New Wheels

2018 Subaru Forester

Today I picked up my new Subaru Forester. Inasmuch as I loved my old Nissan, there were a lot of things it didn’t have, or which no longer worked. It’s nice once again to have a radio which I can tune visually: The light on the Nissan radio had burned out years ago. And I would much rather play CDs than tape cassettes anytime. On the other hand, there are ever so many more controls with which I have to familiarize myself. It will take a while before I am altogether at home driving it.

As you can probably tell, I did not take the picture above. It looks, however, just like mine, except that mine is white. The funny thing is that the basic configuration of the Forester is what I wanted: no moon roof, no GPS, no phone.

I’ll take some pictures of me with my new car in a week or two. Right now, I am still trying to cope with Martine leaving me; and that’s what occupies my waking (and sleeping) thoughts. Life is a mixed bag.

Double Whammy

Martine at Captain Kidd’s Fish Market in 2006

Troubles, when they occur, rarely occur in isolation. Today, I was inundated. First of all, Martine has decided to leave me two weeks from today. We have been together for thirty years—not actually married—but man and wife for all intents and purposes. My little French girl, like her mother before her, has a tête Normande, a so-called “Norman head,” famous for stubbornness. Around the same time, she got tired of Los Angeles, my apartment in Los Angeles, and me. I know she is initially headed for Sacramento, where she lived when I first met her, but where she goes from there is anyone’s guess.

I still love her and would give anything to continue our relationship, but that does not seem to be enough for her at this point. Once before, in 2005, she left me for several months. But that was to take care of her mother, who was not being well cared for in the institution where she was housed. She came back then; and I hope she will come back again. If not, my life must go on.

Every day, I see large numbers of crumpled-looking old people who can barely get around to do the basic chores of their life. I have no intention of succumbing to that condition. As Dylan Thomas wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I still have places to go and things to do. And books to read.

A second trouble also hit me between the eyes today. You may recall I wrote about an accident I had last Saturday. Today, Mercury Insurance declared my car a total loss, which it really isn’t. Although my 1994 Nissan Pathfinder is twenty-three years old, it is still a gem of a car, with relatively new tires. But I may have to give it up, because, once it is declared a total loss, I get nothing but Blue Book value (plus or minus). Perhaps it would be cheaper to lease a new car than to deal with upcoming major repairs, such as a replacement engine or transmission. So it goes.

I loved both my girl and my car and must say good-bye to both of them around the same time.

 

 

Could You Spare a Crust of Bread for a Hungry Peacock?

Where’s His Cardboard Sign?

Today I took Martine to the Los Angeles Arboretum. There we ate at the Peacock Café, where various peacock moochers attempted to cadge some treats from us. Martine was good (the Arboretum doesn’t want visitors to feed their wildlife), but I couldn’t help leaving a few crumbs of bread on the side of the table, which were voraciously accepted.

Martine and I are going through a difficult period. She still wants to leave Los Angeles. Not being married, I could not stop her. All I could do is keep the welcome mat out for her at all times. If she left, she would probably go back to Sacramento, where pretty much the only people she knows are in the cemetery. I feel sometimes as if I were treading barefoot on broken glass. Still, the way things are, I prefer being with her than without her. We have been together for almost thirty years, and I like being with her, even during difficult times.

Martine at the L.A. Arboretum

No, I am not interested in looking for someone else at this point so that I can celebrate Martine’s attempts to live alone without friends or funds. Some people are difficult, but if they are at the same time gentle and kind, they are worth their weight in gold.

Afterwards, we went to the China Islamic Restaurant in Rosemead, where I ordered lamb chow mein with fresh dough-cut noodles and sesame green onion bread.

Gemina

Gemina, the Giraffe With the Crooked Neck

Tomorrow, I will take Martine to one of our favorite places, the Santa Barbara Zoo. Martine will probably leave me at some point in the next two or three weeks, so I want to spend some of that time revisiting places we love.

Although Los Angeles has a bigger zoo, it is so crowded and so constricted by constant construction that visitors have a hard time negotiating the paths without getting run over by harassed parents pushing strollers. As their website says, the SB Zoo has 500 animals and only 30 acres. That’s just about our speed, and tomorrow promises to be a nice day.

