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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Architect’s Alphabet

Guest Blogger Dept.: We welcome Rudyard Kipling to these e-pages with a piece of doggerel inspired by the architectural work of his cousin. The poem was discovered more than a half-century after Kipling’s death ... but let’s let the London Times take up the tale.


Rudyard Kipling
ARCHITECTS HAVE BEEN the butt of ridicule for longer than Prince Charles might think. We print here a hitherto unpublished poem by Rudyard Kipling, for which we are indebted to the anthologist (and education secretary) Kenneth Baker. He discovered it two weeks ago, when, as he recalls, “I was browsing through the Kipling archives in the Strongroom of the University of Sussex library.” The poem was written in the late 1890s in the margin of a notebook belonging to the architect, Sir Herbert Baker. The Ambo in the last line was the nickname of Kipling’s cousin and close friend, Ambrose Pointer, a modest architect who presumably did a poor job for Kipling. We would be delighted to hear from readers who can shed any further light on this matter. The poem is published with thanks to the National Trust and the University of Sussex library. A donation has been made for the Trust’s Wimpole Hall, the house of Kipling's daughter.

– The Sunday Times, 13 November 1988


A was an Architect: B were his Brains,
C was the Chaos he wrought when he used 'em.
D was the dissolute course of his Drains;
F was the End of the people who used 'em.
F were the Fools who allowed him to build
G his Gehennas of brickbats and lime;
H were his Houses, bacteria-filled,
I am the poet who left them in time.
J were his Joists – but they broke with the rats on 'em,
K his Kements (I adhere to this spelling);
L were his Leadings – you couldn’t swing cats on 'em,
M was the mildew that clove to each dwelling.
N was his Notion of saving expense,
O were the Odds it would cost like all Tophet;
P (please insert for the sake of the sense),
Q were his Quantities, P was his Profit.
R were his Roofs which were waterlogged rafts,
S for they Sagged (S is also his Sinks).
T the Tornadoes he told us were draughts,
U were his Usual Unspecified Stinks.
V was the Vengeance I vowed on the head of him,
W for Wrong and Waiting and Waste;
X is King Xerxes (God knows I have need of him!,
Y and a Yataghan wielded with taste)
Z are Zymotic diseases, a host of 'em,
Ambo’s my architect, I have got most of 'em.

– Rudyard Kipling, c. 1897

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sheepish Dining

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: A trip to Washington County’s Dancing Ewe Farm for dinner rewards you with both figurative and literal tastes of Tuscany.


ALTHOUGH THERE’S GREAT APPEAL in the artwork of Florence’s narrow, crowded streets, the true spirit of Tuscany requires a farm. A flock of sheep dotting the hillside helps.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The twisty-road drive into Granville, east of Lake George, not far from the Vermont line, sets the scene for a visit. The farm—purchased 15 years ago by Jody Somers’ family—needs only terra cotta roofing to complete the look of an Italian hillside spread. Sheep dot the fields, grazing slowly; beside the large main barn are smaller buildings for the cheesemaking and an in-progress salumeria.

You’ve probably met Jody and his wife, Luisa, at the farmer’s markets in Troy and Saratoga Springs; they’re also in Rhinebeck and, until recently, Union Square. But they gave up the lucrative Manhattan market to have more time for the at-home events.

“We started doing the dinners last May,” says Luisa, whose lightly accented English reveals her true Tuscan roots. “The idea started when customers asked us what they should do with the ricotta we sold them, because we put it in one-pound baskets.” (It’s a sheep’s-milk ricotta that’s so rich and flavorful that Mario Batali became one of their customers.) “We wrote down recipes for them and put the recipes on our website, but we wanted to show them how versatile ricotta can be.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The State of the Stage Dept.: Shakespeare in the French Quarter? Based on my interview with actor Johnny Lee Davenport and director Tony Simotes, Lenox-based Shakespeare & Co.’s upcoming “Midsummer” ought to work quite well.


