Summer Reads

by anneMoore on July 15, 2019

Happy summer! I’ve been traveling, reading, watching tv, going to movies and plays. Here’s some I’ve enjoyed.

Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan. I’m that reader who always pre-orders McEwan. He provides an interesting read even if I don’t like or don’t believe in a character or situation. (i.e., Atonement, Saturday.) This newly published book may be his most daring. McEwan scrambles time: we’re in a future where one can buy a household robot and a past in which Alan Turing is alive and Margaret Thatcher is in power. It’s an “alternative 1980s London.” There, our main character Charlie, who has a history of poor financial decisions, has just blown the last of his inheritance on Adam, a male robot. Charlie programs him with the help of Miranda, Charlie’s upstairs neighbor and love interest. Where this goes is thoughtful, frightening, hilarious, rich and very, very moving. This was one of those reads I wasn’t sure I liked until I loved. 

Breaking and Entering, by Joy Williams. Published in 1988, this is a read that I often loved; passages broke my heart. Other riffs bored or irritated me. Like life? Here’s the story: Willie and Liberty, a young couple, break into vacation homes in the Florida Keys, stay awhile, move to the next. Liberty keeps rescue dog Clem with her always, and cares for Little Dot and Teddy, two young children ignored or abused by their parents. Children given up or away, or lost, is the sad through line of this book. Williams’ writing is a wonder: the dialogue is crisp, the action is both languid and fraught. 

The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux. When I head to our summer lake house I bring fat books I missed in the past. This is one of those, and oh, how glad I am to have taken a chance on this classic. (It was first published in 1981 and later made into a movie starring Harrison Ford.) Allie Fox is iconclast, inventor, husband, father. Disgusted by wasteful consumerism in the U.S., he moves his family (teenage Charlie, the narrator, and three younger sibilings) to Honduras. Allie is obnoxious, daring, funny, brilliant: often I found myself agreeing with him. When natives and missionaries put their faith in God, Allie says, “Man is God.” In the jungle, Allie builds a home for his family and invents an ice machine for the better good. To see this come undone, and understand the boys’ rebellion, makes for a sad and thrilling read. 

Pretend I’m Dead, by Jen Beagin. This is a book that lives up to its striking cover: blue skies and fluffy clouds, a rubber-gloved hand holding an ashy cigarette. Our weary housecleaner is Mona, a 23 year old college dropout working in Lowell, Massachusetts. There she falls into a charming affair with a 40ish man, Mr. Disgusting, who’s a suicidal drug addict. In his farewell note, he urges Mona to go the desert, start over, take photos, join a healthy cult, get a gura. Mona does all of these things, and in the (very loopy) process, saves herself. 

I also enjoyed Micheal Wolff’s The Seige. I know it’s depressing to read about the Trump presidency but Wollf clarifies recent events and makes me laugh. I loved his Fire and Fury. This is more of the same.

Episodic television is a lot like reading a long book. Lately I’ve devoured the four seasons of Catastrophe and the two seasons of Fleabag. Both shows — funny, foul, moving — left me with “tv grief.” I wanted more.


Travel: A Week in Paris, part 1

by anneMoore on May 15, 2019

Last spring, I was to join my friend JM in Rome. I was unable to go, because my mother died, and I traveled to Scottsdale to be with her during her last hours. Months later I realized I had a voucher from American Airlines, which I need to use or lose. At the same time, parts of my mother’s estate was disbursed: new money! I called my sister Mary Beth and floated the idea of Paris for her 65th birthday: I had the voucher, we had “mom” money. Voila! We were on our way. 

We traveled to Paris May 4 through 11. (The weather was atypically dreadful: cold, wind, rain.)

I’ve been to Paris a dozen times since I was 19. I know the city well and felt confident in my choice of a VRBO apartment in the 6th, on the border of the 5th. (55 Rue St. Andre des Arts.) Its owner, a food journalist, was a pleasure to deal with and met us at the apartment to ensure our understanding of the place. He allowed us early access (9 am) and arranged drivers to and from the airport (E50). 

