Sunday, 18 September 2011

On the air again - a quick catch up

I don’t know why I only use this blog when I am travelling – I suppose because it is after all named Barbara’s Travel Diary.  Particularly this past 12 months, when we have spent so little time at home in Australia, I found myself thinking that my adventures at home are as worthy (or not!) of a blog post as my overseas adventures. But in any case, lately I have seemed way too busy doing blog-worthy things to have any time to blog about them.  

I am starting this post on the plane en route to Berkeley in late July, 2011, but who knows when or if I will finish it!

The last month or so that we spent in Berkeley in 2010 we did lots of things that might have been of interest, but I never got around to writing them up.  Barry’s J1 Visiting Scholar’s visa and the J2 I get as his spouse only lasts for 30 days after his teaching term ends, and we knew we needed about 8 weeks as we planned to be in New York for the birth of our first grandchild, due in mid-January. So after the end of his teaching and admin duties around Xmas, we headed to Toronto for a few days so we could re-enter the US on a tourist visa. We caught up with some old academic friends of Barry’s, enjoyed the bits of Toronto we got to see,but then we got snowed in on our way to New York in the post Xmas blizzard that hit the East Coast. Therefore  our Toronto-Washington- NYC trip took an extra day.  Our airline told us all flights were cancelled for the next 4 days, so we called Ben and he booked us seats  to NYC on Amtrak the next day (by which time we hoped the tracks would have been cleared) ;  a friend in DC who we could have stayed with still had  a house full of Xmas guests who had been unable to leave due to the snow, so we had to find  hotel accommodation; then our luggage went missing at the airport for half a day; we took the wrong shuttle bus for the hotel we had chosen;  etc. etc. We took a car service to Washington Penn Station for our train  from the hotel we had stayed in close to the airport, and there was not a snow flake to be seen on the ground or in the air, but when we hit New York many streets were clogged with uncleared snow and it was hard getting uptown from Penn Station to the apartment we were staying in for our first 3 weeks. We gave up on the taxi queue and negotiated in Spanish with a gypsy cab - Ben had met us at the station to help with the luggage, and later  very pregnant Lissy joined us for a quick Greek meal at a place she used to frequent in her student days. Melbourne Greek food is better!
Gemma's First Day - Barry Barbara, Gemma, Lissy and Ben

Delighted Booba having First Cuddle with Gemma
Ben and Lissy’s daughter Gemma arrived a little early (Lissy’s water broke while they were out to dinner celebrating their second wedding anniversary) so we were able to enjoy her for about 6 weeks before returning to Melbourne. That was a very busy and stressful time , as all new parents and grandparents know. We spent time staying with various old and new friends as well as at Ben and Lissy’s for a bit, and getting to know our new baby was as wonderful as all grandparents will tell you.  Leaving her was a real wrench, even more than it always is when we head for home leaving our only son and daughter-in-law in New York.

We had a very busy time when we returned to Melbourne. Ben arrived for just over a week to attend a wedding four days after we got home, so there were a few family get-togethers to arrange.

Our cousins Noah and Jacob Burrows at Family Picnic in Albert Park

Then there was the usual flurry of getting our financial affairs in order, catching up on the economy and the performance of investments in the complex world of our superannuation funds and direct investments, and doing the tax returns before the deadlines. Then the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and related Fukushima nuclear plant emergencies happened, and our Berkeley friends Philip and Sonya, who had been planning a trip to Japan a couple of weeks later, agreed to come to Australia instead.  We had the pleasure of their company in Melbourne in a couple of tranches, on either side of their trip to Tasmania. And Passover came in the middle of their visit, which is always a very  busy time. We also managed to get lots of our friends over to meet them, though in small groups over a meal rather than any big parties.
Sonya and Philip at the breakfast table (chocolatissimo birthday cake for Sonya)
Barry’s brother, Ron, who lives in the NSW Southern Highlands, reached an age and state of health where he needed to move into supported accommodation, so there were a couple of trips to assist getting him settled in a place near Bowral,  and Barry also had several trips to Canberra for academic purposes.  
Barry's brother, Ron Carr, in his room in the aged care facility.

 Next, Ben and Lissy arrived with Gemma for two lovely weeks, though they were in Sydney for some of that time.  We got to know Gemma all over again at 4 months.  Again, time to organise various get togethers for family and friends. 

A couple of weeks later Barry’s cousin Tamar and her two primary scool-aged kids, Tom and Lee, who live in Mackay,  came to visit during Queensland school holidays. They had a list of touristy things to do - the zoo, the MCG tour, Eureka Tower, St Kilda Beach and the Acland Street cake shops amongst others - some of which we did together. 

Then in a couple of weeks we were off to the US again – spending  a few nights in Berkeley with Philip and Sonya , signing some documents on campus and meeting our future landlady at the house we will be renting from mid-August till late December, before heading off – me for new York to spend time with Ben, Lissy and Gemma and seeing  friends, while Barry went to Austin, Texas and then on to Mexico till we both met up to begin the Fall Semester on August 14. 

As we only spent less than 5 months in Melbourne, I feel a little short-changed. There wasn’t time to do as much as I would have liked, even though we packed in lots.  Increasingly I want to spend time with my friends, who I miss so much when I am away. We caught a few operas but no live theatre, missed the major exhibitions on at the National Gallery, saw just a few movies.  I again have missed the Canto Coro choir season in its entirety, and only got to sing with the Nitzanim singers once  (plus one rehearsal). Mind you, I did get in regular exercise classes, swimming, book club and Why Is It So at U3A, while dropping out of my U3A Spanish conversation group through lack of time. Also I didn’t manage to do any Jewish Studies, as I missed the first part of the term and knew I’d miss more classes due to other activities.  I do need to ensure I get more intellectual stimulation as I am starting to notice how much less sharp I am than I was, and my memory is not as good as I’d like.  Feeling like I am temporary somehow diminishes my commitment to serious intellectual effort.  I find I give up reading long articles or other non-fiction because I feel too rushed. Maybe blogging again will help – or maybe it will be something else to avoid putting time into.  My preferred activity seems to be many games of Scrabble on the iPhone, the equivalent of many games of solitaire on the computer but more enjoyable.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

A weekend in the country

Philip lights the fire.

Sonya and Philip invited us to spend the weekend after Thanksgiving at their cottage in Forestville, about an hour and a half's drive from Berkeley, in the Russian River area of Sonoma County. The forecast said the rain would stop late Saturday and the next couple of days would be fine, so we chanced it (sightseeing is less than great in the pouring rain) and though it was pretty wet when we drove up there, and there were just a few more rainy episodes on the first day, Sunday was fine and Monday was brilliantly sunny. I have put some photos on Flickr - Sonya and Philip and the house; the Ferrari-Carano vineyard we visited on Sunday, which has wonderfully landscaped gardens and some sculptures dedicated to the wife of the founder; and some shots from the coastal route Philip took to drive home, enjoying the views from the cliffs above the beaches and the marina at Bodega Bay, where we stopped on the way back for clam chowder and a crab sandwich.  We had a lovely time, including a very fine dinner at The Farmhouse Inn in Forestville on Saturday
night - (you can look it up and check out the menu) at