The most remarkable animal we have seen at the Zoo is the late Gemina, the giraffe with the crooked neck. The following long quote is a release from the zoo that I thought I’d like to pass on to you:

If you visited the Zoo between 1990 and 2008, you probably saw an unusual giraffe. Her name was Gemina and she had a crook in her neck.

Born at the San Diego Wild Animal Park (now San Diego Safari Park) in 1986, Gemina was a Baringo (or Rothschild’s) giraffe, and joined the Santa Barbara Zoo’s giraffe herd when she was just about a year old.

Her neck seemed normal until a bump appeared when she was around three years old. Slowly, over time, it sharpened into a distinctive “V”, which interrupted the graceful curve of her neck.

Though she was examined by veterinarians, a cause for the crook could not be determined. The good news? In spite of her appearance, she didn’t exhibit any signs of being in pain.

In fact, the crook didn’t hamper Gemina’s life at the Zoo. She received normal treatment by zookeepers, ate normally, gave birth to a calf, and was an accepted member of the Zoo’s giraffe herd. She was beloved by our guests, locals and visitors alike.

Long before I came to work here as the Zoo’s publicist, management had decided not to sensationalize Gemina. We could have emblazoned her image on t-shirts and made banners with her silhouette, but that’s not our style. She was a member of the giraffe herd, and not to be exploited. We responded to media requests, but didn’t push out the story.

But Gemina became an icon in spite of our low-key approach. In its second season (2004), “The Bachelor” filmed a sunset dinner at the giraffe exhibit, and the couple met Gemina. In the 2005 television show “Miracle Workers,” she was the source of inspiration for a young boy with severe scoliosis. In 2007, she was voted Number One of the “Seven Wonders of Santa Barbara” in a local radio station poll.

Martine at the Santa Barbara Zoo in 2007 … in Happier Times

By then, she was 20 years old, which is elderly for a giraffe in captivity. We threw a party for her 21st birthday, knowing that her time was nearing an end. Many of us had tears in our eyes when Zoo Campers, wearing self-made giraffe hats, sang “Happy Birthday.”

She lived another five months, before she stopped eating and her health declined. Gemina was humanely euthanized on January 9, 2008. It was a sad day at the Zoo.

But her memory lives on. Gemina is still the most asked-about animal at the Zoo, even eight years later. A children’s book, “Gemina the Crooked-Neck Giraffe,” written and illustrated by Karen B. Winnick, was released in 2013, and is still for sale in the Zoo Gift Store (all proceeds benefit the Zoo).

Now, her fans can again visit Gemina. Her distinctive top six vertebrae, skull, and jawbone have been preserved and rearticulated, and are now on view in a display case as part of the Zoo’s “Animals…Inside Out” art exhibit in the Discovery Pavilion’s Volentine Gallery.

It’s free, with admission, to view Gemina and the exhibit of cool animal x-rays. Gemina’s skeleton is on view 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.

Thanks goes to Skulls Unlimited for her skeletal work, and to TruPart, a Ventura company, for building the display case free of charge.

Gemina reminds us all that being different is just fine. She’s a reminder to me not to blithely feed the media’s appetite for the odd and outrageous. That we can tell a quieter story, about being accepted in a herd of your peers and loved by a generation of visitors. That one giraffe can still stand tall, even with a crooked neck.

 

Wandering Mindfully in DTLA

The Millenium Biltmore Hotel on Pershing Square in Los Angeles

I am facing a change in my life relating to my relationship with Martine. It appears that, before long, we will not be together. The odd thing is that we still love each other: The reason for Martine’s desire to leave has more to do with how she feels about herself. There is a French expression bien dans sa peau: Feeling comfortable within one’s own skin. Ever since she got a pinched nerve in her back early in 2013, she has not felt well. Plus, she seems to just want to leave Los Angeles, which I cannot do at this time without quitting my job and running through my savings..

My first reaction was anger and sadness. The sadness is still there, but to make her feel even more depressed would be doing her an injustice. All I can do is hope she will discover that life with me is indeed preferable—even if it is in Los Angeles. My door will remain open for her.