Location, location, location. Also: quiet (in a noisy neighborhood), chic and cozy furnishings, a stand up shower with great water pressure and hot hot water. We walked everywhere, because “everywhere” is within walking distance. Too, we loved the vibrant neighborhood, a perfect mix of St. Germain de Pres style and Latin Quarter boho-ness.

Just outside our door: Le Colvert for dinner, Chez Le Libinais for takeout falafel and hummus, Cafe Laurent for after-dinner cocktails and jazz. 

Day 1 — Mary Beth’s birthday! Cafe au lait, then on to Musee Rodin. Note to readers: the garden is no longer free after the museum buildings close. It’s E12 to enter. The collection and gardens — the sun was out! — always dazzles me, as it displays his life’s work. Another plus: Cafe Rodin is a perfect lunch spot. (I kept googling “lunch nearby” — ha! Lunch, delicious, was right there.)

On to Musee de L’Orangerie for Monet’s large format water lilies series “Les Nympheas” and the museum’s permanent collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Also a feature show, Franz Marc/August Macke: The Adventure of the Blue Rider, through June 17. This is a small museum that offers a dizzying collection of art. It’s not to to be missed, and never gets old. 

Later, we shared a pleasing birthday dinner at Cafe de l’Homme. Afterwards, the Place du Trocadero offered for an unbroken view of the Eiffel Tower.

To be continued….

Note: I pre-ordered museum passes for both of us, which eliminated waiting — Paris is a popular place and lines are long — and entry fees.

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Recent Reads

by anneMoore on April 3, 2019

If you’re like me and read everything good, then bad, about blood-testing entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes you might think you don’t need to read John Carreyou’s Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start Up. You do. The story is soooo crazy and Carreyou tells it like a thriller. Founded in 2003 after she dropped out of Stanford, Holmes sold her finger-prick blood testing idea — it was never a reality — to investors, Walgreen’s, Safeway grocery stores. She loaded her board with statesmen such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Mattis. By 2014, she was on The Forbes 400 list of America’s richest people with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion: her 50% stake in Theranos was valued by investors at $9 billion. It was all a fraud. Carreyou’s reporting, for The Wall Street Journal, unmasked her.

Speaking of fraud, here’s a link to avoid plagiarism.

My friend Suzanne pressed me to read Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. I’m glad she did. It’s a work whose magnificence sneaks up on you. At first it seems like a well written story about a group of college friends, two of whom —  Bobbi and Frances — perform poetry together. Bobbi and Frances befriend a cool older couple, Melissa and Nick, who may be having marriage troubles. The story seems a bauble until Frances and Nick, a film star, fall into an affair. I know this sounds pedestrian but Rooney’s characters are witty, smart, dimensional. I didn’t see the end coming; it made sense and kind of broke my heart. 

Speaking of cheaters, check out this site.

The Library of America recently issued a collection of two Ann Petry novels, The Street and The Narrows. Do read her if, like me, you haven’t. The Street tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a pretty black woman who takes a small apartment in Harlem, on 116th Street, in the hopes of giving her young son a better life. The super tries to rape her, the madam at the window offers work, a band leader fools Lutie into believing her singing will lift her out of poverty. This is the story of a street and its people. No happy endings here.

I’m a loyal reader. If I loved a book, I’m likely to read the author’s others. (And vice versa: if I hate a book I’m stingy on second chances.) Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls, was a favorite of mine last year. It tells the story of an unhappy wife who falls in love with a sea creature who has escaped from a nearby institute. In Binstead’s Safari the action is (a little) more firmly grounded in reality, but also concerns a miserable marriage and a woman’s journey out of it. Millie follows her sourpuss husband, an academic, to London and then to Africa, where he will study lion myths. Millie blossoms in London, and takes a lover in Africa. Is Millie more than a woman? Is she a lion god? A deliciously smart, funny, tragic read. 

I’m enjoying Benjamin Dreyer’s guide to clarity and style Dreyer’s English and lapping up Eleanor Perényi’s More was Lost, a memoir of her youthful marriage, in 1937, to a Hungarian baron.