“I LIKE THE IDEA of being in a world of magic. In the South, that kind of world is more of a reality,” says Johnny Lee Davenport, and he launches into the opening strain of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’s “I Put a Spell on You.” He’s in his 14th season at Lenox’s Shakespeare & Company, where he’s playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Glendower in Henry IV.

Johnny Lee Davenport
and Tony Simotes
Photo by B. A. Nilsson

He’s a “Midsummer” veteran, but in the weightier role of Oberon. “When Tony suggested I play Bottom, I jumped at the chance.”

That’s Tony Simotes, the company’s artistic director, who is directing this production and has set the piece in New Orleans. “Looking at ‘Midsummer’ again, I wanted to find something new. In this case, it was music.” Simotes has worked with music all his life, as a professional drummer–he played Buddy Rich in a Sinatra mini-series–and in theatrical contexts, and the New Orleans setting invited a musical dimension as well as provided a different context for the show’s magic.

“Shakespeare offers a perfect platform from which to utilize the whole self as an artist, and this cast is a group that sings and plays and dances very well.”

The score is a mix of older tunes with original music by Alex Sovronsky, who is also playing Flute. Sovronsky also is scoring this season’s productions of “Henry IV,” in which he plays Mortimer, and “Shakespeare’s Will.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014


From the Tech Vault Dept.: Back when I covered technology for a number of Ziff-Davis magazines, I also filed a piece or two with the local (Albany-area) press. I attended my first PC Expo in Manhattan in the late 1980s, getting myself in for free by claiming that I was covering the event for the Schenectady Gazette. A decade later, I actually did so, and my report is below. This was the peak time for the show; attendance would dwindle by half within a couple of years, and the show has long since been swept up into a more generalized tech expo.


A KID WOULD SEE THIS as the world’s neatest science fair. But, although kids are discouraged from attending the annual PC Expo, the three days of computer-product hype that took place last week at the Javits Center in Manhattan brought out that kid within all who allowed ourselves to succumb to the magic of flashing lights and flickering TV screens.

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center
This is an annual trade show held to induce volume buyers and trade resellers to pick up this or that line of software and hardware, and the vendors wage a cutthroat battle to grab attention. It’s like a carnival midway as hawkers hector passersby, luring them to booths with promises of contests and prizes.

“Drop your business card in the slot,” says one, “and you’ll be eligible for a vacation giveaway!” They’re serious: with the big bucks being paid for computer systems these days, a vendor whose product becomes a hit stands to make a fortune. And the personal computer, that diminutive wonder IBM introduced eight years ago, has found a place in work – and play – environments of all sizes.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Il Divino

THE RENAISSANCE LUTE is a feather-light instrument, its lack of weight a surprising contrast to its complexity of construction. It sports a bowl-shaped belly that the player embraces as if cradling a child. Its thick neck narrows slightly to a pegboard that angles towards the player. It is an instrument of antiquity, pictured in the paintings of Caravaggio and his contemporaries, and it is from these paintings that our ideas of how to hold and play the lute are drawn.

Nigel North
Most of the strings are doubled, although the top, or highest one, typically sits alone. Thus, while a violin reliably has four strings and a guitar usually has six, the lute is arrayed in courses. As the Renaissance gave way to a more ornate era, the lute grew ambitious and added more, until the Baroque lute in its last hurrah hung enough strings off its lower-notes side to reach fourteen courses, occasionally more. But other instruments grew louder and keyboards soon supplanted what little the lute was left to do.

In the hands of Nigel North, the Renaissance lute speaks with a voice of calm beauty, its sighs and growls at first as charming as a kitten’s. But as a program he presented recently proved, once you enter the world of the lute and its unique music, once you cut yourself loose from the tintinnabulation that now forms the background of our musical lives, you will discover emotional rewards so deep and deeply transcendent that you’ll wonder why it is that music can’t always be so affecting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Music-Lover

Guest Blogger Dept.: H. L. Mencken was an unabashed curmudgeon who laced his rants with wisdom. Although rarely recognized as a writer about music (but see here), he nevertheless had insightful things to say. Remember, I didn’t write this one. (But, pace those jazz-bands, I’ve certainly given it contemplation.)


