Antarctica, Day 11: Elephant Island, and back toward Chile through the Drake Passage

March 13, 2022 • 9:30 am

I’d recommend your reading my post of Nov. 24, 2019, when I was here before and had more time. It has more pictures of the surrounding region as well as photos from the Shackleton expedition.

As I noted in yesterday’s Hili dialogue, our ship spent an hour or so standing off Elephant Island, the island in the South Shetlands where, during the the Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition, 22 of Shackleton’s men from the crushed ship Endurance sheltered for four months under two connected lifeboats. They waited 4.5 months for Shackleton and five other men to make the perilous but ultimately successful sea journey in an open boat to South Georgia Island. The journey, in a modified lifeboat dubbed the James Caird, took 17 days and covered 800 miles, or 1300 km. But there was more trouble to face: Wikipedia tells more:

Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley crossed the island’s mountains to a whaling station on the north side. Here they organised the relief of three men left on the south side of the island and of the larger Elephant Island party. Ultimately, the entire Endurance crew returned home, without loss of life. After the First World War, in 1919, the James Caird was moved from South Georgia to England. Since 1922 it has been on regular display at Shackleton’s alma mater, school, Dulwich College.

(As you know, the remains of the Endurance were found a the bottom of the Weddell Sea jus about a week ago.)

Getting the men off the small spit of land shown below was no easy task, either.

Below: a map the ship’s own screen: at that time we were just north of Point Wild Beach, where Shackleton’s men bided their time hoping for rescue. It was on this narrow spit of land (see photos later today) where they spent 4.5 months, trying to keep warm and eating penguins several meals per day. I’m sure that nearly all of them thought they were going to die, particularly as nobody had shown up by the Antarctic winter. But then: rescue!

There was much work for the stranded men. Because the island had no natural source of shelter, they constructed a shack and wind blocks from their remaining two lifeboats and pieces of canvas tents. Blubber lamps were used for lighting. They hunted for penguins and seals, neither of which were plentiful in autumn or winter. Shackleton instructed Wild to depart with the crew for Deception Island if he did not return to rescue them by the beginning of summer, but after four and a half months, on August 30, 1916, the artist George Marston spotted a ship. The ship, with Shackleton on board, was the tug Yelcho, from Punta ArenasChile, commanded by Luis Pardo, which rescued all the men who had set out on the original expedition.

Because of rough seas, the low light of early morning, and our standing far offshore, the closer photos are taken with 30x zoom and thus are crappy. The earlier post has better ones.

Elephant Island in dire weather (not a rare condition!)

Point Wild. The men sheltered on the strip of land between the mountain at left and the hill at right. It was sufficiently above high tide that it didn’t get inundated. But it would surely be boring to be restricted to such a small bit of land for 4.5 months!

A telephoto shot of the penguins that swarm the point. Without these birds, Shackleton’s men would have died from starvation.

Here, though the misty and dark morning yesterday, is the statue of the tugboat captain Luis Pardo. The penguins seem to pay homage to it. After all, he took away the men who were killing and eating them!

The party of Shackleton’s men left on Elephant Island:

Pardo (1882-1935), the Chilean tugboat captain who braved the ice to save the men. Since it was Antarctic winter (the rescue was on August 30, 1916), there was a lot of ice to navigate, much less the roiling waters of the Drake Passage.  Wikipedia says of Pardo:

Pardo retired from the Navy in 1919. The British government authorized a large monetary award, which he turned down, stating that he was simply fulfilling a mission assigned to him by the Chilean Navy.

In 1930, he was appointed Chilean consul at Liverpool, where he served until 1934.  He died of bronchopneumonia on 21 February 1935, aged 52.

And Pardo’s rescue boat, the tug Yelcho (it was built in Scotland):

The prow of Yelcho is preserved in Puerto Williams, Chile, as a monument:

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition was a miserable failure, as it didn’t even begin its proposed journey: to entirely cross the Antarctic continent. But it was also a kind of success for Shackleton, who organized perhaps one of the greatest polar adventures in history: surviving the wreck of his boat, drifting with sea ice, landing on Elephant Island, taking a lifeboat 1000 km on the slim chance of actually reaching South Georgia, crossing the mountains of that treacherous island without equipment, and ultimately finding other humans men and organizing the rescue of his own crew. Not a life was lost, except of course those of the dogs they shot before leaving the Endurance, as well as the ship’s cat, Mrs. Chippy. But we won’t speak further of that.

To see the story of Mrs. Chippy, go here. All cat lovers should know this story. If you’re in Wellington, New Zealand, a cat-loving city, go see the grave of ship’s carpenter Harry McNeish, who was the staff of Mrs. Chippy before she was shot. (McNeish never forgave Shackleton for giving that order.) The New Zealand Antarctic Society had a bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy placed on McNeish’s grave:

Food: As I did on the last trip, I dined (breakfast yesterday morning) at a table overlooking Point Wild, the small spit off of Elephant Island where Shackleton’s men holed up for 4.5 months awaiting rescue. As our ship’s historian told us in a lecture, much of what they ate was penguin. Someone I know who ate penguin on one of Scott’s expeditions (an old man who told me this years ago) told me they taste like very fishy chicken.  Yech! At any rate, I contemplate, during breakfast, how happy the men would have been to see our ship appear, and how much they would have appreciated the breakfast I was eating. But they all made it back alive.

On this trip I’ve eschewed omelettes while others have chewed them), but decided to celebrate or mourn our early return by ordering one with mushrooms, ham, and peppers. They make it to order and deliver it hot to the table. It was good.

Point Wild on Elephant Island from the breakfast table.

Last night I had no lunch, but a hearty dinner: dumplings followed by a steak. But I was too full for dessert, and eschewed my usual milkshake.

Don’t worry—I removed the butter. (No comments about my diet, however!)

And here’s me an hour ago, watching MSNBC and the sea going by my cabin as I wrote this post.

Sunday: Hili dialogue

August 1, 2021 • 6:30 am

It’s August! Summer is waning, and it’s Sunday, August 1, 2021: National Raspberry Cream Pie Day, a dessert I can’t say I’ve ever tried. But August is also these food months:

National Catfish Month
National Panini Month
National Peach Month
National Sandwich Month

It’s also Homemade Pie Day, Woman Astronomers Day, Sisters’ Day, American Family Day, Friendship Day, National Girlfriends Day, National KidsDay (yes, one word), Respect For Parents Day, World Lung Cancer Day, and, honoring specific locales, it’s Yorkshire Day in England and Swiss National Day. I’m not sure exactly what trait of the inhabitants of Yorkshire inspired the Monty Python “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch (someone inform me), but here are four of them competing to have had the most deprived upbringing:

Today’s Google Doodle (click on screenshot) is an animated drawing that, when you click on it, takes you to various sources of information about Turkana Boy, a skeleton of Homo ergaster from a boy 7-11 years old who lived 1.5-1.6 million years ago. (The connection with August 1 is uncertain, though the remains were discovered in August.) The skeleton (below), discovered in 1984 in Kenya, it constitutes the most complete set of early human remains ever found.

Turkana Boy, cast at the American Museum of Natural History

Wine of the Day:

I don’t remember buying this 2010 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, nor what I paid for it, but I buy all my wine from Vin Chicago, so at least I know where I got it. If you bought it now it would seem to cost about $50 per bottle, which at present is cheap for a ten year old Châteauneuf, but I remember the good old days when you could get a very good one for less than half that. (Good Rhone wines are my favorite reds, even better than Bordeaux, though I have little experience with good Burgundies.) Made from 90% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, with scores of 95 from Robert Parker and 93 from Jeb Dunnuck—both with reliable palates that jibe with mine—I had it on a “meat day” ribeye steak (rare), heirloom tomatoes, and a baguette.

It was a very good example of the genre—not the best, mind you, but like encountering an old friend.  The “black olive” flavor I associate with Rhones was missing, but this was an almost off-dry wine with appealing flavors of raspberry jam. It is by no means over the hill at 11 years old and kept at suboptimal (70ºF) storage. It was so tasty that I drank more than my share, usually a tad less than half a bottle (I stretch a bottle out over three days, with a smallish glass the last day), and will finish it off tomorrow. Rhones rule!

News of the Day:

Three Jamaicans took all the medals in the women’s 100-meter dash, and the New York Times has a long photographic and graphic exposition of the race, showing how the running speed rises from zero, peaking at about 24 mph at roughly 50 meters, and declining by 3-4 mph at the finish. The winner was Elaine Thompson-Herah, 29, who also took the 100 m gold in the last Olympics; she set an Olympic record of 10.61 seconds—a bit behind the world record for this distance (10.49 seconds set in 1998 by Florence Griffith-Joyner).  Thompson-Herah’s top speed was 24.2 mph, considerably slower than the world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah, timed at between 68 and 75 mph.

And have you noticed all the tattoos on view during the Tokyo Olympics? I don’t ever remember seeing any tattooed athlete in previous games, but now everybody seems to be inked. The Associated Press has a series of photos of tattooed athletes, some of them over the top. (below)

It’s ironic because being tattooed makes you somewhat of a pariah in Japan: as the article notes, “Tattoos remain stigmatized in Japan, where those with them are commonly banned from beaches, gyms, pools and elsewhere around Japan.” Also in onsen, hot springs resorts. I believe the reason is that tattoos in Japan are associated with criminal gangs. Here’s one from the AP piece:

(From the AP): Adam Peaty, of Britain, swims the men’s 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 24, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

There has to be a physiological limit to the times of such races, because, after all, nobody can run it in 5 seconds, so, given human morphology and physiology, there’s a speed that cannot be exceeded. But we don’t know what it is.