Travel: A week in Morocco

by anneMoore on March 7, 2019

I traveled to Morocco mid February. My understanding of the country came from fictions by Paul Bowles, travel articles, the movie Casablanca. A friend pressed in my hands a contemporary tale, The Caliph’s House, a memoir by Tahir Shah (which I loved and recommend). Reading Shah’s story — invisible spirits, outrageous corruption — I thought, “I won’t have to live there, I’ll just be visiting for a week.”

What a week.

We began in Casablanca, a colonial city built by the French in the 1930s. In Shah’s book the port city is mysterious and charming. We didn’t find that: it seemed dirty and crowded. That said, our morning tour of its mosque, among the world’s largest, was a visual and cultural highlight.  

From there, we traveled to Volubilis for a tour of its Roman ruins. Never have I had so much access to such a large swath of antiquity. We walked beside mosaic floors, climbed among pillars and arches. A must for anyone going to Morocco.

On to Fez, where we checked into the Sahrai Hotel, modern hospitality set on a hilltop a ten minute drive from the old city. It was our favorite hotel: chic rooms, a pool and jacuzzi, a hip rooftop bar. 

In Fez I felt the journey really take off. First we visited Dar Batha, a 19th century palace turned museum. Lush gardens, mosaic walkways. From there we entered the El Bail market, which has functioned continuously since 800 AD. We visited weavers, carpet sellers, makers of leather goods. (Note photo of huge vats, where hides are dyed.) Our guide asked us to stick together, follow him closely and not stop — everyone wants to sell you something. He led us to his places where we could calmly buy textiles, carpets, leathers. (Yes, we haggled. It’s necessary and fun.) The next day we toured World Heritage site synagogues, the now public grounds of the Royal Palace and Art D’Agile pottery workshop. 

A scholar joined us at a Dar Anebar private dinner. We peppered her with questions about women and girls in Moroccan society, the importance of family, the Moroccan economy and culture. Fascinating. 

So many things surprised me: that there’s a green landscape of rolling hills and mountains. That they prepare (my least favorite) vegetables — cooked carrots and eggplant —in such a way that I served myself twice. That there is poverty but, seemingly, little homelessness because there is a surplus of substandard housing ( and family is paramount?)

From Fez, we traveled to Meknes for its market and ramparts, then on to Rabat, the nation’s capitol. We stopped for lunch at Villa Mandarine, which is also a small hotel. Its gardens, interiors, food and service would lure me back. In the afternoon we toured the remnants of mosque destroyed in an earthquake, now a city park. We walked the Kasbah of the Udayas, a 12th century walled neighborhood on the Atlantic Ocean’s Barbary Coast. There’s a reason movies are filmed there. 

On to Marrakesh! 

We had a garden lunch at La Paix. Then on to Yves St. Laurent Museum (a must) and its next door attractions, the Jardin Majorelle and its Berber Museum.

We stayed at hotel Le Naoura, which we liked for its close to the markets location and its pool. We can recommend dinner at Al Fassia.

In the morning we toured the 16th century Baddi Palace. Words fail me. Its scale is something I’ve never experienced. Lunch at Riad Lotus Privilege may have been our best meal. In the afternoon we shopped a souk, stopping at Maison du Caftan for clothing and Khalidoun Art for rugs. The next day we toured the Musee de Tapis. Splendid.

A day trip to the Atlas Mountains took us to a Berber tea ceremony and an outdoor lunch at Kasbah Beldi, which is also a resort. That pool…

Morocco dazzled me. By the end I suffered visual overload. It’s that rich. 

Please note: I would not have made this trip on my own. (I may in the future.) I traveled with a group of eight delightful Americans and shared rooms with Georgia Dent, my always up for an adventure sister in law. We had a professional, brainy guide (we adored him), a dedicated driver and his assistant who kept us hydrated and helped with luggage. Most of our (authentic, delicious) meals were pre-arranged. This was an Abercrombie & Kent tour sponsored by the Mattatuck Museum, handled by Largay Travel. One kerfuffle with Air Morocco. Other than that, a seamless trip. 



