The ’Burbs

I Have This Problem with the Suburbs

There are several ways we went wrong after the Second World War. The main thing was our hubris. We thought that everything we did was right—because we were the only major country not in ruins. The government decided to help returning GIs buy little ticky-tack houses on the fringes of our major cities, and let the cities themselves go to hell. Oh, there were half-hearted attempts to build urban housing projects that quickly became dangerous slums.

And the suburbs? They were a refuge from the big cities. There was one little problem: We brought our children along to live in those ticky-tack houses, even when they didn’t buy into the dream. Being our kids, they had their own dreams, and they didn’t include barbecues and mowing the front lawn.

Interestingly, the suburbs are in some cases politically liberal, and in others utterly racist and fascistic. Even within Southern California, one can find examples of both. Take Sherman Oaks on one hand, and Moreno Valley on the other. Sometimes, suburbs start up hopeful and end up mean, such as Palmdale and Lancaster in L.A.’s Antelope Valley. At one time, the city was thinking of moving L.A. International Airport to Palmdale, which would have been a major disaster. Aside from the bad neighborhood, it’s at least a one hour drive, and usually more, from the more populated parts of the county.

One of the things about living in the city is that you have to get along with people. Across the street from me are a number of bums living in tents amid piles of assorted malodorous garbage. While I don’t ever give money to panhandlers, I don’t do anything to make their lives any more difficult. That’s not because I’m a nice guy, but because these mental cases, alcoholics, and druggies happen to be my neighbors. I maintain my distance from them, and although I casually wish their encampments were fire-bombed, I myself wouldn’t light the match.

As a city dweller, I frequently use public transportation because (1) it is cheap for me as a senior citizen and because (2) parking fees are getting out of hand. I have no problem with driving two or three times a week during the coronavirus quarantine and leaving my car parked in the rear carport. Suburbanites, on the other hand, would rather put their arms in a meat grinder rather than board a bus or light rail.

The FODMAP Follies

Big No-Nos on the FODMAP Regimen

With the very best intentions in mind, I tried to prepare a beef and vegetable stir-fry for Martine as a first attempt at creating a FODMAP-free dish. It consisted of shredded beef, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and a yam. But no onions, garlic, or chiles to give it flavor.

Never before had I cooked a dish that I didn’t want to taste. For myself, I just had buttered corn on the cob, while Martine bravely confronted the tasteless muck I prepared for her. I called it FODMAP Stew. I will never make it again.

I realize now that seasonings are important in a dish with multiple ingredients, and that the best seasonings are expressly forbidden.

I think that in future, when Martine needs to adhere to this regimen, she should have a piece of meat (most are OK) plus a steamed vegetable, such as carrots, squash, and some rare Himalayan herb that can only be found on the northern slope of Mount Everest.

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, which explains what this is all about, I urge you to click here.

FODMAP

Foods To Be Avoided If You Have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Martine has suffered for years with a digestive disorder known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS ). According to the Mayo Clinic’s website:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. Signs and symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both. IBS is a chronic condition that you’ll need to manage long term.

Part of that long-term management is a special diet known by the abbreviation FODMAP. It stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols. (That doesn’t exactly flow trippingly off the tongue, does it?)

Unofficially, as the person who does the cooking in the household, I define FODMAPs as foods that don’t have any vowels in their names.

As you can see from the above list, there are some very basic foods that a person with IBS is urged to avoid. This includes any onion or garlic, which of itself cuts my cooking choices by more than half. Other no-nos include wheat, milk (except lactose-free), all cheeses except cheddar and colby, most pastas, beans, and about half of all fruits and vegetables.

If you are interested in learning more about this condition and how to combat it, I urge you to check out this Healthline website entitled FODMAP 101: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide.

This method of controlling the bloating and diarrhea of IBS was largely discovered by researchers at Monash University located near Melbourne, Australia.

The upshot is that I will probably have to cook separately for Martine, which, as I am retired, I can do now.

Confidenciales

Love Seats (Known as Confidenciales) on Mérida’s Plaza de la independencia

Mérida is a city full of little surprises. At first, one is conscious of the heat and humidity, followed by all that goes into making up a tropical city. Then, after a little while, one notices surprising little things that give the city its own charming uniqueness. Ever since the 17th century, the city’s parks have been dotted with concrete love seats called confidenciales. Rarely does one not encounter (during daylight hours anyhow) young Maya couples seated on them and whispering into each other’s ears.