(From ABC News): Elaine Thompson-Herah, center, of Jamaica, celebrates after winning the women’s 100-meter final with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, of Jamaica, second place, and Shericka Jackson, of Jamaica, third, at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, July 31, 2021.

You all know about the delta variant of Covid-19, and how it’s playing hob with the world’s desire to return to normalcy (there were just protests in France at proposed new lockdowns), but we’ve already talked about that. Wear your masks, plan for a booster (I assume all readers are vaccinated), and try to socially distance yourself, even if you are vaccinated.

In a NYT op-ed, authors Jon Haidt and Jean Twinge report  that loneliness among Generation Z young adults (those born after 1996) rose since 2012 in 36 out of 37 countries surveyed, and that depression is going up as well. Why? The authors blame smartphones, which reduce social interaction. Humans are social primates, and, deprived of one-on-one interaction, they suffer. The solution: keep kids away from their phones, like locking the devices up during the school day. I see this at the duckpond all the time: people ignore the wonderful things the ducks are doing because they’re so fixated on getting that one iPhone shot or selfie.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 612,918, an increase of 308 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,234,090, an increase of about 8,600 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on August 1 includes:

  • 1620 – Speedwell leaves Delfshaven to bring pilgrims to America by way of England.
  • 1774 – British scientist Joseph Priestley discovers oxygen gas, corroborating the prior discovery of this element by German-Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele.
  • 1834 – Slavery is abolished in the British Empire as the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 comes into force, although it remains legal in the possessions of the East India Company until the passage of the Indian Slavery Act, 1843.
  • 1893 – Henry Perky patents shredded wheat.

Here’s the patent, though the submission is dated August 2, 1895. What Perky did on this date in 1893 is patent a machine that could process cereal, possibly enabling the making of biscuits. After that I’ve put an amusing 1909 ad for shredded wheat touting its health advantages:

I guess the British equivalent, Weetbix, would be just as good for you:

The conventional wisdom is that that U.S. track and field star was snubbed by Hitler, as Owens (who won four gold medals in Berlin) was black. The Encyclopedia Brittanica, though, says that this is not true.  But Owens did foil Hitler’s plans for a German-dominated Olympics. Here’s Owens on the podium after the long jump:

From history.com: The gold, silver and bronze medal winners in the long jump competition salute from the victory stand at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. From left, Japan’s Naoto Tajima (bronze), American Jesse Owens (gold) who set an Olympic record in the event and Germany’s Luz Long (silver) giving a Nazi salute, August 8, 1936. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
  • 1944 – World War II: The Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi German occupation breaks out in Warsaw, Poland.

The largest organized resistance action during the war, this was the attempt of the Polish resistance to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. After several months, the resistance lost. Here they are surrendering to the Germans on October 5, 1944; many were sent to POW camps. And then the Nazis proceeded to nearly obliterate the city.

  • 1965 – Frank Herbert‘s novel, Dune was published for the first time. It was named as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel in 2003.

A first edition and first printing of Dune with slipcover will cost you between $4000 and, if signed, $10,000.

  • 1966 – Charles Whitman kills 16 people at the University of Texas at Austin before being killed by the police.

On autopsy Whitman was shown to have a serious malignant brain tumor, but medical experts have no consensus about whether the tumor prompted or contributed to the murders.

  • 1966 – Purges of intellectuals and imperialists becomes official China policy at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.

A “struggle session” during the Cultural Revolution. Look familiar?

Here’s one whole concert (there were two of them in one day):

Finnbogadóttir served from 1980-1996: here she is in 1995

Bezoek president IJsland, mevrouw Vigdis Finnbogadottir inspecteert met Koningin Beatrix erewacht op Rotterdam Airport
*19 september 1985

In his mid-20s, some time between 2 BC and 119 AD, Lindow man died violently: (throat cut, strangled, and struck on the head—probably a ritual sacrifice. Here’s his freeze-dried body, which you can see in the British Museum:

Notables born on this day include:

Mocked by many biologists for being wrong about how evolution worked, Lamarck was nevertheless the first naturalist to propose a comprehensive theory of evolution. Where he went wrong is in assuming that the environment itself, or use and disuse of a feature, could change the hereditary material, giving rise to the characterization of “Lamarckism” as “the inheritance of acquired characteristics.” He could have been right, but he wasn’t, and, with the exception of a few epigenetic modifications that are inherited for a few generations, the change in the hereditary material comes first, via mutation, and those mutations that leave more copies come to predominate in the population. Darwin didn’t get genetics right either, and came close to Lamarck in some places, but he thought of natural selection and Lamarck didn’t.

  • 1770 – William Clark, American soldier, explorer, and politician, 4th Governor of Missouri Territory (d. 1838)
  • 1819 – Herman Melville, American novelist, short story writer, and poet (d. 1891)

Do you know what Melville looked like? Here’s a picture of him in 1861, ten years after he wrote Moby-Dick. He was a seaman from 1841-1844.

Here’s his obituary notice from the New York Times in 1891, misspelling the title of his famous book and leaving out the hyphen:

  • 1907 – Eric Shipton, Sri Lankan-English mountaineer and explorer (d. 1977)
  • 1931 – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, American singer-songwriter and guitarist
  • 1936 – W. D. Hamilton, Egyptian born British biologist, psychologist, and academic (d. 2000)
  • 1942 – Jerry Garcia, American singer-songwriter and guitarist (d. 1995)

Those who decamped from life on August 1 include:

  • 30 BC – Mark Antony, Roman general and politician (b. 83 BC)
  • 1903 – Calamity Jane, American frontierswoman and scout (b. 1853)

The frontierswoman and scout’s real name was Martha Jane Cannary. She often wore men’s clothes, as below:

(From Wikipedia): Cabinet photograph captioned in the negative, Calamity Jane, Gen. Crook’s Scout. An early view of Calamity Jane wearing buckskins, with an ivory-gripped Colt Single Action Army revolver tucked in her hand-tooled holster, holding a Sharps rifle.
  • 1966 – Charles Whitman, American murderer (b. 1941) [See above]
  • 1977 – Francis Gary Powers, American captain and pilot (b. 1929)
  • 2007 – Tommy Makem, Irish singer-songwriter and banjo player (b. 1932)

Makem singing “Will You Go, Lassie Go?“:

  • 2015 – Cilla Black, English singer and actress (b. 1943)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, there were troubles getting the Hili Dialogue today as the Internet and electricity are largely down in Dobrzyn again (there were storms). But phone wireless succeeded! Hili is, as usual, antitheist:

Hili: I see the Messiah.
Andrzej: What does he look like?
Hili: LIke the previous swindler.

In Polish:

Hili: Widzę mesjasza.
Ja: Jak wygląda?
Hili: Tak jak ten poprzedni oszust.

From David: A poem on Sean Hannity written by John Cleese:

Another superfluous sign from David:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Stephen Fry: be sure to enlarge the screen and turn the sound up (not too loud!) as a Tunisian’s swimmer’s family watches him win the gold in the 400m freestyle.

Two tweets from Ginger K.. First, an artwork made from willow rods:

This one comes with a famous video:

Tweets from Matthew. I assume the first one is true, so that all cats have webbed toes like this Sphynx. There’s also a reply:

Speaking of felids, this young bobcat needs to learn to be a bit more wary:

Translation from the Dutch: “Yes, then you are a boss.”

Cat wins! Cat wins!

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

July 28, 2021 • 6:30 am

Greetings on arriving at midweek: Wednesday, July 28, 2021: National Hamburger Day (again?) It’s also National Milk Chocolate Day, World Hepatitis Day, and World Nature Conservation Day

Wine of the Day: I see online that this 2016 chardonnay got a near perfect rating from my wine guru Robert Parker, though I probably bought it ($39) based on advice at the store. It’s the premium cuvée of Hartford Court chardonnay, and Parker says this:

Already in bottle, the 2016 Hartford Court Chardonnay Four Hearts Vineyard opens with lemon tart, pink grapefruit, pineapple and ripe apple notes with touches of nutmeg and croissant. Medium to full-bodied, rich and with a pleasantly oily texture, it delivers ripe tropical fruit flavors and a long, creamy finish.

Okay, well let’s try it with chicken and hoisin sauce, rice, and green beans.  And yes, it earned its rating, if for nothing else than its complexity. Any wine with a slight scent and flavor of grapefruit is a wine I like, but there was a lot going on here (though I didn’t detect Parker’s “croissant” flavor). Is it worth $39? If you like superb chardonnays, yes it is.

News of the Day:

Even if you’re vaccinated, it’s time to consider masking up again. The CDC reversed course and recommended that even vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas where the dreaded delta variant of the virus is pervasive. Which parts? These parts:

The guidance on masks in indoor public places applies in parts of the U.S. with at least 50 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week. That includes 60 percent of U.S. counties, officials said. New case rates are particularly high in the South and Southwest, according to a CDC tracker. In Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, every county has a high transmission rate.

Don’t worry, you’ll find out what your local rules are. This is all the fault of the eligible chowderheads who chose not to get vaccinated (there are 100 million of them out there). Joe Biden is considering requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated, which I think is an excellent move. Surely a lot of vaccination-resistant people work for the government, and they’ll have to choose between their job and their ignorance.

