Friday, September 18, 2015

Fish for Friday

Oliver Wolf Sacks (July 9, 1933 – August 30, 2015)
Edited by Morris Dean

[Anonymous selections from recent correspondence]

Filter Fish.” [Oliver Sacks, New Yorker] Excerpt:
Gefilte fish is not an everyday dish; it is to be eaten mainly on the Jewish Sabbath in Orthodox households, when cooking is not allowed. When I was growing up, my mother would take off from her surgical duties early on Friday afternoon and devote her time, before the coming of Shabbat, to preparing gefilte fish and other Sabbath dishes....
    ...As the gefilte fish cooled, a jelly of an extraordinarily delicate sort coalesced, and, as a child, I had a passion for the fish balls and their rich jelly....
    I thought I would never taste anything like my mother’s gefilte fish again, but in my forties I found a housekeeper, Helen Jones, with a veritable genius for cooking. Helen improvised everything, nothing was by the book, and, learning my tastes, she decided to try her hand at gefilte fish....
    ...[H]er powers of improvisation were formidable, and she made magnificent gefilte fish (she called it “filter fish”), which, I had to acknowledge, was as good as my mother’s....
    But now, in what are (barring a miracle) my last weeks of life—so queasy that I am averse to almost every food, with difficulty swallowing anything except liquids or jellylike solids—I have rediscovered the joys of gefilte fish. I cannot eat more than two or three ounces at a time, but an aliquot of gefilte fish every waking hour nourishes me with much needed protein....
    ...Gefilte fish will usher me out of this life, as it ushered me into it, eighty-two years ago.
David Crittenden is a great old friend of mine, a college roommate. And an amazing classical guitarist [1:48]:

A dog posed with a container to assess how dogs
or wolves would respond when given a solvable task
Why Is That Dog Looking at Me?” [James Gorman, NY Times]
Among the deep and intriguing phenomena that attract intense scientific interest are the birth and death of the universe, the intricacies of the human brain and the way dogs look at humans....
    In a much publicized paper in 2003, Adam Miklosi, now director of the Family Dog Project, at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, described work in which dogs and wolves who were raised by humans learned to open a container to get food. Then they were presented with the same container, modified so that it could not be opened. Wolves persisted, trying to solve the unsolvable problem, while dogs looked back at nearby humans.
    At first glance it might seem to a dog lover that the dogs were brilliant, saying, in essence, “Can I get some help here? You closed it; you open it.” But Dr. Miklosi didn’t say that. He concluded that dogs have a genetic predisposition to look at humans, which could have been the basis for the intense but often imperfect communication that dogs and people engage in.
Cacio e pepe is a simple but classic
dish of only three ingredients –
pasta, cheese and pepper
Italian sprezzatura – nonchalance or studied carelessness? “When in Rome,Learn to Cook Italian.” [Taras Grescoe, NY Times] Excerpt:
If you go to Rome to dine, you’re getting only a taste of Italian culture. For a
full immersion, you’ve got to make some pasta and traditional sauces yourself....
    It’s a maddening hallmark of the culture. Italians, who are extraordinarily good at elevating simple tastes and textures into the realm of the extraordinary, will also go to great efforts to make the whole process look effortless. Five hundred years ago, the humanist author Baldassare Castiglione labeled such studied nonchalance “sprezzatura,” from the verb meaning “to undervalue.” “We may call that art true art,” he wrote in “The Book of the Courtier,” “which does not seem to be art.” For a gracious nobleman in Renaissance Urbino, that meant being able to finish dancing the most elaborate saltarello with a double hop and a self-deprecatory shrug.
Abandoned medieval village – Craco, Italy

Empathy and Angst in a German City Transformed by Refugees.” [Katrin Bennhold, NY Times] Excerpt:
ERFURT, Germany — The mood in the school gymnasium was turning. City officials had invited people from the nearby tower blocks, to explain that a group of migrants, mostly Syrians, had been housed in the neighborhood the night before.
    An elderly woman stepped up to the microphone: “Will you be building a mosque next?” she demanded....
    One young man did not even bother asking a question: “This has to stop,” he announced, to a smattering of applause.
    “This” is an unprecedented stream of primarily Muslim migrants into a city that until recently was so white that a black man in the local Green Party was reportedly known as “Erfurt’s African.”
    In this city of 208,000, once home to Martin Luther and sometimes referred to as the Rome of Thuringia for its many churches, pork sausage is a local specialty. The number of Muslims stood around 500 until recently, the mayor estimates. But by Christmas, 4,000 migrants, many from Muslim countries, could settle here.
    “Erfurt is changing,” said the mayor, Andreas Bausewein. A home for migrants is opening next to his house. His youngest daughter now has an Afghan girl in her class. She uses a wheelchair. “Shrapnel,” Mr. Bausewein said.
    Until last weekend, he had told his staff that the migrant crisis was the biggest challenge since reunification. Now he says it is the biggest challenge since World War II....
    To work, there must be beds and showers. Translators and teachers. Social workers and police officers. Homes and classrooms. Jobs and money. And there must be cooperation from average Germans. Many of them have greeted the migrants with generosity, but others remain anxious and have yet to be convinced that the benefits are worth the cost, disruption and, ultimately, reconfiguration of German identity.
    In Erfurt and elsewhere, welcoming the migrants is not just a matter of managing logistics, it is also managing the public mood.
Another side of the refugee crisis. “Third World Invasion: Eyewitness Description, September 5, 2015.” [Kamil Bulonis, a Polish travel blog writer, The New Observer] I‘m not sure about the credibility of this source. I just perused the publisher’s editorial policy, which says that it will no longer be referring to “illegal immigrants,” but to “illegal invaders” and “Third World colonizers.”
    Anyway, here‘s an excerpt:

With all solidarity with people in difficult circumstances I have to say that what I saw arouses horror … This huge mass of people – sorry, that I’ll write this – but these are absolute savages … Vulgar, throwing bottles, shouting loudly “We want to Germany!” – and is Germany a paradise now?
    I saw how they surrounded a car of an elderly Italian woman, pulled her by her hair out of the car and wanted to drive away in the car. They tried to overturn the bus in I travelled myself with a group of others. They were throwing faeces at us, banging on the doors to force the driver to open them, spat at the windscreen … I ask for what purpose? How is this savagery to assimilate in Germany?
    I felt for a moment like in a war … I really feel sorry for these people, but if they reached Poland – I do not think that they would get any understanding from us … We were waiting three hours at the border which ultimately could not cross.
    Our whole group was transported back to Italy in a police-cordon. The bus is damaged, covered with faeces, scratched, with broken windows....
    Among them there were virtually no women, no children – the vast majority were aggressive young men … Just yesterday, while reading about them on all the websites I subconsciously felt compassion, worried about their fate but today after what I saw I am just afraid and yet I am happy that they did not choose our country as their destination. We Poles are simply not ready to accept these people – neither culturally nor financially.
Human fossils, or fish?Homo Naledi, New Species in Human Lineage, Is Found in South African Cave.” [NY Times] Excerpt:
The new hominin species was announced on Thursday by an international team of more than 60 scientists led by Lee R. Berger, an American paleoanthropologist who is a professor of human evolution studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The species name, H. naledi, refers to the cave where the bones lay undisturbed for so long; “naledi” means “star” in the local Sesotho language....
    Two local cavers, Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker, found the narrow entrance to the chamber, measuring no more than seven and a half inches wide. They were skinny enough to squeeze through, and in the light of their headlamps they saw the bones all around them....
    For the two extended investigations of the chamber in 2013 and 2014, Dr. Berger rounded up the international team of scientists and then recruited six excavating scientists through notices on social media. One special requirement: They had to be slender enough to crawl through that crack in the wall. [emphasis ours]
Modern society, technology, and romance. “‘Date-Onomics,’ ‘The Sex Myth’ and ‘Modern Romance’.” [Kristin Dombek, NY Times] Excerpt:
Back when adultery and gay sex were widely criminalized in the United States, when masturbation was thought to make you crazy and fellatio was taboo, the Kinsey Institute famously revealed that Americans were secretly less faithful, more gay, more various in their sexual practices and more perverse than most wanted to think. Sixty years later, many of us have come to regard sex — preferably passionate, hot, transformative sex — as central to our lives. In the time of Tinder, our sexuality feels anything but secret. But romance is still mysterious — what does it feel like for everyone else? — and three new books try to explain modern mating.
    Rachel Hills, an Australian journalist who lives in New York, argues in The Sex Myth[: The Gap Between Our Fantasies and Reality] that there is a new gap between what we believe and what we do: Americans are secretly having less and worse sex than everyone thinks, and feeling bad about it....

    Hills wants to show how deeply our most private anxieties are influenced by cultural forces, but Jon Birger, a business journalist, argues that the pressure to be sexual is less the result of a cultural shift than a matter of statistics. Birger’s Date-Onomics[: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game] wants to do for dating what “Moneyball” did for baseball or “Freakonomics” did for everything else: move beneath appearances to reveal what can be seen only when we crunch the numbers....
    In the best-selling Modern Romance, the comedian Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist, argue that it’s exactly this perspective on dating — as a numbers game — that causes so much trouble. Like Hills and Birger, Ansari and Klinenberg want to help us understand why the search for love can feel so scary today — and they do so with charm and intelligence....
This cartoon [from the September 21 issue of the New Worker] would be my #1 pick in a competition for the best cartoon of social commentary for 2015.