H. L. Mencken
OF ALL FORMS OF THE UPLIFT, perhaps the most futile is that which addresses itself to educating the proletariat in music. The theory behind it is that a taste for music is an elevating passion, and that if the great masses of the plain people could only be inoculated with it they would cease to herd into the moving-picture parlors, or to listen to demagogues, or to beat their wives and children. The defect in this theory lies in the fact that such a taste, granting it to be elevating – which, pointing to professional musicians, I certainly deny – simply cannot be implanted. Either it is born in a man or it is not born in him. If it is, then he will get gratification for it at whatever cost – he will hear music if Hell freezes over. But if it isn't, then no amount of education will ever change him – he will remain indifferent until the last sad scene on the gallows.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Come Up to My Place

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: Tiny place; big flavors. It’s one of the more hidden gems of the Saratoga dining scene, well worth the effort to snag a table. Here’s my review.


THE SPACE IS LEGENDARILY TINY. Good luck getting in there when track season heats up—but don’t stop trying. It’s worth it. Mio Posto marked its second anniversary in April, in a little space on Saratoga’s Putnam Street that was home to Lanci’s and 8 Tables. Under chef Danny Petrosino’s guidance, it has been reborn as Mio Posto, and his place welcomes you with plain dark tables, restrained decor, a blackboard listing of specials and sense of easygoing charm.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“It’s perfect,” says Petrosino. “You always say, in this business, ‘I wish I had my own little place with half-a-dozen tables where I can do what I want to do.’ This is it.”

Let’s start with an assortment of appetizers, including a chicken liver pâté that tastes sinful, a wild mushroom compote to restore some sense of virtue and an eggplant lasagne that uses the magic of cheese to tie together the crisp layers of vegetable, touched with tomato sauce for a sweet finish.

The eggplant dish ($10) is a regular visitor to the appetizers list, but be warned that the menu changes on an almost-daily basis. “I buy fresh. I don’t have an account with Sysco. I don’t even have a walk-in. I shop every day and change the menu accordingly. I’ve been buying local for over 30 years—long before it was fashionable.”

I visited on a recent weeknight with a food-enthusiast friend named Jim, who too-eagerly supports me in my quest for delicious excess.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Couldn’t Take My Eyes Off It

From the Stage Dept.: Clint Eastwood’s film of “Jersey Boys” is here, and the touring company of the Broadway show returns to Proctors in Schenectady January 13-18, 2015. It’s worth a visit, so here’s a revisit of my review of the show from its last stop here, in 2012. You also can read a behind-the-scenes piece that touring company here.


FRANKIE VALLI’S FOUR SEASONS was one of the few groups that withstood the seismic blast The Beatles wrought upon pop music in 1964. With number-one hits before, during, and after the height of The Beatles’ reign, the Four Seasons demonstrated the staying power of a sound nurtured in a 1950s musical language but with the added signature of Valli’s distinctive voice, especially in falsetto.

Andrus, Weinstock, Kappus and Foytik
If any group deserves the jukebox-musical treatment, this one does. Aside from early brushes with the law (but being a small-time hood in northern New Jersey has achieved reverential status), the group’s biggest problems seem have been staying together and producing hits. The story runs, in four acts, from the very early 1950s, as Tommy DeVito (Colby Foytik) struggles get a singing group together, and peaks in 1967 with Valli’s hit “Can't Take My Eyes Off You,” a moment so built up in the show that the audience was ready to ovate as the song’s opening chords sounded.

Book writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice borrowed the idea of presenting the story through the point of view of each of the Four Seasons members in turn, and even had the balls to align each of those perspectives with a season, beginning with spring.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bread and Purpose

From the Fridge Dept.: I get more writing down in coffeeshops than I do at home, a state of affairs that will prevail until I have to mow lawns and fix windows at those coffeeshops. Here’s my decade-old account of a place in Glens Falls, NY, that I found particularly appealing.

