Vacation Homes Along the Delta of the Paraná
I was talking to my friend Bill Korn a few minutes ago. When he happened to mention that there were massive fires in the delta of the Paraná River, I was shocked. I was familiar with the Paraná Delta, having taken a boat tour of the area in 2006 and 2015. I pulled up an article The Guardian, which described parts of the delta upriver from Tigre, around the city of Rosario: The area with which I was familiar was where the river feeds into the Rio de la Plata. It is an a weekend getaway for the residents of Buenos Aires that is densely vegetated, very pretty, but full of mosquitoes.
The Drainage Area of the River Paraná
The Paraná is the second longest river in South America. Its drainage area includes Argentina, all of Paraguay, and parts of Brazil and Bolivia. As you can see from the above map, Rosario is not far from Rosario, a city I went through on a night bus on the way to Puerto Iguazu, where the boundaries of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina meet, The river is some 3,030 miles (4,800 km) long and is navigable for much of its length with several deep water ports along its length. In Puerto Iguazu, I dined on surubi, a fresh water fish caught on the river.
View from a Boat Ride on the Delta
I have been to Argentina three times and fallen in love with the country. I hope that, what with Argentina mired in the coronavirus, they manage to save some of the beautiful places I have seen. It is along the river that much of Argentina’s Yerba Mate crop is grown. I remember from that bus ride passing through almost a hundred miles of fields where the tea leaves are grown.
We’re All in This Together, or Are We?
There is a nauseating saccharine imagine coming down to us from corporate America of everyday heroes in the struggle against coronavirus. The word “hero” is being bandied about … a lot! But when you come to think about it, it doesn’t cost much to employ people in hazardous work without making much of an effort to guarantee their safety. You see, if you call them heroes, you open up the possibility that many of them can make the ultimate sacrifice and become martyrs. And we know that martyrs are heroes that can no longer fight back. Very safe from a corporate standpoint.
I have become very suspicious of this type of unanimity from U.S. corporations. But it’s not just an American trait: During the Chernobyl disaster, dozens of Soviet citizens were fighting toxic radioactivity with nothing more protective than brooms and shovels. Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich wrote a book of interviews with people involved in the disaster. It was entitled Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. I am not trying to imply that the coronavirus is like a nuclear accident, but it certainly shared a similar awfulness and magnitude.
SNL Takes on Three Mile Island
While on the subject of nuclear accidents, I am reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. The title of the skit was “The Pepsi Syndrome.” The reaction of the bigwigs was to send Garrett Morris dressed as a maid with a broom to clean up the radioactivity.
It is in the nature of power to make the innocent pay the price. The whole hero thing is nothing more than soft soap, and during this epidemic, we certainly have had enough of soft soap, haven’t we?
Me in Ojai 1999
I bought my first digital camera, a Kodak, in 1999. Although I had severe osteoarthritis in my left hip and did not dare walk without a cane, I was still pretty active, working full-time at a busy Westwood accounting firm, traveling, and even hiking on weekends. It was not without pain, however, which was to get worse until 2002, when I visited my orthopedist who asked me, while looking at my X-Ray, “Tell me, Mr. Paris, how is it you are able to walk at all?” At that point, my left leg was 1½ inches shorter than my right; and I had a few bad falls.
Within a few months, I had a hip replacement, during which my left leg was somehow lengthened to be even with my right. After my release from Cedars-Sinai and several visits to a physical therapist, I was able to walk without cane and without pain.
The surgery was nothing less than a miracle—and not even the first one in my life. Back in September 1966, I was hospitalized at Cleveland’s Fairview Park Hospital with a chromophobe adenoma, a pituitary tumor that had given me over ten years of severe frontal headaches on most days. With considerable pain, I managed to get a four-year education at an Ivy League college thinking I was just just being a coward about pain. My headaches were due to migraines, a “lazy eye,” hay fever—you name it! It was only when I got the mother of all headaches, one that segued into a coma, that my doctors figured out there was something else happening. In those days,it was not easy to look inside the body except via X-Rays, and X-Rays did not show tumors.