A panel depicting Calhoun was altered
to remove a shackled slave kneeling at his side
Guys, we resided in a college that it looks as though we will soon have to refer to as “the college that used to be known as ‘Calhoun’.” And at some point we might even have to say that it was at “the university that used to be known as ‘Yale’.”
    If we oppose either name change, we are in the awkward position already occupied by Southerners who want to continue flying the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capitol. “Yale Grapples With Ties to Slavery in Debate Over a College’s Name.” [Noah Remnick, NY Times] Excerpt:

NEW HAVEN — When Maya Jenkins was accepted to Yale, her family erupted in joy. Still, her mother confessed a concern: that her daughter might be assigned to Calhoun College, one of the 12 residential colleges at the heart of the university’s undergraduate life. It is named for John C. Calhoun, a Yale valedictorian-turned-politician from South Carolina and one of the 19th century’s foremost white supremacists, who promoted slavery as “a positive good”....
    The debate has gone so far that Dr. [Jonathan] Holloway [the dean of Yale College and the first African-American in that post, earlier served as master of Calhoun] and Dr. [Peter] Salovey [Yale’s president] felt compelled to assert that Yale itself would never shed its name, despite ties between the East Indian slave trade and the university’s namesake, Elihu Yale.
   “History is filled with ugliness, and we can’t absolve ourselves of it by taking down something that offends us,” Dr. Holloway said.

Roberta Vinci's victory was her first
against Serena Williams in five attempts
I just discovered the fine English style of NY Times sports reporter, Christopher Clarey, in his article on Roberta Vinci’s memorable upset of Serena Williams at the New York Open: “Roberta Vinci Ends Serena Williams’s Grand Slam Bid at U.S. Open.”
    For example: “In a news conference long on short answers, Williams rebuffed attempts to plumb the depth of her disappointment.” Great example of style, isn’t it?
    Better yet, I would have titled the story “Veni, vici, vinci.”

Another chance to see the Mets’ 42-year-old Bartolo Colon’s behind-the-back throw-out to first base:

I like the thought of “gathering” people together rather than “dispersing” them. I love that you said “Absolutely” to the lady who gave all the credit to “the Lord.” Who did it hurt? No one, and it made for a very nice moment. There aren't many nice moments in this world sometimes, so we got to grab them when we can. No one can really fix another, but we sure can try to show human kindness and love and respect each other’s thoughts and differences. Humor, as I’ve said before, helps me survive as well.

Limerick of the week:
Maybe he’s not imaginary friend,
following minds’ curves however they bend.
    maybe Jesus spirit’s real,
    substance they can truly feel,
walking along with them the ways they wend.
[Editor's Note: This week’s limerick pertains to the last three Thor’s Day columns, all dealing with “experiencing Jesus.” While I no more “believe in” Jesus – and am no more inclined to enter a church – today than I was a month ago, I am now, as I said in last week’s column, openly acknowledging “a theoretical possibility that it might be so [that Jesus is the Son of God, mankind’s Savior, etc.]...I don’t know,” and announcing that rather than question whether people actually experience Jesus, I will simply take their word for it – and stop imagining that they only imagine experiencing Jesus.
    This development brought with it a sense of my being at peace with people who do believe those things; I no longer feel a need to attack their beliefs, but am more inclined to appreciate that their beliefs are a source of comfort and inspiration to them. So, good on them.

Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean


  1. WHAT a kettle of fish! Filter fish, ​classical guitar, why dogs look at you, Italian cooking, medieval Italian, refugees, fossils, sex, love, romance, nomination for cartoon of the year, Confederate flags at Yale, meanwhile in Australia. ​Veni, vici, vinci. Another look, gathering versus dispersing people, personal experience....

  2. I walked outside with my coffee this morning and the dog sat looking at me. Never moving but following my ever move.

    1. Did you ever figure out what Del (it was Del, right?) was looking for, what she was wanting? Siegfried can usually get us to open the door for him just by going over to it, but if we dawdle getting there, he'll turn his head and look at us. I love it.

  3. Her main concern is that the car will leave without her in it. Or I will go out of the gate without her. When I'm outside it is more along the line; "If I take my eyes off of him I will be left behind."

    1. Makes sense. Dogs are SO ENDEARING, aren't they. And doesn't your heart just go out to dear Del for being so "needy"? Mine does to Siegfried. They want love. Humans want love. Everybody wants love. I'm reaching for the Beatles lyric.
          And I just heard from Liam Johnson that there'll be an "Ask Liam" column soon. Did you share with Del the interview of Liam by his papa (William A. Johnson)? If you did (or do), please let us know any comment (or follow-up question) Del might have communicated to you. Thanks!
          But, come to think of it, I don't think that I shared that interview with Siegfried. What WAS I thinking? (Or NOT thinking.)