Happy new year, happy reading

by anneMoore on January 14, 2019

Merman sex? In the hands of Rachel Ingalls, yes yes yes. Mrs. Caliban is her 1983 (newly reissued) short novel about Dorothy, a sad suburban housewife who harbors and falls in love with Larry, a sea creature escaped from a nearby lab. Why so sad? The death of a young son, a miscarriage, an unfaithful husband. Into this world comes messages from the radio: “It’s all right, Dorothy, It’s going to be alright.” And then Larry shows up in her kitchen during a dinner party. From there the tension never lets up: will he be caught? Will Dorothy and her husband reunite? There’s so much to like in this slender read. It’s unforgettable.

Unabated grief and an unlikely love are described in Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend, which won last year’s National Book Award. A writer mourns her friend and mentor, who committed suicide. Wife Three asks her to take his dog. The writer objects: she’s a cat person! The lease for her tiny Manhattan apartment prohibits dogs! She takes the dog — an aging Great Dane named Apollo— and adjusts her life. The landlord moves to evict her, friends stage an intervention, she becomes a magical thinker. Something good is sure to happen, because she loves the dog, because she loved her friend. Within these pages are wise and beautiful passages about writing, the teaching of writing, grief, the love of and for dogs. “Finally he places one of his massive paws, the size of a man’s fist, in the center of my chest and lets it rest there…he must be able to feel my heart.”

Another book set in New York: The Dakota Winters, by Tom Barbash, which I read hungrily. It’s the New York of the early 1980s that I remember, and Barbash nails it. Here’s the story: Anton Winter is back in the city from a Peace Corps tour that nearly killed him. His father, tv talk show host Buddy Winter, is off the air, recovering from a nervous breakdown. Will Anton get his father a new show? Should he get his father a new show? The Winters are a delicious family: mother Emily is campaigning for Ted Kennedy, brother Kip is a teen tennis star. They live in the Dakota apartment building, and yes, John Lennon is part of their world. This is Anton’s story, of a young New Yorker exploring the city — its clubs, restaurants, women — and becoming his own man.

Finally, a book that I thickly dog-eared: John Berger’s And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos. (Thank you, Evan Dent.) Love and absence are among Berger’s themes, which was fitting, as I read this political/personal prose/poem on the plane ride home from Arizona, where I’d been emptying my late mother’s home. “How to measure/a season/against/the calendar of your absence?” Or “Put your garden to my cheek/your five fingered garden/in another city/to my cheek.” Berger writes about art, about nature, about social injustice. He’s a deep dive. Read him.

Happy new year, happy reading. And kudos to this free plagiarism-check site — cuz no one likes a cheater.

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Reading: A Heavy Lift

by anneMoore on October 31, 2018

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. I’m blaming that on Trump (I blame him for everything: locking myself out of my house, walking into a glass door, the mess on my desk). Blame — praise? — goes to another president, Grant, whose 959 page biography by Ron Chernow kept me from reading anything else for three months. When I’d put it down — in any life there’s some dull spots — I felt like I was cheating on Grant. What a man! 

We all think we know a lot about Grant: as a general, he won the Civil War for the north. He served twice as president. He lost all his money to a charlatan. He’s buried beside his adored wife, Julia Dent Grant, at a tomb that overlooks the Hudson River. 

There’s so much more. Grant suffered greatly as a young man after attending West Point and fighting in the Mexican-American war. (He was such an ace horseman that, when needed, he could ride sideways into battle.) His early misfortune came from drinking too much and being swindled. At one point he had so little money he had to choose between food and a night’s sleep. Later, in St. Louis, he sold fire wood door to door. Men who’d served with him during the Mexican War were astonished by his fall. 

From there, we follow him and the country into the Civil War. The man who had failed in every day life dazzled in the military. I’d forgotten so much of the war and its battles that these pages riveted. Too, the reign of Andrew Johnson was a fresh reminder that Trump is not the first despot in this nation. Another appreciation: throughout his military and political career, Grant fought for blacks’ rights. It’s a sadness that his work to ensure voting rights is still under attack. 