YOU CAN’T HELP WONDERING more than ever what would happen if the socially responsible were placed in charge of the corporate entities. If you’re talking Exxon/Mobil, then it won’t be during my lifetime and probably not during yours, but on a much, much smaller scale we have the example of Rock Hill Bakehouse, which for nearly 20 years has seen Matt Funiciello at its helm – and he’s a fellow with a long family history of social activism.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Which is why Rock Hill is one of the state’s leading buyers of local organic flour – 180,000 pounds of it last year – and the Glens Falls café uses locally produced greens and cheese and more.

The café opened eight years ago, shifting Rock Hill’s foodservice from its Gansevoort bakery, and occupies a pleasant building near Glens Falls’s business center but a short remove from its main street.

Thanks to Funiciello’s book collection, the place looks as much like a library as a coffee house, and you’re welcome to borrow titles. Not surprisingly, it’s a collection with social attitude.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Sorrows of a Summer Guest

Guest Blogger Dept.: Another trip through Stephen Leacock land, this time as the essayist ponders the fate of the reluctant visitor.


LET ME ADMIT, as I start to write, that the whole thing is my own fault. I should never have come. I knew better. I have known better for years. I have known that it is sheer madness to go and pay visits in other people's houses.

Stephen Leacock
Yet in a moment of insanity I have let myself in for it and here I am. There is no hope, no outlet now till the first of September when my visit is to terminate. Either that or death. I do not greatly care which.

I write this, where no human eye can see me, down by the pond—they call it the lake—at the foot of Beverly-Jones’s estate. It is six o’clock in the morning. No one is up. For a brief hour or so there is peace. But presently Miss Larkspur—the jolly English girl who arrived last week—will throw open her casement window and call across the lawn, “Hullo everybody! What a ripping morning!” And young Poppleson will call back in a Swiss yodel from somewhere in the shrubbery, and Beverly-Jones will appear on the piazza with big towels round his neck and shout, “Who’s coming for an early dip?” And so the day’s fun and jollity—heaven help me—will begin again.

Presently they will all come trooping in to breakfast, in coloured blazers and fancy blouses, laughing and grabbing at the food with mimic rudeness and bursts of hilarity. And to think that I might have been breakfasting at my club with the morning paper propped against the coffee-pot, in a silent room in the quiet of the city.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Burning Pleasure

From the Tech Vault Dept.: Nineteen years later, that CD burner not only became standard computer equipment, but also proved unnecessary in netbooks and ultrabooks and tablets, as solid-state media continues to take over. Here, then, is a wistful look back, courtesy my Computer Life column, at the beginnings of home burning. Look at those prices! Photos are by Martin Benjamin, and again I’m the hand model.


THE COMPACT DISC not only quickly deep-sixed the vinyl phonograph record, it also emerged as the favored means of program distribution for software companies. Now, as the technology for home CD recording dips below the $2,000 mark, it's possible to start creating your own discs.

I like mixing music from a variety of CDs into compilation tapes. Unfortunately, because those tapes are analog copies, they’re plagued with hiss and distortion. The solution is to record the music tracks directly to CD. The price of recordable CDs is also dropping: Retail outlets sell 74-minute CD blanks for about $13 each, and I've seen them priced in bulk for less than $7 each.

A more obvious benefit of this technology is that you can store data files on a CD. The Sony Spressa CSP-9205 CD-ROM recorder is capable of multisession writes and reads, so that you don't have to put all your data on it at once. When you’re recording audio, however, it’s a one-shot process. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have the right hardware to support fast data transfers.

First, you need a large hard disk. Although a CD-ROM is capable of storing 650 megabytes worth of data, you only need that much space if you’re planning a really large, all-at-once backup. For recording music, the software that comes with the recorder moves information to the hard disk one track at a time. Typically, for a 6-to 8-minute song, you’ll need 60 to 80 megabytes (about 10 megabytes per minute).

Monday, June 16, 2014

Time Was ...

