My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for December, 2009

Happy Chanukah, Orrin

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/09/2009

Most of my readers will already know that many of our most popular secular Christmas songs were written by Jews. (See the link on my sidebar.)  But this year, the big news is that Senator Mormon Hatch (R-Deseret), as you’ve probably heard ad nauseam by now, has written a Chanukah song, which was recorded in Indiana by a woman of Syrian extraction who doesn’t know how to pronounce the name of the holiday. (You can listen to the performance, if you must, by clicking here.) How ecumenical, eh?

Still, as someone with an ethnically Jewish background, I can tell you: All the songs in the world, even if they’re written by duly elected representatives from heavy-duty goyish states, are not going to make Chanukah into anything but a third-rate Yuletide. The Jews’ seasonal holiday just can’t hold a candle to Christmas.

As far as I know, no one has ever written a song specifically about that fact. Until now.

[A pretentious note on the metrics: Although I have composed a tune for this song, you don’t know what it is. I assure you, however: trying to make the words fit “Frosty the Snowman” or “Adeste Fideles” or even “Yankee Doodle” will not work. So just read the following as if it’s a really bad poem. However, if you’d like to recite the thing with any kind of musicality, you must keep in mind that the lyric is written basically in secundus paeon tetrasyllables: short LONG short short. (All right, I wasn’t aware of that when I wrote it; I looked it up and include the information here to make you think I knew what I was doing.) But to complicate things even further, some lines end in a trimeter with only one short syllable at the end; usually, but not always, the “fourth” short syllable is carried over to begin the next line. The last couplet of each verse,  … ah, screw it. I’m just gonna put all the accented syllables in boldface, OK? If that drives you nuts, just think of what a pain in the ass it was to type. Then ask yourself: Would Orrin Hatch go to this kind of trouble for his readers? I doubt it; he won’t even vote to give them health care, f’Chrissake.]

I love to light the candles on the Chanukah menorah,
And to spin the little dreidl hardly ever is a bore. A
Bit of gelt is always welcome to a kid; it’s just sensational!
“Buy anything you want (athough it should be educational).”
But here’s a question, Mom, for you, since Christmas season’s here:
Will Santa Claus be visiting the Jewish kids this year?

It’s fun to be a Hebrew ‘cause you get a big bar mitzvah,
Even if you scorn religion, can’t see what the devil it’s f’.
But you have to wait till you’re thirteen until you get your kicks,
And that’s very little comfort to a kid like me, who’s six.
So I must admit I’m worried and I ask you, Mommy dear,
“Will Santa Claus be visiting the Jewish kids this year?”

I’m proud that we are Jewish. Please believe me; I’m not fakin’.
I can live without their crosses. I can live without their bacon.
I love Purim with its groggers and delicious hamantashen.
Yom Kippur would be fine, too, if they would let you do some noshin.’
And at Pesach, if you’re smart, you find the matzah and get money
(While the Christian kid at Easter gets a lousy choc’late bunny).
So I’m not condemning Chanukah; I think it’s really great!
But, Mommy, can’t we have a little Christmas till I’m eight?

For when the other kids sing “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,”
Please excuse me if I can’t help wishing I could be as jolly.
I would love to watch for Rudolph; it would thrill my heart to pieces,
Even though I couldn’t care less about that other fellow, Jesus.
So I’m asking you again (please try to hear me loud and clear):
“Will Santa Claus be visiting the Jewish kids this year?

Next, maybe I’ll run for the U.S. Senate.

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Posted in Christmas, Holidays, Music | 4 Comments »

My Stocking Had Better Have a Great Nose

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/08/2009

With Christmas only a few weeks away, I thought I’d better give some of my readers a hint about what to get me. So I’ll just simply say: I’m an oenophile. This confession may look more exotic to you than it really is. An oenophile (pronounced “een-o-file,” although sometimes you’ll hear “ween-o-file” or  “weenie for short) is merely a fancy term for a person who loves wine and considers himself to be something of a connoisseur. A good synonym, if you’d like to avoid Latinisms and/or tripping over your own tongue, is “wine snob.”

