Lest We Forget

The “Greatest Generation” never had it easy. Often growing up as the children of immigrants, or as immigrants themselves; surviving the hard times of the Great Depression, then only to be thrown into the calamity and chaos of the Second World War. As their sons and daughters, we are the fortunate ones.

It truly hits home every November 11 – and quite frequently through the rest of the year – when my thoughts are with those who gave of themselves, often with their lives. What began as Armistice Day, the anniversary that celebrated the end of the Great War in 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, is marked each year as Remembrance Day in Canada and elsewhere, and in the United States, as Veterans Day.

As it turns out, we were able to celebrate Veterans Day this year in La Quinta, CA. In a standing room only event held in the open air courtyard at City Hall, Mayor Linda Evans and other elected officials honoured a number of veterans in attendance, and paid special homage to ten veterans (as is done each year in La Quinta), including one Marine officer who had served from 1942 to 1946. This was a 90 minute service that went by quickly; with the politicians wisely keeping their speeches brief; with beautiful renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (sung “a cappella” by two young ladies) and “God Bless the U.S.A.” (“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free … And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me”); a fly-over at just the right moment; and the La Quinta High School band doing the Armed Forces medley including, “Anchors Aweigh” for the Navy, “The U.S. Air Force” song (“Off we go into the wild blue yonder …”), and “The Marine Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli …”).

As heartfelt as the La Quinta celebration was, home is where my heart is on November 11.

My thoughts on this day are always of my father. He gave five years in the prime of his life after enlisting to fight in the Second World War. Those were years never to be retrieved. He had wanted to become a farmer, and that was no longer possible. But he never looked back. Never any bitterness of the hardships of the years preceding the War; never dwelled (outside of his thoughts) about the friends he saw maimed or who were lost; and gave his time in later years to those who were blinded in action – something I discovered only at his memorial service (reminding me that truly charitable acts do not ask for recognition). He will always be my hero.

Poppies were being handed out in La Quinta today, with beautiful ceramic poppies given to the veterans attending the celebration. And that brings me to the poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

When I re-read “In Flanders Fields,” each November 11, my thoughts are for those brave young men; very young men in most cases, who would never return home, never marry, have children, or have anything like that lives most of have had. “In Flanders Fields” was written in 1915 by John McCrae, MD, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Dr. McCrae (above) died in France in 1918, never to return home.

Current Viewing

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

I sat through this documentary transfixed. Linda Ronstadt IS the voice. She took that voice successfully across musical genres; pretty much any genre she chose. There was rock, country, R&B, folk, opera (“The Pirates of Penzance”), songs described as “standards” arranged by Nelson Riddle, and Mexican classics (to celebrate her heritage) – the last a measure of her determination to diversify and challenge herself. Her 1987 album “Canciones De Mi Padre” stands to this day as the best selling non-English language musical album in America.

The film pays homage to Linda from any number of sources – producers, record moguls, music critics, songwriters (Linda did not write, but elevated the work of others), contemporaries (Dolly Parton, Emmy Lou Harris, Don Henley) – and portrays her just as we saw her throughout her career; the consummate professional, a feminist, albeit unassuming and unspoiled by her success.

Linda in the preceding at the peak her fame. She is 73 years old now and retired from performing 10 years ago. She has Parkinson’s Disease and suffers only for not being able to sing. You will sit through this film with smiles, laughter and tears, and above all you will hear that voice. There are none like it. Below: Linda as she appeared in this year on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Grateful for a life well-lived.

Rotten Tomatoes gave this film an 87 (critic’s score) and 99 (audience score). The New York Times critic, A.O. Scott, said of the film (and of Linda), “The political intelligence and matter-of-fact feminism that emerge in this portrait are among its most intriguing aspects. Her clear-eyed, down-to-earth thoughts on her profession, her family and American culture (musical and otherwise) make her someone you want to know better.” Yes, you would.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

A Quentin Tarantino movie will guarantee at least two things; it will be violent, and it will endure in your thinking. Recall “Reservoir Dogs” (violence), “Pulp Fiction” (remarkably non-linear, violent, and not without humour), “Kill Bill” (Volumes I and II) and one of my favourites, “Inglourious Bastards.” All this from a guy, who, in his early years, spent five of them working in a video store.

“Once Upon a Time” takes you in directions you cannot predict: A complicated plot that provides a completely different (and completely satisfying) spin on the Manson murders, as fact gives way to fiction. The Guardian reviewer wrote, “And then we get the finale, a piece of bloody mayhem which leads to a bizarre denouement which might well have you replaying the entire film in your head. It’s entirely outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant.”

You will sit through this with a newly found appreciation for pit bulls and flame-throwers. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio are the stars, with Pitt the more appealing of the two (his appeal with the ladies enhanced as he removes his shirt to repair a TV antenna. As an aside, my grandchildren have no idea what a TV antenna is). There are some fascinating bits and pieces: An eerie visit by Pitt’s character to the Charles Manson compound that causes you to want to cry out, “get the hell out of there!” Then a nice scene between DiCaprio and a young actress (played by Julia Butters) that goes deep for both him and the audience. And another great scene where Pitt’s character takes on Jackie Chan. Poor Jackie. I had to see this movie twice.

Downton Abbey

I am a fan. Sunday nights, when not blessed with Sunday Night Football, were usually devoted to “Downton Abbey” on Masterpiece Theatre. Having missed a few episodes over six seasons, I went out and bought the DVD set. And now we have the movie.