Epistolary Novelists Dept.: During the time when Salinger’s characters were having crises of faith and Updike’s were pursuing affairs, Jack Finney gave us what either were domestic comedies in a Thurber-esque vein or unsettling shifts of the time-space continuum that would greatly influence Rod Serling as he developed “The Twilight Zone.” The too-neglected Finney found a champion in Jack Seabrook, whose 2006 monograph Stealing Through Time gives a critical overview not only of Finney’s books and stories but also their adaptations to film and TV. I discovered the book only recently, and it’s inspiring me to re-read Finney’s work. And giving me an excuse to share my very brief correspondence with the author.

Jack Finney in 1995
Photo by Ken Miller
My introduction to his work was through his (dare I call it) timeless novel Time and Again in the early months of 1980, ten years after the book’s publication. I was so enthralled with it, and so distressed to see it end (and what an ending!) that I immediately read it again. And then found a copy of Good Neighbor Sam in a used book store, which proved to be completely different and impressively hilarious. I sent a fan letter to Finney through his publisher and got this note back from Finney’s home in Mill Valley, California.
June 26, 1980
Thanks very much for your note, just now received from Doubleday. I’m glad you liked Time and Again s well as you did, and I surely appreciate your telling me. Nice, too, that you liked Good Neighbor Sam, which goes a long way back.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

To Curry Favor, Favor Curry

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: Hudson, NY, has become something of a dining destination over the past few years, which is why I’m only to happy to encourage its visitors to look at the humbler establishments – such as this Indian food truck parked in a Warren Street lot.


I FORGOT TO ASK why there’s a section of chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire, near Taste of India. But it’s just a corner of that fence, affording no protection, so I initially decided it was some kind of art installation. This is downtown Hudson, remember, where such things are likely to erupt.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
But it’s located in a parking lot of food trucks, and the trucks themselves are incongruous elements in a city that’s seen a slew of fine dining establishments open.

Better to say that there has been a rebirth of dining in general there, and food trucks have as much reason to be on the landscape as anything else. Especially when they’re as appealing as Taste of India.

Good, cheap food is part of the appeal. Informality is another, the informality that allows you to dine al fresco at a picnic table amidst the many Hudson dog-walkers passing through with their inquisitive pooches.

The procedure is simple: study the menu, represented below the truck’s ordering order with an array of helpful photos. Place your order. Wait. Presently you’ll be summoned to make your pickup or, more likely, your meal will be delivered.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Showing Patience

From the Vault Dept.: I’m a huge fan of the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. Thus it is I rarely find satisfaction with the productions I see – in fact, I avoid them. But the Glimmerglass Opera’s Patience, staged a decade ago, was unusually satisfying, and my review explains why.

IT’S IRONIC THAT A SPOOF of the aesthetic movement should survive more durably than the movement itself. But Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience is the most topical of their many operas, a fact that has worked against its own longevity.

Patience at Glimmerglass, 2004
Nevertheless, the spectacle of two tortured poets beloved by the village’s “twenty lovesick maidens,” scattering poesy to their adorers remains risible, especially when contrasted with the officers of dragoon guards who used to be the town’s romantic cynosures.

Glimmerglass Opera has a long tradition of G&S productions, which is commendable, but those also can be dangerous waters to navigate. G&S fans tend to be fanatics in the truest sense of the word, prizing particular performances and demanding no less than the same damn thing over and over. To indulge them is dangerous: they encourage the worst excesses of operatic overacting, and there’s nobody in the theatrical pantheon more likely to overact than an opera singer.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Vendor in the Grass

From the Vault Dept.: Today’s Metroland review is about a food truck in nearby Hudson. Operating such a truck closer to home is a costly proposition, with the prime spots ringing Capitol Park in Albany. Here’s my report of the scene over a decade ago, with a nostalgic look at who was working for Metroland back then. You’ll find much the same fare – at higher prices – there today.


