime this week, because the flu season sets in fast whenever the weather gets cooler.
Although this has not been a particularly hot summer, it has been a humid one. Our humidity usually lasts only through July, but this year it has been virtually non-stop. We even got some slight drizzle yesterday and Friday. It would be nice if we had another wet winter, though the scientists who predict this sort of thing say that California will continue to have terrible droughts. This translates into terrible wildfires. Sigh!
American Flag Pin
Thanks to the current occupant of the White House, I am feeling less patriotic than ever. I have come to associate the ubiquitous flag pins that Republican politicians wear with the excesses of the Trump administration. As Dr. Samuel Johnson noted, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” I don’t believe that for members of the older generation who have fought for our country, but for younger people, especially politicians, who use it to identify themselves as racists, white nationalists, saboteurs, and looters—in a word, Republicans. It is a symbol the course of being degraded beyond all recognition.
I am feeling out of touch with American voters. Can I trust them to actually love their country and send the Trump administration down to ignominious defeat? Not entirely, especially in certain parts of the country where politics is a form of resentment and regional hatred, especially against voters who live in large cities. It is the politics of Hooterville versus the politics of New York and California. (Though even New York and California have isolated pockets of atavistic tendencies.)
It has gotten to the point that I feel alienated from American politics, both Republicans and Democrats. (I now vote No Party Preference.) I don’t even classify myself as being Caucasian any more. As a Hungarian-American, I am Finno-Ugric, or “Other Race.” (Most of my rage is directed at White voters.)
I hope that this is only a phase I am going through until the politics of the United States returns to normal—that is, if it ever does.
St Peter Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio
When I was attending high school at St Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, between 1958 and 1962, I started two extracurricular activities. One was a literary magazine called The Phoenix (our school teams were the Firebirds). I am actually a little embarrassed about the quality of our articles and illustrations. But more interestingly, I started a philosophy club which met evenings. Our moderator was a gaunt Marist missionary priest who had spent years attempting to convert the natives of New Guinea to Catholicism.
Imagine his discomfiture when a bunch of high school kids decided to argue about the existence of God. We had a couple of firebrands in the group—Ed Jaskiewicz and Rodger Harper—who set about demolishing two millennia of church dogma.
The “Angelic Doctor,” St Thomas Aquinas
As a good practicing Catholic (at the time), I introduced St. Thomas Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God. That didn’t sit too well with Jaskiewicz, who shot them down while Father Barrett, our moderator, turned a vivid shade of fuchsia. For my part, I started to stammer. It just wouldn’t do for Chanel’s star student to foment heresy.
Well, neither the philosophy club nor the literary magazine exist today. In fact, St. Peter Chanel High School is no more. The last I heard, the school was going to be torn down by he Bedford, Ohio, Board of Education. And I’m still a little skittish about philosophy. It’s not because I still believe in Aquinas’s five proofs, which are the bedrock of Catholic doctrine, but because I’ve always found philosophy so difficult. In no other field of endeavor do all the participants so anathemize one another.
I am currently reading Albert Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus and actually liking his existential philosophy. It’s nice sometimes to undergo change after so many years.
A Book That Introduced Me to Some Great Writers
Sherlock Holmes was never the only game in town. Granted, he was easily the best of the Victorian and Edwardian detectives; but there were a number of others worth reading. When I came upon the above book years ago, I was introduced to a whole constellation of British crime-fighters. The book was edited by Sir Hugh Greene (1910-1987), brother of novelist Graham Greene and director-general of the BBC during the 1960s. In all, he produced four books honoring lesser-known British and American detectives:
- The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
- Cosmopolitan Crimes: Foreign Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971)
- The Further Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1973)
- The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1979)
The original volume was by far the best of the series. The only author I followed from the three later volumes was Jacques Futrelle, creator of the Thinking Machine detective stories, who drowned in the Titanic disaster of 1912.
For a number of years, I sought collections of several authors recommended in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. The ones who interested me the most were:
- Arthur Morrison, who, in addition to his Martin Hewitt stories wrote the very Dickensian The Hole in the Wall and the excellent Dorrington Deed Box
- Clifford Ashdown, author of the Romney Pringle stories
- Baroness Orczy, the Hungarian woman author who gave us The Scarlet Pimpernel also wrote a series about a lady journalist in London named Polly Burton (The Old Man in the Corner stories)
- R. Austin Freeman’s Edwardian Doctor Thorndyke forensic investigation stories appeared in several volumes
- William Hope Hodgson wrote a series of stories about a ghost investigator named Carnacki
- Ernest Bramah, a tea merchant, gave us a blind detective named Max Carrados, who was actually able to read newspapers by feeling the ink on the newsprint
My favorites from the above list are Bramah and Morrison, with Orczy and Freeman not far behind. Unfortunately, most of their books are devilishly hard to find.
Mérida at Night
There are a handful of cities with which I have fallen in love over the years. They include Edinburgh, Scotland; Paris, France; Budapest, Hungary; Lima, Peru; and Mérida, Yucatán in Mexico. Mérida is widely known as the White City for the whitewashed look of its buildings. I don’t know if they have any “glass box” high-rises that have been built since 1992 (when I was there last), but I am willing to bet there are none.
I vividly remember arriving there for the first time in November 1975. The taxi ride from Manuel Crescencio Rejón Airport to the Hotel Mérida on Calle 60 was an entirely new experience for me. We passed a huge Coca Cola bottling plant on the road to the airport and a large number of single-story homes that seemed to be open to the street. I saw families sitting at their dinner table as if there were no fourth wall.
It was warm and humid: We were in the tropics. Everything looked so different. Then as we passed the Zócalo, I saw the scruffy looking old cathedral of San Ildefonso, and the large central square with its confidenciales (S-shaped love seat benches).