The reviews have been mixed. The NY Times reviewer wrote, “Viewers who have faithfully followed the genteel tribulations of the Crawley clan for six seasons of glittering television will need no encouragement from me to re-immerse themselves in the show’s warm bath of privilege. Those who prefer their ablutions minus the scum of entitlement can safely give this big-screen special a miss.” Perhaps a little too harsh, and certainly not very Republican. But it is the NY Times.

The Roger Ebert reviewer gave the film three and a half stars out of four and wrote that, “The star rating at the top of this review is not for people who don’t like “Downton Abbey,” have never seen it, or grew tired of watching it long before it finished its six-season run.” I agree with the star rating, along with the millions who have now seen the movie. I would see this again just to have the pleasure of watching Maggie Smith in action. Here is Dame Maggie (as Violet Crawley) in the following photo enjoying repartee with Penelope Wilton (as Isobel Merton). With her crisp way of delivering dialogue, she takes sarcasm to new heights. “Downton Abbey” the movie is worth your time, if you are at the very least a romantic, if you love happy endings, and if you think it is acceptable having the people living in your basement see to your every need. Oh, and if you are a fan.

Judy

“Judy” has had generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 86% for audiences and 83% among critics. I regret to say I sat through this thing hoping it would end prematurely. I didn’t dare leave my seat early however, for two reasons: I thought the film might get better; and it was pretty obvious to me that I was the only male in the small theatre audience and I didn’t want to be jeered. I was more concerned about the latter.

I have a lot of admiration for Renee Zellweger (above), she of “Chicago” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and at the outset, I thought, “what a brilliant choice for playing Judy Garland!” But after an hour or so of having Renee, with lips pursed and eyes in a perpetual squint (as I thought only Alec Baldwin could manage), I had had enough. A Judy Garland biopic could have been so much more: More of the early years as a youthful vaudevillian, more of the Andy Hardy years, more of her rapid descent from innocence, more about what a terrific actress she was (“A Star is Born,” “Judgement at Nuremberg”) and less about the final weeks of her life. I will remember Judy Garland for “The Wizard of Oz,” and not at all for “Judy.”

Joker

Todd Phillips directed “The Hangover” and its two sequels, “Old School,” ‘Starsky and Hutch,” and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Borat.” He is credited with producing, writing and directing “Joker,” which debuted in theatres in October. “Joker” came with some fanfare, as it won the Golden Lion (the highest award) at the Venice International Film Festival. Many outside of Italy, and Venice in particular, wonder why. The NY Times critic, A.O. Scott, wrote, “Are you kidding me?” The Guardian headlined “Joker” as “The most disappointing film of the year.” I tend to agree with the critics at the Times and the Guardian. I have to admit to liking “The Hangover” and even “Starsky and Hutch.” And loved “Borat.” But Mr. Phillips comes up short on this one. Or maybe it’s overkill. Subtlety is not his forte. Social and economic inequities, lack and loss of civility, the refusal to deal with those suffering from mental illness – are themes that have been dealt with more successfully elsewhere.
I believe Jaoquin Phoenix is a brilliant, albeit intense actor, but a little Jaoquin goes a long way (in much the same fashion as Renee Zellweger squinted her way through “Judy”). Hard to recommend this one, although Joaquin showed some nifty dance moves.

The Kominsky Method

Now in its second season on Netflix, “The Kominsky Method” features Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin as septuagenarian best friends; Douglas’ character (Sandy Kominsky), a former actor now running an acting school, and Arkin’s character (Norman Newlander), Sandy’s agent, and a recent widow, in what seems like constant (and often witty) conversation with each other. Those are the gents above, all dressed up for the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, for which Michael Douglas won the Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy. I would have chosen Arkin, who has “droll” down to perfection. But no matter, “The Kominsky Method” is fun to watch. The fun is enhanced by a great supporting cast (Sarah Baker for one), and a parade of character actors. Danny DeVito plays Sandy’s urologist; Nancy Travis is Sandy’s love interest; Jane Seymour as the new woman in Norman’s life; Lisa Edelstein (from “House”) as Norman’s daughter, in and out of rehab; and in a great casting move, Kathleen Turner as Sandy’s ex-wife (who can forget Douglas and Turner (Kathleen below) in “Romancing the Stone?”).

Jojo Rabbit

As I was leaving the theatre after watching “Jojo Rabbit,” I asked two elderly ladies walking alongside me whether they liked the movie. Their answer, in unison, “Yes!” I agreed with them, but added, that as much I enjoyed “Jojo Rabbit” I might find it difficult to recommend. They nodded their agreement, while I am sure they were thinking, “Wasn’t it nice of that young man to ask?”

Taiki Waititi directed “Jojo Rabbit,” following on his efforts directing “Thor: Ragnarok” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” I truly enjoyed the latter, but have not seen the former, which was a tremendous box office success.

“Jojo Rabbit” has been described as an anti-hate satire, offering a balance between fantasy and drama. The movie is set in a small town in Germany during the last days of the Second World War. Johannes (“Jojo’) is a ten year Nazi zealot with an imaginary friend (Adolf Hitler as played by the director himself), and whose mother (Scarlett Johansson), a fervent anti-Nazi, is harbouring a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa) in an attic space. It is when “Jojo” discovers Elsa that the movie takes off.

The reviews for “Jojo Rabbit” are generally positive, yet seem cautious considering the subject matter.

Time magazine’s reviewer had this comment: “Even though filmmakers as revered as Charlie Chaplin and Ernst Lubitsch have made movies that lampoon the Nazis and their one-note obsessions, Holocaust humor is still a delicate proposition. Laughter may be one of humankind’s best survival mechanisms, but jokes about Hitler and those who did his bidding aren’t an easy sell–their crimes are too inhumane to allow for laughs.” The review went on to write, “It’s Waititi’s ability to balance unassailably goofy moments with an acknowledgment of real-life horrors that makes the movie exceptional.”