Simone Biles, the one true Olympic superstar this year, left the team competition after she performed (for her) a substandard vault. At first the news suggested that she might be injured, but that doesn’t seem to be the case; she’s now said to be having mental health issues. She’s also withdrawn from the individual all-around competition and might not compete in any individual events at the games (she was favored to win gold in three of those four events. The NYT says it’s “a matter of her mental health”.  The U.S. team, still game, persisted and won the team silver medal, with the Russians taking gold. I can surely sympathize with Biles: she’s the best gymnast in the world, and the pressure to keep on top in the Olympics must affect one’s head.

The New York Times has a 16-minute video about Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was the real discoverer of pulsars in 1967, even as her Ph.D. advisor, Antony Hewish, repeatedly doubted her results. Nevertheless, when the paper was published, Hewish was first author Bell (her name at the time) was second, and there were three other authors. Hewish, along with Martin Ryle, got the Physics Nobel Prize for the discovery in 1974, and Bell was ignored (she later got a lot of accolades, though). This is one of the most egregious cases of a discoverer being ignored at Nobel Time, but Bell had the grace to say the following:

First, demarcation disputes between supervisor and student are always difficult, probably impossible to resolve. Secondly, it is the supervisor who has the final responsibility for the success or failure of the project. We hear of cases where a supervisor blames his student for a failure, but we know that it is largely the fault of the supervisor. It seems only fair to me that he should benefit from the successes, too. Thirdly, I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them. Finally, I am not myself upset about it – after all, I am in good company, am I not!

No, it does not demean Nobel Prizes a bit if they were given to research students: they are awarded for discoveries, not the position of the discoverer. At any rate, she is not nearly as kind to Hewish in the video. The video should make you angry at the sexism surrounding this incident (and pervasive in science at the time), but it’s also a well made and informative piece. Watch it.

Every year at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida, they hold a Hemingway Look-Alike contest, with elderly bearded chaps vying to look the most like Ernest Hemingway, who once frequented that bar. This year’s winner is 63-year-old Zach Taylor, an electrical and plumbing supply company owner from Georgia, who beat 136 other entrants on Sunday (previous winners judge each year’s contest).  Here’s a video of the winner and some entrants, though, compared to some of the competitors, I don’t think he looks a whole like like Hemingway. (h/t Jez)

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 611,128, an increase of 290 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,194,208, an increase of about 9,900 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on July 28 includes:

  • 1540 – Thomas Cromwell is executed at the order of Henry VIII of England on charges of treason. Henry marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, on the same day.
  • 1821 – José de San Martín declares the independence of Peru from Spain.
  • 1868 – The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution is certified, establishing African American citizenship and guaranteeing due process of law.
  • 1914 – In the culmination of the July Crisis, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, igniting World War I.
  • 1917 – The Silent Parade takes place in New York City, in protest against murders, lynchings, and other violence directed towards African Americans.

The parade, which was indeed silent save for the beat of muffled drums, was organized by W. E. B. Dubois and instigated by lynchings and by the East St. Louis riots in May and July of that year. 8,000 to 15,000 blacks marched down Fifth Avenue.  Here’s an appropriately silent newsreel from the time:

  • 1932 – U.S. President Herbert Hoover orders the United States Army to forcibly evict the “Bonus Army” of World War I veterans gathered in Washington, D.C.

This was a group of 43,000 WWI veterans who were awarded cash certificates for their service, which couldn’t be redeemed until 1945. Because of the depression, they marched on Washington to demand early redemption.  Here is a photo of them camped in front of the Capitol, and then after Hoover’s order of eviction, which drove them away;

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/07/27/sports/olympics-tokyo-results-medals

Made around 625 A.D., and part of an Anglo-Saxon ship burial, the helmet was found as hundreds of rusted metal fragments, which were painstakingly reconstructed—twice. Here’s the latest reconstruction at the British Museum (you can see the bits that are original):

Here’s a replica showing what the helmet may have looked like. The artistic motifs were actually found in the fragments. The helmet was made from iron, leather, and bronze, but we don’t know who it belonged to, or who was part of the ship burial.

The plane struck the building after becoming lost in the fog. One of the injured was a badly burned woman who was transported down in an elevator, suffering a double accident (from Wikipedia):

Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver was thrown from her elevator car on the 80th floor and suffered severe burns. First aid workers placed her on another elevator car to transport her to the ground floor, but the cables supporting that elevator had been damaged in the incident, and it fell 75 stories, ending up in the basement. Oliver survived the fall but had a broken pelvis, back and neck when rescuers found her amongst the rubble. This remains the world record for the longest survived elevator fall.

Here’s a photo of the plane embedded in the building, which opened for business only two days after the collision:

I was there! And I got to hear the the Dead, The Band, and The Allman Brothers (I’ve since heard the last two again.

  • 2005 – The Provisional Irish Republican Army calls an end to its thirty-year-long armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.

Notables born on this day were few, and include:

  • 1844 – Gerard Manley Hopkins, English poet (d. 1889)
  • 1866 – Beatrix Potter, English children’s book writer and illustrator (d. 1943)

My favorite Beatrix Potter Book:

Those who rested in peace on July 28 include:

  • 1741 – Antonio Vivaldi, Italian violinist and composer (b. 1678)
  • 1750 – Johann Sebastian Bach, German organist and composer (b. 1685)
  • 1968 – Otto Hahn, German chemist and academic, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1879)
  • 1996 – Roger Tory Peterson, American ornithologist and academic (b. 1908)
  • 2004 – Francis Crick, English biologist and biophysicist, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1916)

One of the smartest scientists of our era:

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Malgorzata explains Hili’s actions: “Hili has heard about a scapegoat but she didn’t get the meaning. She thinks it’s an exotic animal and she wants to see it.”

A: What are you doing?
Hili: I’m waiting for a scapegoat.
In Polish:
Ja: Co robisz?
Hili: Czekam na kozła ofiarnego.

From reader Pliny the in Between’s Far Corner Cafe, a smackdown between Popeye and God, both claiming that they am what they am:

Another superfluous sign from reader David:

From Jesus of the Day:

A tweet from reader Ken, with some explanation:

New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, perhaps the most loathsome opportunist in the House of Representatives. She ran as a moderate in 2014, but fell in line behind Donald Trump in 2016, and burrowed ever deeper down the rabbit hole the longer Trump remained in office.

When Liz Cheney was stripped of her Republican leadership position for having the temerity to criticize Trump after the January 6th insurrection, Stefanik maneuvered to replace her as Republican Conference Chair. Here she is blaming the January 6th riot on, of all goddamn people, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

A tweet from Divy with a seacat’s passport. I’m not sure how authentic it is, but I’ve found it in a couple of places (that, of course, doesn’t establish authenticity):

From Barry. Why is an alpaca walking into a Chinese restaurant? It’s almost too cute to be real.

From Ginger K.:

Tweets from Matthew:

Is this a big cat, a small boy, or both?

A funny riposte to a biology tweet. (The humpbacked scaly bee fly is a dipteran with a characteristic hump-backed posture, and probably mimics a bumblebee.)

And this should make you skeptical of all those fantastically colored animals you see on the Internet. This is the Indian Giant Squirrel (also known as the Malabar Giant Squirrel), Ratufa indica. Other pictures of the species online aren’t nearly as colorful, and I suspect Avinash is right. But this could be an unusually bright individual. . . .

Thursday: Hili dialogue

July 15, 2021 • 6:30 am

Greetings on Thursday: July 15, 2021: National Tapioca Pudding Day.  It’s also Gummi Worm Day (I hate all things gummi), I Love Horses Day, Orange Chicken Day, National Give Something Away Day, and National Respect Canada Day.

Here are some questions that people who do not respect Canada posted on a tourism website. Don’t be like these people!

And in Kiribati it’s Elderly Men Day, a public holiday.

Wine of the Day: I found the bottle below languishing in my collection; it’s mostly a mixture of Grenache and Syrah, which promises some stuffing. Robert Parker scored it with a high 93, but said (probably in 2014), that it should be drunk in the next 4-6 years. I thus worried it could be over the hill. It’s also said to be a terrific value; the site gives a price at $15 but I’m sure I paid a fair amount less when I bought it.

After a rough day, all I wanted was a crispy baguette, some tasty cheese, some fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, and a good bottle of red. I have the first three, and will essay the wine in about two hours.

It’s essayed and it’s terrific: juicy, fruity, and ripe. Age has tamed this puppy, and I’m guessing that it’s at its peak, with the tannin and “heat” tamed, and the fruit predominating: cherries and raspberries. If you can find this at around $10 bottle (not the 2013s, of course), look it up and, if it’s recommended, buy it. Côtes du Roussillon wines can be great values, for the mixture of Grenache and Syrah are found in southern Rhone wines, some of my favorites.

For the cheese, I looked up cheese ratings at Trader Joe’s (we have one now in Hyde Park) and saw that the #1 rated cheese on this site (and several others) was Old Amsterdam Premium Aged Gouda, so I bought a decent chunk. I had some the other day and it was fabulous, with a bit of gritty crunch like an aged Comté.  It’s about $12 per pound, so it ain’t cheap, but I can recommend it very highly. If you’re a cheese lover and have access to Trader Joe’s, try it (photo below):

Encomiums from the site: Add this Old Amsterdam Gouda to the list of “Things I Didn’t See Coming in 2021.” It’s been around for a bit but I finally gave it the time of day and, oh my God. This is the best cheese I’ve had in so long and it has secured the title of My All-Time Favorite Trader Joe’s Cheese. It’s a gouda cheese that is smooth with crunchy crystals, full of flavor, and an exquisite mix of savory and sweet. I seriously don’t know how I lived without this stuff.