WITH FIVE BUCKS IN YOUR POCKET on a fairly nice day, you won’t go hungry in this part of Albany’s downtown. Bordered by State Street and Washington Ave, Capitol Park is what’s beneath the star on the map where Albany is signified. And every workday morning a series of vans pulls up to the curb to unload the day’s victuals, to be peddled from those vans or carts.

A more recent view of the proceedings.Photo by Erin Pihlaja.
Several years ago (eleven, to be exact, but to specify it makes us all seem so ancient) Metroland sent out a research team to comb the comestibles. Back then we even had a band playing in the background. We sampled fare from the Old Daley Inn, the Tabouli Connection (whose attendant lamented all the meat eating going on), Souvlaki, Gyro & More, Michelle’s Fish Fry and others.

Some of those names have changed or are no longer are there, but the profile remains consistent. The most popular item at Jack’s Subs is the $5.50 mixed meat sandwich; adjacent I saw one of several hot dog carts. Manor House pizzeria sells it by the slice, $1.50 for cheese, add a quarter for a topping, get two cheese slices and a soda for $3.50.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Guest Blogger Dept.: We turn again to Harry Graham, whose thoughtful volumes of slim verse proved somewhat scandalous in his oh-so-innocent, fin-de-siècle days!


JOHN, across the broad Atlantic,
Tried to navigate a barque,
But he met an unromantic
And extremely hungry shark.

John (I blame his childhood’s teachers)
Thought to treat this as a lark,
Ignorant of how these creatures
Do delight to bite a barque.

Said “This animal’s a bore!” and,
With a scornful sort of grin,
Handled an adjacent oar and
Chucked it underneath the chin.

At this unexpected juncture
Which he had not reckoned on,
Mr. Shark he made a puncture
In the barque—and then in John.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Computer Training

From the Tech Vault Dept.: If, on a holiday visit, you see my model train set in action, this is why. I believe it was one of the editors at Computer Life who’d heard that you could run such a set with a computer; in any event, I was sent trains and tracks and such. Although I had to send back the computer hardware, the train set remained. The company making the computer gear long since has gone out of business, although there remains a Yahoo Group for its enthusiasts. The photos are by Martin Benjamin. The hand model was me.


MY MENTAL PICTURE of a traditional holiday scene includes a well-ornamented tree, stockings hung with a reasonable amount of care, and a small train set chugging enthusiastically around the living room. I never had an HO set as a kid, but recently made up for that lack by plunging into the world of model railroads. And wouldn't you know it? There's an extra feature that didn’t exist during my childhood: you can run your locomotives through your computer.

Not literally, of course, unless you point the track the wrong way. The computer acts as a throttle for feature-enhanced locos (to use the hobbyist’s jargon), letting you control several of them separately on a given layout. Digital command control (DCC) makes sense: it’s used with for-real trains, so why not with hobbyist models, too? Thanks to standardization implemented by the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA), digital control can be built into locomotives and add-on hardware with reliable compatibility.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Among the Astorbilts

From the Bookshelf Dept.: During one of the too-many years I spent living in Schenectady, I was an across-the-street neighbor of Robbe Pierce Stimson, whose interest in historic houses extended beyond merely living in one. A few years later, when I heard he’d co-authored a book about selected houses of the Vanderbilt era, I wrote this interview piece for the Schenectady Gazette.


“THEY WANTED A COFFEE-TABLE PICTURE BOOK about the Vanderbilt houses. We found we had a lot to say. It’s still a coffee-table book, but it’s already been chosen as a text in some architecture courses.”

"The Breakers," Newport, Rhode Island
Robbe Pierce Stimson sits on the small veranda of his Rexford home, examining a freshly-printed copy of his new book, “The Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age,” the lavishly-illustrated story of a wealthy generation that left its mark on the world with a series of lavish houses that includes Newport’s “The Breakers,” the decaying “Elm Court” in Lenox, Mass., and what’s now the New Jersey campus of Fairleigh-Dickinson University.

When Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1887, he had more money in his estate than the Federal Government had in its reserves. His eldest son, William, inherited that fortune but was more egalitarian about passing it on: it was divided among his four sons and four daughters, each of whom was responsible for building at least one massive mansion.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Follow These Links

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s Metroland features my friendly urging to make your own sausage.