Fortunately, my family doctor just happened to be an endocrinologist who managed to guess I had a pituitary tumor. The surgery was one which typically killed the patient, turned him into a paralytic or a blind man. I was the first person ever to have my pituitary accessed through the brain without dying or becoming totally disabled. And the headaches are totally gone, except for an occasional small one that responds well to aspirin.
Still Standing Statue of Saint Junipero Serra
I have written before about attempts by mostly leftist protestors to rewrite history by attacking monuments commemorating Confederate generals, Christopher Columbus, and now Father Junipero Serra, recently declared a saint by Pope Francis. I get very uncomfortable by anyone attempting to mess with the past. People believed and behaved differently in the past, and, yes, they were frequently racist. In fact, before a certain point in the Twentieth Century, everyone was a racist. That included my Mother and Father, whose memory I revere.
The current attempts to punish past racists remind me of a scene from Luis Buñuel’s film The Milky Way (La Voie Lactée), my favorite among his films. In one scene, the religious pilgrims view the exhumation of the body of an archbishop who, because it was discovered he had been a heretic, is to have his body burned. I sincerely doubt that the heretical bishop was discommoded in any way by the firing of his remains; and I doubt that the religious zealots viewing the exhumation and fire received any benefit therefrom. I feel the same way about the renaming of Fort Bragg, the pulling down of statues of Robert E. Lee and Junipero Serra.
Over the years, Martine and I have visited several of the California missions founded by Father Serra. We found them to be places of peace. We know for a fact that many of these missions included barracks for Spanish troops. If there were any depredations against native aborigines, they were conducted by soldiers and not Franciscan priests and monks. Were any of these Franciscans racists? Of course, they were Spanish—and that racism was endemic during that historical era.
Father Junipero Serra, Recently Sainted
Perhaps we should burn all our history books, after first admitting that all previous generations were tainted. Instead of rewriting history, perhaps we should burn all the books and create a mythical Edenic portrait of people who lived in the past and condoned slavery while admitting that all men were created equal. Maybe we should burn the people who who are toppling the statues. It makes me disgusted that I have liberal leanings!
Our Dinner Table in 2011
My main meal of the day is breakfast; and the most important component of my breakfast is a fresh pot of tea. The above photo was taken nine years ago, but I am using the same cheap metal Japanese teapot. I like it because it has a removable insert which captures all the tea leaves so I don’t end up pouring any in my cup. Visible in the upper left of the photo is a green and grey houndstooth-checked tea cosy, which I hardly use any more. After breakfast, I let my tea cool and, for lunch and dinner, pour the cold tea into a glass and add ice cubes. If I want to be fancy, I could also add Splenda, a little splash of dark rum, and a squeeze of lemon or lime.
My tea preference is almost always an Indian black, consisting of Ahmad of London’s loose teas, sometimes a mix of Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam, and Brooke Bond Red Label tea. Right now, I am drinking pure Darjeeling, which I consider the best of Indian teas. When the coronavirus eventually subsides, I will shop for a high-quality Chinese Oolong from Ten Ren Tea Company for occasional entertaining.
At present, I add a bit of Mesquite Honey to the tea in my cup and a squeeze of lime.
Along with the tea, I rotate between steel-cut oatmeal with dried cranberries; grits with sausage, butter, and pepper; scrambled eggs with Serrano chiles; onion or sesame bagel with butter and cream cheese; my own kind of Welsh Rarebit on a sourdough English muffin with sharp Cheddar cheese and spicy red chile powder; crunchy peanut butter and jelly sandwich; sausage and biscuit; or, if I am pressed for time, just buttered toast.
It’s not much, but it makes an excellent start to my day. Martine and I usually eat breakfast separately, so I usually read the Los Angeles Times, concentrating on the comics, Sudoku and Kenken games, and (finally) the news.