It’s tough to be an oenophile in a city where the best selection of bottles comes from a place called “The Liquor Barn.” If that conjures up pictures in your mind of people in overalls shopping for a bubbly pinkish beverage, you’re dead wrong. The Liquor Barn, believe it or not, has a pretty decent stock, although I wish it were called “La Grange du Vin.”

Kentucky’s claim to fame is, of course,  bourbon, not wine. There are a few wines made in Kentucky, but the ones I’ve sampled are pretty much indistinguishable from Kool-Aid – except that Kool-Aid isn’t as sweet. However, judging from La Grange du Vin’s shelves, there are plenty of oenophiles here, some even willing to spend more than four bucks on a bottle.

The news that I’m an oenophile may come as something of a surprise to old friends who remember me from my early –‘70s dandelion cider days, when I would drink anything as long as it as served by someone wearing a ponytail. But after sampling a homemade concoction known in my social circle as “Gino’s tomato brandy,” I decided that my days of indiscriminate beverage consumption were over. The stuff was a cross between fermented ketchup and lighter fluid. You could get a pretty good buzz if you were able to get enough down, but that was impossible to do if you ever wanted to use your stomach again.

It was around that time that I learned how appealing wine can be for a person who likes to read a lot. There’s so much to study before you can actually feel comfortable sitting back, taking a sip of a Grand Cru Chablis, and saying, “Hey, that’s not Coke, is it?” For one thing, you have to learn how to correctly pronounce the offerings on a restaurant wine list. When faced with the words “Chateauneuf de Pape,” for instance, you should not say, “chat enough duh payp.” Instead, you should carefully mouth the words, “Do you have something less expensive.” If you’re willing to be cute, feel free to add, “S’il vous plait.”

Only a true oenophile can stand beside an exquisitely beautiful woman, exclaim “Oh, my goodness, what gorgeous legs!” and be talking about the dribbles from a 2006 Gewurztraminer. Legs, in wine talk, are those little streamlike trickles on the sides of your glass after you swirl the liquid around. If that’s the kind of thing that turns you on in the presence of a sex kitten, you are a weenie.

Another part of the body that oenophiles like to talk about is the “nose.” This is wine-snob lingo for how the beverage smells. At a fancy tasting, you might well hear a connoisseur intone, “Ah, the nose on this Chateau Parvenu is redolent of leather.” Nobody ever says, “This stuff smells like old shoes.”

If you’ve never been to a wine-tasting, you’ve missed one of the universe’s great silly experiences. A wine-tasting is the only place in the world besides a dentist’s office where it isn’t gauche for an adult to expectorate. After taking a mouthful of wine and slurping it around against your teeth and tongue in a long sensual tease, you’re supposed to hawk it out into a spittoon. At the classiest wine-tastings, you might find yourself spewing out liquid that sells for hundreds of dollars a bottle, which, in my book, is nothing to spit at. But if you happen to sneak a swallow, the other attendees will stare at you as if you’re a Martian. Which you’re clearly not, because Martians don’t go for wine; they prefer tomato brandy or bourbon.

It’s easy to get intimidated at a wine-tasting, but I’m here to help you. There are only six steps you need to know before arriving at that glorious moment when you get to eject the very thing that you came to get sloshed on.

First, watch carefully as the cork is removed from the bottle. This is very important, since an unopened bottle will not pour well. When the cork is passed around, you take a slight whiff of it. Remember, though, that no one will find it funny if you shove it into one of your nostrils. Oenophiles have no sense of humor.

Second, read the label carefully. Avoid tasting the wine if you see the word “anchovy” used as a descriptor.

Third, after the wine is poured, swirl it in your glass. This is a difficult process to master, but it’s not considered good form to use your thumb. Try not to spill anything on yourself, but if you do so, don’t even think about wringing your shirt into a glass.

Fourth, examine the wine with your eyes. What color is it? If it’s grey, don’t drink it. Is it clear or cloudy? Or is it already raining? Does it have a luminosity? Does it glow in the dark? Are there little particles floating in it? Are they alphabet noodles?