One of the decks at the cottage

Approach from the street to the cottage
Philip loves rhubarb so I had made a surprise rhubarb and apple crumble for him (and the rest of us had some too), and had brought up  pumpkin and leek soup from home also. Sonya had  some home made challah and a delicious cranberry relish she had made for Thanksgiving, and we had lamb cutlets and smashed potatoes, asparagus and salad on Sunday night, as well as delicious breakfasts. We really enjoyed the wine tasting and rather spectacular tasting rooms at the vineyard (where the woman who assisted us turned out to have a son and daughter-in-law teaching at universities in Brisbane) and the subsequent drive into Healdsburg, where we had lunch at one of the many restaurants in this very foodie haven. I had been thinking I had strayed from my Weight Watchers path since Chanukah - but writing this I realise I started on this deviation much earlier - starting with all the chocolate at Halloween, then Thanksgiving, etc. etc. My jeans are too tight again, and drastic action is required.    Weight Watchers has started a new plan, though the old one worked just fine for me, and even thinking about changing has rather derailed my eating from its familiar track

Beautiful landscape at Ferrari Carano vineyard

If you are interested, you can see all the photos from the weekend (with captions) at

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The weeks up to Thanksgiving 2010

Looking along a palm-lined street up to the mountains from Santa Monica

On Monday of the week before Thanksgiving, Barry was invited to give papers at USC and Scripps College in Pomona (both located in suburbs of Los Angeles).  I decided to join him in LA for the long weekend. We had initially planned to spend  our first night with Larry and Barbara, cousins who used to live in San Francisco but have been in LA for several years (and whom I last saw at Jackie and Bob's place in Santa Clara last December, though they visited Barry in Berkeley while I was on the East Coast this year). However, Barbara had the flu and it was deemed inadvisable to see them while we were there, let alone stay with them. Instead, we spent the 3 nights in Santa Monica, at Nora Hamilton's place.  She is a long- time colleague and friend of Barry's, and we enjoyed her hospitality greatly, though she seemed very disabled by a fall she had had a couple of weeks before.  The scans and so on had showed nothing broken, but it was clear she was in a great deal of pain and could barely walk.  Her two-storey  apartment would have been very difficult to deal with but for the fact that she had had a stair elevator thingy installed several years earlier when she was recovering from  hip replacement surgery, so could use that and the walker and other aids left over from that time to help her get about.  (Subsequent tests revealed she had in fact fractured her pelvis, so it is no wonder she was so uncomfortable!)

We had one meal out together, with me driving us in her car to the great seafood restaurant she had chosen, and  I also drove us to USC  on Monday for the first of Barry's talks. We had delicious breakfasts at home - in fact I took to buying berries again when I returned to Berkeley, as Nora's had been so luscious, but I found the local ones disappointing again. For other evening meals we got in take-away - Indian food our first night, which Barry picked up as he needed something from the drugstore a block away, very close to the restaurant, and another night we had Thai food delivered.  Nora lives just a few blocks from the beach.  The weather was balmy and I  managed to convince Barry to join me on my daily walk down to the beach, but I didn't have a short-sleeved top to wear, so got a bit overheated most days.  One day after we hit Ocean Avenue, an elevated drive above cliffs or palisades overlooking the broad sandy beach below, Barry parked himself on a bench in the shade and I walked on down to the Santa Monica Pier. Santa Monica, at least in the 15 blocks between where we were staying and the beach, contrary to the image of Los Angeles as a place with no-one on the streets, was full of joggers, people walking dogs, parents with kids in strollers, lots of bikes.  This is just on the regular streets, apart from the pedestrian malls and the funky shopping strips.  There is lots of ice cream to be had, cafes and little shops - and there were buses also. The palm trees and many eucalypts gave it a very St Kilda vibe, and I always love to be out amongst it where there is sunshine and blue skies.  I have posted photos on Flickr: look up the photostream for bjoymarsh, for Santa Monica etc. or use this link:

We managed to locate cousins who we had lost touch with, Julie and Eric - it is more than 10 years since I have seen Eric and their daughter Camille, though I have seen Julie on visits to Melbourne, most recently at her nephew's barmitzvah or her cousin's wedding. They have recently moved to a new house spectacularly located in a deep ravine with a very steep staircase down, fortuitously fitted with an elevator chair (2 in one weekend!) which  Julie, who was recovering from foot surgery, used.  We had lunch together and a great catch up on all the news on both sides, and got the chance to meet Camille, who is now in college - last time we saw her I think she was about 8 years old. Eric picked us up and dropped us off again later, and though we had been invited to a party in the evening, we were not so enthusiastic about going and neither was Nora, so we stayed in that night.

On Monday, I wandered around the USC campus while Barry was giving his talk (I've heard it several times already), and took the photos you can see on Flickr.  Is the yo-yo making a comeback? There was a guy doing a yo-yo demonstration on stage in the centre of campus, and a not very good but extremely loud band, and some students getting around on unicycles as well as masses of bikes and skateboards. Basically the university seems to occupy what originally was a few city blocks, which have now become self-contained.  There were interesting plaques all over the place, originating from a university history project,  telling about the growth and transformation of the university as an aerospace  research institution under one of its Presidents, and relating how the student body and later the campus grew hugely after WW II, when the returning GIs were able to go to college thanks to the GI Bill.  But  the film school really told me I was in Southern California!

On Tuesday night we went into San Francisco to see  Janacek's The Makropulos Case at the Opera House. 
We went in quite early so we could go to the talk before the performance, as the opera was completely unknown to us before.  I think a version of the talk we heard is on the audio tab on the SF opera  link below. We stopped for Greek food at a cafe very near the Civic Centre BART station, where we have eaten before, but this evening the place was incongruously full of very glamorously dressed opera goers. It is really quite a greasy spoon, but we have figured out if we order one Shish Kebab platter and one Greek salad and share, we both have a delicious meal for under $20.  The bourghul and rice accompaniments are particularly delicious, the salad is fresh, the lamb is tender and the yoghurt dressing which accompanies it is basically tzatziki, not a term we hear used much here.  I guess we have never been there at this hour before.

It was a really outstanding production, completely gripping through the first two acts, a little less so in the third act.  This had a lot to do with the diva, Karita Mattila, who turned on an absolutely stunning piece of acting and singing as the opera singer who has been taking an eternal youth potion for 300 years. The first link is the SF Opera's official site, but the audio is not of Mattila.

The next link is a review of the performance, with which I pretty much agree.

On Friday evening we were invited to eat at Joan Sprinson's - she is the woman who offered me a lift to the Tertulia the week we arrived in Berkeley this year.  Chatting with her then, having noticed The Mexico Reader on her coffee table, I mentioned that Barry had co-edited the Cuba Reader in the same series. One thing led to another;  I mentioned what Barry was teaching at CAL this year, and as she was particularly interested in Cuba, she contacted him and arranged to audit his course on Cuban History. She also took us shopping at the Monterrey Market before we had a car, but I have barely seen her since as I have missed so many tertulias this year as the night hasn't been fixed and we have had clashes. She cooked a delicious dish based on spaghetti squash: the one time I tried to cook one at home years ago, I must have undercooked it - now I have an idea what the texture should be like, I will try again. It also featured some really good mushrooms.  We had a very interesting evening chatting and getting to know each other a little.