The critic Richard Roeper wrote that the movie “draws upon the past to make salient points about the state of the world today, with Waititi urging us (sometimes in not so subtle ways) to pay attention to history, to learn from it, to strive to be better. Hardly a new message, but still one well worth delivering.”

Roman Griffin Davis portrays “Jojo,” and plays him well. And yes, I would urge you to see “Jojo Rabbit.”

Obituaries

Have you ever wondered how your obit might read? Most obituaries are written by a family member, and are filled with words of love and appreciation. As they should be. No surprises, and if it happened to be your obituary, you would be pleased. In January of this year, I wrote about my vision of “Heaven.” The way it came out, as one of my “blogue” readers shared, “I’m almost looking forward to Heaven” Why not. You might get to meet Winston Churchill, Arnold Palmer and “Millie,” and live in a really nice condo. On a golf course!

Then I got to thinking; when it comes to obituaries, to be on the safe side, write your own. Say all the nice things that others might (or should) say about you, and get a few things off your chest. Things that might have annoyed you (“How fast are you going, do you know the speed limit?” and “You said you’d be home two hours ago – where were you?”) and you decided at the time not to offer any real defence. So, I beginning to think that now is the time to put a few things down on paper, just to be prepared.

But, in the meantime, I will introduce you to Joe Heller. Or rather, the obituary for Joe Heller. Joe is not to be confused with the author, Joseph Heller, who wrote “Catch – 22.” Our Joe Heller passed away only recently, on September 8, in Centerbrook, CT. And by most accounts, he was an ordinary man. Or was he? Not according to his obituary.

That is Joe above. His obituary appeared in the Hartford Courant newspaper, written by his daughter, and it went something like this (leaving out some of the text):

“Joe Heller made his last undignified and largely irreverent gesture on September 8, 2019, signing off on a life, in his words, “generally well-lived and with few regrets.” When the doctors confronted his daughters with the news last week that “your father is a very sick man,” in unison they replied, “you have no idea.”

God thankfully broke the mold after Joe was born to the late Joseph Heller, Sr. and Ruth Marion (Clock) on January 24, 1937 in New Haven, CT. Being born during the depression shaped Joe’s formative years and resulted in a lifetime of frugality, hoarding and cheap mischief, often at the expense of others. Being the eldest was a dubious task but he was up for the challenge and led and tortured his siblings through a childhood of obnoxious pranks, with his brother, Bob, generally serving as his wingman. Pat, Dick and Kathy were often on the receiving end of such lessons as “Ding Dong, Dogshit” and thwarting lunch thieves with laxative-laced chocolate cake and excrement meatloaf sandwiches. His mother was not immune to his pranks as he named his first dog, “Fart,” so she would have to scream his name to come home if he wandered off.

Joe started his long and illustrious career as a Library Assistant at Yale Law School Library alongside his father before hatching a plan with his lifelong buddies … to join the Navy and see the world together. Their plot was thwarted and the three were split up when Joe pulled the “long straw” and was assigned to a coveted base in Bermuda where he joined the “Seabees,” Construction Battalion, and was appointed to the position of Construction Electrician’s Mate 3rd class. His service to the country and community didn’t end after his honorable discharge. Joe was a Town Constable, Volunteer Fireman and Ambulance Association member, Cross walk guard, Public Works Snow Plower and a proud member of the Antique Veterans organization.

(Mr. Heller’s body was carried to the cemetery in a 1941 Mack fire truck he had helped to restore).

Joe was a self-taught chemist and worked at Cheeseborough-Ponds where he developed one of their first cosmetics’ lines. There he met the love of his life, Irene, who was hoodwinked into thinking he was a charming individual with decorum. Boy, was she ever wrong. Joe embarrassed her daily with his mouth and choice of clothing. To this day we do not understand how he convinced our mother, an exceedingly proper woman and a pillar in her church, to sew and create the colorful costumes and props which he used for his antics.

Growing up in Joe’s household was never dull. If the old adage of “You only pull the hair of those you love” holds true, his three daughters were well loved.
Joe was a frequent customer of the girls’ beauty shops, allowing them to “do” his hair and apply make-up liberally. He lovingly assembled doll furniture and built them a play kitchen and forts in the back yard. During their formative years, Joe made sure that their moral fibers were enriched by both Archie Bunker and Benny Hill. When they began dating, Joe would greet their dates by first running their license plates and checking for bald tires. If their vehicle passed inspection, they were invited into the house where shotguns, harpoons and sheep “nutters” were left clearly on display.

After retiring from running Bombaci Fuel, he was perhaps, most well-known for his role as the Essex Town “Dawg Kecher.” He refused to put any of his “prisoners” down and would look for the perfect homes for them. One of them was a repeat offender who he named “Asshole” because no owner would ever keep him for very long because he was, in fact, an asshole. My Dad would take his buddy on daily rides in his van and they’d roam around town with the breeze blowing through both of their fur. He never met a dog he didn’t like, the same could not be said for the wanna-be blue bloods, snoots and summer barnacles that roamed about town. His words, not ours. Well maybe not exactly his words as those would been much more colorful.

Joe was a frequent shopper at the Essex Dump and he left his family with a house full of crap, 300 pounds of birdseed and dead houseplants that they have no idea what to do with. If there was ever a treasure that he snatched out from under you among the mounds of junk, please wait the appropriate amount of time to contact the family to claim your loot. We’re available tomorrow. Joe was also a consummate napper. There wasn’t a road, restaurant or friend’s house in Essex that he didn’t fall asleep on or in. There wasn’t an occasion too formal or an event too dour that Joe didn’t interrupt with his apnea and voluminous snoring.