Fifth, sniff the wine. Get your beak right down there and take a really noisy breath. However, try to keep the tip of your nose dry. What you’re trying to discern is the subtle combination of aromas contained in the sample. You’ll hear your colleagues come up with some howlers, like: peaches, truffles, cigars. Don’t hesitate to shout anything that comes to mind, although it’s probably best to keep it to yourself if the only thing you can think of is Vicks.

Sixth, while nobody’s looking, chug. If someone notices that you have an empty glass, smile and say smugly, “Oh, I’m interested only in the Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the person then replies, “Well, we just tried the Chassagne-Montrachet,” don’t get thrown. Respond, “No, I meant the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the conversation continues with, “Ummm, that was the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet,” shrug and ask, “Are you sure? Don’t you think we’d better try it again?”

Posted in Christmas, Wine | 4 Comments »

The Blues and the Grey

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/03/2009

Once I arrived in Lexington, my wife warned me to expect a lot of grey days during the late fall and winter. She didn’t tell me that before I got here, probably because she was afraid of saying anything that added to the horror of  “Let’s move to Kentucky.”

But she had nothing to fear. Having come directly from Florida, where almost every day is such a bright yellow that you want to go out and kill a canary, I thought: Grey would be nice for a change.

Well, truth to tell, the change is getting tiresome. I don’t miss Florida’s perpetual blowtorch, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the sun once in a while, if only to reconfirm for myself Copernicus’s theory. I don’t know what the weather was like in 16th-century Poland, but if Nicolaus was living in Kentucky today, he’d be postulating that the Earth revolves around clouds. Or maybe, if he were here, he wouldn’t be postulating at all. He’d be too busy thinking about sports and religion.

With the bleakness outside comes a bleakness inside. The climatic conditions in Kentucky may have something to do with the state’s high suicide rate – 13.5 out of every 100,000. (That statistic comes from the American Association of Suicidology, and, yes, it’s a real organization.) Kentucky places 17th in the nation in the number of people per 100K who decide to take their own life. It’s only slightly below Florida, which is 15th. Apparently, the human mind adapts to constant greyness more cheerfully than it does to hellfire, but only by a little bit. [FYI: Alaska is first on the list, but that position may change now that Sarah Palin is no longer governor.]

In case you’re keeping score, New York is 50th, dead last. Out of  every 100,000 New Yorkers, only 6.2 choose to off themselves. That’s a remarkable figure when you consider all the basket cases who live just in Manhattan alone. But if you stop and think about it, it makes sense: Why kill yourself if you can find a decent bagel?

Anyway, with all the greyness outdoors, I decided that I should make an effort to ward off the blues within. So, to cheer myself up, I went back to Joseph Beth Booksellers today. I hadn’t been in the store five minutes when – surprise surprise – an elderly woman actually interrupted my browsing to say, “That’s a good book you got there.”  And, no, I wasn’t looking at the bible. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was in the process of putting the volume back on the bargain table. The title grabbed my attention, but The Historian turned out to be a chunky novel about vampires.  If I want something fat and blood-curdling, I can wait until Karl Rove’s memoir comes out.

Still, I couldn’t bring myself to say to this well-meaning Kentucky woman something that I would have tossed off to any New Yawker: “Thanks for the recommendation, but if you ever find me reading a 650-page book about vampires you should drive a stake through my heart.” Instead, I told a lie about how I didn’t think my wife would enjoy getting a book that thick for Christmas.

“Not much of a reader, huh?” the woman said.

Suddenly, I felt obliged to uphold my ladylove’s honor. “Well, she really only likes long books if they’re classics,” I said. “She has no patience for epic horror stories.”

“Maybe you’d like it,” the woman persisted.

“Well, let me take another look,” I said, and hoisted the book off the table, while she hovered eagerly. There was no way I was gonna buy that thing, but what could I do? I was trapped, like Dracula caught in the sunlight.

“Perhaps I should put this book on my Chanukah list,” I said.