The rain had set in that day and for several days: it got much worse the next evening.  Sonya and I were going to an all Handel concert that Nina, a friend from our YMCA exercise class, was singing in, and Philip and Barry, who were less keen than we were, had decided to go to the movies together. When Philip and Sonya arrived, Philip said "whose idea was this anyway" - why didn't we just stay in and have some drinks in the warm, maybe play Scrabble or watch a DVD.  I was tempted, given how it was bucketing down, but Barry really wanted to see the movie they had planned (Conviction - I still haven't seen it, but they thought it was well worth seeing and would recommend it) so we headed off in our respective cars to our respective destinations.  There were multiple churches on the blocks near campus where we were seeking the church where Chora Nova was performing, and after driving round several blocks in the pouring rain, Sonya and I eventually parked in a spot we found in the church car park - only to discover it was the wrong church. But we left the car there anyway, and it was still there when we returned at the end, when the rain had abated a little. Appropriately for the weather, the concert was titled "Let the Winds Blow!", and the first piece was titled Der Sturm, so of course the MC could not resist quipping about the weather, as we sat there with umbrellas and raincoats dripping onto the pews and carpets!  The concert was excellent, the accompanying musicians and the soloists in the Mass in Bb were very good, and the choir is an entirely different proposition to my Nigunim Chorus, where we all have fun and there are very few trained voices, though we all probably love to sing as much as each other.  You can find some Chora Nova clips on youtube if you are interested, though not from the concert we attended. We came back  here to a cuppa (or G&Ts in some cases)  and some cookies before Philip and Sonya went home.

We were invited to join Myrna and Garrett for their family Thanksgiving dinner this year, which we really enjoyed.  Here is the cake I made and few photos from the day.
Raspberry Marzipan Tart in front of the window

One of the two tables set for Thanksgiving Lunch

Garrett with friend and colleague Peter

Myrna(red top), Garrett and some of her family on their front steps

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Berkeley, November 2010

Barry and I with some characters at the Dia de los Muertos concert

One Thursday I noticed they were doing flu shots at the JCC right after my exercise class, so spent $25 to have one.  These are free at home for people over 60, but I thought with our plans to visit NYC and stay close to our very pregnant daughter-in-law and shortly thereafter her baby, it was a no-brainer. They were advertising them at this price at the University Health Center, but the JCC is closer.  Barry forgot to get his there, so he had one recently at the local drug store for $30. A friend  tells me her doctor charged her $40!

The next evening we decided to see the movie "Social Network".  We went to the El Cerrito multiplex which is a little further afield than the 3 or 4 cinemas we frequent, and we discovered that you can order a meal and drinks to consume in the cinema.  There are broad benchtops between the rows which serve as your table top when they deliver your food.  In fact Charlie, our neighbour, had told Barry about this place during our first year here,  but somehow we have never gone. And this evening we had eaten dinner before we went out, so stuck to an ice cream for Barry and a decaf coffee for me, but we resolved to go there again and try it out, just for the novelty value. I saw some healthy looking veggie plates with hummus as well as pizzas and burgers, so if we do go we'll need to get there a bit early to check out the menu.  We enjoyed the movie, though it would be hard to like Mark Zuckerberg as he is portrayed. I suspect the version of reality depicted in the film will come to be accepted as the true history of the origins of Facebook, irrespective of what actually happened.  I have been looking at Facebook a bit more frequently since.  I started this blog as a substitute for emailing my friends about our travels, and no sooner did I begin than social media began to replace this form of communication.  I don't really do a web log: I am too far in arrears, too wordy, and not interactive, but it works as my travel diary.  I don't really want to use the features such as "liking" stuff and twittering about it, but am intrigued by how my  "friends" who do manage to find the time. Despite a long career in the computer industry (or maybe because of it?) , I just don't "get" Facebook. I am still an old media fan, I guess, rather than a native user of new media.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul, North Beach
Tai Chi in Washington Square
We had arranged to go to a Dia de los Muertos concert at Davies  Symphony Hall on Saturday afternoon, with Guy Emerson, a grad student from ANU who is here for a couple of months and enjoying Berkeley very much (he had joined our dinner for the GSI's the week before) . We decided to take a walking tour of the North Beach area in the morning - usually we don't choose morning walks that start so early as we like a leisurely start to the day on weekends, but to make the most of the day got ourselves out of bed and met Guy at the North Berkeley BART station quite early.  Rather than find the bus stop and pay 3 fares, we shared a taxi from Montgomery Station in downtown SF and got to North Beach early enough to grab a coffee in this
very Italian restaurant-rich neighbourhood.  There were several groups of mostly elderly Chinese doing Tai Chi in Washington Square in front of the church (Sts Peter and Paul) where the tour began - I took several photos of larger groups but however slowly I thought  they were moving, the photos must have come out blurred as apparently I deleted most of them which must have been really awful, and only this not very good one made the cut.

Mural featuring musicians, writers, boat builders of San Francisco
We have had this Walking Tour guide before - he led the Gold Rush City tour that we took with Ben and Lissy back in 2008.  I thought we spent way too much
Literary sculpture: looks like birds up there but it's books...
..and these words have fallen to the pavement from the books!
time in the church looking at all the sculptures and hearing about the origins and quirks of the different families and communities who had a hand in building it, and too little time looking at temples of the Beats such as the City Lights Bookstore - we didn't even visit the store, got no closer than across the road. But then I am much more interested in the cultural history than religious history.  And if Barry had gone into the store, judging by past experience there, he might never have left to continue the tour! Too much talking, not enough walking - and I just read my blog post about the earlier tour and discovered I said the same thing about that tour. I think this guy teaches history at a local community college - maybe I want a little less historical depth and more colour and movement.  We wandered about the area and were shown places (former tea rooms, ex-hotels, cafes, park benches) where the Beat poets hung out, wrote and read their poems, drank, listened to music from the '40s to the '60s- Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman, Jack Kerouac  and others. To encourage participation, the guide had prepared a little handout with significant landmarks and a poem by Bob Kaufman.  He asked us about what one line ("Mexico Mexico, fill my nostrils") might mean - Barry volunteered that these guys had been fond of travelling to Mexico for the drugs as well as the boys, so it wasn't exactly a mysterious line!  We heard how San Francisco had seemed a paradise of liberalism and freedom (as well as sunshine)  to these guys from the mid-West and the East coast. He shared with us his own discovery of the Bay Area and and generally managed to ignite some fellow feeling amongst us (especially the tourists ) for their excitement at finding a like-minded community in the Bay Area and never returning to their original home.

After the tour we walked a couple of blocks into Chinatown and chose a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch pretty much at random. We continued our quest for dry fried string beans to equal the first ones we ever tried  in NYC's Chinatown over 30 years ago : these were not terrible, maybe a 6/10 . They came with a tasty brown sauce and were clearly not a real version of the dry-fried dish, but we like green beans anyway. Then we walked half the way to the concert through Chinatown - there was a funeral procession in train so no taxis about on the street we were walking along, but we wanted to get there early as there were various activities with Mariachis, demonstrations of making pan de muertos (the special bread eaten on the Day of the Dead, formed using the knuckles) , which we missed, though we did catch various folkloric groups in costume once we walked a few more blocks and got a taxi - see the photos.

La Coronela
There were displays of papel picado, and various reproductions of Posada's famous engravings, including
some in 3D.  There was Mexican hot chocolate to sample and many multi-generational families there for the concert with kids dressed up for the occasion. The coronela pictured was particularly relevant as the concert ended with an abridged version of the music and ballet from Revueltas's La Coronela - the music and dancers told a story of the workers' triumph over the decadent bourgeoisie. Ballet (and dance in general) is not my favourite art form, and without the programme notes I would not have had the faintest notion of what the ballet was about.  Even with the notes, it was pretty unclear to me, though it received a standing ovation, but most things we see seem to - I think the San Francisco audience is a cheap date! The one other piece that received loud applause was Rosas's Sobre las Olas (Over the Waves), and it also a kind of collective sigh at the point where the introduction ends and a familiar tune emerges. I found a Russian army orchestral version on Youtube and can't resist putting it here: do have a listen and the tune will stick with you all day!