Finally, Grant spends his later life in New York City, where he loses a fortune and suffers from throat cancer. I wept reading the pages of his last gruesomely painful days and the throngs of people who stood outside his home to honor him. 

If you’re up for a good long read, I highly recommend. 

When I was “cheating” on Grant (so heavy I couldn’t take it out of the house) I picked up and read others, including:

Michelle McNamara’s I’ll be Gone in the Dark, a masterful telling of the hunt for the Golden State Killer (rape/murder/burglary) who terrorized communities in northern and southern California for more than a decade in the ’70s and ’80s. Yes, this read gave me nighthmares. He raped more than 50 women and murdered at least 13; McNamara brings us into these crimes. Even so, I couldn’t put this book down. (Wait: I did! For Grant.) McNamara’s obsession with the case is the work of an investigative reporter. We are with her as she meets with and works alongside retired detectives who can’t shake the case. McNamara died before she’d finished the manuscript (husband Patton Oswalt, a comedian, hired writers to piece it together) and before the perpetrator — finally! — was arrested, in April of this year. 

The Battle of Lincoln Park by Daniel Kay Hertz is another unsettling read. It’s the story of gentrification in my neighborhood. He begins in the 1940’s with the people who always settle first: artists. From there, white professionals in the ’50s and ’60s transformed Victorian housing stock into single family homes, displacing apartment dwellers. At the same time, areas of the North Side were bulldozed (Clark Street, North Avenue, Larrabee Street, the area that is now Oz Park ) to create middle-class housing and green space. Forced out: black, Puerto Rican, Appalachian whites, independent shop keepers. When I first picked up this book I thought “battle” was hyperbole. Nope: murder, firebombs, death threats. I love the green of Oz Park: at what cost? An important piece of history and an engaging read. 

Finally, and I haven’t read all of it: Florida, by Lauren Groff. I wasn’t a fan of her celebrated novel Fates and Furies — it was overwrought, unbelievable and too long — but I’ve always loved her short stories, which run in the New Yorker. I’m instantly sucked in to her characters’ rich, dramatic, everyday lives. Her storytelling and use of language is fluid, first rate. The stories in Florida are a wonderful collection.

That’s all for now. Happy Halloween!

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Reading in Pythonga

by anneMoore on August 22, 2018

Two weeks in Pythonga’s quiet — and the kitchen’s cooking — left me with ample time to not only read but also read at length, for two and three hours at a time. Such a gift: to inhabit the magnificent cabin Harry built, to stretch out on the chaise Georgia designed and made, to curl up on the oversized chair and its ottoman in the upstairs reading nook. 

Here’s what I read, enjoyed, recommend.

Something Wonderful, by Todd S. Purdum. This is a must-read biography of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, who created the modern musical — among them Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. I’d seen a revival of Carousel when I was in New York earlier this summer, and was so taken by its story, music and staging that I bought the soundtrack and this book during intermission. What a treat to be in the hands of veteran journalist Purdum. He gives us their astonishing work, of course, but also their lives — often deeply troubled — in post-war New York. When people asked what I was reading, I’d say, “Something Wonderful.” 

High Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing, by Ben Austen. Another must read, if you care about Chicago, institutional racism, the future of black America. Austen, also a reporter, focuses on a 70-acre site on Chicago’s North Side, formerly an Italian slum, made over into 23 towers and some townhomes in the 1940s. The idea was a noble experiment: get the working poor out of miserable private housing and into bright, clean, functional public housing. Wisely, Austen tells the story of its demise through the lives of those who lived — and died, violently — there. 

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I always bring a classic with me to Pythonga, since the unbroken time and quiet allows me to get into sometimes challenging texts. Shelley’s use of letters to get into the story is clunky, and her characterization of Victor Frankenstein’s loved ones is lacking: I didn’t know them well enough to care that his monster would kill them. That said, I gobbled this read, and found her man-made monster remarkably current. That he is cast out by all made me think of American black men, who were brought to the U.S. to work as slaves, then discarded and despised. As an English major, I’m not sure how I missed this seminal work.

