Thursday, January 28, 2010

If You Really Want to Hear About It….

….J. D. Salinger is dead, and that makes me a little bit sad. I know he was about a million years old, and a difficult man, but I’m still sad. The Catcher in the Rye is one of my favorite books of all time. It was the first novel that made me see that literature could speak to me on a level other than pure entertainment.

Before discovering Salinger, I’d always liked reading stories, but I don’t think I understood until then that a book could be expected to have something to say about the human condition. The realization that I, as a girl growing up in small-town New Hampshire, might be thinking some of the same thoughts as a boy wandering the streets of McCarthy-era New York City, was mind-blowing.

If that seems like a banal thing to cause a mental meltdown, please note that I was only about 11 or 12 at the time. I also ask you to remember what it’s like to be that age—just old enough to start to suspect that people are not always as they seem, but young enough to believe that you might be the only person who has figured this out. Think how much you might have appreciated having a streetwise older brother figure to assure you that you’re not imagining it; that people really can be phony sometimes.

I’ve re-read The Catcher in the Rye several times over the years, and I take a little something different from it every time—which is not surprising considering that I was Holden’s little sister’s age the first time I read the book, and now I’m old enough to be his mother. At the age of 12, I thought Holden was a very cool, wordly guy. Later, I realized that he’s kind of a brat. Eventually, I began to understand that he’s very troubled, and maybe even a little insane.

The thing I keep coming back to every time, no matter how I’m currently feeling about the protagonist, is gratitude to Salinger for having been the one to show me how literature is supposed to work. I’m also grateful to him for having created the remarkable character of Holden Caulfield. Though Holden, like Salinger himself, was not always completely likable, he is memorable.

The news that the author of The Catcher in the Rye has died makes me sad because in a way J. D. Salinger’s death is also Holden Caulfield’s death. Though no one really expected a sequel after all these years, now all hope of ever seeing Holden again is completely extinguished. It’s always sad to lose someone who was important to you when you were young, even if they were troubled, and even if your feelings about them have changed over time.

Rest in peace, you goddam madman genius.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Girl Can (Day) Dream

Here’s something kind of fun: Frommer’s is having a contest designed to solicit travel photos to be used on the cover of their guides. So I spent much more of the afternoon than I should have going through vacation shots. That was a nice way to procrastinate!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Everyone Loves the Sound of a Plane in the Distance

I’m a little over the rain. I know we need it, but after what seems like weeks of gray skies, I’m ready for the precipitation to fall somewhere else, like maybe right into the Hetch Hetchy Resevoir. I think it’s more important that the rain fall somewhere useful, rather than on my already sodden lawn, which is starting to look like a music festival just happened there.

Still, there is one silver lining, so to speak, to all these clouds: When the weather is bad here, airplanes fly very low over our house. I secretly love this. Today was one of those special days when the weather was bad enough that planes used the foul-weather flight path, but good enough that the clouds didn’t hide my view of the aircraft. It was ideal plane-spotting weather. Most of the airplanes I saw today were little 737s, but I caught a glimpse of a few bigger ones, which I imagined to be international flights headed to SFO.

That’s a large part of what I like about these massive pieces of machinery roaring over my neighborhood. I like to speculate about where each plane has come from, where it’s going, and who is on it. Is it someone’s first time on a plane? Is anyone on board going to start a new life when they get where they’re going? Who’s on a dream vacation, and who’s coming home after way too long? Why am I standing in a muddy yard when I could be on that plane, having some kind of adventure myself?

It occurs to me that the whine of jet engines a few thousand feet up is like the train whistle of the 21st century. It’s a harder noise to write a blues song about, but on a moody day, airplanes in the rain inspire some of the same lonesome longing you get from a freight train in the distance.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Whole Day….

…And two bombs in one week? That’s unthinkable, but it actually happened to Tsutomu Yamaguchi. In August of 1945, Mr. Yamaguchi was in Hiroshima for what I think can safely be described as the worst business trip ever. On the day he was supposed to leave Hiroshima, Little Boy exploded over the city. Mr. Yamaguchi made it home a few days later, but unfortunately, home was Nagasaki, and he got there just in time for the second bomb. He survived both blasts and lived on to a ripe old age, although when he did die—just recently—it was of a cancer that may well have been linked to the blasts.

Interestingly, Mr. Yamaguchi is officially recognized by the Japanese government as the only double-bomb survivor, although there are known to have been others. Now that he is gone, I don’t know if another nijyuu hibakusha will take on the mantle of iconic survivor. Surely no one will allow these events to be forgotten in any case. Rest in peace, Yamaguchi-San.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chocolate, a Love Story

This morning Pipi mentioned that she had received an e-mail from her boyfriend, and I wasn’t a bit worried. I knew exactly what she meant: She’d gotten a marketing message from Max Brenner. Yes, we love the wholly fictitious Max Brenner so much we want to marry him, and if imaginary marriage is ever legalized here, we just might.

In the meantime, we have our love, and this amazing book, to keep us warm. Chocolate A Love Story is one of the most sensuous cookbooks ever written. Perhaps you never realized how fine the line between the cookbook and bodice-ripper genres is. I know I hadn’t until I skimmed the table of contents and saw recipes like “Kinky Pavlova” and “Love and Hate Doughnuts.” This book is like a soap opera, a cookbook, and a love note all rolled up into one. It’s that good, people. Check it out!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mo’ Brenner

The year has started with fabulous news on the chocolate front: Max Brenner will double the number of its U.S. locations in 2010.

Currently there are two American Maxes, one in New York, and one in Philadelphia. I just don’t get to either of these cities very often, so I was very happy to recently learn that by the end of the year there will be a Max Brenner in Boston, a city I like a lot; and Las Vegas, a place I can take or leave but which is just a quick non-stop flight from here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We’re Back

I hadn’t intended for my Christmas break to be this long, but a little vacation felt good. I hope everyone had a good holiday, and that the new year has been good to you so far.