All of the music was by composers who had significant connections with Mexico, whether born there or not, and was very easy listening though we had only recently heard Revueltas's Sensemaya last time we were at Symphony Hall. There were lots of children, and I was surprised that most of them were very well-behaved through quite long stretches of classical music (though one little boy on the other side of Barry was rather wriggly and obviously very bored).

After the concert we wandered back to Union Square, found an authentic looking, if reconstructed,  diner (complete with classic car) where Barry ordered a hot fudge sundae (with 3 spoons) and we each had a drink, then Barry and I got the BART back to Berkeley, after pointing Guy in the right direction for his next set of San Francisco adventures.  Two activities in one day were enough for me, I guess I am getting old and lazy!
A couple of characters in costume : and note the papel picado in the background.

After last week's all star cast in Compulsion, my next brush with famous performers was at the SF Opera the following Tuesday evening, to see Alfano's Cyrano de Bergerac, featuring Placido Domingo.We drove in with Sonya and Philip and their friend Judy and encountered less traffic then we had expected (with five of us in the car, we sailed across the Bay Bridge in the car pool lane) and had time to kill at a bar before we ate, only I was not drinking so I could have some wine with dinner and not risk falling asleep at the opera.

We had a beautiful dinner first at Jardiniere, the very classy restaurant near the opera house where we have eaten with Sonya and Philip several times. It is always difficult to choose what to eat - it seems a good idea to have two starters as they always sound wonderfully delicious, but the mains are tempting too.  And the desserts are particularly good, though I usually just sample  OPs (other people's!)
Get a typical  menu here:

The opera itself was very well-staged, most of it recitative with no memorable arias.  Domingo, 69 years old,  was in very good voice (though we thought his prosthetic nose was way deficient as he didn't look at all ugly), and Roxane, sung by Ainhoa Arteta, a Basque native who is something of a protegee of Domingo's, was also excellent. The standard of the productions here does set the bar quite high, even though the stage is quite small.  Again, I was struck by how only the designers or occasionally other non-singing members of the production team have ever worked in Australia - in the three years we have been attending performances, I don't think more than one or two of the dozens of singers profiled in the programme notes have ever been seen down under. It certainly leaves me questioning whether we are as world class in these arts as we like to think.  There was, however, a tribute to La Stupenda in the programme for the final opera of our season, so some Australians make the grade!

You can hear some excerpts from the production and see a photo of Placido Domingo's nose at:

Thursday, 25 November 2010

More Berkeley, October- Early November 2010

It is the season for the figs to ripen: the tree is very large and now that the rain has set in, the ripe figs sometimes split, and some ferment a bit where they are damaged. And the squirrels and birds get the earliest ripening and choicest ones near the top of the tree.  I took the video above from the kitchen window, before many figs at human level were ripe yet.  The squirrels here are very well fed, as you can see, and quite a bit larger than the ones seen in Mexico City, where the squirrel population in the Viveros is huge (I think I heard that they had imported few hawks or falcons to reduce the population recently). They are very scrawny compared to the Berkeley squirrel population, and also differently coloured - lots of black, grey  and brindle squirrels in Mexico City, here they all seem to be brown. Now (November) I go out every few days and pick up to two dozen  figs, and am using them in salads a lot and eating them as I pass them sitting in their wicker basket on the kitchen bench (or in the fridge on warm days, of which we are having fewer lately) . I give them away as well, and put out a bowl whenever we have visitors.  They concentrate their flavour after a few days, though I eat the ones which are split or otherwise damaged quickly, and there is always a percentage that go straight from tree to mouth - ah, the benefits of an organic garden!  Two years ago when we were in this house, I think we had a bigger crop and  found a few different ways to cook them: my favourite was to cut a cross in the stem end,  stuff in  some soft goat cheese and a sprig of fresh rosemary from the garden, drizzle with a bit of honey and a grind or two of black pepper, and run them under the griller for about 5 minutes. Lovely hot or cold, great at breakfast.

Though back in the routine of 4 exercise classes, 2 swims, choir rehearsals, etc., I haven't attended many Tertulias this semester. Being away on the East Coast for a month didn't help, then I had a few clashes with operas or plays.  But I managed to get to one in mid-October. I car pooled with Anne Shapiro  and a Latin American friend of hers to Oakland - we  misread the instructions, and got slightly lost - nothing whatever to do with me for once!  It was a very hot night, and most Berkeley/Oakland homes don't have air conditioning as it rarely gets so hot, so I was wearing a very light and open top and I sat near an open window and enjoyed a bit of fresher air. I found an article in the New York Times about all-time favourite pot-luck recipes, and modified the potato salad one below using multi-coloured teeny potatoes (including a purple kind which has purple flesh, not just purple skin, along with pink and yellowish skinned varieties) , which I left whole in their skins.The visual appeal was really good, everyone was fascinated, as much by the interesting potatoes as the taste. I was missing some ingredients so I substituted others, and didn't measure anything. I've made the salad again as part of a vegetarian dinner,and  followed the recipe more precisely with better results - there were no leftovers at all! Here is the recipe:


Warm Fingerling Potato Salad

As featured in the New York Times Magazine
If you scour the internet (or your cookbook collection) long enough, you’ll find that potato salad recipes are divided into two main camps — chilled and slathered in mayonnaise, or warm and dripping with bacon grease.
I chose to go another route. My potato salad is sumptuous, savory, vegan, and gluten-free — how’s that for mass appeal!
I used fingerling potatoes, which hold their shape well when steamed, making them perfect for salad. They are dense and buttery as is, and coated with a warm cider vinegar dressing, they become irresistible. Capers, Dijon mustard, and kosher salt ensure a well-seasoned salad, and fresh parsley and chives really liven things up, cutting the richness of the dressing. Served at a potluck, this salad will disappear before you know it. You might want to double the recipe. Oh, and it gets better the longer it sits. What more could you ask for?
Warm Fingerling Potato Salad
serves 6
1 1/2 lbs. fingerling potatoes
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 C. chopped parsley
1/4 C. chopped chives
1. Steam the potatoes for 20 minutes, or until you can easily pierce them with a paring knife.
2. While potatoes are steaming, heat the olive oil in a medium (10″) skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion, and saute until onions are softened but not browned, about 10 minutes.
3. Turn off the heat under the skillet and add the vinegar, capers, mustard, pepper, and salt. Set aside.
4. While they are still hot, slice the potatoes into 1/4″ rounds.
5. Add the potatoes, parsley, and chives to the skillet, and stir gently until all potatoes are coated evenly. Serve warm or at room temperature.


More music after my YMCA exercise class on Monday - Anne Shapiro, whom I originally met 3 years ago at the seniors' exercise class at the JCC and who introduced me to the Spanish Tertulia group, was singing at the Etude club, held in another Hogwart's style  hall near here in the Berkeley Hills, at lunchtime.  I don't belong to clubs at home, so have no idea if this kind of organisation exists in Melbourne - it seems a bit quaint and olde worlde to me, though at their procedural meeting before the concert started, they were discussing establishing an email list!   Sonya and I heard her lovely renditions of the Spanish songs she had chosen, along with a piano recital and a  harp and piano duet. Anne's diction is very clear, and assisted by the text of the songs and a rough translation, it was easy, and very gratifying for me,  to be able to follow the Spanish.She was a little concerned about her voice , having caught a bit of a cold, she thought from the fierce air conditioning in the car on the way to the Tertulia the previous week.