In the Dark Room, by Susan Faludi. Wowza. In 2004, feminist writer Faludi receives an email from her estranged father, with the subject line: Changes. Her father has become a woman. Will she write his/her life story? She does, and it’s a doozy. As a young Jewish man, Steven Faludi (née Istvan Friedman) survives the Holocaust in Budapest and saves his parents by impersonating a guard sent to take them away. (Thereafter, he shuns them.) Steve is an accomplished filmmaker and photographer and first emigrates to Brazil, then New York, where he becomes a master remaker of photographs. Steve remakes himself over and over: as a Christian, as a repatriated Hungarian, and finally, as Stephanie. Most troubling was his and other transsexuals’ world view on women: weak and helpless.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. The last two days in the life of a dying Mexican-American patriarch. Oh, how I loved this read. Over two days we learn the oversized and messy life of Big Angel, his half-white half-brother Little Angel, the women and children in their midst. Big Angel keeps a running list of life’s pleasures: hot showers, driving, Perla pulling up her stockings, eggs frying in hot lard, tortillas — corn not flour!, Steve McQueen. I wept more than once reading his lists and the story of their immigrant lives. And just when I thought nothing dramatic would happen, a son lost to cross-dressing returns and saves them all. 

And finally, Grant, by Ron Chernow. I’m probably the only reader who was not delighted by Chernow’s bio of Hamilton, which, of course, became Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical. I thought it a slog. Not so Chernow’s telling of U. S. Grant’s life. I’m only 100 or so pages in, but I’m hooked by Grant’s fortitude, folly, love of family and country, disdain for slavery. 


New York City: eating, touring, reading

by anneMoore on June 28, 2018

More travel, this time to New York to enjoy family and friends and to bury my mom in Northern New Jersey, beside my father. I’d been dreading the burial — another round of public grieving — but the day was unexpectedly joyous.

I stayed on in New York to see family and friends, see art, go to a show, walk, eat well.

Of course I read: on planes, on the Path train to Newark, on the subway, late at night in my chic little room within my sister’s glamorous loft. (Thank you, Mary Beth.)

First, books I enjoyed:

You Must Change Your Life, the Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin, by Rachel Corbett 

Two of my favorite artists’ lives in one book? Yes, please. Rodin was studying forms instead of school books from early childhood and never stopped looking, drawing, sculpting, destroying. His motto: toujours travailler. Adopting the same ethos was Rilke, who came to Paris as a young man to write about Rodin, and stayed on to become the sculptor’s secretary and and on and off life long friend. Corbett seamlessly weaves their work, lives, loves into a smart read. 

A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr 

Ah, Aristotle’s unity of time, place, action: that is this slender book, set in summer, in a Yorkshire village, where a psychically wounded World War 1 veteran has arrived to work uncovering a medieval mural within a church (he’s so poor he sleeps in its bell tower). Yup, he’s restored by work, nature, people. It reads like a gentler Hardy, a sharper Trollope. I didn’t want this story to end. 

Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata 

This is another short read, delightfully subversive. Keiko has been working in a convenience store since she was a teenager; she’s an odd duck, but very good at her job. Now in her early 30’s, her family wants her to move forward in life, to find a man to marry, to have children. (If they knew her thoughts on punishing childish behavior, they’d think again.) Enter a ne’er do well employed at, then fired from, the convenience store. His slovenly ways repulse Keiko — the two hate each other — but they end up living together in her apartment. Rumors of Keiko’s relationship with a man delight her family. But this is no love affair; memorably, he sleeps in the bathtub to avoid Keiko. I read a lot of Japanese literature in translation; it’s a hoot to read fiction about conventions up ended. 