OF ALL THE POPULAR GRILLING FODDER, sausages are the most lively, both in terms of flavor and the fact that they spit at you as they cook. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken—they’ve long since surrendered. Coat them with barbecue sauce or mustard or any other marinade and they still taste like hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken. Sausages can surprise you.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Sausages also can surprise you with an ingredients list that notoriously led 19th-century attorney John Godfrey Saxe to liken them to law insofar as one should witness neither being made. And the fact that the meat becomes unrecognizable offers the sausage maker an easy opportunity to grind just about anything grindable into the mix, but even if your butcher isn’t a latter-day Sweeney Todd, it’s tricky trusting a person who has pig noses to get rid of.

Roll your own. The small investment required will be more than offset by the look on your friends’ faces as they witness the hilariously phallic spectacle of the extruded meat filling the condoms of casing.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Facts are Strife

Memory Lane Dept.: Asked to contribute a short essay about an outdoor adventure for Metroland’s current issue, I was pleased to recall the summer I learned that sex really was as disturbing-looking as I’d feared.


WHEN I WAS AROUND 12, a fellow Boy Scout named Billy enlightened me as to what my parents did several months before I was born, and the fact of my own life, which I’d by then learned to take for granted, couldn’t obscure the horror of the act thus described. Like all boys who wax eloquently about sex, he was a poet, drawing terms from what we understood to be a Forbidden Words list and giving them added color merely by the lively associations he created among them.

He was also, I learned, an avid onanist, a process he limned with similar enthusiasm. In fact, he was going to give it a shot then and there and hoped I’d join in. I fled the tent and spent the next couple of hours brooding in a nearby forest, the carnage of relentless mosquitos a suitable punishment for having allowed myself to be wrenched from my bower of innocence.

Ah, but the fever took hold. I was launched into that period of every young man’s life during which he sports a nonstop erection for six or seven years, an embarrassing appurtenance that no amount of wanking can quell. Which explains why boys back then went through middle school with a hand in one pocket for camouflage.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Confessions of a Humorist

Guest Blogger Dept.: You think it’s fun trying to be funny? O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) nailed it in the essay below.


THERE WAS A PAINLESS STAGE of incubation that lasted twenty-five years, and then it broke out on me, and people said I was It.

O. Henry
But they called it humor instead of measles.

The employees in the store bought a silver inkstand for the senior partner on his fiftieth birthday. We crowded into his private office to present it. I had been selected for spokesman, and I made a little speech that I had been preparing for a week.

It made a hit. It was full of puns and epigrams and funny twists that brought down the house—which was a very solid one in the wholesale hardware line. Old Marlowe himself actually grinned, and the employees took their cue and roared.

My reputation as a humorist dates from half-past nine o'clock on that morning. For weeks afterward my fellow clerks fanned the flame of my self-esteem. One by one they came to me, saying what an awfully clever speech that was, old man, and carefully explained to me the point of each one of my jokes.

Gradually I found that I was expected to keep it up. Others might speak sanely on business matters and the day's topics, but from me something gamesome and airy was required.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Sing for Your Supper

From the Vault Dept.: I used to cover a much broader beat in my reviewing efforts, and for a while I hit all the theatrical performances I could get to in the Albany area. Here’s a vintage review of a show staged at the decades-old Schenectady Light Opera Company.


THERE’S A MIXED BLESSING in the “That’s Entertainment” approach in combining a string of related musical numbers into a standalone show. As demonstrated by the revue “Sing for Your Supper,” this format gives us several helpings of the songs of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, but they come without the careful pacing of the shows for which they were written.

Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
The revue itself must provide an appropriate pace and dramatic structure, and a lot of responsibility is placed upon the performers to keep this nonstop barrage of lyrical brilliance from becoming too numbing or repetitious.

In the Schenectady Light Opera Company’s production, which opened last weekend at the company’s opera house, the cast of eight does a commendable job of selling most of the songs one by one; what’s especially needed is a good yank on the drawstrings to pull the show together into a cohesive whole.

