City of Bones

The Palace (Left) and the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque

One of the most beautiful Maya archeological sites is Palenque in the State of Chiapas. It sits at the edge of the jungle and just before the foothills of the Sierra Madre. My brother Dan and I spent several days there in December 1979. I would give anything to go again.

The name Palenque means “Palisade,” which was given by the Spanish, who saw the ruins as a fortress. By the time the Spanish conquered Mexico, the site had been uninhabited for over eight hundred years. It was around AD 800 that many of the major Maya ceremonial centers were abandoned due to various factors. These included drought, changes in religion and form of government, and other reasons.

Maya Glyphs from Palenque

According to Maya glyphs that have been recently interpreted by scholars, the Maya name for Palenque is actually translated as “City of Bones.” As the great Mexican archeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier discovered, the Temple of the Inscriptions was the tomb of a powerful ruler named Kʼinich Janaab Pakal. In 1979, Dan and I were able not only to climb the pyramid, but snake our way through the tunnel that contained the site of Pakal’s burial chamber.

The ruins could only be described as beautiful. Only Uxmal in Yucatán could be described as its equal for siting and architecture.

Ruins in the Mist at Palenque

I was surprised that my brother seemed to enjoy Palenque as much as I did. It turns out that the region where the ruins are located is a famous coffee-growing region. So Dan, who is a major coffeeholic, found himself drinking endless cups of the stuff.

We were in town around the Christmas season, where we had the opportunity of seeing the posadas whenever we had dinner in the nearby town of Palenque. At one point, we were having dinner when a shoeshine boy came in and began circulating among the diners. When he approached Dan, my brother quietly slipped off his sandals and proffered a large foot clothed in a fuzzy red wool sock. The whole restaurant erupted in laughter.

Breaking Quarantine

California Fan Palms Growing from Sulfurous Ponds

This last weekend, I spent a long weekend with my brother and sister-in-law in Palm Desert. Atypically, the weather was perfect. Dan mentioned that until I arrived, the temperature had risen to over 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) for over 100 days in a row. While I was there, the high was closer to 80° (27° Celsius).

It felt good to see my brother again after 7 months of close quarters in West Los Angeles. We went swimming three days in a row, and even re-visited a couple of local sites.

These included the lovely Thousand Palms oasis and the Sunnylands park on the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage.

One of the Cactus Gardens on the Annenberg Estate

Not all the facilities at both locations were open due to the coronavirus outbreak, but seeing anything beautiful these days is a rare pleasure—especially during a particularly ugly election year.

Going to the Desert

Joshua Trees at El Mirage Dry Lake

This next weekend, I will break quarantine for the first time to visit my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori in Palm Desert, near Palm Springs. It will still be hot as Hades, but for the first time I will have a chance to talk face to face with someone other than just Martine.

She, by the way, will not be coming with me. Having lived and worked for a couple years at Twentynine Palms in the Morongo Valley, about an hour north of Dan, she hates the desert with a passion.

I would not live in the desert, as my brother does, but I enjoy visiting it from time to time—especially when the dead heat of summer begins to let up.

Perhaps I can visit a couple of places that I particularly like, such as the Thousand Palms Oasis or the Indian Canyons south of Palm Springs. More likely, I will be reading some books and taking advantage of Dan’s air conditioning and swimming pool. And, of course, his cooking.

As usual, I will be leaving L.A. before the sun rises. I will stop at Hadley Fruit Orchards In Cabazon to do some shopping before making a beeline to Palm Desert. Right around Cabazon, I will set my car radio dial to MOD-FM 107.3 to listen to their parade of classical 1950s hits with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and their ilk.

Ice Storm

It Was a Very Slippery Celebration

My sixtieth birthday fell on January 13, 2005. My brother Dan decided to help me celebrate the date by flying up to Portland, Oregon, with me and taking me for a $100 shopping spree at Powell’s Books, which touts itself as the world’s largest independent bookstore.

We landed at Portland International Airport on my birthday and took a Portland Streetcar from PDX to our hotel, which was located in the center of town (I forget the name of it). Unfortunately, with our arrival there was a giant ice storm which crippled vehicular traffic and made walking on the sidewalk without crampons and ice axe quite iffy. We saw the cars swirling around in the streets, and we were lucky in not breaking any bones on the icy sidewalks.

