Points of Refuge and Respite

woman meditating on rock
Photo by Felipe Borges on Pexels.com

I watched too much TV yesterday and Saturday. Granted that a lot of it involved watching Rep. John Lewis make his final trip over the Pettis Bridge, but still too much of it. It wasn’t the worst thing that I could have done, but it may not have been the best.

In other times, I would have seen who was available for lunch or gone to physical yoga class. But not these days. We have the accursed COVID-19 still in play, messing with most restaurants and many retail establishments. The yoga studio went back to online classes only. And we have had a long stretch of days topping 90 (I wilt at 85 and curl into a blackened ball over 90, especially when humidity comes into play) that’s been interfering with our ability to walk.

But these are extraordinary times we live in. Not unprecedented, since we’ve had the Spanish flu about 100 years ago and the sweating sickness and before that the Black Plague. And countless other epidemics that didn’t get recorded. Oh, and the political upheaval on this scale is nothing new.  Just highly unusual.

How, then, does a person cope?

I’ve been reading. A lot, specifically rereading Jane Austen. The rogues, rakes, and scalawags in her books behave with a modicum of propriety and panache, unlike the miscreants grabbing the headlines of the moment.  Otherwise, it’s a steady diet of books and websites about England, France, and Italy. I’ve found inspiration and entertainment through reading menus from places such as Cafe de Flores, one of the great literary hangouts in Paris. Sigh.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to France, or finally to England or Italy, but I’ll be ready. Thanks to YouTube, I’m learning Italian. I feel confident that I can order coffee and something to go with it. Plus I’m picking up more of what they’re really saying when I watch an Italian mystery on MHz and not just what the subtitles say.

And there’s period dramas. Still on the hunt for something to replace “Downton Abbey.” Or at least fill in the gaps. (Yes, I tried “Poldark,” but when Ross came home  from fighting in the Revolutionary War to find that his father had died and his girlfriend was engaged to his cousin all in the first five minutes put me off.) (Oh, and “Victoria?” They killed off two of my favorite characters. One they had to for historical accuracy, but the other was a shoddy way to advance the story line.)

But there comes a time when one must turn off the tube, put down the book,  and get outside. The problem is finding the sweet spots of the day when it’s relatively cool and the forest preserve isn’t overrun with other walkers, especially the ones who don’t mask up or respect social distancing. Technically, the preserves don’t open until 8 AM, but as long as you don’t bring a marching band with you, the workers pay no mind if you sneak in at 7:30 give or take a few minutes. We go after 5 PM when the hoards thin out. If we walk on the back trails and horse paths, it’s not too hard to avoid other walkers.

If the nuances of weather and thinned crowds fall into place, we walk out to the observation platform on the east end of the preserve. I sit for a few minutes and watch the river tumble to the southwest while Oakley sniffs around the  the platform’s edges to see which critters have been there.

Refreshed, we walk up the trail to meet the common world, ready to take on whatever gets shown at us.

 

 

The French Farmhouse Report for 1/22/20

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

 Two consecutive weekends of storms with freezing rain as the headliner and a couple of days of pretty cold weather kind of took the stuffings out of me. At least last year’s polar vortex event featured clear skies and snow that a person and a dog could walk on without crampons.

Liberal use of a paw- and grass-friendly ice melter kept the back step cleared and a path open to a patch where Oakley could tend to those most personal forms of business. Otherwise, we stayed inside. Oakley played with his holiday puzzles and napped. I read, napped, and succumbed to the lure of the TV.

As I flipped around, I saw a teaser for a show featuring unusual Chicago area restaurants, such as one near the Northwestern University campus that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. They certainly had my undivided attention.

After some five minutes of ads, the show started. Interview with the chef/owner, shots of the funky/cozy/brick walled interior with hand-lettered chalk board menus. Tour complete, it was down to business in the kitchen. Texas toast slices (the ones at least double the thickness of a regular slice of bread, usually involved in making diner-style French toast) were brushed with what may or may not have been melted butter, topped with some sort of cheese, then passed through a broiler like the ones in chain burger joints for a preliminary browning and melting.