Besides his beloved wife, Irene, and brother, Bobby, Joe was pre-deceased by his pet fish, Jack, who we found in the freezer last week.

Left to squabble over his vast fortune, real estate holdings and “treasures” are his three daughters Michelle Heller (Andrew Bennett) of Newton, MA, Lisette Heller (Lenny Estelle) of Ivoryton, CT and Monique Heller (John Parnoff) of Old Lyme, CT. He relished his role as Papa and Grampa Joe to Zachary, Maxwell and Emily Bennett, Megan, Mackenzie and Ryan Korcak, and Giovanna and Mattea Parnoff and hopes that he taught at least one of them to cuss properly.

No flowers, please. The family is seeking donations to offset the expense of publishing an exceedingly long obituary which would have really pissed Joe off. Seriously, what would have made him the happiest is for you to go have a cup of coffee with a friend and bullshit about his antics or play a harmless prank on some unsuspecting sap.

A celebration of his life, with Joe laid out in all his glory, will be held on Thursday, September 12, at the Essex Fire Department, 11 Saybrook Road, from 4-7. A light dinner will be served as Joe felt no get-together was complete without food. None of his leftovers or kitchen concoctions will be pawned off on any unsuspecting guests. Feel free to be as late as you’d like as Joe was never on time for anything because of the aforementioned napping habits. Joe despised formality and stuffiness and would really be ticked off if you showed up in a suit. Dress comfortably. The family encourages you to don the most inappropriate T-Shirt that you are comfortable being seen in public with as Joe often did. Everybody has a Joe story and we’d love to hear them all. Joe faced his death and his mortality, as he did with his life, face on, often telling us that when he dropped dead to dig a hole in the back yard and just roll him in. Much to his disappointment, he will be properly interred with full military honors (and maybe Jack) next to his wife on Friday, September 13, at 10:00 am in Centerbrook Cemetery. Sorry, Mom, Lisette and I did the best we could to take care of him and keep him out of your hair as long as we could. Back in your court now.”

According to the New York Times, at the memorial service, a Navy honour guard — long known as the Antique Veterans Organization because of its aging membership — delivered a rifle salute, played taps and performed a ceremonial flag-folding ceremony.

The honour guard’s commander, Joseph Barry, admitted that Mr. Heller would have “dropped a few F-bombs” in declaring the whole thing superfluous.

After the burial, Joe’s daughter Monique, and the author of his obituary, is shown holding the American flag presented in her father’s honour, and said that, “people like my dad are the backbone of this country and I think the world wants to hear their stories.’’

So true. And I post this blog piece with no small amount of sorrow as we have just lost our dear friend – Brian Tinkler – who with his sense of humour and his love of humour, would have enjoyed reading about Joe Heller.

Kalpudding (Swedish Meatloaf)

I am a big fan of meatloaf, especially as the weather turns cool, and with the fireplace turned on, it is time for comfort food. There is nothing more comforting than meatloaf, and over the years, I have tried numerous approaches. The following is one I adapted from a NY Times recipe, and it seemed to go over well with guests.

Start with a head of green cabbage – a three pounder will do – core and shred, as you would for cole slaw. Start with 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and as it foams, add 3 tablespoons of molasses. Then add your cabbage and cook gradually. Stir often. It may take 30 minutes before the cabbage is caramelized.

Remove the cabbage from the skillet, and add 3 or 4 rashers of bacon, chopped. Once the bacon has softened, add 2 diced small onions, and sauté the mixture until the onions have almost caramelized. Re-introduce the cabbage to the skillet, mixing in cracked black pepper and salt to taste, and keep the mixture warm.

In a sauté pan, brown two or three bratwurst sausages (casings removed and sausages chopped). Mix in a quarter cup of shredded cheddar cheese (I use bratwurst that already incorporates cheddar; otherwise mix in the quarter cup of cheddar). Let cool.

In a large bowl, mix together a pound of lean ground beef and a pound of ground pork, together with a quarter cup of bread crumbs, and a half cup of heavy cream. Add two-thirds of the warm cabbage mixture and the sausage/cheese mixture. Add more heavy cream if needed. There will be enough of the mixture to fill two loaf pans (which will have been sprayed with cooking spray). Take the remaining one-third cabbage mixture and cover the top of each meatloaf. Let them sit while the oven heats to 350 degrees F. Bake the meatloaf for an hour. The cabbage topping will get crispy. Once done, let the loafs sit for 10 minutes before serving.

The NY Times recipe called for a lingonberry sauce (very Swedish), but alas, lingonberries were nowhere to be had. I opted instead for a rich beef gravy and garlic mashed potatoes. My Kalpudding looked much like this:

Utah

For many western snowbirds, U.S. Interstate 15 is the most direct route south, especially for those heading to Arizona. And I-15 cuts right through Utah (and the state capitol, Salt Lake City) making its way to Nevada and on. But, for those who want to spend some time in Utah, it will be time well spent; and that is the reason for this “blogue” entry.

Beautiful – is it not? The photo is of the Delicate Arch, prominent in Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, (some refer to the park as the “Holey Land”). Moab is about a four hour drive from Salt Lake City.

We arrived in Utah with some trepidation some twenty years ago, and left with much reluctance eight years later. Our reluctance is perhaps easy to understand. There is the beauty of the state, highlighted by a disproportionate number of state and national parks (there are 6 national parks in Utah; more than any other state; and some of which I will come back to); a climate that features lots of sunshine, with mild winters and hot summers; fascinating cultural characteristics; and people who are quick to offer their friendship.