Yet we managed to get around on foot … slowly.

Powell’s Books was fabulous. The last time I had visited a multi-story bookstore was Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London in 1977, on my way back from visiting Hungary and Czechoslovakia. I could have spent days—and a fortune in purchases—at Powell’s, but I managed to stay within a $100 limit, buying such books as Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a book about the Middle East by Freya Stark, and three or four other titles.

My only regret was that when my brother turned sixty, I was unable to return the favor in a timely way. I was working in an accounting firm, and April 5 (his birthday) comes during tax  crunch time, when I had to work seven days a week to meet the April 15 deadline. Now that I am retired, I would like to find some way to return the favor, because what he did meant a lot to me.

 

Plague Diary 18: The COVID Cooking Series

My Brother Dan with Grandson Oliver

Spending time with my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori is my niece Jennifer, who has wisely chosen to quarantine with her family. Fortunately for me, and for everyone who loves good food, Jen has filmed Dan giving cooking instructions for some of his favorite dishes. Now I have mentioned before that I admire Dan’s cooking and am somewhat jealous that I am nowhere near so proficient as he is in the kitchen.

So, straight from Dan’s kitchen in Palm Desert, here are some wonderful dishes you can prepare at home:

  1. Hungarian Chicken Paprikás: Part 1 and Part 2. You can see the completed meal in Part 3.
  2. Vietnamese Lettuce Wrap with Skirt Steak.
  3. Quiche with Potato Crust.
  4. Da Bomb Eggplant Parmigiana. This is my favorite. If I can get Martine to try it, I’ll make this within a week or two.

My Niece Jennifer, Who Shot the Videos

Having enjoyed Dan’s cooking numerous times, I think you will find these a real treat. Let me know if you have tried any of the recipes.

 

Meat-a-Palooza

Dan Carefully Measures the Internal Temperature of the Meat

One of the highlights of my weekend trip to visit my brother and family in Palm Desert is a growing family tradition known as Meat-a-Palooza. Dan is an incredible chef, and he loves to prepare a feast featuring a variety of meat dishes. Incredibly, he is able to single-handedly prepare a multi-course feast that is all ready to be served at the same time. I can’t even do that with two dishes, let alone a dozen.

I don’t think I’m a bad cook, but I simply can’t compare with Dan. Everybody always asks him why he doesn’t open a restaurant. In answer, he merely smiles and begs to differ. He knows that running a restaurant is more than anything a form of slavery, involving long hours seven days a week. Visiting Dan’s place is always a special treat for me.

The Same Beef Dish on Serving Plate

The curious thing is that I am gradually turning into a vegetarian, but that all is put on hold when it is Meat-a-Palooza time. Dan’s dishes are always top drawer and worth eating irrespective of one’s foodie beliefs.

The Groaning Table Gradually Fills Up

 

The Next Generation

Oliver Moorman, Age 4, with Palo Verde Tree in Background

I just returned today from the Coachella Valley where I attended a family reunion on the occasion of several birthdays appearing close together. Plus I had the chance to spend more time with the youngest members of the family, my niece Hilary’s two sons. Oliver and Ely. As she lives in the Seattle area, I don’t have too many occasions to see her, her husband Joe, and their two boys.

Yesterday, we spent several hours at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, where my brother Dan lives. You will see several pictures taken there over the next week or so. According to Condé Nast Traveler, it is one of the ten best zoos in the United States. In my opinion, it is the very best. At present, it concentrates on the desert animals on two continents: North America and Africa. Under construction is a small enclave dedicated to the plants and animals of Australia.

My Niece Hilary with Youngest Son Ely, Aged 1½, at the Living Desert Petting Zoo

One of the most fun things about visiting a place like the Living Desert is to see its effect on young children. Ollie and Ely were as if in a magical realm, in which awe predominates. Even the goats in the Petting Kraal were a revelation to the two boys. Then there was the feeding of the giraffes, with their long tongues wrapping around the Romaine Lettuce the boys held out to them. Even the carousel, featuring endangered species worldwide, caught Ollie’s attention, as he rode on a giant hummingbird.

Ollie with My Brother Dan on Carousel

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind spending more time at the Living Desert. I am not immune to being overawed.