The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner 

I don’t even like prison stories and yet this is my new favorite read. Kushner is so steady in her telling of the tragic life of Romy Leslie Hall, California state inmate W314159. It’s never in doubt what she did — clubbed to death her stalker — but we root for her, because she’s smart and spirited and was a loving mother to her young son. She makes a life for herself even with a life sentence. Another memorable character is Gordon Hauser, a Berkely graduate who teaches literature within the prison. This is not a preachy read but one comes away knowing that many women are imprisoned because of abusive men, or the poverty endured once they become mothers. The ending was not unexpected but how it played out broke my heart.

In New York, I enjoyed morning walks to the Christopher Street pier (thank you, Annabella) and also to the High Line. They’re magical any time of day but early is best to beat the heat and crowds.

My sister and I sought out Calatrava’s Oculus, a marvelous structure that looks like a giant bird or the bones of a whale, which holds a train hub in lower Manhattan. Beside it are the 9/11 memorial pools, appropriately dark and solemn, their falling water cooling the air. We wanted to eat French food — Les Halles had closed! its gate a tribute to the late great Anthony Bourdain — so we wandered back to her neighborhood to Le Midi, where we were happy to eat and drink well, at the bar. 

I took myself to Newark, via the Path train (clean, easy) and had a delicious Portuguese lunch in the Ironside neighborhood (thank you, Dave Brooks).

I took a crowd to the SoHo Playhouse for TJ & Dave’s  long-form improv show (wonderful, and completely made up!) We’d dined first at Tamarind,  a high-end Indian restaurant in Tribeca: divine food and service. Another night we saw the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel (1945, but oddly current, especially with black actor/singer Joshua Henry playing Billy Bigelow). What a production!  Dancing, staging, and –indelibly — the opera star Renee Fleming singing You’ll Never Walk Alone, a once-in-a-lifetime event which I’ve likened to seeing Baryshnikov dance, Michael Jordan play basketball, John Malkovich act. Worth braving the 42nd Street crowds, which are as thick as protest marches. We had another good meal at Marseille,  a haven of civility and good French food within that neighborhood.

My last day we went to the Morgan Library to see the Wayne Thiebaud exhibit (so much more than pie paintings!) and the Monsters and Manuscripts show. A beheaded saint continuing his good works? More images of St. George and the Dragon? Yes, yes, yes. Finally, a short L ride to Bushwick to see my son’s photography and Solarium Swim design studio and dinner at Faro,  a Michelin starred spot. Inventive pastas, yes, but so much more, especially excellent service. 

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Books: reading and grieving

by anneMoore on May 14, 2018

We read to learn, we read for pleasure, we read to escape. I found it hard to read anything other than newspapers in the days after my mother’s death. After a week or so, while I was still out in sunny hot Scottsdale, I got back to books. Here’s some I enjoyed: they took me away from my grief for a bit, they made me think. 

My favorite read last year was Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017) so I picked up one of his earlier novels, The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007). Now I’m going to read all his work, because his storytelling is engaging and his topics are universal: his well drawn characters embody the world’s troubles. In Exit West, a young couple’s nightmarish emigration journey is at the same time magical, because each time they leave a place it’s through a door. There’s no magic realism in the earlier work: The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a story of disillusion. Changez is a Princeton graduate snapped up by a New York valuation firm; he’s in love with Erica, a beautiful but troubled girl with a social ease in the city. After 9/11, Changez’s world view shifts; he gives up on the West and returns to his family in Lahore, becoming the book’s title. 

II have a love-hate relationship with novels by Ian McEwan. Loved Nutshell (2016) loved The Children Act (2015) loved Solar (2011). Threw Atonement (2003) across the room: there’s no atoning that act! Didn’t like the excerpt of On Chesil Beach (2008) I read in The New Yorker, found the terror in Saturday (2006) not believable. But McEwan is always worth a try, and often wickedly funny (see: Solar.) I opened up his Enduring Love (1998) — and right away fell for his characters and their plight. Joe Rose, a science journalist, is picnicking with wife Clarissa, a scholar, when a hot air balloon holding a boy comes loose. Men, including Rose, rush to hold down the balloon, but it sails off, with the boy in the basket and one dangling man, who falls to his death. From that incident, Rose becomes linked to Jed Parry, one of the men from the ballon tragedy. Parry declares his love for Rose, he stalks Rose. Parry’s insistent — enduring — love drives Rose and his wife apart, and causes Rose to question his profession, his faith, his sanity. Is Parry real? Imagined? This one is filed in my McEwan “love” stack. 

