Monday, May 27, 2013


I recently read Garment of Shadows, by Laurie R. King, one of her popular Mary Russell series. Much of the action takes place in Fez, Morocco, during the early 1920s. I realized that I knew little about that area--particularly that for some years there was an independent Rif republic (1920-1926) in what was previously the Spanish-controlled Northern part of Morocco. (Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco, and the rest of southern Morocco, were then under French control.) A search engine brought me up to speed. Then Barbara & I viewed a short TV travel feature about Istanbul, and I remarked that there was no fez to be seen. "What's a fez?", she asked. "A hat with a tassel" was my reply. "What's a tassel?", she responded. That was easier to visualize than explain. Again, a search engine showed some excellent colored pictures of the colorful hats. I had wondered what was the difference between a fez and a tarboosh, and learned that the latter was the Ottoman Turkish name for a fez. I also learned that the name arose because Andalusian Arabs had developed them in Fez.. This was when a brilliant Arab civilization had been developed in al-Andalus, in what is now south-eastern Spain, which lasted until the Reconquest finally triumphed in 1492, with the fall of Granada. (I first learned of Reconquista as a street name in Buenos Aires, when I visited there in 1951. Only later did I realize what had been reconquered!). I had seen plenty of fezes at Port Said, when my parents took me on a Mediterranean cruise in the early thirties.For many years, I owned a fez, probably given to me on that cruise When I visited Alexandria in 1945, a fez was a rarity. Originally a symbol of modernity, the fez was banned in Turkey in 1925 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as being too oriental in a modern secular state.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Plan B

I can do no better than to quote part of an article from The Week of May 17, 2013. "'Does anyone like the idea of a 15 year old rushing off to the drug store to buy Plan B after a wild night with her boyfriend?' asked Michelle Cottle. Obviously not. But her access to emergency contraception is still far better than her winding up 'in the stirrups in an abortion clinic several weeks later'." There will always be other situations, such as the aftermath of a rape, when Plan B will be important. However, in very many instances, the need for it will arise when a young person has sex for the first time. This will often be a young woman of 15 or 16. I believe it is important that she be able to obtain Plan B without delay or the involvement of a parent or other person.

Monday, May 13, 2013


We recently enjoyed the visit of a Norwegian second cousin of Barbara and the former's father. I noticed that they always closed the lid of the toilet bowl after flushing. We don't normally bother to do that We usually didn't even flush after "Number One" during the extreme water shortage a few years ago, but we did close the lid, postponing the flush. During that time, I coined the little rhyme "Yellow is mellow, but Brown goes down". My memory is that many toilets in such places as rest stops and State Parks dispense entirely with lids. That makes good sense to me. Many jars that find their way to our dining room table have lids, and more than once Barbara has put the lid on top without screwing it down. Until I caught onto this, I would sometimes lift the jar by the lid, messing up the table when the contents fell out. I'm careful these days either to leave the lid on one side, or to close it tightly. We support MECA (the Middle East Children's Alliance) by buying excellent (but expensive) olive oil from Palestine. It arrives in Berkeley in bulk, and is bottled here by volunteers. I haven't yet spilled any, but the tiny metal cap can only be screwed in place with half a turn. I have thought of making a donation to enable the bottle lids to be more practical, but so far I have preferred to be very careful with the lid used in this good cause.

Monday, May 6, 2013


I woke up at cockcrow on a recent morning, and now I need to settle down with a strong cocktail to write this, after a fierce game of shuttlecock, and the elimination of an intrusive cockroach from the cockpit of my car. "Rooster" is a term invented in the USA by some cockamamie spinsters, because "cock", besides being the traditional word for a male bird, such as a woodcock or a cockatoo, is also a slang term for a penis. (This is not a cock-and-bull story.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


I can only think of one person with this word as a first name: that is the comedian Zero Mostel, whom you may remember from his show Fiddler on the Roof. When I am saying a number aloud, such as when I am giving my phone number to someone, I prefer to say "zero" than "o". Admittedly, the letter "o" and the zero are sometimes hard to distinguish from each other. Sometimes the distinction is made clear by using an oval shape for zero, and a perfectly round shape for the letter "o". Also, a diagonal line often appears in the number zero. Most people say "o" when they are speaking about a number. I try not to do this, but I do understand that often it is simpler to avoid the word zero in such numbers as our area code (510), calling it "five ten". Poor neglected zero! For the rest of my life, I plan to say your name at every opportunity.


Sorry for the delay in updates. Here are two for this week and last. ___________________________________________________________________________ The first salads that I recall from the days when I was growing up in the UK, were main course cold meals, usually consisting of lettuce, tomato, and "salad cream" (a poor relation of mayonnaise) with cold meat such as chicken, tongue, or ham. I long ago realized that cafes offered salad as a first course, to be eaten while the main course was being prepared to order. These side salads always included some tomato and lettuce (usually of the rather boring iceberg variety). When salad is served in France, it is usually a separate course that follows the main dish. Barbara and I like this custom, especially because I deplore helping myself to salad to put on a warm and possibly greasy plate. This causes some confusion to visitors who tend to want to add the salad to the cooked vegetables on their plates. We are very fortunate these days in being able to make a salad with lettuce or arugula grown in our Berkeley backyard. Our salads usually include some celery, bell peppers, cucumber, radish, green onions, and avocado. We serve this with the best croutons we have come across (Semifreddi's) and feta cheese. I find these salads so delicious that I will often skip cookie, cake, or ice cream to follow.