 

Family Interlude

Palm Trees and Snowcapped Mountains

I will be taking a few days off to go to Palm Desert in the Coachella Valley for a family get-together. In addition to my brother Dan and sister-in-law Lori, my niece Hilary with husband and sons; step-niece Jennifer; and step-nephew Danny will be present. Martine won’t be coming with me because she hates the Coachella Valley, having lived and worked in nearby Twentynine Palms back in the 1990s.

As I am quite sterile and prefer not to adopt, my brother’s side of the family has become increasingly important to me. In the same way, I have always maintained close relations with the children of my best friends. It’s either that or spend my declining years shouting at kids to get off my lawn.

When I get back to Los Angeles on Monday, I hope to have some good stories to tell you and pictures of my family to show you.

My Aunt Margit

Margit Paris (Died 1977)

My only aunt, Margit, was the sister of the Paris twins, Elek and Emil. Like them, she was born in Prešov-Solivar in what is now the Republic of Slovakia, but at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and under Hungarian administration. Like them, she was abandoned by her parents at the end of World War I in the middle of a famine. The three siblings did what they could to survive under difficult conditions. In 1929, they were able to come to the United States and joined their parents in Cleveland.

Although Margit never married, she single-handedly owned and operated May’s Bridal Shop in Garfield Heights, Ohio. She lived in the back of her store, though I believe she spent most weekends with my Uncle Emil in Novelty, Ohio.

I used to enjoy visiting the store, even though I was put to work. Aunt Margit handed me a magnet and had me use it to pick up pins from the fitting room floor, of which there were usually hundreds. When I was done, I sat admiring her calendar. Her insurance company put out an annual calendar that featured color engravings from Currier & Ives. The calendar part didn’t interest me at all, but the budding book collector in me coveted the Currier & Ives engravings. She didn’t know it at the time, but instead of buying me clothes at Christmas time, I would have been happier with one of her old calendars.

A Typical Currier & Ives Color Engraving

When she retired from the bridal shop in the mid 1970s, she bought a house in Florence, South Carolina. It was a bit of a surprise to me, as Margit was always close to her brothers.

When I went with my parents to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1977, I flew back from Europe earlier. The news that awaited me after my return was that Aunt Margit had died. I rushed to send a telegram to my Dad in Budapest. They couldn’t get back in time for the funeral, so I decided with my brother Dan to attend the funeral in their place. Afterwards, my Mom told me that Dad was totally broken up by my telegram and was agitated that he couldn’t be there for her. Dan and I figured that would be the case, so we were both happy to honor our aunt with our presence on this sad occasion.

She was a sweet and kindly person all her life, and we all missed her.

 

Fastest or Farthest

Adolphe Menjou and Marlene Dietrich in Von Sternberg’s Morocco (1930)

I wonder if I misremember the scene: Marlene Dietrich writes with her lipstick on her vanity mirror, these lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Winning”:

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

When I searched for the still of the scene, I only came up with a mirror on which was written, again in lipstick, “I changed my mind.” I would obviously have to see the film again to refresh my memory. I know the words are in the film somewhere, and the quote has stuck with me—though sometimes I remembered it as “He travels the farthest who travels alone.”

I like to travel alone, but I think I would much rather travel with Martine or my brother Dan or one of my friends. Unfortunately, Martine thinks I’m much to adventurous in my trips. She claims that anti-malarial medications like Chloroquine or Aralen do not agree with her. Otherwise, she is an ideal travel partner who is genuinely interested in the places I like to visit. The highlight of our travels together was our trip to Argentina and Uruguay in 2011.

My brother is also an excellent travel partner: We tend to agree in advance on the places he wants to see and the places I want to see. Thus far, we have gone on only two trips together: Mexico in 1979 and Ecuador in 2016.

My friends are more problematical in that none of them would dare to visit a Third World country whose language they don’t speak. I always imagine introducing them to Maya ruins or South American volcanoes or Icelandic fjords. But I imagine them as being versions of myself before I started on my travels—all eager to travel to exotic destinations and devil take the risks! Alas, they are not like me. They are irrepressibly themselves. And that’s why they’re my friends.

So I suspect that most of my future travels will be by myself.