Here are some facts about Utah:

  • More than 60% of Utah’s 3 million plus residents are of the Mormon faith – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church).
    The State of Utah has profound religious underpinnings, having been settled in the late 1840s by Mormon pioneers. The church patriarch was Joseph Smith, but it was Brigham Young who led the Mormons to Utah. Brigham Young established Salt Lake City and its environs, and entrenched the LDS Church in business and in the government of the State.
  • The Great Salt Lake, slightly northwest of the capitol, is four times saltier than the world’s oceans. Were you to completely boil a quart of water from the Lake, a cup of salt would result.
  • Utah residents most often refer to themselves as “Utahns,” not “Utahans” as dictionaries might suggest.
  • After Nevada, Utah is the sunniest state in the U.S., with more than 300 days of sunshine annually.
  • Utah has more plastic surgeons per capita than any other state, and Salt Lake City has more than any other U.S. city. The results were quite visible, according to my sons during their visits.
  • Utah is known as the “Beehive State,” a moniker that is attributed to the early Mormon settlers – productive workers who regarded themselves as the “hives of industry.”
  • Utah has the highest consumption of Jello in the U.S., and as such, Jello is the State’s official snack.
  • Utah has some quirky liquor laws. Alcohol is purchased in State stores, although 3.2% beer is available in supermarkets (except on Sundays). Downing a 6 pack of 3.2 beer might give you a slight buzz. (Thankfully, 3.2 beer may soon disappear). In 1998, upon arriving in Salt City City, I was unable to order an alcoholic beverage without first ordering a meal (if you were a member of a private club, the need to order food was waived). Many of the liquor laws were loosened prior to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games held in Salt Lake City. That being said, I found that Utah bars and restaurants are still home to the world’s smallest martinis – just enough gin to cover an olive. Nothing like these. Two are just right, by the way …

  • The State bird of Utah is the California Gull. In the late spring of 1848 as farmers’ crops were maturing in the Salt Lake Valley, swarms of insects (referred to as “Mormon crickets”), began to devour anything in their paths, only to be thwarted by swarms of gulls. The crops were saved; the gull is revered.

  • Above is the seagull statue in Salt Lake’s Temple Square.
  • Polygamy was banned by the LDS Church in 1890, as a condition for gaining statehood. But it is estimated that 40,000 polygamous marriages remain in the state, mainly among fundamentalists who have broken away from the LDS Church. I can say from personal experience that a visit to a local Costco will prove that polygamy is still quite visible. One guy, seven wives, three carts.
  • In May 2000, the town of Virgin, Utah, passed a law was that required every homeowner to keep and maintain a firearm. Exceptions to this law included, “the mentally ill, convicted felons, conscientious objectors and people who cannot afford to own a gun.”

  • Love this photo. Robert Redford and Paul Newman as the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. Their real names were Harry Longabagh a.k.a. Sundance, and Robert LeRoy Parker as Butch. Harry and Robert headed a gang known as the “Wild Bunch,” specializing in robbing trains and banks. Apparently the pair met their fate in Bolivia, as the movie, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” would suggest. Great movie, and wouldn’t be the same were the title “Robert and Harry.” The movie, of course, spawned the Sundance Movie Festival held each year in Sundance, UT and Park City, UT. Upon reflection, how cool are these guys?
  • In Utah, the town Levan lies pretty much at the centre of the state. “Levan” is “navel” spelled backwards. “Ylleb Nottub” obviously would not work.

But back for a moment or two to visit some of the treasures of Utah:

That is Zion National Park in the foregoing. Spectacular. A short distance from St. George, UT, which in itself is a winter getaway from Salt Lake City. In January, Salt Lake City Utahns take the four hour trip to St. George to enjoy the 60 to 70 degree F weather, as we often did. On one occasion we stayed at the “Seven Wives Inn,” a bed and breakfast across the street from Brigham Young’s winter home.

Brigham Young led a caravan of pioneers west and, upon seeing the Salt Lake Valley, according to legend, proclaimed, “this is the place.” The date was July 24, 1847, and the 24th is a date that is celebrated in Utah each year as “Pioneer Day.” Following the death of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young had taken on the presidency of the LDS Church. Smith had published The book of Mormon in 1830, but was killed in 1844. Young headed the LDS Church until his death in 1877. There is much to the life of Brigham Young worth researching, and I will leave that to your own curiosity. But among other accomplishments, Brigham Young was a husband to 55 women. Which has led me to wonder; were there 54 local guys who went through life wifeless? Were they left wandering aimlessly through the Utah desert in search of marital bliss?

OK. While you ponder that … here is Bryce Canyon National Park. Famous for its formation of “hoodoos.” Also spectacular and just 5 hours from Salt Lake City.

Utah has a National Basketball Association franchise dubbed the Utah Jazz. Jazz itself has no real underpinnings in Utah. The Jazz were relocated from New Orleans (which is all about jazz) in 1979. The Jazz have had some good years, but never good enough to win an NBA championship. But Utah is a basketball crazy state, and the Jazz are sold out – always.

A higher percentage of Utahns are married than any other state in the country; but Utah has a higher divorce rate than average in the country as well. It has the youngest population in the U.S. and the highest birth rate.

Utah has one the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the U.S., and I can tell you from personal (albeit, professional) experience, that Utah had one the highest rates of consumption of anti-depressant drugs (this from data several years back).

Above is the Mormon Tabernacle in Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake. A must see while in Salt Lake City. The Tabernacle is famous for its choir, and for hosting the semi-annual general meetings of the LDS Church.