Agreed on the cheese!

News of the Day:

I’ve written fairly often about (and posted tweets from) Iranian activist and journalist Masih Alinejad, and The New York Times reveals that Iran was hatching a plot to have her kidnapped after being lured to a third country. (Shades of Jamal Khashoggi!). Four Iranians (all in Iran) have been indicted, so there’s no chance of catching them, but one, charged with supporting the plot by collecting money for the scheme (but, oddly, not for not participating in the conspiracy), has been arrested in California.

An excerpt:

According to the indictment, in 2018, the Iranian government tried to pay relatives of Ms. Alinejad who live in Iran to invite her to travel to a third country, apparently for the purpose of having her arrested or detained and taken to Iran to be imprisoned. Her relatives did not accept the offer, the indictment said.

The Iranian government began plotting to abduct her from the United States as early as June of last year, the indictment said, with the goal of silencing her criticism of Iran’s human rights abuses, discrimination against women and use of arbitrary imprisonment and torture to target political opponents.

I am a huge admirer of this brave woman, who left Iran and has campaigned tirelessly and publicly for women’s rights and freedom in her natal country. She now works for the Voice of America Persian, and is a vocal opponent of Biden’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran, a bad business that I too oppose. You should support Masih’s work for women’s rights however you can.

(From the NYT). Masih. Photo by Cole Wilson for The New York Times

(h/t Debbie)

What do you do when you might have a gene for a fatal disease, like Huntington’s Disease, that doesn’t produce symptoms until later in your life, but you can get your DNA tested for it to see if you were going to be afflicted? If it’s a dominant gene, like that for Huntington’s, if one parent has it you have half a chance of getting it.  The New York Times discusses one woman facing this dilemma with that disease: Katharine Moser. Sadly, her tests showed that she carried the dominant gene, and although she shows no symptoms at 40, the long, slow, and horrible downhill progress of this disease is likely to start within a decade.

I often wonder if I’d get tested for the gene if I had parents with a dominant gene for a horrible disease. Moser, however, has coped pretty well, now living for the moment, abandoning her plans to have children (you can now get embryos tested for the gene before implantation, though), and retaining her sense of humor. Would you get tested if you had a parent with Huntington’s?

The Guardian has an article on the contentious topic of toilet roll orientation. Over or under? The most vociferous proponent of the aberrant “under” orientation is reader Diana MacPherson, but that’s a minority view. To quote the Guardian  (h/t Matthew):

There’s a decent chance you have strong feelings about toilet paper too. It’s a surprisingly fraught issue: there’s even a dedicated Wikipedia entry on “toilet paper orientation” that is more than 2,000 words long and contains 66 footnotes. When the writer of the popular “Ann Landers” advice column was asked her opinion on the subject in 1986, she replied “under” – an assertion so controversial that it generated a record-breaking 15,000 letters in response, along with several follow-up columns. “Would you believe I got more letters on the toilet paper issue than on the Persian Gulf war?” Landers (a pen name) complained in a 1992 column.

Landers’ opinion on the subject, to be clear, is very much the minority view. Surveys demonstrate that most people are very much Team Over – including Oprah Winfrey.

The common “over” orientation:

I’m a fan of that, too, though Diana will chew me out. But most important, cats LOVE the “over” orientation because they can unroll an entire roll of t.p. with their paws, which they can’t do in the “under” configuration.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 607,365, an increase of 284 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,075,592, an increase of about 8,800 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on July 15 includes

Here’s the famous “Battle on the Ice” scene (this battle was in 1242) from the movie Alexander Nevsky by Sergei Eisenstein (musical score by Sergei Prokofiev):

  • 1741 – Aleksei Chirikov sights land in Southeast Alaska. He sends men ashore in a longboat, making them the first Europeans to visit Alaska.
  • 1799 – The Rosetta Stone is found in the Egyptian village of Rosetta by French Captain Pierre-François Bouchard during Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign.
  • 1815 – Napoleonic WarsNapoleon Bonaparte surrenders aboard HMS Bellerophon.

Napoleon was soon sent into exile on St. Helena, where he died in 1821.

Here’s Emerson in 1857, he is a huge hero for reader Laurie:

  • 1910 – In his book Clinical Psychiatry, Emil Kraepelin gives a name to Alzheimer’s disease, naming it after his colleague Alois Alzheimer.
  • 2002 – “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh pleads guilty to supplying aid to the enemy and possession of explosives during the commission of a felony.

Lindh was released from prison in 2019.

  • 2006 – Twitter, later one of the largest social media platforms in the world, is launched.

The company, Ceiling Cat help us, was co-founded by Jack Dorsey, and here’s his original vision, with the caption from Wikipedia:

A sketch, c. 2006, by Jack Dorsey, envisioning an SMS-based social network.

 

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s the beautiful Queen’s House in Greenwich, built between 1616 and 1635, said to be the first consciously designed classical building in England. It is a beaut:

Here’s the only Rembrandt rendering of a cat I could find: “Holy family with a cat“, an engraving from 1654. I’ve circled the cat:

 

  • 1919 – Iris Murdoch, Anglo-Irish British novelist and philosopher (d. 1999)
  • 1922 – Leon M. Lederman, American physicist and mathematician, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 2018)
  • 1926 – Raymond Gosling, English physicist and academic (d. 2015)

Gosling (below) worked with Rosalind Franklin to produce the critical crystallographic-structure data on DNA:

  • 1928 – Carl Woese, American microbiologist and biophysicist (d. 2012)
  • 1930 – Jacques Derrida, Algerian-French philosopher and academic (d. 2004)
One of the men who ruined academia
  • 1943 – Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Northern Irish astrophysicist, astronomer, and academic
  • 1946 – Linda Ronstadt, American singer-songwriter, producer, and actress
  • 1950 – Arianna Huffington, Greek-American journalist and publisher

Those who ceased to be on July 15 include:

Tom Thumb, whose real name was Charles Stratton, was a “little person” (WIkipedia says “dwarf,” but I think that’s out of fashion), who married another little person, Lavinia Warren, in a gala wedding that made the front pages in 1863.  Stratton died young of a stroke. Here’s the wedding photo with Wikipedia’s caption:

From Wikipedia: The Fairy Wedding group: Stratton and his bride Lavinia Warren, alongside her sister Minnie and George Washington Morrison Nutt (“Commodore Nutt”); entertainers associated with P.T. Barnum.

Chekhov, one of my favorite writers and perhaps the most gifted short story writer in history, died at only 44 of tuberculosis. Here’s his wife’s account of his final moments written by his wife Olga:

Anton sat up unusually straight and said loudly and clearly (although he knew almost no German): Ich sterbe (“I’m dying”). The doctor calmed him, took a syringe, gave him an injection of camphor, and ordered champagne. Anton took a full glass, examined it, smiled at me and said: “It’s a long time since I drank champagne.” He drained it and lay quietly on his left side, and I just had time to run to him and lean across the bed and call to him, but he had stopped breathing and was sleeping peacefully as a child …

Here he is with another favorite Russian writer whom you will recognize. The photo was taken at Yalta in 1900.

  • 1940 – Robert Wadlow, American giant, 8″11′ 271 cm (b.1918)

Wadlow, standing 8 feet 11.1 inches high (2.72 m) and weighing 439 pounds at his death at 22 years old, was the tallest person in recorded history. He suffered from hypertrophy of the pituitary gland and apparently was still growing when he died. He wore size 37AA shoes.

Here he is pictured next to his “averaged sized” father.

  • 1948 – John J. Pershing, American general (b. 1860)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, I am lacking a Hili dialogue today and can’t get through to Malgorzata or Andrzej; I have heard through one of their friends that there are once again severe storms in Poland that have knocked out the power in the area, though Andrzej and Malgorzata, their house, and their cherry orchard are okay.  There may not be Hili dialogues for a few days!

Kulka had an anniversary!

Caption: Kulka celebrates the first anniversary of finding Paulina.

In Polish: Kulka obchodzi dziś pierwszą rocznicę znalezienia Pauliny.

From Facebook (h/t: Lenora)

Also from Facebook:

From the Not Another Science Cat page:

Speaking of Iran repressing women, here’s a tweet from reader Barry. The video apparently was taken during the raid. What kind of country makes it illegal for women to let their hair fly free?

Also from Barry. Can anybody identify this?

A tweet from reader Ken, who adds, “Newsmax host Rob Schmitt has some thoughts on vaccines. They are not very good thoughts (and, indeed, sound a lot like eugenics)”:

Tweets from Matthew. The first two are from the same site, but very different. First, a very savvy bird.

I found this video mesmerizing. At first I didn’t think the guys knew what they ere doing, but it turns out the machine operator is very clever! Be sure you watch the whole thing.

Everybody is called a “hero” these days, but here is the true story of a true hero.  You can read about his exploits here.