Then came a filling of delicacies such as French fries or macaroni and cheese before the two slices were assembled into a sandwich and given a final browning in a buttered frying pan.

Now, the Mystery She knows that I have consumed my fair share and someone else’s of carbs and fats, especially back in the day when I may or may not have ingested adult beverages and more so when my hormones dragged me to the store and demanded potato chips. But this was so totally over the top that it didn’t even look good. To me, anyway.

Maybe it’s because I’ve developed discernment as I’ve matured; maybe it’s because of the lessons learned during my trip to France and subsequent readings about their cultural attitudes towards food. In any event, I would take a pass on it, thank you. OK, maybe I would split it with someone, but it’s not something I’d order on my own.

This over the top type of grilled cheese wouldn’t fly in France, except as a novelty, maybe.  A diner would get a much smaller sandwich consisting of two conventionally-sized slices of bread with cheese or a cheese sauce and some ham, turkey, or chicken in the middle. That would be baked for about 15 minutes, then perhaps served with a fried egg on top. There would be a small side salad. (Fries are usually served with steak.)  And that would be it. Except for some fruit for dessert. And don’t forget a small cup of coffee or tea to conclude the meal.

My own hankerings for grilled cheese get satisfied here at home with two slices of whole wheat bread, an unprocessed cheese in the middle, and the twist courtesy of one of my friends: instead of buttering the outside, spread with mayonnaise and sprinkle Parmesan  cheese for a crunchy brown crust. I won’t say it’s life changing, but I will say it makes the next fifteen or so minutes pretty tolerable, indeed.

If I have an urge while I’m out, I stop at Belladonna, the local point of refuge for artists, Bohemians, and people who appreciate the art of really good food, coffee, and tea. One of the grilled cheese paninis with a cup of the homemade soup always elevates the day.

It’s just enough, and a little more (I usually take half home for dinner), and that’s just right for me.

 

 

Monday Mashup: Media Edition

No, we do not have cable, nor do we have a dish. We never will, either.

Despite our distance from Chicago proper, some 50 miles, the elevated antenna and converter box built into our DVD/BluRay player pulls in the signals from the four major networks, providing us with hours of amusement, or at least background noise. We have Netflix. We have DVDs. We have access to two PBS stations and their respective substations. Make that three under certain weather conditions.

That’s all I want or need. Except for the monthly Netflix bill, donations a couple of times a year to the PBS stations, and a few shekels to NPR and another public station, it’s free.

I don’t know if it’s a function of age, or taste, or growing consciousness, but the last few times I tried to watch network TV (“Big Bang Theory” reruns the one exception), disturbed me. The quality or lack of was bad enough, but I started wondering if there was some validity to the conspiracy theory that mass media is being used by the Rothchilds to keep the masses down. Do viewers really know what they’re watching?

Comedies routinely present verbal abuse as strength, continue with varying shades of sexism and racism, and involve verbally castrating men or portraying them as weak and inept. News flash: we will not settle the patriarchy score by female characters ripping male characters. The last couple of seasons of BBT have started the slide down this slope.

I can’t really comment on dramas because nothing has held my attention long enough in years.

Reality TV is a plague upon the soul of the planet. Back in medieval times, the nobles had a rather nasty form of entertainment called “dwarf parades.” Little people and other subjects who were differently abled would get trotted out at court occasions for the amusement of the lords and ladies. That people give a precious hour of their lives to shows like “19 Kids and Counting” or “Here Comes Honey BooBoo” or one of the countless court or “talk” shows glorifying intense shades of dysfunction proves that we haven’t grown very much as a species.

One notable exception: ABC’s “The Quest,” a replacement from last summer. Ten contestants were chosen to defend Everealm from a villain. The show focused on teamwork and ability, and eliminations were based on evaluating the participants’ strength and weaknesses, not on arguments that sounded like the spewing of sugared up eighth graders.

Ironically, a TV character said it best: Mr. Spock once informed a subordinate that “there are always alternatives.”

What will it take to get the world at large to see that and maybe start picking up books again?