Suddenly, in My Quarantined Stupor, Baja California Looked Better and Better
Next to my seat at the kitchen table sits a stack of Lonely Planet and Moon travel guides. Of late, the top volume in the stack has been the Moon Baja guide. I have nibbled at the edges of the 775-mile (1,274 km) peninsula several times: once to Cabo San Lucas for several days, once to Ensenada for three days, once to Tijuana on a day trip, and once to Mexicali.
What begins to interest me of late is a drive on Mexica Route 1 from Tijuana all the way to Cabo San Lucas. If I went by bus, it would be a 24-hour ride. If I went by car, it would be much longer, because there are a number of towns along the way at which I’d like to stop for several days, and a number of side trips to the old Jesuit missions which are the Mexican equivalent of the Serra’s missions in my State of (Alta) California.
Mapa of the Baja California Peninsula
I am not much of a beach person, but I do love the desert—but never during the heat of summer. I see myself visiting missions, Indian cave paintings, taking pangas to se the Grey Whales, eating fish tacos and drinking good Mexican beer. I want to see the desert full of strange Boojum Trees (Fouquieria columnaris), which look as if they could have been invented by Dr. Seuss.
Paging Dr. Seuss
The damnable thing is that Baja is so close to Los Angeles. It would take me maybe three hours to drive to the border. I would prefer to rent a car, but I don’t like the idea of driving from TJ to Los Cabos and back again. I’ll have to see if some special arrangement could be made for me to fly back after dropping the car off.
Well, it’s maybe just a pipe dream; but it could happen.
My Own Toenails Don’t Look Anywhere Near So Good
I am happy to say that basically I am in good health, even though I have lived three quarters of a century. Of course, I still don’t have a pituitary gland (and never will), and my Type II Diabetes, though under control, doesn’t show signs of leaving.
Of late, my major complains have to do with my ingrown toenails and my teeth, both problems I inherited from my father. My father also had Diabetes, and suffered from the pain of excruciating neuropathy. Back in his day, though, I don’t think that his doctors really understood Diabetes. Neither did anyone in my family. The word for Diabetes in Hungarian is cukor (pronounced TSOO-khor), the same as the word for sugar. Naturally, people believed that if you switched from sugar to saccharin, everything would be A-OK.
This week I have been soaking my toes in warm water with Epsom Salts, applying triple antibiotic ointment to two ingrown nails, and bandaging them—with Martine’s help. Tomorrow, I see the podiatrist who will past judgment on how strictly I’m going to have to care for them.
I have bad teeth, but much of the problem is my own fault. I have generally avoided brushing my teeth; consequently, plaque ran wild, caused cavities, and in general undermined my crowns. Only recently, I bought an electric rotary toothbrush (Oral B) and began the long slow process of undoing a whole lot of negligence. Medicare takes care of my toes, but teeth are an entirely different matter. As things stand, I could easily spend $20,000 or more in the next two years on my teeth—and I can’t really afford that.
I Thought It Would Be a Neat Idea, But What Did I Know?
One of the problems of being the firstborn son of poor parents is that you are elected to fulfill their unfulfilled wishes for their own lives. When I was nine years old, they decided that I should play a musical instrument. That sounded fine to me; it’s just that I didn’t realize the extent to which the hook was baited.
For some reason, I wanted to play a trombone. At the music store, my mother and father got the salesman to point out that my teeth weren’t right for playing the trombone. They both suggested I play the saxophone instead. I didn’t even know what a saxophone was. So I foolishly said, okay. Before I could say “Help: Get me out of here!” I had a music teacher downtown who would teach me the ways of the alto saxophone.