Unintentional humor of the day: Why French food is racist and expresses white supremacy

June 24, 2021 • 11:15 am

The days are gone when I was compelled to take apart papers about feminist glaciology or the unbearable whiteness of pumpkins, yoga, and Pilates. This kind of insanity has become daily fare, and one no longer has to wonder whether it’s a parody or not—it isn’t.  Below, for example, is a long screed about how French food is the apotheosis of white cuisine, ergo is white supremacist, racist, and colonialist. You can read it, but the laughs quickly diminish as you realize that author Mathilde Cohen is absolutely serious in her contentions.

Now it’s no surprise to readers here that I’m a big fan of French food. But I’m not that keen on the the haute or nouvelle cuisine that’s pricey and comes in small portions. I prefer bourgeois cuisine, what the regular people eat who aren’t so poor that can’t afford any decent food. Give me a cassoulet, a coq au vin, a good steak frites, or a haricot mouton, and I’m in paradise—so long as there’s endless bread and a decent bottle of wine. But it turns out that, to Mathilde Cohen, the whole megillah of French food is white, white, white, as well as colonialist and oppressive. Now nobody will deny that France has been a colonial power, and that racism persists in France. But to assert that racism is embodied in the cuisine is an insupportable claim.

Click on the screenshot to read. You can also download a pdf at the site.

Her argument, which I claim works for any cuisine from white countries (or indeed, any cuisine anywhere), is to connect food, which is invariably something a nation prides itself on, with some bad trait of the nation, and then say that they’re connected because they’re both part of the same country. I kid you not! Here’s the abstract!

Food is fundamental to French identity. So too is the denial of structural racism and racial identity. Both tenets are central to the nation’s self-definition, making them difficult, yet all the more important to think about together. This article purports to identify a form of French food Whiteness (blanchité alimentaire), that is, the use of food and eating practices to reify and reinforce Whiteness as the dominant racial identity. To do so, it develops four case studies of how law elevates a fiction of homogeneous French/White food as superior and normative at the expense of alternative ways of eating and their eaters—the law of geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship, and cultural heritage.

Well, Galoises cigarettes and polite behavior (politesse) are fundamental to French self-definition, too, and yet do we want to see papers on how they’re connected? What about fish and chips and a love of the British monarchy? In fact, most European countries, even if they have racial friction, “deny structural racism or racial identity”, and try to assimilate immigrants.

One of Cohen’s beefs is that France, when deciding to confer citizenship on someone, looks for evidence that they’ve assimilated to some degree into the culture. To her—and she really has to stretch to make this argument— this means eating the national dishes. But that’s bogus, as there are plenty of French citizens who eat the food of their ancestors. Algerian food like couscous, for example, is so ubiquitous that it’s almost a French food now. (Cohen also argues that in this transformation it’s somehow become “white”.) And she has not the slightest evidence (well, she has one dubious anecdote from 1919), that eating French food is considered evidence of
assimilation.”

But I digress. I’ll just reprise her four arguments and pass on (or pass out):

The law of geographical indications.  This is the French use (and not exclusively French; Italians and other countries do it, too) of controlled appellations, so that a food or drink must be from a specified region of origin to be labeled as such. Champagne is the classic example, as it has to be made in the Champagne region of France. American bubbly or Spanish cava cannot be labeled “champagne.” Likewise with Roquefort cheese, as I recall. This system designed to give the consumer some confidence in the quality of the product, but Cohen says these are signs of French colonialism and “the racialized project of ensuring that the White majority can maintain its foodways and agricultural wealth.”  Enough said.

The law of school lunches.  France specifies a school lunch programs, with many lunches offered cheaply or free to poorer kids. The food is hot and designed to be nutritious. What foods are offered differ among municipalities. What Cohen objects to is that the cuisine doesn’t cater to special diets, even though Cohen adds that many schools “quietly accommodate students with religious based dietary restrictions”. Students are also allowed to bring lunches from home.  This is part of the French tradition of laïcité , or secularism, avoiding entanglement of religion and government.

Cohen says that this is imposing Christian whiteness on the school food, though Wikipedia contradicts her, saying “food menus served in secondary schools pay particular attention to ensuring that each religious observer may respect his religion’s specific restrictions concerning diets.”  Since I don’t know the truth, I’ll pass on.

The law of citizenship. People applying for citizenship in France need not be white, as you’ll notice immediately when you see the high proportion of North Africans, Asians, and black Africans in the big cities. What exercises Cohen is that prospective citizens must show some evidence of assimilation, though of course not full assimilation. The implication is that assimilation requires adoption of French food, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. Sohen gives only one example, and that’s from 1919:

To illustrate, in 1919, one Ignace, born in Madagascar to a Malagasy mother, applied for citizenship on the ground that he was the unrecognized son of a French national. The records of the Antananarivo colonial civil bureau contain a memo mentioning approvingly his service in the French Foreign Legion during the war, his seriousness and humility, before scrutinizing his lifestyle. A shift in Ignace’s dwelling and diet is observed. Before the war, Ignace “lived with his mother . . . in a simply furnished cottage kept in the indigenous style [à l’indigène]. The basis of their diet was rice.” Upon returning from the front, Ignace moved in with a Greek friend from the Legion. The memo observes that now “he always eats with this European and is nearly constantly in his company,” concluding that the application should be granted. While Ignace’s service in the armed forces is the primary basis for the positive appraisal, his transition from the typical rice-based, Malagasy diet despised by colonists to a “European” diet clearly militated in his favor.

. . .Ignace’s renunciation of rice and eating on a mat on the floor together with his commensality with a White man must have been assessed as signs of White enculturation and performance

She must have dug hard to find the story of Ignace! Now Cohen doesn’t say that Ignace abjured rice, only that he “ate with a European.”  At that, brother and sisters, friends and comrades, is the totality of Cohen’s “citizenship” argument for the whiteness of French food. She mentions people being denied citizenship for other reasons, like gender segregating in their homes, but that has nothing to do with food.

The law of cultural heritage. This rests solely on UNESCO’s having designated the “gastronomic meal of the French” as an item on its list of “intangible cultural heritage” items. This is defined “as a four-course repast beginning with apértif and ending with digestif, served with appropriate wines and tableware, and made up of carefully chosen components.”

Why is this racist and expressive of Whiteness? Cohen tells us:

The creation and defense of the idea of a gastronomic meal of the French involved erasing not only the diversity of eating practices of French citizens across races and ethnicities, but also among Whites, essentializing a supposed innate national (and racial) character. For Ruth Cruickshank, “[t]he repas gastronomique des Français seeks to solve a perceived problem of French decline by inventing a codified ‘French’ meal which, as well as eliding cultural diversity, fails to grasp how food cultures survive by maintaining their currency through the negotiation of change and the accommodation of external influences.” In short, it is a White washed (and bourgeois) version of French foodways which is now consecrated by the World Intangible Heritage List.

Give me a break! The diversity of eating practices remains in France, but you can’t make a diversity of habits an “intangible cultural heritage”. It would be a different list in Italy, with antipasto, pasta, contorno, etc., and in China it would also vary among provinces, but would include multiple courses served at once, usually with rice or another starch, and the dishes often stir fried. Just because each nation has some characteristic ways of eating, as does France, does not mean that France is trying to enshrine whiteness. Let me add that the “heritage” French meal is something that should be experienced, and something I love, for it’s not just dinner, but theater as well.

Such is Cohen’s argument for the Unbearable Whiteness of French food. It’s much worse than I make out here, as the whole essay is larded with the usual jargon and with arguments that have nothing to do with her main point. The poor scholar must be hard up for topics to write about.  And yet she threatens to continue!

This article connects critical Whiteness studies and food studies in the French context. It has shown that the set of eating habits known as French are racialized in a way that reinforces White dominance. The four cases studies examined here—geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship law, and world heritage law—buttress an ideal of White alimentary identity implying that non-White and non-Christian communities are insignificant, alien, or deviant. Law has been a primary tool to shape food production and choices, privileging and normalizing certain alimentary practices and stigmatizing others. The current legal regime marginalizes racial and ethnic minorities in their foodways through the elevation of White French food as the high status, legally protected food.

. . .Though this article focused on the Whiteness of French food from within, it has relevance for the broader understanding of racial identity formation through eating in other socio-cultural contexts. As such it is but one installment of what I hope will be a series of scholarly contributions on the Whiteness of French food in France and outside of France.

By the way, I found the description of the author at the end, well, interesting. . . .

Mathilde Cohen is the George Williamson Crawford Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut and formerly a research fellow at the CNRS. She works in the fields of constitutional law, comparative law, food law, and race, gender and the law. Her research has focused on various modes of disenfranchisement in French and U.S. legal cultures. She has written on why and how public institutions give reasons for their decisions and the lack of judicial diversity. She currently examines the way in which bodies coded as female are alternatively empowered and disempowered by the regulation of the valuable materials they produce and consume, in particular milk and placenta.

As the Wicked Witch of the West said, “What a world! What a world!”

À la fin: cassoulet in Paris and a decent red. Ah, France is paradise enow!

 

Thursday: Hili dialogue

June 24, 2021 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Thursday, June 24, 2021. It’s National Praline Day, celebrating the only confection in the universe that I find too sweet. It’s also International Fairy Day, World UFO Day, National Handshake Day (not yet!), as well as, according to Wikipedia,  “St John’s Day and the second day of the Midsummer celebrations (although this is not the astronomical summer solstice, see June 20) and its related observances.”