Barry's academic activities here are always in full swing throughout October and November. He went off to a conference in New Orleans for a few days and I dropped him off and picked him up again at Oakland airport. The run there was easy and fast on a workday around lunchtime, and I even found my way back from the airport to an X-Ray facility in Oakland without getting lost.  Mind you, there was awful traffic, apparently often experienced on this route, the Sunday afternoon I picked him up, so it took more than twice as long getting there this time - he would have arrived much faster had he taken the Air-BART bus-train combination  from the airport! (in case you are worried about the X-Ray, it was a check to establish whether there were any structural problems underlying my various episodes of back pain prior to going to see a physio or chiropractor, and there was nothing beyond the progressive wear and tear I have known about for ages.)

While he was away, Marisela Fleites-Lear came to stay for the weekend, as a close friend from Berkeley  had passed away and she will be unable to attend the formal memorial service a bit later in the year. I last saw her about a year ago when we visited her and John in Tacoma (I think there is a blog entry about our visit). She therefore had some commitments but we managed to get in a walk along the fishing pier at the Marina (I neglected to take any photos, however), dinner on Solano Avenue, and to catch the Woody Allen movie "You will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger".  We each had a fish dinner at a place I have seen but wouldn't normally have chosen, but the menu looked good and the fish was well cooked and presented with very nice vegetables, with  very affordable wine by the glass. Very Weight Watcher friendly, too. It was right across from the movie theatre at the bottom of Solano. We finished eating  in time to walk all the way up to the top of Solano Avenue and back again, noting all the delicious smells emerging from the more interesting ethnic restaurants we probably should have tried. The movie itself was the same comedy of manners movie he has been making the last few years, with some excellent performances from an all-star cast, even if most of them played rather unlikeable characters. Gemma Jones, who made an impression on me many years ago as the Duchess of Duke Street, Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and various lesser lights all were looking for love, or more likely, escape from themselves.

The next week Myrna Santiago invited me to join Barry at a talk he was giving for her students and others at St Mary's College where she teaches.  She included me in the dinner she  had organised for the academic staff who have an interest in Latin America to meet Barry, at an excellent Thai restaurant in the nearby village of Rheem (I couldn't suppress an urge to sing "Install a Rheem..". For those non-Australians reading this, a company called Rheem supplies many of our gas water systems, and they have a catchy jingle. )  We took BART to a nearby town, a different line and direction to our usual service, and the train was very crowded as I guess it was the afternoon commute time. But whatever country we could see from the train looked really beautiful, and also what we saw from Myrna's car when she picked us up at the station and drove us to the dinner and on to the campus was lovely.  We really don't do any local exploring to speak of - if Barry is not working on a weekend we tend to gravitate towards San Francisco rather than other regions around the Bay. I guess we are both urban creatures - we don't often get out into the country in Melbourne either, much as I love the scenery when we do get out.  The talk was well attended and went well, and Myrna drove us home when it was over - she and Garrett live in El Cerrito, quite close really. Just on a geographic tidbit proffered by a former librarian from Cal, who gave Barry a lift home one day and was admiring our view over coffee and cookies,  el cerrito means the little hill - which we can see clearly from our kitchen window and today it is actually Albany.

One of the other activities Barry was involved in was a short conference on  Mexico: The Unfinished Revolution, held at Berkeley in conjunction with an exhibition on Mexico at the Bancroft Library (I haven't seen this yet so can't comment about it.  I tried posting something from the Bancroft's home page here, but I couldn't manage to insert it and continue adding text, so I had to delete the post and start again. I will attempt a kludge shortly, but if it doesn't work I will post the link instead. As you can see, I got the cartoon but I can't blow it up enough to read and translate the contents of the speech bubble for you.)

 As well as the academic papers which are Barry's domain, there were two events I participated in. The first was a public screening of  "The Storm that Swept Mexico", a 2-hour documentary about the history of the Mexican Revolution in which Barry was one of the talking heads.  His commentary was filmed last year at Berkeley, though the film has been 11 years in the making. The film even included interviews with several Mexicans who had taken part in revolutionary battles (who were very old then and have since passed away), lots of archival footage, and many different  heads, talking in Spanish and English.

The film will be screened on PBS television here next May.  It had its premiere at a conference at the ANU in Canberra a few days before we left Melbourne.  Kenn Rabin, one of the co-producers who is a well-known film maker and renowned archivist , was a guest at this conference, at Barry's suggestion, and brought an early copy of the film, not the final cut, to show there. I had been too busy at the time to go to Canberra with Barry to see it, so it was my first viewing.  It has quite detailed historical coverage of the first 10 years of the Mexican Revolution.  Very informative, lots about Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata and early presidents and dictators - Barry thinks it will be very useful for teaching about the Mexican Revolution, though the later years, covered thematically rather than in detail, interested me more. When Kenn came to Melbourne for a few days (and fell in love with our fair city, very gratifyingly) we had dinner together and I got to know him a bit, so it was nice to renew our acquaintance at the reception before the screening, and to be introduced to other key figures like the co-producer, and  the writer and arranger of the music (which is really good). Both at the reception and at subsequent meetings with Kenn, the difficulties of getting finance for making and distributing such an ambitious independent film project  have become much clearer to me. Any angels out there who would like to help out - please get in touch and I'll pass on your details to Kenn!

Sonya and Philip came to the screening and we went for  coffee and cake afterwards - it was their wedding anniversary.  Learning more than you wanted to know about the Mexican Revolution is probably not the most romantic way to spend an evening, I felt a bit guilty for inviting them to come!

This was on Thursday evening, and then on the Saturday night I joined Barry at the closing dinner of the conference, a very nice Mexican-themed meal in the Faculty club, another Harry Potter/Hogwart's  type of room.  A month later I am still looking at a vase of chilies, the last remaining parts of one of the very fetching floral table decorations which were offered to various people after the dinner (it felt like I had been at a Barmitzvah,  taking home a floral arrangement!)

Golden Gate at Sunset from Marin looking back to San Francisco

The next day I hosted an extra rehearsal for the altos from the East Bay Jewish Folk Chorus. We are quite a large group this year, nine of us, and we seem to have a lot of the melodies.  Some of the more experienced singers amongst us are a bit disappointed, finding the harmonies more interesting to sing, though I like it. In any case, there are quite a few new songs and new people, so the extra practice is welcome, and I have space here. Someone brings a keyboard and we work quite hard, taking only a little time for some nibbles or cake and a cuppa or some wine. We get to know each other a bit better, which I am sure helps us sing better. This first rehearsal was quite hard to coordinate, but now we are in a groove with a fixed time, so it's a lot easier to get us all together, or at least whoever isn't busy at 4.30 on Sunday afternoon.

Then Barry was off again, this time to a Mexican historians conference in Queretaro, Mexico, and for a whole week.  I managed to get a ticket to see Compulsion at the Berkeley Rep on the Wednesday night, which took a lot of calling and a fortuitous visit to the theatre box office after my swim the day before, just as someone called in a cancellation, as the entire season was booked out. Sonya and Philip and two of their friends were going that night, and we all had dinner at a Chinese restaurant before the play. It starred Mandy Patinkin and was a very interesting play indeed. He was absolutely stunning- my seat was in the middle of the front row - Berkeley Rep is theatre in the round and I have never been so close and felt so overwhelmed by the sheer force of a performer. There were two other actors, each of whom was also very good in multiple roles, and marionettes which worked brilliantly.  The play is based around the story of Meyer  Levin, who brought the Diary of Anne Frank to the attention of the English-speaking world, though the protagonist is called Sid Silver. Anne Frank is portrayed by a marionette and voices off.  The play raised a whole lot of questions about truth and fiction, universal versus Jewish values, obsessions in general. I thought it really worked well - one of my best ever nights at the theatre. Quoting from the an interview with the playwright,Rinne Groff in the playbill:

"Meyer Levin wrote a book called Compulsion about Leopold and Loeb

Here is a link to get you started if you are interested in the play.  I do hope it comes to Melbourne - I am certain it will come to New York.

