The French Patient

Do you ever think of the skills you wished had learned, but did not ? Like becoming a ballroom dancer, the equal to Fred Astaire, gliding effortlessly across a public television stage, doing the paso doble, the envy of the untuxedoed crowd.

Or casually taking your place on a piano bench to dazzle an audience with a Mozart concerto, molto allegro, accompanied by a dozen strings (no ukeleles please).

Or lifting your nose slightly skyward, speaking French on a sidewalk cafe in Paris, quietly honking like a goose in heat whose 12 hour Afrin nasal spray had worn off last week.

Never the francophile, I do, however, like the language, the wine, the bread, and a really good hot dog slathered in  frenchs_food_logo.jpgFrench’s mustard.And who can resist those boys on the bicycles, shrink-wrapped like sausages, more colorful than a box of crayolas, pointy helmeted, and perhaps steroid influenced, on a swift traverse of charming countryside in the Tour de France?752px-tourdefrance_2005_07_09.jpg

Frankly, though, I’ve never been comfortable speaking many actual French words, even though I know the meanings through crossword puzzles. Examples:

etui– a sewing case

ennui-boredom

segue– bridge or transition

milieu-surrounding

and the list goes on…raison d’etre, cirque d’soleil, menage a trois, pinot noir, louvre.

Oh sure, there are many french words we may all use daily without hesitation or equivocation, e.g., crochet, physique, quiche, plateau, parfait, boudoir,or in the case of our esteemed editor and his virtual fan club, the entourage.

The point is, I can’t really go into a nice restaurant and order wine by telling the 22 y/o waitperson, Jason or Brianna, yes, we’ll have a bottle of the Pine Not, No Ear with our lasagna. Define embarassment.

So much easier to say, ‘we’ll have a glass of the house wine’, ‘in red please’. Or what do you have in a Murr Low ?

Perhaps in June 2008 we will go to France, visit the Airstream Park featured in the magazine, follow the Tour de France in a rented class C, and maybe even visit with the acclaimed Bruno.

But for now the editor has admonished me because one of my uncomfortable words is not really French at all, but Italian. Oh well, we’ll cross the Golden Gate segue when we come to it.

Foreign Policy Rocks, but Egg Rolls

Often during a domestic travel malaise, your stomach growls and you may find yourself deep in a foreign policy fantasy, i.e., what’s for dinner ?   Far more complex than ordering waffles, whipped cream and maple syrup at the International House of Pancakes, your thoughts turn to chinese.

Shrimp fried rice, not Condoleeza Rice.

The allure of an exquisite egg roll; steaming, slithery glass noodles, freshly chopped cabbage, mushrooms, bamboo, pork, embraced in a golden wrapper…. scorch worthy on the roof of your mouth.

Do you choose your oriental restaurant because of their catchy names ?  Really, some marquees are too generic to generate tastebud eroticism; Panda Express, Great Wall, House of Hunan, China Moon, yada, yada.   Far from the tyranny of MSG and cornstarch, there must be a word in Szechwan that translates to ‘blah’.      200px-fortune_cookie.jpg  +++ One of my favorites was in Tucson, Arizona.   The billboard featured three smiling, squatting, Buddha-like characters named wee, went, and wong.  The Wee Went Wong Chinese Diner.+++ In Los Angeles, a clever, enterprising Jewish fellow named his Chinese restaurant, The Genghis Cohen.  Only in Southern California nearly any combination is possible; where I have yet, however, to discover a vegetarian taxidermist.  +++ If you are ever wind down in Anchorage, Alaska and have a taste for almond chicken and stir fried noodles, pay a visit to The Hard Wok Cafe.+++ In rural New Hampshire, apparently no one within the Loo family managed to enamor any member of the Win family, as they named their place…. The Win, Win, No Loos Cafe.Were I to lose control and open my own oriental eatery, I think I’d name it The Chin Rest. Better that than politically insensitive, The Kitchink Sink.That’s it for now.   Disillusioned, I read recently that the fortune cookie, the symbolic finish line of a delightful oriental dinner, is purely occidental, a creation of Western culture.   An enterprise here in the U.S.A., The Won Ton Company, makes millions of   thought provoking cookies daily, but a billion Chinese have never enjoyed even one.   Mine read, “Every exit is an entrance to a new experience”….Confucius or am I just confused ?Two others of note:      elephant_kissing.jpg  “Don’t kiss an elephant on the lips today”  onion_lily.jpg  “Alas, the onion you are eating is someone else’s water lily”.  

In our next entry, no more wok and roll, we will skewer the French.  

Dress for Distress

Frosting on the flea market dumpster

On a cross country trip, against the westerly teeth of winter on the great plains, Jack wears a new argyle sweater. Like boy scouts, we are prepared to slide off any two lane highway…and you should be also.

Staring through the windshield, that soft edge trapezoid that resembles wide screen HDTV, the majority of billboards on I-70 are advertising casinos and strip clubs and mega-churches. Not for us, as it is a sure bet we won’t remove our sweaters in Sunday School, so we opt for Missouri 36, the high road. Now the outdoor ads are soliciting our interest in the sterile, homogenous housing tracts starting at $ 219,000, or as my daughter described them, the scrubdivisions.

Glamorous names like Hunter’s Run or Prairie Walk at Riverstone threaten credulity. Really now, can you imagine gun-toting, camo-dressed, pheasant bashers trotting around your cul-de-sac ? With flourescent orange Stormy Kromer hunting hats ? Yes, yes, we are in Missouri, where, unlike Tennessee, the trailers have tires and anything is possible.

Traveling east to west, I’ve often wondered where the fulcrum is located that divides our grand country into a teeter-totter, the west coast from the left coast. Perhaps Greensburg, Ks. (pop.1500), until it was destroyed by a tornado in May 2007, eight lives lost and a community leveled. Maybe it is now Hutchinson, Ks., covered in rime (hoarfrost), a result of thick fog and 24F this morning, the landscape is surreal.

For years I observe an early morning tradition: to always notate the first out-of-state license plate I see. This A.M. it was a New Hampshire, Disabled Veteran plate. What are the odds ?