It was kismet to be reading The New Farm, by Brent Preston while living with my sister for three weeks; she insists on organic only, grass-fed food and drink. That’s Preston’s story: in 2003, he and his wife and two small children chuck city life in Toronto to create a hundred-acre organic farm in Ontario. The book is their journey, and it’s well worth a read. How do you learn to farm? How to sell? How to scale? What works, what fails? How do you make organics affordable to all? Will their marriage survive? This is both an intimate story — one farm, one family — and a global salvo to get chemicals out of our food system. 

For years I’d been following the news about an on online marketplace for illegal anything — drugs, cash, poison, guns, fake passports — and the search for its architect and operator. American Kingpin, by Nick Bolton, is the story of that person and the empire he built: Ross Ulbricht, aka the Dread Pirate Roberts, believed in libertarianism and decided to create a marketplace for the unregulated sale of anything. It grew big, fast —$1.2 billion in sales — which set off a two-year hunt by a variety of federal agents. This is a smart, thrilling, thorough, un-put-downable read. I even gobbled up the endnotes.

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Spring break led us to the American Southwest, where we walked beneath giant palms, savored mid-century architecture, lounged by a pool, hiked the massive rocks of Joshua Tree National Park, and slept in an outdoor bed. Such beauty, natural and man made! Why hadn’t we visited before?

Here’s how the trip came about: our college-age daughter had two weeks off in March and wanted to visit her grandmother (my mom) in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’d spent a few weeks in Scottsdale in January helping my mom after knee surgery; I was happy to return but wanted to tack on an adventure.

We started in Palm Springs, California, where we rented a small home in a close-to-town neighborhood. I love architecture and had always wanted to see Palm Spring’s collection of mid-century homes, commercial buildings, hotels and motels. And art: we spent a morning at the Palm Springs Art Museum, touring its wondrous permanent collection and an Andy Warhol retrospective. My husband and daughter indulged me, but wanted to experience the area’s outdoors.

Can do! We drove to Palm Desert and hopped on the Hike to the Cross trail, an easy three-mile round-trip up to a lit cross. The next day we set off on a six-mile round-trip adventure on the Palm Canyon Trail to Stone Pools (moderately difficult). We never found the stone pools but we were thrilled to walk beneath giant palms, scramble up and down rock walls, and hike to plateaus that provided long, wide views of Mount San Jacinto and the Santa Rosa mountains. We were alone together for hours in this desert landscape, probably because we’d set out early.

From there we set up a base for ourselves in a stylish private lodge  just outside the gates of Joshua Tree National Park. Otherworldly is the only word to describe the rock formations within the park. We hiked there two full days; our favorite was the seven-mile round-trip Willow Hole Trail, which had few people on it and had us walking through stone canyons until we reached a pond and its willows. The park is an understandably popular place 130 miles east of Los Angeles; if you’re like us and want to be alone in nature, choose hikes that are more than one mile.

On to Scottsdale! We drove five hours through the mountains of Southern California, a place for which I have a newfound appreciation after years of thinking the whole place was traffic and smog. In Scottsdale we settled in at my mom’s beautiful home and kept up the hiking, because Scottsdale — known for its resort hotels and golf courses — has the 35,000 acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve, the largest urban landscape in the U.S. There we hiked Tom’s Thumb Trail, a five-mile round-trip, steep but do-able.

With my vibrant 88 year old mom, we enjoyed less taxing pleasures in Scottsdale: a leisurely lunch outdoors, shopping glamorous Kierland Commons, a family meal under the stars. And I, a fish, tucked in a long lap swim at my mom’s club after ten days as a happy goat, my eyes newly opened to our nation’s beauty.

I’m glad we made that trip in March. Unexpectedly, my mom died April 7, following emergency surgery. She died peacefully at home, my sisters and me by her side.