On Friday of that week I had invited Betsy, Nancy and MD (the car poolers to my Y exercise classes last year and occasionally again this year) and Sonya to lunch - the Friday morning class was cancelled as the Y was preparing for their Halloween festival, but we decided that shouldn't stop us having lunch anyway.  I made mushroom soup which was a big hit.  At the Monterey market they have so many varieties of mushrooms that I am stunned into indecision and end up choosing the familiar ones I feel safe with. But when I went shopping for stuff for the lunch, I noticed they were selling big bags of exotic mixed mushrooms, probably yesterday's, very cheaply, maybe only $2.49 a lb, so this solved my dilemma. I also bought an assortment of fruit that looked and smelled good, including some imported blood oranges from Australia.  I made a lot of soup using sauteed leeks and the carefully washed and sliced/chopped mushrooms, with stock and powdered skim milk, lightly thickened with a roux, and it was really delicious. I also served some spanakopita with a salad of various mixed leaves and some cherry tomatoes and some figs  from the garden.  Betsy avoids eating members of the shade family (eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes)  as doing so assists her arthritis, but I figured she could avoid the tomatoes and didn't include anything else dodgy. I made a fruit salad and popped in a couple of ripe feijoas from the garden, and served orange and almond cake on a plate with some of the sliced blood oranges. We sat on and on around the table talking about plays and shows and operas we had seen, books we had read, the state of the nation etc - most enjoyable.

A day after Barry returned from Mexico we had his Graduate Student Instructors from this year and last and a couple of others for dinner. Most were vegetarian or preferred to eat kosher, so I prepared a vegetarian meal, which made for a relaxed evening for me as I had done most of the preparation beforehand. As well as another pot of mushroom soup , spanakopita and a mixed salad, I made the potato salad, sticking more closely to the recipe this time.  I also was planning on making some kind of ratatouille, but when I was at the market I saw the most appealing little yellow and green button squash, so decided to make a "deconstructed" ratatouille: I prepared the onions/eggplant/ multi-coloured capsicums/tomatoes (no mushrooms as we had the soup)  as in ratatouille, incorporating lots of herbs from the garden, but used that as a bed and laid out the vivid frilly-edged little squash on top and baked the whole thing in the oven the day before. Then I crumbled a little bit of tasty cheese on top when I reheated it on the night. It looked really nice, really showing off the fall produce to advantage. One of the guests brought a fruit salad for dessert and I made an apple cake with grannies from the garden, another nice evening. Two of the guests had newish babies but only Sarah  brought Eleni - Bea and Dani left Emmet with her parents, I think, so although they had a more relaxed evening, I didn't get much granny practice in.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Berkeley in the Fall

I got back from the East Coast to a very busy time, and to mostly lovely weather.  October 1 is Barry's birthday, and he had booked us into a very well reviewed "Cat on  Hot Tin Roof" and a  pre-show dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant in San Francisco for the day after, a Saturday.  But on Friday evening he got a call from the theatre saying the performance was cancelled because the lead actor had been in an accident, and although they refunded our tickets, we were left on Friday evening trying to find seats for the next evening to a show we both fancied. We tried various performances we liked the sound of, but couldn't find anything available, so decided to try something different, a  Magic Bus Tour through space and time  back to San Francisco in the '60's.  We thought it might be something like one of Rod Quantock's shows (a Melbourne reference, never mind, it can't be explained), but basically it was a bus which picked us up in Union Square which had blinds on the window serving as projection screens.  Films (a collage of historical documentary footage, TV interviews and other linking commentary) were projected onto these and while the bus was in transit and when the bus arrived at a destination of interest, up went the blinds and we watched the streetscapes to a recorded commentary.  At one stage the hostess on the bus donned a costume for a few minutes. There was footage of  the Summer of Love, the psychedelic shop fronts of  Haight Ashbury,  happenings in Golden Gate Park, the British Invasion and the impact of Rock'N'Roll on the generation coming of age in the 60's, the civil rights movement, drug culture - though we also looked at at important economic institutions in the Financial District, Chinatown, sites of demos etc. The  several themes - the advent of youth culture, the generation gap, the music, the anti-Vietnam War, anti-draft movement, the psychedelic experience were explored from different angles and it was all quite well done. The written programmes handed out were in 3D as was the paint job inside the bus, but we had to take our special specs off to watch the video as that wasn't.

This was a mid afternoon trip, and so we had a little time to kill before dinner at Farallon, which we wasted wandering about, though it was quite chilly. San Francisco was very much cooler than Berkeley that day. With no play to go to, we had longer to spend over the meal than we had planned, so we told them when we arrived and they seated us in a different area where we had a great view of everything going on and were able to enjoy the meal with no sense of urgency or rush.

I had missed the first rehearsal of my choir (the East Bay Jewish Folk Chorus), which was on my birthday while I was in NYC, but started my season by going to the rehearsal at the JCC on Monday night.  As always, it was sheer pleasure to be singing and seeing my friends again for the new season.  I had listened in advance to some of the music, which Achi, the Director,  posts on a web site so we can download the scores and the MP3s of our parts.  I  was already a bit familiar with a couple of the Hebrew songs and one of the Yiddish ones, Lomir Ale in Eynem, which it seems to me is always sung at Jewish weddings and Barmitzvahs in Melbourne - though none of the other singers had ever heard it, so presumably it is a lot less popular in California! We have a couple of concerts scheduled for the beginning of Hanukkah, and Barry thinks Tom Lehrer's  "I'm Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica" will bring the house down. Here is a youtube of the song - and I think Achi's  four part choral arrangement will sound pretty good.

As we each had periods when we knew we'd be travelling, we had booked operas and theatre to fit around the absences, which at time  perhaps led to a greater concentration of arts than is ideal.  In this week, we had an opera on Tuesday evening (a lovely performance of the Marriage of Figaro at the SF Opera House, see the link below:

The conductor, Nicola Luisotti, took it all at breakneck speed, and the sets looked just a little bit tired, but I always enjoy this Mozart romp and the singers pretty much did it justice without being spectacular. The subscription department rings you up and very charming young men talk you through the options for making up your season, and though we decided it was too expensive and we wouldn't subscribe this year, we have ended up with even more expensive seats this year, having vowed not to go back to the still expensive but very uncomfortable seats we have had in the past two years - no leg room for us, and we're not that tall! At least in these seats we are comfortable.

Then on Thursday night we went back into San Francisco's Civic Centre area to a Symphony concert, the first half celebrating Latin American composers Revueltas, Villa-Lobos and Varese, the second half Beethoven's 7th. The Varese piece, Ameriques, was scored for a very large orchestra indeed, including nine percussionists, one of who plays both a siren and sleigh bells. I quote from the programme:

In Music Since 1900 , the encyclopaedist Nicolas Slonimsky, famous for his ability to compress much meaning into few  words, summed up Ameriques by remarking that it was "titled in the plural to embrace all Americas, abstract and concrete, present and future, scored for a huge orchestra and set in dissonant harmonic counterpoint built of functional thematic molecules, proceeding by successive crystallizations in the sonorous mass of organized sound."