The Courtyard of the Macay Museum of Contemporary Art

In a tropical climate, nothing is more welcome than cool shade. And it’s not too difficult to find it. When I visited the Macay Museum of Contemporary Art, I was so enthralled by the courtyard, that I sat down on a bench and meditated for upwards of an hour. The building that houses the museum used to be the Archbishop’s Palace.

If I owned a house, I would like one that presents nothing but a wall and a door to the street—with no front lawn requiring frequent maintenance. I’d much rather have a courtyard, invisible from the street with cozy benches and a fountain.

Colonnade by the Plaza de la Independencia, Built in 1821

Finally, I loved all the colonnades. like the one above which is two centuries old. It’s good to get out of the sun when it is hot, and there were always shops in the colonnade where you can get a cold beer or some tropical-fruit-flavored ice cream.

Perhaps all these things speak to me of comfort and relaxation, which is always a good thing when one is on vacation. Wherever I went, I found time to relax in the main plaza or a lovely courtyard or a welcoming colonnade. I always made sure that there was some relaxation time wherever I went. I saw a lot of wonderful places, and I had a good rest.

All the Babes Are Leaving

Tawny Kitaen (1961-2021)

One way to tell you’re getting old is to see what happened to all the babes of the 1960s and 1970s. I was surprised to hear that Tawny Kitaen had passed away. Not that I was a big an of hers, but never was there such a moniker that screamed B-A-B-E in Neon All-Caps. She was one of a troupe that included actresses like Joey Heatherton and Ann-Margret and “celebrities” such as Prince Andrew’s main squeeze Koo Stark and Profumo Affair bad girls Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies.

I suppose it is inevitable if you live long enough. I still think of Sônia Braga, Jenny Agutter, Françoise Dorléac, Dominique Sanda, and Maria Schneider. They were beautiful, and they populated my dreams as a young man. Now that I am no longer a young man, I can see that all of us are on the same journey through life.

RIP Sujatha and Little Mac

Sujatha and Little Mac Together (Which Is Which?) in 2013

In yesterday’s post, I wondered what happened to the elephants at the Santa Barbara Zoo. When we got home yesterday, I looked them up on Google and found that both had died, Sujatha in 2018 and Little Mac in 2019. Although I have no pets, I have felt a sense of loss for these two Indian elephants who had been together at the zoo since 1972. You can read more about them in this article from Radio Station KSBY’s website.

Apparently, despite their size, Indian elephants do not normally live as long as humans. In fact, after 40 years they are considered to be due for geriatric care. Little Mac had to be euthanized at the age of 48.

My relationship with the animals at the Santa Barbara Zoo surprises even me. It is a small zoo, walkable in a couple of scant hours, but I feel more strongly about the birds and animals there. Why?

Gemina, the Giraffe with the Deformed Neck

I had become enamored of a giraffe named Gemina who died of natural causes in 2008 despite a neck that went off at a ninety degree angle. Despite her neck, Gemina lived a greater than normal lifespan (by six years) and had normal offspring. When I heard that Gemina had passed on, I was disturbed, hoping that she did not die in inordinate pain occasioned by her disability. Apparently she didn’t. She received excellent care at the zoo and was widely mourned.

So now that the elephants are gone, their home will be turned into the “Australian Walkabout” some time this summer. I will continue to return to the zoo whenever I can so that I can see my other friends there.

In Cloudy Santa Barbara

Humboldt Penguin at the Santa Barbara Zoo

Today Martine and I set out for the Santa Barbara Zoo, which is open for prepaid admissions. The Spring marine layer was in force, with heavy clouds and some drizzle between Ventura and Santa Barbara. It had stopped by the time we got to the zoo, so we were hopeful. We had a nice time despite the absence of the elephants (which were being replaced by an “Australian Walkabout” of some sort.) Also, the aviaries and some of the indoor exhibits were closed down “because of the virus.” Also, many other animals were either missing or hiding from view.

I suppose I could understand this. If I were in a cage at the zoo, I would not be too terribly interested in gaping at the teams of children and their harried parents. So I would probably present them with my hindquarters, like the above Humboldt Penguin. (Curiously enough, these Penguins come from near the Equator off the coast of Peru—not Antarctica.)

One animal which had no problem facing down the staring zoo visitors was the African lion:

We were done in about an hour, but satisfied by our walk in the cool, cloudy weather. Zoos are never perfect, but the small Santa Barbara Zoo is better than most. The LA Zoo is characterized by massive traffic jams and stroller collisions with adult ankles.

After the zoo, we drove down to the harbor and had lunch at Brophy Brothers, one of our favorite seafood restaurants in Southern California. Their New England clam chowder is to die for, and I also enjoyed the grilled mahi mahi sandwich.