Wine of the Day: Tonight is “T-Bone Night,” which calls for a substantial red. I chose this Australian shiraz (syrah) shown below, which ran me four sawbucks when I bought it some years ago—much pricier than I’m used to. (It’s now selling for $90 per bottle.) But hell, you can’t drink wine when you’re dead, so why not? Here’s Robert Parker’s review from five years ago:

Outer quote mark The 2013 Ironheart Shiraz is another total beauty from Yangarra. The perfume alone is enough to make you swoon! Laced with violets, molten chocolate, cherry liquor, lavender and exotic spices with subtle incense nuances, it’s one of those glasses that compels you to sniff again and again. The palate is very restrained and taut at this youthful stage, with firm, grainy tannins and a lively backbone framing the concentrated fruit, finishing long and minerally. Simply stunning. 96+ (LPB) Inner quote mark (8/2016)

I read that before I drank it, which is “problematic” because it might bias my review, especially conditioning me to smell what Parker smelled. I will finish most of this post (I write most of these the day before) and then cook my steak rare (with rice and fresh tomatoes), and check it out.

Okay, I drank it and it’s clearly improved since Parker’s review of five years ago. It’s still deep purple, gutsy, and complex, but the only adjective I’d proffer here is “cherry”. After all, it’s syrah, a grape with its own odor and flavor, and making comparisons as subtle as Parker’s is like asking a tyro like me to “describe the smell of a banana.” It is an excellent wine, with years to go. And it’s full of stuffing.

Would I pay $40 for it again? I doubt it, given that I can get decent Rhones for less and Riojas for even less. But I had to try a high-class Australian shiraz at least once.

News of the Day:

It’s June 23, more than six months after the Inauguration, and the Bidens have still not acquired a cat. And it’s a slow news day as well.

That makes the Democratic primary for the NYC mayor’s race the most interesting thing going. The candidate who’s in the lead is Eric Adams, the black president of the Borough of Brooklyn. He’s a centrist rather than a “progressive” (i.e., authoritarian) Democrat, and is backed by a coalition of black, Latino, union, and outside-Manhattan voters—classic Democratic voters rather than people with purple hair. If Adams wins, he’ll face Curtis Sliwa, the Republican candidate, in the November election. You may remember Sliwa as the founder of the Guardian Angels. Neither of AOC’s favored candidates are leading, which is fine with me since I don’t want New York City to turn into Portland, where crime is up 530% this year. And the Democratic winner will certainly become the mayor given that NYC is a Democratic town.

The first person sentenced in the January 6 Capitol siege, 49 year old Anna Morgan-Lloyd from Indiana, was convicted, but she plea-bargained and, after apologizing, was convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and will serve no jail time. Are all the rioters going to get off this easy?

Inconsequential journalistic catfight: The Washington Post‘s media critic, Eric Wemple, takes a shot at New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet in a WaPo piece called “Dean Baquet keeps using the same cliché.” The cliché? Calling journalists, fired, departed, or under fire, “one of the finest journalists of his/her generation.” A quote:

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet on Monday issued a defense of reporter Maggie Haberman after Fox News took note that she continued writing about Donald Trump. “Maggie Haberman is one of the finest journalists of her generation. She did outstanding work covering former President Donald Trump, breaking many of the most important stories involving his administration, and will continue to be one of our lead reporters on major political news in the coming years,” noted Baquet’s statement.

There’s an easy way out this predicament for Baquet: Just lay it on thicker. People expect a certain arrogance from the Times in any case, so indulge them. No need to confine Haberman’s greatness to a mere 25-year period; call her “among the greatest postwar chroniclers of governmental power.” Same idea with Hannah-Jones, “one of the best reporters modern America has seen.”

Fox News and others have gone after Maggie Haberman after she continued to write about Trump when she said she was done with the topic.  Baquet was defending her.

The Brussels Times reports, well, the headline says it all (click on screenshot; h/t: Ginger K):

Quote and a tweet;

Belgium’s love for gastronomic delights has leaked into its legal world after an update to the online version of the country’s official journal accidentally included a recipe for white asparagus gratin.

Discovered by lawyer Morgan Moller in the francophone version of Moniteur Belge – the country’s official gazette – the six-step recipe follows on from a paragraph discussing economic law. 

“I have had it with people who say that the Moniteur Belge is useless,” Moller wrote on Twitter. “You can find everything in there: laws, determinations, recipes, you name it.”

How it got there, well, your guess is as goood as mine. As I said, it’s a slow news day. Here’s the Belgian tweet:

From the New York Times: Joni Mitchell’s album “Blue” turned 50 on Tuesday, and many, including me, consider it her finest work (it was written and produced entirely by her, and released when she was just 27). There are only four other musicians on the album, including James Taylor and Stephen Stills, with studio great Russ Kunkel on the drums.

Look at these songs! My favorites are numbers 1,4, 6, 8, and 9. “Carey” especially resonate with me because it mentions Matala, a town in southern Crete where Mitchell lived during her musical Wanderjahr. In 1973 I visited the town just to see where she had stayed in 1969.

Here are the songs, every one superb:

Side one
No. Title Length
1. “All I Want” 3:34
2. “My Old Man” 3:34
3. Little Green 3:27
4. Carey 3:02
5. Blue 3:05
Side two
No. Title Length
6. California 3:51
7. This Flight Tonight 2:51
8. River 4:04
9. A Case of You 4:22
10. The Last Time I Saw Richard

 

In the article below, 25 musicians give their reasons for loving this album, and the piece is well worth reading. Some of the musicians: Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, Chaka Khan, Renée Fleming, Judy Collins, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt. . . .

Here’s James Taylor’s take (I’ve added links to the released versions of the songs he played on—the YouTube versions).

JAMES TAYLOR (musician) I played on four songs, “A Case of You,” “Carey,” “California” and “All I Want.” Those were songs that Joni had written while she was traveling the previous year, and she wrote most on an instrument called a three-string dulcimer, which is a very mobile and very simple instrument. But it left me a wide-open opportunity to pick whatever chords would work with the melody and her spare accompaniment on the dulcimer. That was great fun for me.

The engineer was Henry Lewy, an old colleague of Joni’s. He was the person on the other side of the glass, and if we were pitching, he was catching. His ear was really important, and he really had us keep it simple. Some of the songs had some percussion, but basically it was two or three instruments and Joni’s voice: very few elements clouding it up. It’s a minimal kind of accompaniment that you want, just to give you a sense of the song, harmonically, and then you can really focus on her voice and her attitude and all of those things that make this such a great Joni Mitchell album.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. 602,562, an increase of 305 deaths over yesterday’s figure.  The reported world death toll is now 3,908,454, an increase of about 9,400 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on June 24 includes:

  • 1314 – First War of Scottish Independence: The Battle of Bannockburn concludes with a decisive victory by Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce.
  • 1374 – A sudden outbreak of St. John’s Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.

The causes of dancing mania aren’t know; some implicate unwitting ingestion of psychedelics (ergotamine). Here’s a depiction from Wikipedia:

(From Wikipedia): Dancing mania on a pilgrimage to the church at Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, a 1642 engraving by Hendrick Hondius after a 1564 drawing by Pieter Brueghel the Elder.
  • 1509 – Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon are crowned King and Queen of England.
  • 1880 – First performance of O Canada at the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français. The song would later become the national anthem of Canada.
  • 1916 – Mary Pickford becomes the first female film star to sign a million-dollar contract.

Here’s a four-minute biography of Pickford, who won the second Best Actress Oscar awarded.

  • 1939 – Siam is renamed Thailand by Plaek Phibunsongkhram, the country’s third prime minister.
  • 1947 – Kenneth Arnold makes the first widely reported UFO sighting near Mount Rainier, Washington.
  • 1948 – Cold War: Start of the Berlin Blockade: The Soviet Union makes overland travel between West Germany and West Berlin impossible.
  • 1949 – The first television western, Hopalong Cassidy, starring William Boyd, is aired on NBC.
  • 1950 – Apartheid: In South Africa, the Group Areas Act is passed, formally segregating races.
  • 1995 – Rugby World Cup: South Africa defeats New Zealand and Nelson Mandela presents Francois Pienaar with the Webb Ellis Cup in an iconic post-apartheid moment.

Here’s the victory and the presentation of the cup by Mandela. The 1009 movie Invictus is a good version of the story.

Here’s Lonesome George, whose age was estimated at 101 or 102:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1842 – Ambrose Bierce, American short story writer, essayist, and journalist (d. 1914)
  • 1937 – Anita Desai, Indian-American author and academic
  • 1942 – Mick Fleetwood, English-American drummer
  • 1987 – Lionel Messi, Argentinian footballer

Messi is the world’s best footballer, and perhaps the best who ever played the game. Here are some highlights from his career.

Those who “fell asleep” on June 24 include:

  • 1908 – Grover Cleveland, American lawyer and politician, 22nd and 24th President of the United States (b. 1837)
  • 1987 – Jackie Gleason, American actor, comedian, and producer (b. 1916)

Remember this?  Such threats would never be portrayed now on television.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is weary wi’ hunting and fain would be fed:

Hili: There is nothing here.
A: And what now?
Hili: I count on you to fill my bowls abundantly.
In Polish:
Hili: Tu nic nie ma.
Ja: I co teraz?
Hili: Liczę na to, że obficie napełnisz moje miseczki.
And here’s a cute picture of little Kulka taken by Paulina:

From Nicole, a cartoon from Mark Parisi:

From Bruce. I assume this rings true though I’ve never dealt with Comcast:

From Jesus of the Day:

From Ginger K. We may be past this now, but stay alert—and read the fine print on the poster:

Tweets from Matthew. First, a group of some unknown Japanese mustelid. Anybody know what they are?