Below: Canyonlands National Park. A mere four an half hours from Salt Lake City. Close to Moab. The landscape was carved by the flow of Colorado and Green Rivers. Certainly worth getting off I-5 for a few hours.

Famous Utahns

That’s Butch on the left, with Sundance.

Then there are Steve Young, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, who is a great-great-great grandson of Brigham Young; Loretta Young, movie star of the 30’ and 40s and an Oscar winner (and best seen in “The Bishop’s Wife,” with Cary Grant); Billy Casper and Johnny Miller, former professional golfers; Robert Redford (actually born in California, but lists Sundance, UT as his home); Roseanne Barr (enough said); and Donnie and Marie Osmond, toothsome brother and sister act, and still wowing them in Vegas (and enough said).

Pickleball

During a recent July golf get together, three of my university classmates, Winnipeggers all (but now relocated to Lotus Land), suggested I write something about pickleball. And there was the further suggestion from one of the three (he shall go nameless) that I incorporate lots of pictures, with fewer things that have to be read. So here it is … well, maybe not yet, as I must digress.

That is Jimmy Buffett below. Jimmy is famous for his song “Margaritaville” – which he combined with a lot of business savvy that has propelled his net worth into the $600 million ozone level.

Jimmy founded Margaritaville Holdings, which among other things owns restaurants, hotels, and retirement communities. For example, Margaritaville Holdings has partnered with a real estate development company to create Latitude Margaritaville, a retirement community in Daytona Beach, FL., that is proposed to have 6000 homes on completion. Homes range in price from $200,000 to $400,000.

You could pick up this little gem below for just over $300,000. It is the aptly named “Parrot Model,” keeping in mind Jimmy’s fondness for parrots and the Parrotheads who attend his concerts. The house includes 2 beds and 2 baths and 1900 air-conditioned square feet. And with a covered lanai to keep the bugs out.

Then there is the Latitude lifestyle. Here, for example, might be some of your new best friends. The one lady must have just told a “Dad’ joke. “What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot!” Just too funny. And I am 100 percent certain they are socking back margaritas.

OK. It turns out that Jimmy had the temerity to have his Margarita Holdings sponsor the U. S. national pickleball championships to be held this November in Indian Wells, CA. While pickleball is embraced by all ages, it is particularly appealing to an older demographic – those who might want to live in Latitude communities (more are planned), and those who believe that a salt-rimmed, quart-sized glass of margarita is nirvana. From November 2 through 11 the United States Pickleball Association (USPBA) will present the Margaritaville United States National Pickleball Championships at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. (The Garden each March hosts the BNP Paribas Open, which many tennis aficionados consider the 5th Grand Slam tennis event). There will be 49 pickleball courts set up for the November event, which will attract more than 2500 pickleball enthusiasts. The Tennis Garden in the following. The Garden is owned by Larry Ellison. More on Larry later.

This photo was taken at the 2018 Championships, and I am starting to see some of the benefits of pickleball. On the one hand, if you are playing mixed doubles, you may get a really nice hug. And secondly, as a spectator, there are plenty of good seats available.

Pickleball seems to have had its origins in 1965. The story goes this way: After a Saturday game of golf, a U.S. congressman from Washington state, Bill Pritchard, returned home with his playing partner, Bill Bell, to find their families at a loss for something to do. The gentlemen sought out some badminton equipment, but finding none, they used some table tennis paddles and a perforated plastic ball and set up the badminton net at 60 inches; soon lowered to 36 inches. The following weekend, a neighbour, Barney McCallum, joined his two friends to formulate the rules of the game. Two years later, another neighbour created the first permanent pickleball court.

And in 1976 the first pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, WA.
Today, according to the USPBA, which was formed in 1984, there are more than 4,000 pickleball locations in the U.S., along with more than 3 million players. And the game is spreading internationally.

An interesting name, pickleball, and like the racket sport, squash, pickle-ball has nothing to do with food. There are a couple of versions as to the origin of the name, but the one I like is confirmed by Barney McCallum, who recalled that the Prichard’s dog, Pickles, would, during the course of a game, run off with the ball.

One of the young ladies at my gym remarked that she plays pickleball when wintering in Mexico. Because of the noise the game creates the locals refer to pickleball players as “Woodypeckers.” Gotta like that.

Pickleball is an ideal sport for any age, but has caught on with those of us who are considered mature, at least in age. It is affordable; all one needs is a paddle and a supply of balls. That’s maybe a hundred bucks. Running shoes are a good idea. Knee braces might help, but are not mandatory. And there are courts everywhere – many of which are public. I don’t know of any Pickleball Country Clubs.

Of course, in the States, as the game grows, so do the stakes. And now there are professional pickleball players. That’s Kyle Yates below, a pro, and yes, I can do without the fist pump. It’s only pickleball!

We have a pretty active pickleball community here in the Qualicum Beach area. I have to admit to trying my hand at pickleball a couple of years ago. How difficult could it be? I was a decent racquetball, squash and tennis player (in descending order); and pickleball doubles seemed so easy by contrast. But after my playing partner and I were drubbed by a couple of octogenarian ladies, I went back to the golf course. Fewer witnesses.

Pickleball to me is a game for all ages that should be the domain of the ageless. The photo following captures what I mean. This could easily have been taken here in Qualicum. The guy on the right looks like he just climbed off his combine.