Yesterday’s matinee, the third performance, might have been suffering from the energy slump that tends to hit any show shortly after its opening, so what you’ll see next weekend may well display none of the things that bothered me. Still, there are some points worth examining about this style of show.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Colin Davis: The RCA Legacy

SONY CLASSICAL HAS DONE A MAGNIFICENT JOB at times of repackaging older recordings into performer-specific boxed sets, often with original artwork, sometimes duplicating the original LP programming when the recordings go back that far. A Toscanini box was a misfire, perpetuating an easily corrected engineering mistake, but the Heifetz and Rubinstein and Horowitz boxes issued of late were terrific.

But the new Colin Davis box set is a disappointment. It’s unattractive and its repertory is oddly limited. It’s not even as complete as it claims to be.

Almost all of Davis’s RCA recordings were made between 1988 and 2000, placing them squarely in the CD era. With the increased playing time (and price) of digital discs back then, programming shifted to a more encyclopedic approach, with more emphasis on packing all of a chosen category into the space – thus the many five-CD complete Beethoven symphonies sets.

No Beethoven symphonies here, however; he’s represented by a “Missa Solemnis,” the playing time of which is rounded out by a “Choral Fantasy.” and a very nice “Fidelio,” from 1995, with Deborah Voigt, Ben Heppner, and Thomas Quasthoff – and an extra “Leonore” overture for good measure.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Viva Vietnamese!

From the Fridge Dept.: Yesterday’s post was a very recent review of a year-old Vietnamese restaurant in Albany. But the first incursion into the Capital Region of that cuisine was in 1987, when Truc’s Orient Express opened on Schenectady’s State Street. It didn’t last long. Vietnamese immigrant Binh Duong opened the first Truc’s in Hartford, Connecticut, and soon added units in Springfield and West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as well as branches in Schenectady and Boca Raton. Only the West Stockbridge restaurant endures. Here’s my 27-year-old review of the Schenectady place.


DON'T MAKE THE COMMON MISTAKE of confusing Vietnamese cuisine with Chinese cookery. The two share ingredients, yes, but you'll find more affinity between the techniques of France and Vietnam. Indeed, Vietnamese restaurants are so popular in Paris that they have long outnumbered Chinese establishments.

I can't find a photo of the Schenectady
Truc's, so here's an image of the
still-in-business branch in
West Stockbridge.
“Gourmet Vietnamese Cuisine” came to Schenectady a few months ago when the Truc family opened Orient Express a few doors down from Proctor’s Theatre in the former La Patisserie location, adding to a their successful restaurants in Hartford and West Stockbridge.

Why “Gourmet?” The menu offers a broad selection of the classic dishes from the three culinary regions of the country, but does so at some very fancy prices.

Perhaps this was why the place was nearly empty on a recent Monday evening: it’s not the sort of place frequented by any but the well-heeled, and we who live near downtown do so because well-heeled we’re not.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Pho the Record

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s visit was to Kim’s Vietnamese Restaurant, a welcome addition to the very few places in the Capital Region offering that cuisine.


SOMETIMES I APPROACH A RESTAURANT at which I’ve never dined before with great trepidation. I want the experience to be a good one. I don’t want to waste my money. And because I’m charged with the responsibility of passing along details of my experience to you, I want to have a good story to tell.

Pho-to by B. A. Nilsson
A friend recommended Kim’s Vietnamese Restaurant with the caution that the place didn’t look or feel inviting. At least at first. It’s on Albany’s Madison Avenue, near the corner of Quail Street, in an undistinguished building that previously was home to a political headquarters and a cyber café. My wife and I stopped by last Saturday evening, a peak time for the restaurant business in general—but our dining-room companions were but one other three-top. Had we come at a bad time?

“The kids have left Saint Rose,” our server told us. “We rely on the students for a lot of our business.” That it was the start of a holiday weekend probably also contributed to the neighborhood’s desultory air.