Wally the Errant Walrus is still off course, apparently now in Scilly. But he looks to be in good shape! I fervently hope he finds a group of his fellow walruses (walri?).

Sadly, without a subscription you’re out of luck, as this interview is paywalled. Joni almost never gives interviews. But the NYT reactions to the album are free (see above). If anybody wants to send me the text, I’d be delighted to read it.

Imagine: an ancient mountain once moved locations at 100 mph!

Nature is both cool and cruel:

Despite the errant apostrophe, this is a very interesting observation. Does the algae get enough light there? I suppose it must, but why is it growing there?

A tweet with a comment from Dr. Cobb. This is heinous, and Matthew couldn’t grow one anyway, but who had this ridiculous idea. It’s not a beard or even facial hair: it’s a furry chinstrap!

Day 4 in Texas: San Antonio to Taylor

April 2, 2021 • 8:30 am

Yesterday morning I woke up in San Antonio after a fitful night’s sleep (was it the tacos?), and hightailed it out of town as fast as I could. I had two destinations, each an hour’s drive from the previous one.

My first stop was the renowned Texas Pie Company in Kyle, a small town (ca. 28,000 people) that had at least one notable resident: writer Katherine Anne Porter spent a few years here as a child.

Now it’s the Home of Excellent Pies. Here’s the store; I was waiting out front when it opened so I could get freshly baked pie. Look at that giant slice of cherry pie over the door!

They sell all manner of baked goods, but of course they don’t call it the Texas Donut Company or Texas Lemon Bar company. YOU MUST HAVE PIE. Their pies are rated highly by food mavens Jane and Michael Stern, as well as others. Fortunately, you don’t have to buy a whole pie: they have 4-inch “mini pies” for $5 and the full 8-inch jobs (four times the area) for $18. Here’s the pie case with the mini pies on the top shelf. It was a hard choice:

I was going to buy two mini pies but settled on four. Shown below, they include a strawberry peach pie, a buttermilk pie (an Indiana and Amish favorite), and two pies recommended by the counter woman (who called me “Honey”): pecan and dutch apple. I’ll have one a day for dessert after lunch, as she said they’d last about ten days at room temperature. I’ve already polished off the buttermilk, which was superb, with a thick and flaky crust and the sweet classic (and slightly tangy) filling of this species of pie.

A four-inch diameter pie is just enough to constitute a hefty dessert! (They gave me plastic forks.) Highly recommended if you’re driving between Austin and San Antonio: it’s right off the main highway.

But my prime destination was another hour to the northeast: the Southside Market in Elgin, famed for its sausages (also called “hot guts” in Texas). The population is about 8,000, and it’s in cattle country, so you see a lot of boots and cowboy hats. Check out the many famous movies filmed in this small town.

A cow or horse trailer parked outside. It was from Louisiana, and empty, so maybe they just delivered a load of cattle.

At noon there was a huge line of cars outside picking up orders. Every car that you see is in the BBQ line. The place is famous for its sausage, but the brisket is also well known.

An old smoker outside the door:

Inside, there was already a huge line by 11:30 am (bbq is often eaten early in Texas). Note the social distancing and masks. Despite the absence of a statewide mask mandate in Texas, most stores and restaurants still require you to enter wearing a mask, and everybody I saw was compliant.

This is a fancy menu for a BBQ joint. I got the “Southside Combo Plate,” which had a sliced sausage, three fat pieces of juicy brisket, two pieces of white bread and a picks (a separate counter had jalapenos, sauce, and onions). My sides were beans and potato salad, which turned out to be good choices.

One of the two eating rooms—this is a big place for a barbecue joint!

Two old timers tucking into their lunch.

My plate, described above. I didn’t see the condiment bar with saltines, but wish I had, as I prefer saltines more than white bread with my meat.

This shot of the brisket shows all four essential bits: the charred bit on the outside, the red “smoke ring” of meat below it, the meat, and the fat. Brisket without any fat is dry, good only for those on a diet.

Closeup of the sausage.

My judgment on the Southside Market: the BBQ was very good, but not great, and that includes the sausage. In fact, both the brisket and the sausage were better at Black’s BBQ in Lockhart, and the brisket was better at the City Market than at either Black’s or the Southside Market. The City Market remains my top choice for Texas BBQ, but I have other places to visit, including the famous Louie Mueller tomorrow.

Many hold Mueller’s to be the best barbecued brisket in Texas (ergo the best BBQ in America), but I’ve never been there before. It’s in Taylor, Texas, just 15 minutes from Elgin, and I’m staying there now so I can be at Mueller’s at opening time of 11 a.m.  If you’re a reader in the area (it’s only 30 minutes from Austin), I’ll be glad to meet you at Mueller’s at 11 on the dot today (Friday).

The Southside Market has plenty of sausages to take home, and they were doing a land office business at the meat counter.

Here’s the list of purveyed “hot guts”:

I’ve finished my pie, and it’s time for a little nap. . . .

In a few hours, on to Louie Mueller!

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

December 23, 2020 • 6:30 am

Welcome to Wednesday, December 23, 2020—only two days till Christmas and the beginning of Coynezaa. It’s National Pfeffernüße Day, which refers to a glazed German gingerbread cookie. (I don’t think I’ve ever had one, but they sound good.) And, for you atheists and curmudgeons, it’s Festivus, made famous by Seinfeld. 

In Mousehole (pronounced “Muzzle”), one of my favorite small villages in England, it’s Tom Bawcock’s Eve, the day to eat starrey-gazey pie (with fish heads protruding from the crust). In Oaxaca, Mexico it’s The Night of the Radishes, in which oversized radishes are decoratively carved.

Here’s starrey-gazey pie (yuck!):

. . . and carved radishes from Oaxaca:

Wine of the Day (below): This 19-year-old Rioja threw a sediment and also had a crumbly cork, requiring decanting through cloth. But it was a good thing, as it needed at least an hour of air to tame the tannins and allow the fruit to shine through.  It is this kind of Rioja that I love: gutsy and flavorful, with an aroma of licorice and pepper instead of the Rioja specimens that are light and oaky, with notes of vanilla. I’ve seen it described as having the nose of “meat,” and although I can understand that due to its power, I can’t detect it.

As one website reported:

The Viña Ardanza Reserva has been elaborated by La Rioja Alta since 1942! it is named after one of the founding families. It is only produced in the best years, and  the 2001 vintage was rated “Excellent” by Rioja Control Board.  La Rioja Alta thought so highly of this wine that it called it Reserva Especial, only the third time one of its wines has earned that designation, along with 1964 and 1973.

It was aged 7 years in barrel (3) and bottle (4) before it was even released.  Looks as if it could improve for another few years. I’m looking forward to the other half bottle tonight, wondering if it will have improved over a day:

News of the Day:

The President-Eject has begun pardoning his buddies, his cronies, and other undeserving federal criminals as the end of his term approaches. He’ll save the most odious pardons for the end. As CNN reports:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced a wave of lame duck pardons, including two for men who pleaded guilty in Robert Mueller’s investigation, as well as ones for Republican allies who once served in Congress and military contractors involved in a deadly shooting of Iraqi civilians.

The pardons of former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, former US congressmen Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, and the four Blackwater guards involved in the Iraq massacre kick off what is expected to be a flurry of pardons and commutations in the coming weeks as Trump concludes his term.
After the New York Times podcast “The Caliphate” was found to have relied on unreliable sources, and after it gave back its Peabody Award and had its Lowell Thomas Award revoked, it now suffers more humiliation: the Pulitzer Prize Board took away the podcast’s “finalist” status in the “international” category. The NYT‘s own story is a bit weird, for it first says that ” the board stripped The Times of its finalist status” but then says that the Times offered to return the citation and the Pulitzer board accepted it. Bad reporting about bad reporting!

Well, according to the Guardian, the coronavirus has finally invaded the last virus-free continent: Antarctica. Thirty-six Chileans at their research base on the Antarctic Peninsula have tested positive for the virus and have been evacuated to Punta Arenas, Chile for quarantine. It’s not clear how this happened, though ships provision the base regularly (h/t: Jez)

The big vaccine debate: if you get the coronavirus vaccine, can you still spread the virus? After all, even flu vaccine is only about 40% effective, but it also reduces the symptoms if ou still get it, so you might not know you have it while still passing it on to others. FiveThirtyEight reports, as we have here, that this aspect of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines hasn’t been tested.  (h/t: Jean)

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 323,002, a substantial increase of about 3,300 from yesterday’s figure—roughly 2.3 deaths a minute. The world death toll is 1,726,169, a HUGE increase of about 15,200 from yesterday’s total and the equivalent of about 10.6 deaths per minute.

Stuff that happened on December 23 includes:

  • 1783 – George Washington resigns as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland.
  • 1815 – The novel Emma by Jane Austen is first published.

A first edition (in three volumes, below) will run you about $32,500:

What is this Act? Wikipedia explains:

The act enabled women to join the professions and professional bodies, to sit on juries and be awarded degrees. It was a government compromise, a replacement for a more radical private members’ bill, the Women’s Emancipation Bill.

This isn’t actually the first successful kidney transplant, but the first successful one between living patients. This procedure was done between identical twins, reducing the chances of an immunity-based rejection. The recipient lived another eight years and Murray (along with E. D. Thomas) won the Nobel Prize for the work.