I almost forgot about Larry Ellison. Larry bought the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in 2009 for about $100 million. With a stratospheric fortune of some $60 billion, $100 million would seem to him like a rounding error. Larry was born in 1944 and in a rags-to-riches story he went from his birthplace in the Bronx to co-found Oracle, the database management behemoth. That’s Larry below. Seems happy enough …

Basketball

I had just finished watching Game 6 of the NBA finals – the game in Oakland where the Raptors prevailed over the Golden State Warriors, thus winning their first NBA championship – when I decided to dig a little deeper into basketball and came across a 1939 radio interview featuring Dr. James Naismith. Dr. Naismith told the story of a cold winter in 1891 in Springfield, MA where he was teaching at the Springfield YMCA. He was instructed by the head of the physical education department to come up with an indoor game that would distract the badly behaved young men at the “Y.” He placed a “basket” (peach basket) at either end of an indoor court, and play began with a soccer ball. The baskets were placed out of reach (10 feet) and the ball was passed rather than dribbled. There were 9 players on each team. After each “goal,” a jump ball was taken at the middle of the court, making for a low-scoring game. Naismith named the game “basket ball” and came up with 13 rules; such as, “The ball may be batted in any direction with one or both hands, but never with the fist.” (still a rule); and, “No shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping or striking in any way the person of an opponent shall be allowed …” (based on NBA games, this rule is open to interpretation). It is noteworthy that in 2010 Naismith’s rules were sold at auction for $4.3 million to the billionaire David Booth and wife Suzanne, and subsequently given over to Mr. Booth’s alma mater, the University of Kansas where the rules are on display. That’s Mr. Booth below with the “Rules of Basket Ball.”

Had Dr. Naismith not invented basketball, he is still worthy of our attention. James Naismith was born in Almonte, Ontario in 1861. (Yes, a Canadian invented basketball). When he was not yet 10 years of age, his parents died of typhoid fever and he and his siblings went to live with an uncle. An indifferent student, Naismith left high school to do rough work, eventually getting his high school equivalency before entering McGill University in Montreal at the age of 21. While at McGill he played rugby, lacrosse, soccer and gymnastics, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He went on to study theology while teaching physical education at McGill. In 1891, he left Montreal to train as a YMCA Physical Education Director at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, MA (the school later to become Springfield College). He could have stopped there, with his invention of basket ball.

In 1895 he (newly married) moved to Denver, CO to work as a physical education director while pursuing a medical degree at the University of Colorado. Then, in 1898, he was off to the University of Kansas as an associate professor and to create the university’s men’s basketball program. Ironically, through the storied history of the UK basketball Jayhawks, only one coach has had a losing record – Dr. James Naismith.

But that aside, there is more to the Naismith story. The good doctor volunteered as a chaplain for the Kansas Army National Guard and in 1916 was part of a patrol along the border with Mexico, following a raid by Pancho Villa (That border!! What can one do? A wall maybe?). In 1917 he spent time in Paris during the Great War. Dr. Naismith returned to the University of Kansas, where he served as campus physician and director of athletics until the age of 76.

During his interview Dr. Naismith sounded very proud of the fact that basketball made its debut at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. And well he should. Dr. James Naismith passed away in 1939. I am thinking; maybe when I pass I might like to be bronzed. Sit me on a bench at the golf course. Scare the sh*t out of unsuspecting green fee players.

So far has basketball come?

What started with some imagination in humble surroundings has grown into the second most popular sport in the world (after what we know as soccer, and the rest of the world knows as football). Basketball has become the most popular sport in Toronto, with hockey well down the list, as the Leafs are more than 50 years removed from a Stanley Cup, and with no relief in sight.

As much as I have been intrigued by the NBA final, I am more of a fan of NCAA basketball, especially when its “March Madness” rolls around each year. The NBA was relatively slow to include non-white players, with the first African-Americans appearing in 1950. By comparison, integration of major league baseball began in 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers.

In the period leading up to 1947, few African-Americans played basketball at the major college level, with at least one notable exception – Jackie Robinson. Jackie played for UCLA from 1939 to 1941. Besides playing basketball well, he was a champion long jumper (it was called broad jumping when I went to high school – and it was probably wise to change the name), an All-American halfback in football, as well as a baseball shortstop. Here is Jackie as a collegiate basketball star.

And now, almost 70 years after the NBA integrated, African-Americans comprise about three-quarters of the player base.

Watching March Madness this year, and the NBA finals, I am reminded at the level of athleticism that is on display. Players who are equally adept with either hand, whether dribbling, passing or shooting. None more adept than Kawhi Leonard, the Raptor’s leader and the NBA playoffs most valuable player. And now, sadly for Toronto, and all of Canada of that matter, Kawhi has signed a contract with the LA Clippers.

Snakes

That’s River Phoenix as Young Indy in a scene from the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” It was a scene that helped to explain Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes clearly evident in the first Jones’ movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” River, in this photo, was covered in garter snakes – frightening enough, but not life-threatening. In “Raiders,” Harrison Ford as the adult Indy, found himself in a large den of venomous snakes. By the way, for those of you who enjoy doing crossword puzzles, a fear of snakes is known as “ophidiophobia.”

My godmother Doris lived for many years in Inwood, Manitoba, a hamlet about an hour from Winnipeg, the provincial capitol. Doris is no longer with us, but she was special to me, my sister and our parents. When I think of Doris I am reminded of Meryl Streep playing Julia Child and how her voice would rise an octave or two. And it would be difficult for Doris to contain her excitement knowing that the New York Times, on June 16 of this year, had just done a piece on the snakes of Narcisse, Manitoba, just a few minutes from where she had lived. The Times headlined the article, “Tokyo has its cherry blossoms, the Netherlands has its tulip fields, and Paris offers itself. But the Canadian province of Manitoba has a remarkably distinctive springtime attraction too: tens of thousands of amorous snakes writhing around in pits.” In good company obviously, and sounds kind of sexy.