What follows resembles an episode of Leave It to Beaver. Each Saturday morning, I had to take the 56A bus downtown to Prospect and Ontario, from where I trudged with my instrument case to East 3rd Street where Mr. Jack Upson tried to make a musician out of me. The lessons were okay, I suppose, but the daily practice sessions were, quite simply, horrible. When I wanted to go outside to play, I was sternly reminded that I had roped my family into buying me a saxophone, which they couldn’t afford; and I had damned well sit down for an hour and practice. My mom’s favorite song was “Londonderry Air,” which she knew as “Danny Boy.” Just to make things totally untenable, my little brother Dan would show up for the song and grin while I tootled away while staring daggers at him.
At Chanel High School, I joined the Firebirds marching band. Just imagine what it was like to take the field at halftime and do formations with only twenty-odd instruments. All anyone in the stands ever heard was the booming of the drums.
This nonsense continued until I went away to college. Although I showed up for several Dartmouth band practices, I immediately saw that I was among people who knew how to play their instruments and who loved performing. I quietly left the band before the first football game and never picked up my saxophone again. After all, in Hanover, New Hampshire, there was no one to make me practice—and several classmates who would have tarred and feathered me if I had.
Jim Corbett with Man-Eating Tiger
There are relatively few tigers left in the world today; but, a hundred years ago, there were individual tigers who were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of villagers in the northwest Indian region of Kumaon, just west of Nepal. Perhaps the most famous of the “white hunters” of these man-eating tigers was Edward James Corbett, better known as Jim Corbett (1875-1955).
Now what am I doing talking about a killer of endangered tigers? Surprisingly, Corbett himself was a naturalist:
A tiger’s function in the scheme of things is to help maintain the balance in nature and if, on rare occasions, when driven by dire necessity, he kills a human being or when his natural food has been ruthlessly exterminated by man he kills two percent of the cattle he is alleged to have killed, it is not fair that for these acts a whole species should be branded as being cruel or bloodthirsty.
Corbett is as famous for photographing and preserving the tiger population as he is for hunting them. In the introduction to his most famous book, Man-Eaters of Kumaon, he writes:
When, therefore, a tiger is suffering from one or more painful wounds, or when its teeth or missing or defective and its claws worn down, and it is unable to catch the animals it has been accustomed to eating, it is driven by necessity to killing human beings.
I was surprised how well-written his book is. He is able to produce an elegant word picture of the circumstances of each hunt. Because of the strength and agility even of man-eating tigers, one rarely has time to reload if one misses. Even if he shoots his prey in the head, the tiger can survive long enough to make a meal of his hunter.
The Mafia Cooking Hour
During my months-long quarantine, I have been sustained by five things:
- My relationship with Martine
- Playing chess with the computer
- Watching movies on TV and my computer
That last item deserves some explanation. I have always enjoyed cooking, but I never was able to give it the attention it deserved. When I was working, I cooked good food, but I shied away from recipes that required some sophistication and a lot of time. Now that I am retired and quarantined, I am able to take the time to make some really good meals.
Mostly for Martine’s benefit, I got my hands on a cookbook by a convicted mafioso, Henry Hill, featuring the Italian cooking of the New York/New Jersey area: The Wiseguy Cookbook. Although Martine was born in France, she was mostly raised in Northern New Jersey (in Oceanport). As a child, it was New Jersey Italian food that she loved most. That was before she came out to Los Angeles and fell for Hungarian food.
For myself, I have become more interested in the vegetarian cuisine of India. Fortunately, Youtube has some excellent and very authentic recipes by Indians, Pakistanis, and others featuring Indian cuisine. This week, I made the following:
Manjula presents us here with a recipe for Chick Pea Pulav (aka Chole Biryani). The followed the recipe exactly, except that I added half a chopped onion and some extra hot Indian red chile powder. The only change I would suggest is to use one cup of water rather than a cup and a half. The dish is superb.
Fortunately, there is a nearby Indian foods store in Culver City called Indian Sweets and Spices. In better times, there is a little café on the premises with vegetarian-only curries; but there is also an excellent selection of teas and such hard-to-find items as mango powder, foenugreek leaves, garlic/ginger paste, and asafoetida.