  • 1968 – The 82 sailors from the USS Pueblo are released after eleven months of internment in North Korea.

The crew was starved and tortured, which I believe is a violation of the Geneva Convention. The Pueblo remains in Pyongyang as an anti-America museum. Here’s a short North Korean tour of the ship:

  • 1970 – The North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York, New York is topped out at 1,368 feet (417 m), making it the tallest building in the world.
  • 1972 – The 16 survivors of the Andes flight disaster are rescued after 73 days, surviving by cannibalism.

Two of the survivors hiked out seeking help. One of them, Nando Parrado, encountered two men on horseback and wrote this note, which soon summoned a helicopter and rescue:

  • 1986 – Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, lands at Edwards Air Force Base in California becoming the first aircraft to fly non-stop around the world without aerial or ground refueling.

The trip took 9 days, 3 minutes and 44 seconds, and is still a record for a single flight. The emptyaircraft weighed less than 1,000 pounds, but carried 7,000 pounds of fuel.  Here’s the plane:

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1745 – John Jay, American jurist and politician, 1st Chief Justice of the United States (d. 1829)
  • 1805 – Joseph Smith, American religious leader, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement (d. 1844)
  • 1908 – Yousuf Karsh, Armenian-Canadian photographer (d. 2002)

Karsh was a great portrait photographer. Winston Churchill, as much of a curmudgeon as Matthew, gave Karsh just two minutes to take his picture. Winnie then lit a cigar. Karsh plucked it from Churchill’s mouth, whereupon the great man scowled—and at that moment Karsh snapped what became his most famous picture:

  • 1929 – Chet Baker, American jazz trumpet player, flugelhorn player, and singer (d. 1988)
  • 1967 – Carla Bruni, Italian-French singer-songwriter and model

Those who “fell asleep” on December 23 include:

  • 1834 – Thomas Robert Malthus, English economist and demographer (b. 1766)
  • 1953 – Lavrentiy Beria, Georgian-Russian general and politician, Russian Minister of Internal Affairs (b. 1899)
  • 2007 – Oscar Peterson, Canadian pianist and composer (b. 1925)
  • 2013 – Mikhail Kalashnikov, Russian general and weapons designer, designed the AK-47 rifle (b. 1919)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili sees Szaron on the windowsill, where she used to sleep and watch the birds:

Hili: Does Szaron know that this used to be my favorite place?
A: Ask him.
Hili: I can’t because I’m ignoring him.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy Szaron wie, że to było moje ulubione miejsce?
Ja: Zapytaj go.
Hili: Nie mogę, bo go ignoruję.

And here’s a lovely picture of Szaron.

Caption: Szaron helps as much as he can.

In Polish: Szaron pomaga jak może.

From Jesus of the Day. I sent this to several of my cat-loving friends:

From Facebook:

From Bruce: Guess the city with this skyline? I won’t provide the answer; I’ll just affirm the first reader who gets it right:

Uh oh. . . . somebody forgot and labeled the genders as “binary”.

Luana noticed this word change, and I retweeted it:

From Simon, who wondered what kind of mimicry this was. I told him it was “Clausian mimicry.”

Tweets from Matthew. These first ones are about the WSJ’s wonky op-ed section, though I hear they’re good on the news itself.

Look at the size of this monster!

I lectured for years on this caterpillar as an example of aposematic (“warning’) coloration, but it never crossed my mind that it could be a tarantula mimic. It even has eight obvious spider “legs”!

I tell you, Lizy Bean is going places. Look at that journal!

 

What’s for dinner?

November 26, 2020 • 12:45 pm

I’m taking it easy today and am having a long, vigorous walk along Lake Michigan, followed by a shower and then dinner. Turkeys are too big for me (I wonder if those Butterball 20-pounders will go unsold this year), and so I am having a Jewish Thanksgiving: pork roast.

On the side there will be fresh biscuits and local tomatoes. But this modest meal will be washed down with a very fancy wine—the real centerpiece of the meal. It’s a great Rioja, a 2011 Prado Enea Rioja Gran Riserva from Bodegas Muga, which I bought as a three-pack (in a wooden box with a decanter included) for a pretty penny several years ago.  This is the last bottle of the three, and believe me, it’s ethereal. In fact, the food is just a vehicle to get this wine down:

Normally I’d be sharing this bottle with guests, but guests are rarer than hen’s teeth this year and so this puppy is ALL MINE.  I’ll drink half tonight and half tomorrow.

Of course the purpose of this post is to find out what everyone else is eating and drinking, on the holiday.  If you’re not American, though, you’re probably not celebrating.

Paris, day 7: Perfume and and a mediocre meal

March 1, 2020 • 12:00 pm

It’s been raining cats and dogs all day, and so there are many poodles to avoid. This mandated another indoor thing to do, which involved getting a late start and then wandering the Place Madeleine to find the Place Édouard-VII, a small square in the Ninth Arrondissement built in 1913 and named for King Edward VII, the son of Queen Victoria.

Edward was considered the most French of modern English kings, and one tourist site gives this information (probably a translation from the French):

King Edward VII, made himself the artisan of the Entente Cordiale, between France and England. Paris which he appreciated above all the spirit, gastronomy and women, paid homage to him in 1913. The young Paul Landowski wished to register here, far from the style of his Saint Geneviève or the Christ of Corcovado.  In the great tradition of the equestrian statue. The king, guiding his horse calmly, is represented in his role as chief of the armies. He carries, executed with realism, the uniform of Marshal who befits his rank: helmet with panache, coat, jacket probably red barred with a scarf and adorned with decorations, white panties and boots of rider. The choice of this classical iconography also echoes the portraits commissioned by the Sovereign in his own country. It is that it is indeed an official portrait, to express the nobility and the power, in the center of a place strictly authorised.

At the end of the  18C, there were built  18 private hotels in the  rue Caumartin, a few steps from the Boulevard des Capucines, which was then a place of promenade established on ancient fortifications dating back to King Louis XIII. In the 19C, in the purest Haussmann tradition, this boulevard had seen the erection of monumental buildings of five floors. Finally, in 1913, Nénot, the architect of the new Sorbonne and the Palais de la League des Nations in Geneva, had pierced a street in a piecemeal gap in order to carry out an extensive urban and real estate program. A street that was to take the name of Edward VII, in homage to the King of England who had worked so much in the Franco-British rapprochement.

Some photos:

The statue in the square:

The Théâtre Édouard VII, which you can glimpse in the panorama above. The photo below is from Wikipedia, which also notes:

Important figures in the arts, cinema and theatre have performed there, including Orson Welles, Eartha Kitt, and more. Pablo Picasso created props for a play at the Théâtre Edouard VII in 1944.

The Théâtre de l’Athénée. Converted from another building in 1894 and renovated in 1996, it saw debuts of plays by, among others, Oscar Wilde (Salomé), Jean Giraudoux, and Jean Genet.

After a wander round the fancy interior of the Edward VII theater (we weren’t allowed to see the main stage and hall), we tried to visit the nearby Musée du Parfum, or Perfume Museum, run by the Fragonard Company. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we had a look at the perfume store, and I bought a few scented soaps (my one cosmetic vanity).

Perfumes and soaps (the sticks in the last row enable you to smell the scent without putting it on):

I can’t resist selfies in weird mirrors:

A late start, and so it was time for lunch, heading toward the Third Arrondissement from the Opera. On the way, I photographed one of the gilded figures atop the Opera:

The restaurant was an old favorite of mine, the Ambassade d’Auverge, featuring the cooking of that area of south-central France. When I lived here in 1989 and was relatively impecunious, this counted as a fancy restaurant. The food has been consistently good, but there have been high and low periods. Sadly, today’s meal appeared to be at a low period.

The restaurant:

A YouTube video of the restaurant. Here you can see them making the restaurant’s speciality: aligot, a mixture of mashed potatoes and lots of cheese. It is “stretched” for the diner before it’s served, to demonstrate the high titer of cheese in the dish:

The interior. Note the d*g; canids are allowed in restaurants in France. Sometimes they’re even given food by the restaurant.

Pork rillettes to start:

Entrées:

Trio of smoked fish: salmon, trout and cod. This was pronounced mediocre.

Warm lentil salad with bacon. This is always an excellent dish, made with green lentils of Puy and bacon bits, doused with a dressing made from mustard and pork fat.

Les plats:

Parmentier de confit de canard au foie gras. Again, pronounced so-so:

My sausage with aligot. The potatoes were very good but the sausage below par: pre-cooked and barely warmed before serving.

Stretching the potatoes for two tables of diners, including us:

We did not try the cheeses, but here are the four on tap, including a Bleu d’Auvergne, a Cantal, and a Fourme D’Ambert:

The wine, a Saint-Pourçain, had considerable floating sediment, and the carafe of water smelled faintly of fish. Given all this, we pronounced the meal a semi-disaster and decided to skip dessert, heading instead for pastries at Isabelle’s and Aux Merveilleux de Fred.

My pastries. A small kouglof from Isabelle’s:

And a chocolate merveilleux from Fred’s. Both of these were fantastic, especially the merveilleux, which had two meringues sandwiched around a cream filling sitting atop a biscuit, all sprinkled with chocolate and topped with whipped cream. This was incredibly good, and I now know why the Parisian dowager I followed out of the shop the other day started eating hers on the street—something rarely seen in this city.

A cross-section of this pastry from NancyBuzz:

A bad meal made good by desserts.