Late May is the mating time for red-sided garter snakes, and Narcisse appears to be the ideal place. The Narcisse snake dens accommodate some 70,000 snakes, and attract several thousand curiosity seekers each year. Among them is a biology professor from Oregon State University, who has come to Narcisse in each of the past 37 years. I’m not sure why one year wouldn’t suffice, but the professor explains that the snakes form a ball, with males surrounding a larger female in order to copulate. Apparently males outnumber females by a hundred to one. Not the kinds of odds I would warm to.

Apart from the 10 days in spring when the snakes are cavorting, there is not a lot going on in Inwood or Narcisse (Narcisse has a gas station and little else). But those ever-enterprising Manitobans – not to be outdone by the French with their Eiffel Tower or the Americans with their Statue of Liberty – have come up with a statue of Sam and Sara to stimulate tourism. As if 70,000 snakes weren’t enough.

And not to forget “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Here is Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones confronting his worst fear. Time to watch the movie again …

 

Cauliflower Soup

I like soup. And I like soup at pretty much any time of year. I don’t have to wait until the fall or winter months. The one thing I like about soup is that it incorporates the veggies I should otherwise be eating. I am not about to munch a carrot or a celery stick, but chopped up and put into a soup … well, they almost become desirable. So here is a great recipe that has as its base cauliflower – quite bland in appearance (possibly the Mike Pence of vegetables) – that turns into super soup.

Start with a head of cauliflower that you have reduced to florets. Toss the florets in a large bowl with a mix of olive oil and cumin (2 tablespoons), crushed black pepper (a tablespoon), and a teaspoon of salt. Place the florets in a sheet pan and roast in a 350 F degree oven for 35 minutes or until the florets show some char. If there is one thing that is as good as a gin martini, it is garlic. There are two ways to deal with garlic in this recipe. It is July here, and friends have provided garlic scapes. These are the stalks that grow out of garlic bulbs.

I chop up the scapes, add oil, and throw them in with the cauliflower while roasting. Alternatively, I take a whole bulb of garlic, cut the top, place in a small ramekin and pour some olive oil over the bulb. Place in the oven with the cauliflower and the end of 35 minutes the cauliflower and the garlic will be nicely done. That’s the hard part.

Once the cauliflower is roasted, place in a slow cooker with two quarts of water and three heaping tablespoons of “Better than Bouillon” veggie bouillon (or chicken bouillon, if you don’t have the veggie version). Put the heat on low, add the garlic (having squeezed all the cloves out of the bulbs; or as the roasted scapes), and add two chopped carrots, a stalk of celery (chopped), a medium onion (chopped), a tablespoon of hot pepper flakes, a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley, a quarter cup of fresh tarragon, a quarter cup of fresh oregano, and lots of crushed pepper. If you don’t have fresh herbs, go for two tablespoons each of the bottled stuff.

When the veggies have all softened, blend the mix with a wand until smooth. Taste and add salt as necessary. Add a cup of cheddar cheese (shredded) and a half cup of asiago (shredded) or fontina (shredded), just to boost the flavour. Get your wand out and blend. Add water or bouillon to get the consistency you want.

D-Day

The young lady in the photo is Sonya D’Artois, who, at the age of 20, parachuted into France, behind enemy lines, just prior to the D-Day invasion.

I began writing this on June 6, 2019; the 75th anniversary of D-Day. I had spent a good portion of the day watching and listening to politicians, and much more importantly, to the veterans who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. And better to focus on the true heroes, rather than politicians who say all the nice things about veterans, and who for the most part, have been at arm’s length or longer from any military service (as in bone spurs, opposition to conscription, etc).

Sonya D’Artois (nee Butt) was born in Kent. England in 1924, and as a child of divorced parents, spent much of her time with her mother in the south of France, able to speak flawless French as a result. At the age of seventeen and a half (the minimum age required) Sonya joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (the WAAF).

In 1943 Sonya was recruited by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and on May 28. 1944, was one of 50 female secret agents parachuted into France, as a courier between resistance groups and as a weapons instructor. At one point she was captured by the Germans, and after four hours was released after checking her papers (although they were false and in the name of Suzanne Bonvie). Further along, working as a courier, she was knocked from her bicycle by Germans soldiers and raped, and yet was able to continue on her mission.

By all accounts, Sonya was fortunate, if that can be said, as of the original 50 female SOE secret agents, only 13 returned to England after the War.

For her service and courage she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Lionel Guy D’Artois (above) was born in 1917 in Richmond, Quebec. In 1939 he dropped his studies at the Université de Montréal to enlist. He too joined the SOE and in April of 1944 parachuted into France to conjoin with the Free French Forces. In recognition of his service, “Guy” was awarded the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Distinguished Service Medal from Britain. I am certain his greatest award was his marriage to Sonya. In late 1944 they settled in Quebec. Guy remained in the military for the next three decades, while the couple raised 6 children. Guy passed on in 1999, while Sonya died in 2014, at the age of 90.

I discovered in my research that Sonya D’Artois and Nancy Wake had forged a relationship that began during the War years and endured until Ms Wake’s death in 2011. You may recall an earlier blog (November 2018) in which I described the heroic exploits of Ms. Wake during World War II.

Whenever I hear comments about the lack of recognition of equality for women, whether in the workplace or in different cultures, it is stories of women like Ms. D’Artois and Ms. Wake that serve as a reminder that women have no equal. And here they are … Sonya on the right.