The audience at its premiere in 1926 certainly wouldn't have expected to hear anything like this at a symphony concert, and as I hadn't looked at the programme in advance, nor did I, but I liked it. Michael Tilson Thomas (or MTT as he is generally referred to), the director of the SF Symphony, conducted Beethoven 7 at a cracking pace, but maybe not as fast as I expected from having heard him before. It is a lovely work and I hear new things in it every time I hear it performed, however familiar it is.

Cute little electric run-around parked in our street
Last time I mentioned the opera neighbourhood, I may have posted a photo of the electric car share parking spots.  In our very own street there are now two electric cars, both seem to belong to the same house - the smaller one is advertised for sale, and is a sweet little thing with lightweight mesh seats which caught my eye as it was very badly parked near a busy corner. Lately I have seen it parked in the carport where you can see the larger car being charged.

More conventional-looking electric car charging in carport.
Our young cousin on the Marsh side, Stephanie, recently went on a Birthright trip to Israel and met a new friend there who lives in San Francisco.  She was visiting Ilana for a long weekend and came to spend Friday with us in Berkeley.  We had breakfast together, then Barry gave her a campus tour while I went off to my exercise class and to give blood at the Albany Y (the post-donation snacks at the Melbourne Blood Bank are much healthier, and the staff are friendlier too, I must say). Then I picked her up and we had lunch at home and spent a couple of hours getting to know each other a bit ( we last met when Steph was a teenager - now she is finishing off  her MA in Arizona). We headed off to get some sea air, in short supply in Phoenix, with a walk out along the fishing pier and through the Berkeley Marina, then went off to College Avenue to look at the shops. We parked near the famous ice-cream shop Ici, and ogled the queue along the street and the flavours of the day posted on the lamp post outside (see shot of this I took with the iPhone) when our phones started ringing.

Flavours of the day at Ici on College Avenue.
We got a series of calls from Barry (who had been into San Francisco to meet a colleague) and  Ilana, who were each coming in from San Francisco to join us for dinner and a show. We left the Elmwood area where we had been wandering and picked them both up from the downtown Berkeley BART station (and in all this gallivanting, I didn't get lost even once - very proud of myself!) We ate at one of Barry's favourite restaurants, Adagia, across the road from campus, and walked down for the show afterwards. A few days earlier Barry had spotted that Circus Oz was performing at Zellerbach Hall on the UCB campus, and we had booked tickets because we thought it would be a really different experience for the girls in particular.  And it was - really a lot of fun, amazing feats of balance, tumbling, juggling, music etc. Some of the dialogue  or commentary was a bit hard for us to hear, let alone understand - and we speak the language - but the words were not the main source of entertainment.  The girls seemed to enjoy it and we all laughed a lot, and gasped a fair bit too. Afterwards we dropped them at the BART station to return to San Francisco, after a very full day all around.
Ilana, Barbara, Stephanie, Barry at Circus Oz
Lincoln and Nina, some neighbours that Sally and Monica had briefly introduced us to, invited us over to their house for drinks on Saturday evening, which was extremely pleasant: sitting on their deck  a few houses higher up the same hill we're on towards sunset, looking at the magnificent view, discovering interests in common and listening to the deer crashing about in the woods below. Lincoln is an archivist, writer  and collector of political posters.  He has a studio with great capabilities for reproducing and digitising images - this is another field that has been transformed by the advent of the Internet and all the digital technologies which are enabling the preservation of what are, after all, essentially ephemera, but which tell so much about popular culture and popular movements all over the world.  He highlighted how in the post war years in the USA, with McCarthyism and the stultifying conservatism of those years, there was virtually no political poster making at all, and that it was with the rise of youth culture and music that poster art came roaring back.  Reminded me of our mystery bus tour!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

East Coast trip Part 3: New York

A birthday candle in my  dessert at Fish Restaurant in Greenwich Village
In what is now a familiar ritual, Yaacov dropped me off at Penn station in Baltimore in plenty of time to get the Amtrak train to New York.  I have now figured out where the elevator is so I don't have to schlep my suitcase down the stairs to the platform.  There was a strange-looking carcase on the tracks: the consensus of my fellow travellers was that it had been a deer which had probably travelled some distance on the underside of a train and got partly roasted before being deposited here! Not sure about the quality as I snapped it with my iPhone. Usually if you click on an image in the blog it will enlarge it.

Strange deer carcase on the tracks at Baltimore Penn Station

Leiba  Marsh with baby Dina
When I got in to Jay and Ellen's, I called Lissy and arranged to go down there the next day to make honey cakes for them, for the in-laws and a small one for Jay and Ellen. Ben, whose palate is rather discriminating, said the cake was not up to the usual standard, and we singled out the cause as the canola oil, which might have been a bit older than desirable.  At home I never buy huge containers of oil, flour, etc. despite the unit price seeming much lower: we don't use them up fast enough to maintain quality, and it's false economy if you end up chucking it out! But the cakes all got eaten - they were not bad, just not as good as usual.  Next day, I took the train to Lissy's parents' house for the pre-Yom Kippur meal, and accompanied the family to their Temple in New Jersey on Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur. We broke the fast at Lissy's uncle and aunt's house - Isaac and Melanie are wonderful hosts and I feel so included there, it is really lovely.  We stayed over as the day after Yom Kippur was a Sunday this year, so there was no need to race back to Manhattan for work the next day.
My Nephew Moshe with oldest daughter Chaya
We had arranged to visit my nephew and his family in Lakewood, and borrowed Bernard's car for the drive.  It was much quicker than getting a bus from the Port Authority Terminal in NYC like we did last year.  Leiba turned on a splendid lunch for us, and we enjoyed a bit of time with the kids including the newest baby, Dina, who you can see smiling away as she dances about with Lissy on the video below.

Leiba with middle daughter Shifra
The older girls took me outside to show where they had planed some dried beans from the package they use for cholent - they assured me they would grow into peas, as the neighbours' had. I tried explaining about peas and beans being different plants but I got the distinct impression they had no idea what I was talking about - I guess I need to brush up my communication skills! Still, any gardening is a good thing - right? I had trouble getting Yisroel to keep still for a photo, and the video with him and his friends playing is very chaotic so I haven't posted it here.

I spent a bit of time in New York looking at 2-bedroom apartments to rent on the Upper West Side with Lissy and occasionally with Ben.  The lease on their current 1-bedroom expires November 1, and they need the extra room for the baby, and want to be near an express subway stop on the Broadway line for Ben’s shortest possible commute to the Financial District.  We saw some dumps for not much less money than some pretty nice places, mostly older buildings but some new developments.  Only in New York could two-bedroom apartments starting from $4500 a month be considered middle income rental housing!  I am well aware that house prices in Melbourne are far higher than in much of the USA, but at least you get a bit more space, indoor and outdoor, for your money. But Manhattan is a very desirable place to live and there isn’t much space, so I guess it is all about supply and demand. As I write this post, they have signed a lease, so I know where we will be staying when we return to NYC in December.
The house-hunting occupied quite a bit of time, but I did get to one museum I hadn’t seen before, the Frick Collection on the Upper East Side. It reminded me a bit of the Barnes collection that we saw in Philadelphia about 3 years ago – housed in a purpose-built mansion, selected and arranged by an individual according to his own taste – but without the didactic purpose so apparent in the Barnes. Also the Barnes collection is much larger and the art works mainly date more from the Impressionist period through cubism and early modernism, leavened with some African work from many periods whose influences Barnes detected on the European works in the collection.  But the quality of the works in the Frick is outstanding – Gainsborough, Reynolds, Sargent, Constable, Cellini, a Renoir, Hals, Goya, El Greco, Titian, Turner, Van Dyck. For the art lovers amongst you I would highly recommend both if you are ever on the East Coast of the USA, and here are some links for you to explore the collections:
I met our friend Ruth at the Frick – she had been in NYC for a few days at the UN General Assembly presenting on Australia’s position on bio-diversity, and engaging in negotiations around the topic as part of DFAT’s delegation , accompanying the newly-appointed Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.  After an hour or so for a very quick look at the house and the collection, with no time to listen to the audio tour that is included in the admission price, we wandered around the East Side a bit, looking for a place to eat lunch.  We eventually came across somewhere suitable, where we had to wait for a while but finally shared two really excellent salads, excellent bread,  and some wine. The Upper East Side is out of my comfort zone. We had been wandering up Madison Avenue, but after walking Ruth to Park Avenue for a taxi to the airport I continued further east and realised we had just been on the wrong street for cheap and cheerful eats – Lexington Avenue would have suited our quest much better.  Still, we did see many designer clothing, jewellery and accessories stores as we walked!