By the time we were headed back home, the sun came out around Ventura and stuck around for the rest of the afternoon. In celebration, we drove home on the relatively uncrowded California 126 and stopped for strawberries the size of clenched fists at Francisco’s Fruit Stand in Fillmore. Also I picked up some yummy dried mangos and Banderita Mexican cocoanut candy.

It was a fun day, probably the most fun we had together since the onset of the plague in March 2020.

Time To Take In Sail

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Having just finished an absorbing biography of Henry David Thoreau, I thought I should also give some attention to his friend and neighbor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here is a poem of his that impressed me entitled “Terminus”:

Terminus
It is time to be old,
To take in sail:—
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds,
And said: “No more!
No farther shoot
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root.
Fancy departs: no more invent;
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.
There’s not enough for this and that,
Make thy option which of two;
Economize the failing river,
Not the less revere the Giver,
Leave the many and hold the few.
Timely wise accept the terms,
Soften the fall with wary foot;
A little while
Still plan and smile,
And,—fault of novel germs,—
Mature the unfallen fruit.
Curse, if thou wilt, thy sires,
Bad husbands of their fires,
Who, when they gave thee breath,
Failed to bequeath
The needful sinew stark as once,
The Baresark marrow to thy bones,
But left a legacy of ebbing veins,
Inconstant heat and nerveless reins,—
Amid the Muses, left thee deaf and dumb,
Amid the gladiators, halt and numb.”

As the bird trims her to the gale,
I trim myself to the storm of time,
I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
“Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed.” 

A Little Man With a Big Nose

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

I have just finished reading Laura Dassow Walls’s Henry David Thoreau: A Life. As I have mentioned before, I don’t usually like biographies, because if you admire the person who is the subject of them, you are devastated when he or she dies in the last chapter. Sitting in my little library, I was devastated when the American I most loved and admired succumbed to consumption at the age of forty-four.

Everyone knows a little about Thoreau, most of it wrong. When I first read the book, I was told by friends that when he moved to his cabin by the shores of Walden Pond, Thoreau “cheated.” What kind of a hermit was he when he spent a lot of time in Concord with his friends. The answer is: He was no kind of a hermit. The first chapter of Walden, or Life in the Woods is entitled “Economy,” not some eremitical mumbo-jumbo.

Long after he returned to his house in Concord, Thoreau lived an active life giving speeches, writing thousands of pages of notes on nature, fulminating against slavery (his house was a station on the Underground Railroad), and supporting John Brown and his followers even after Brown was executed for his raid on Harper’s Ferry. He had read and understood Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, even while thousands of Americans condemned it as heretical.

I love the above photograph of Thoreau, which also is on the dust jacket of Laura Walls’s biography. Look at those piercing blue eyes. The scraggly beard was to warm his neck to protect him from the ravages of consumption.

This biography is nothing less than spectacular. I was saddened to come to the end of it.

Why do I admire Thoreau so much? I can only say that he was one of the most observant people who ever lived, easily on a par with John Muir and Charles Darwin. It was Thoreau’s notion of land set aside from human occupation as “commons” which led, via Muir, to the creation of the National Park System. Also, I regard Walden as a great book in a century that included such luminaries as Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman.

Now I’m going to have to read some more Thoreau. Lucky me!

Republicans

What Comes First? The Death of the Republican Party or the Death of Our Democracy?

As much as I hate talking about politics in America, I cannot shut up when I see one of our two political parties attempt to destroy the country even as they destroy their own party. It’s like a race to the bottom—that shit pit of death cults and failed states.

I can hardly believe that over 70 million Americans have drunk the Republicans’ poisoned Kool-Aid. I regret to say that the woman I love is one of them. Martine not only refuses to get the shots protecting against Covid-19, but she keeps trying to show me “evidence” from right-wing websites which the AM talk radio pundits cite for their over-the-air lies. Take a look at Natural Health News for its take Defending Health, Life and Liberty (followed, of course, by the obligatory American flag).

These people are the enemy. Follow their advice, and risk dying. Martine is convinced that the Covid shots are more dangerous than the disease they were formulated to fight. She says that her health is too fragile for the shots. How would she fare, however, if she contracted the coronavirus? Better? I don’t think so.

If Martine doesn’t want to take the vaccine, I’m not going to force her. But I have nothing but contempt for her “news” sources. The Republican cultists have created their own plastic bubble of destructive falsehoods in which they, and perhaps ultimately all of us, are weakening and perhaps failing.