How am I coping with this event? I will concentrate on my mindful meditation practice. I wandered around downtown LA (a.k.a. DTLA) after my meditation session at the Central Library. I ate lunch at the Bugis Street Brasserie at the Millenium Biltmore Hotel on Pershing Square. The red awnings at the lower right of the above photo is where the restaurant is located.

Then I stopped in at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring, looking for more Teju Cole books. Apparently they sold out. Then I took the Dash D bus to Union Station and waited for the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus #R10 to take me back home.

Home will be a different experience, but I am resolute about not poisoning the well.

 

Riding the Cumbres & Toltec RR

Our Train Going Over a Trestle

There are two narrow gauge steam trains relatively close to each other, both once part of the Denver & Rio Grande Western. One runs in Colorado between Durango and Silverton and is, in fact, called the Durango & Silverton. The other runs between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado. That is the Cumbres & Toltec—named after Cumbres Pass and the Toltec Gorge, two of the scenic highlights along the route.

Martine and I went on the Cumbres & Toltec, and had planned on also taking the Durango & Silverton. Unfortunately, Martine came down with a headache from the high altitude and was afraid of aggravating it by taking both trains. In addition, the pinched nerve in her back was irritated by the constant lurching of the cars as the train went downhill. So, after our ride on the Cumbres & Toltec, we sought lower ground, even if it was to put us back in the middle of the desert heat we were hoping to avoid.

So it goes.

Martine on the Cumbres & Toltec Narrow Gauge Railroad

The Cumbres & Toltec ascended to the snow level at around 10,000 feet at its highest point, before going back down 2,000 feet to Antonito. At Antonito, we took a bus back to Chama. The ride took only one hour, whereas the train, on a parallel route, took five hours.

At Osier, Colorado, we were unloaded from the train to have a substantial free buffet lunch before continuing to the end.

Hopefully, some day I may yet take the Durango & Silverton, though without Martine who is puzzled by my love of trains. That love goes way back to my scouting days, when we took the Erie Railroad to Ashtabula, Ohio. Then, in college, I road the New York Central from Cleveland to Albany, New York, from where I took the Vermont Transit bus to Rutland, Vermont, and the White River Coach bus to Hanover, New Hampshire.

I love trains so much that I even enjoy taking the light rail to downtown Los Angeles.

 

What’s Happening to American Food?

Yeah, Well, I Mean Other Than That ….

In the big cities on the Right and Left Coasts, what we know of as American food is—I think, anyhow—starting to disappear. Not that American cuisine is necessarily the best in the world. Being Hungarian, I know it couldn’t hold a candle to a home-cooked Magyar meal. But there are some good American dishes of which I am quite fond. For someone who truly hates the Confederacy, I like Southern food: fried catfish, grits, collard greens, black-eyed peas—though I stop short at chicken. (Martine, on the other hand, is a big time poultry devotee.)

I think the problem is those guys with toques who like to think of themselves, standing in their kitchens, as masters of all they survey. The Food Channel has introduced us to a whole generation of soi-disant chefs who basically like to screw around with food, mix flavors like crazy, and build photogenic little towers on the plate. I think of these toque-n chefs the same way I think of those little kids who like to mix Coke with Mountain Dew with Root Beer at one of those automatic soda dispensers, thinking they’ll come up with something new and interesting. Of course, they never do.

Martine is unable to eat the range of food that I can. I would be perfectly content eating nothing but Asian food all my life, or Mexican, or Argentinean. She has irritable bowel syndrome and needs good plain food. We usually compromise when we go out: one meal to make me feel good, and maybe the next to make her feel good.

Today, for instance, we found that a restaurant chain we loved that had been out of business for over 10 years still had one branch in Sherman Oaks, near the intersection of Moorpark and Van Nuys Boulevard: It was Hamburger Hamlet. The food was not great—not like pigging out in New Orleans on a po’ boy or in Boston on scrod—but it is good; and the menu is large enough and interesting enough to make me feel better than dining at Denny’s or Norm’s.

In our lifetimes, I think the American coffee shops will disappear, at least in the big cities. I hate to think what the chefs of tomorrow will do to our stomachs.