Confidenciales: Love Seat Benches in Mérida’s Parks
The next few days were an education for me. I decided to take a few tours, but I was up to the challenge of trying my Spanish. I went through a Spanish-only travel agency called Turistica Yucateca and spent two days traveling to such obscure Maya sites as Acanceh, Dzibilchaltún, and Mayapan with an English speaking guide named Manuel Quinones Moreno, who had his own automobile. I played chess with him at the ruins of Dzibilchaltún, losing all my games. We even visited an old henequén hacienda where rope was manufactured. You may recall that there used to be a kind of rope called sisal, named after the Port of Sisal in Yucatán from where the rope was shipped across the world.
I have nothing but happy memories of Mérida, and I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with the White City.
Nuclear Power Plant Cooling Tower
One of the reasons the Democrats have such a hard time winning the hearts and minds of voters for the presidency is that they hamstring themselves with an insistence on ideological purity—even where it doesn’t matter. Take the issue of nuclear power, for instance. We know from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima that nuclear power can be deadly. So instead of improving the safety of nuclear power, many U.S. politicians have decided that all nuclear power is potentially deadly.
In a rush to legitimize the LGBTQRSTUV &c &c population, we have created a minefield on the subject of gender identity. And even more, with the #MeToo movement, while attempting to eliminate sexual harassment from the social sphere and workplace, we have created another minefield—one that has ensnared such relative innocents as Joe Biden and Al Franken.
To What Extent Is This Serious Sexual Harassment?
Granted that Biden’s and Franken’s touchie-feelie incidents are in poor taste, to what extent have they they done anything more than remind us that sometimes people can behave inappropriately while not at the same time criminally. Do such acts merit political banishment for all time?
Now we are finding that—if ever one went around in blackface for any reason and irrespective of time period—they are racist. Again, I just think such persons were being merely inappropriate.
Consider that our current president is one of the most inappropriate human beings on the planet. And he has gleefully admitted to behaving boorishly on issues relating to sex, race, religion, and just about any other issue about which people are insensitive. So why are Democrats doing Trump’s work for him, by banishing politicians for venial sins while the major malefactor laughs up his sleeve?
I Frequently Re-Read Books That Have Impressed Me
This year I have re-read ten books since the start of 2019, such as Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim. It has been eleven years since I have read any Conrad, back when I had finally finished Under Western Eyes, which I had started back in college. The main reason I ever re-read a book is to see whether I have somehow changed in the intervening years. Very occasionally, I forget that I have read a particular work in the past and go through it a second time, not realizing my mistake until I check my reading log. Below is a list of 2019 re-reads:
- Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim
- Laurence Sterne: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
- Sean O’Casey: Juno and the Paycock
- Virginia Woolf: Monday or Tuesday, Eight Stories. I re-read this one by accident.
- John Lloyd Stephens: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán. I will probably re-read a number of other books about Mexico in the next few months, most of which I have not touched for over 30 years.
- William Shakespeare: Hamlet. Multiple re-reads.
- G. K. Chesterton: Robert Louis Stevenson and The Poet and the Lunatics. I frequently re-read Chesterton for sheer enjoyment.
- J. E. Neale: Queen Elizabeth I
A Joy to Read Any Number of Times
As my Yucatán vacation draws close, I will probably re-read Fanny Calderón de la Barca’s Life in Mexico; Charles Macomb Flandrau’s Viva Mexico!; and Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano and a few other books.
Hank Williams (1923-1953)
Where is the real artistic genius of America to be found? Sad to say, it’s not literature. It’s not painting or sculpture. Near as I can say, what the United States will be most remembered for is music—not only jazz, blues, soul, bluegrass, rockabilly, zydeco, gospel, country & western, but much of rock & roll as well. Names like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, and a host of others will answer the question: What has America produced that will stand the test of time?
As a self-proclaimed intellectual, I am aware that such a title cuts no mustard in the U S of A. Far from it. It’s almost a term of opprobrium.
Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966)—A Favorite of Mine
Curiously, in such a racist country as ours, it’s the only place that comfortably cuts through the racial divide.Black artists copied from the whites, though not nearly as much as white artists copied from African-Americans.
Of course, there is no Nobel Prize for music. It registers in the heart—and, typically American, at the Box Office.
Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Portrait of Laurence Sterne
He was a Yorkshire Anglican clergyman who just happened to write one of the five greatest novels ever written, Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) gave us The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen (1759-1761), a book that can be read and re-read with pleasure over an entire lifetime. It was in the mid 1960s that I first encountered it in Chauncey C. Loomis’s class on “The Eighteenth Century English Novel.” Loomis was my favorite professor of English, which happened to be my major at Dartmouth. I am still re-living that class and re-reading the books that he assigned. That makes his class one of the best I ever took.
Tristram Shandy revolves around four plot points that would seem to be pretty thin. All the plot points involve either interruptions or “abridgments” of various sorts:
- Just as Mr Shandy and his wife are approaching orgasm, the latter asks her husband if he has rewound their clock.
- When Tristram is being born, the forceps of Dr Slop, who presides at the birth, crush the little lad’s nose.
- As a result of a miscommunication with one of the servants, the new baby is christened Tristram instead of Trismegistus.
- Tristram is accidentally circumcised when a window crashes down upon his foreskin.
How these four main plot points are stretched out over some five hundred pages of warmth and hilarity is a major miracle. The plot is positively Ptolemaic, with little epicycles and interruptions that create hilarious interludes.
It has always amazed me that it is the young Tristram Shandy who is narrating the novel. Yet he is not born until midway through the book, after we have been exposed to numerous incidents which the young Shandy could not have experienced as he was still in utero.
I can see myself coming back to Tristram Shandy again and again, paging at random to the beginning of a sequence, and reveling in it again … and again.