I also took the train up to Emily and Bob’s place for a couple of days, including the second day of Sukkot when we went to Shule and to my surprise I was honoured with an Aliyah. I guess there were not so many people there and they were welcoming a stranger to be a part of things.  Having grown up as a woman attending Orthodox Shules I am still not blasé about participating fully in Conservative Synagogue services, and I get quite an emotional response to being considered a fully functioning member of the kehila.  It was a very nice experience, topped off by lunch in the Sukkah with some of Bob and Emily's friends from the congregation: bagels, all kinds of herring, lox, salads, fruit, even hot coffee, and I could not resist a brownie.  Unfortunately I had a pinched nerve in my neck, probably from carrying a back pack slung over one shoulder on the crowded subway train and waiting in the station for the Metro North train to Pleasantville, where I had met Bob and Emily  the evening before to go to a show at the Burns theatre (it was a documentary about the history of the animation unit at Disney, called Waking Sleeping Beauty. ) This is on a different train line than the Hudson line I take to their town, which is a gorgeous leafy ride alongside the river - I missed the views!

Emily got me an appointment with a neighbour who is a chiropractor. He diagnosed the source of the pain and treated it with ultrasound and an activator (I had a chiropractor in Mexico years ago who used this little instrument well, but since then I have only been treated with it a couple of times and haven’t felt the practitioner was using it all that well.)  Net effect was to partially relieve the pain right then, but over the next 24 hours I improved vastly. It probably also helped that I rested quite a bit, reclining in Emily’s special chair and reading a couple of novels from the Number 1 Lady’s Detective Agency series, and took some anti-inflammatories.

We got to share a few meals in Emily's screened porch, the newest addition to the house and a lovely indoor/ outdoor place to sit, mosquito-free, and enjoy the garden at this time of year. It was just about finished last year when I visited, but since then there are a lot of potted plants and various other creature comforts, and a pretty spectacular barbecue just outside where Emily grilled marinated chicken and lots of great vegetables, including portabella mushrooms. eggplant, zucchini and red peppers, all my favourites.  Yum!

Ben and Lissy at Jeremy and Tara's
My first cousin Jeremy, wife Tara and their twins Jacob and Jonathan now live in White Plains, only about half an hour from Emily's.We stopped off at  the station to pick up Ben and Lissy and Emily dropped us all off and barely had time to say hello before racing off to meet Bob watch her French nephew, now boarding at a school in the area,  play in a soccer game. Jeremy's sister Angela was visiting from London, so we all enjoyed catching up. We enjoyed lunch in the Succah, where it was extremely hot, and went for a walk nearby (where we took a few photos on the edge of the golf course) before taking the train back to Grand Central. 

I also took the train up to Emily and Bob’s place for a couple of days, including the second day of Sukkot when we went to Shule and to my surprise I was honoured with an Aliyah. I guess there were not so many people there and they were welcoming a stranger to be a part of things.  Having grown up as a woman attending Orthodox Shules I am still not blasé about participating fully in Conservative Synagogue services, and I get quite an emotional response to being considered a fully functioning member of the kehila.  It was a very nice experience, topped off by lunch in the Sukkah with some of Bob and Emily's friends from the congregation: bagels, all kinds of herring, lox, salads, fruit, even hot coffee, and I could not resist a brownie.  Unfortunately I had a pinched nerve in my neck, probably from carrying a back pack slung over one shoulder on the crowded subway train and waiting in the station for the Metro North train to Pleasantville, where I had met Bob and Emily  the evening before to go to a show at the Burns theatre (it was a documentary about the history of the animation unit at Disney, called Waking Sleeping Beauty. ) This is on a different train line than the Hudson line I take to their town, which is a gorgeous leafy ride alongside the river - I missed the views!

Emily got me an appointment with a neighbour who is a chiropractor. He diagnosed the source of the pain and treated it with ultrasound and an activator (I had a chiropractor in Mexico years ago who used this little instrument well, but since then I have only been treated with it a couple of times and haven’t felt the practitioner was using it all that well.)  Net effect was to partially relieve the pain right then, but over the next 24 hours I improved vastly. It probably also helped that I rested quite a bit, reclining in Emily’s special chair and reading a couple of novels from the Number 1 Lady’s Detective Agency series, and took some anti-inflammatories.

We got to share a few meals in Emily's screened porch, the newest addition to the house and a lovely indoor/ outdoor place to sit, mosquito-free, and enjoy the garden at this time of year. It was just about finished last year when I visited, but since then there are a lot of potted plants and various other creature comforts, and a pretty spectacular barbecue just outside where Emily grilled marinated chicken and lots of great vegetables, including portabella mushrooms. eggplant, zucchini and red peppers, all my favourites.  Yum!

Scallops with spinach

Lobster Salad

Joan, Jay, Ellen, Emily, me, Lissy, Ben
In between all the running around, I managed to spend a bit of time catching up with Jay and Ellen. I got a pass to use the Manhattan JCC, which is just around the corner from their house, for several days. They have a reciprocal agreement with the Berkeley JCC, where I am a member.  So I got in a swim every couple of days in the 25 metre pool, but couldn't quite coordinate with Ellen to attend her yoga class ona Wednesday.  It was my birthday towards the end of the trip, so I had an indulgent swim and a massage at the JCC, before Ben and Lissy took me out to dinner at a restaurant in the Village called Fish.  At the last minute Jay and Ellen joined us along with a couple of other friends and it turned into a little party for me. Very delightful - see a couple of the dishes we had above.  We shared some desserts, one of which was billed as a Chocolate Merengue Cake.  The better spellers amongst us wondered if it was going to get up and dance.

I dropped in to Goldman Sachs to visit Ben at the office around 5.30 the day before I left New York .   I don’t know about dark Satanic mills, but the hundreds of knowledge workers on his floor at their workstations with 4 to 6 screens each and just a bit of bench space did bring to mind a knowledge or maybe money factory.  I saw the cafeteria with its variety of seating and views over the harbour, Ground Zero, the Statue of Liberty, the Financial District Marina, and some of the meeting spaces.  I met and chatted with many of his team mates in the group, many nationalities, races, even a couple of women! They seems a friendly bunch, quick, smart and very well-read, but I can’t explain why there were bottles of hot sauce on many desks (Ben also had Vegemite and a chunk of honey cake, easier to explain).