Even though I have no such list – and if you ever see me with one, feel free to drive a dreydl through my heart – that comment seemed to shut her up. I’m guessing that she never met anybody before who could pronounce “Chanukah.” For whatever reason, she watched me for only a few seconds while I nodded my head in feigned appreciation.  Then she disappeared. Out into the greyness, I assume.

In any case, I hope she didn’t fly home to take an overdose of sleeping pills. I would have been happy to regale her with stories about bagels.

Posted in Books & Bookshops, New to Kentucky | 9 Comments »

Do You Want Cream and Chitchat with That?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/01/2009

Slowly, but not so surely, I’m getting acclimated to living in Kentucky.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found my niche yet. By “niche,” I mean hang-out, a place where I can grab a cup of coffee and stumble into an interesting conversation. Unlike in New Yawk – or Florida, for that matter – the Starbuck’s shops here have drive-in windows, so I don’t even have to get out of the car for my caffeine fix. On the downside, the only thing there is to talk about during my coffee run is whether or not I want whipped cream with that.

The local bookshops/coffeebars (or is it “coffeebars/bookshops”) are unsatisfactory as hang-outs. Lexington’s Barnes & Noble, one of the few places in town that’s actually an inconvenient distance away from my house,  may be the worst stocked store in the entire nationwide chain. The last time I was there, my discount coupon burning a hole in my pocket, four different books that I wanted were not available at that particular location. Of course, since I was not looking for Christian Fiction, Graphic Novels/Manga, or the biography of a famous horse, I probably didn’t stand a chance. Anyone acquainted with me knows how excruciatingly painful I find it to walk out of a bookstore empty-handed, particularly when I have an opportunity to save 40% off the purchase price of any hardcover. But empty-handed I was, although I think I fled the premises in time to prevent myself from becoming empty-headed.  Lexington’s B&N is not a bookish place; it’s a big box for semi-literates to shop in.

The other big Lexington book store is Joseph Beth, one of five in a regional chain. Its variety of merchandise is somewhat better than the Barnes & Noble’s, although you still can’t find every single Dickens novel or Shakespeare play amid the candy, totes, and sweatshirts. There is a very good selection of magazines, and a generous sampling of current books that are not best-sellers, but the politics section leans heavily to the right. Oh, well … it is in Kentucky, and the book-sellers do have to make a living. There are always plenty of people browsing, but the place is unusually quiet, at least to my Manhattan-trained ears. I’ve been there about a dozen times and have yet to hear any arguments about whether or not a particular author is any good. Perhaps Kentucky’s literati are more polite than the ones I’m used to back in New Yawk, but I haven’t been able to butt into a single juicy disagreement. And no one has snuck up behind me to look over my shoulder while I thumb through a volume on one of the sale tables. Back home, someone would surely say, “Don’t buy that. It sucks.” (Kentuckians, it seems, are too genteel to offer unsolicited literary advice.) However, there are seats scattered throughout the premises, and a terrific “bistro” that serves food good enough to make it a destination even for someone who would rather watch TV than read. But because it’s really rather restaurant-ish, with individual tables and booths that have plenty of space between them, there’s nothing on the menu for the chat-hungry.

Most of the people I’ve met casually in luncheonettes and delis are sports fanatics, folks who actually think it matters whether or not the local college team wins. The Lexington Herald-Leader, our alleged newspaper, often has a sports story above the fold. This makes perfect sense, because nobody here seems to care passionately about anything else. Except their religion. Everywhere I turn, I see a church. Forget going anywhere on a Sunday morning; the traffic is ridiculous. If I were a believer, the first thing I’d pray for would be a better city infrastructure. I’d also want more people who ask themselves, “How would Jesus drive?”

For the time being, I’ll have to keep hunting for that loud diner – the kind you can still find on many New Yawk street corners – where coffee comes in a cup that has pictures of Grecian urns and the words “We are happy to serve you;” and where you can easily join the discussion at the table behind you just by turning around and making a sarcastic comment.

Posted in Books & Bookshops, Food and Drink, New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ... | 4 Comments »