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Thursday, December 31, 2020


A doctor comforts a covid patient. Yes, it was that kind of a year

New York Times
“Year in Review 2020” paints a stark picture of a nation ripped apart by disease and ignorance. Click here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020


Michael Strahan played 15 years in the NFL, two Super Bowls earning one championship. Pictured after his final pro game, a 17-14 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. 

Inc. Magazine
just published an excellent feature article on retired Super Bowl champion, dad of four and media entrepreneur Michael Strahan. It’s a terrific story (even for non-sports types) to help all of us be inspired to forge headlong into the new year. It is written by freelance writer Chris Nashawaty and available on Inc.’s website. 

 Click here.  

Strahan brood, left to right, Mike, Jr., Tanita, Isabella and Sophia on vacation with dad. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020


A Mesopotamian bas relief showing the agricultural importance of the rivers. The first written evidence of using plants for their medicinal benefits dates back to 3000 BC and the ancient Sumerians (lands between Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now modern Iraq).


GUEST BLOG / By Aimee Farrell, T-Magazine, New York Times--For these uncertain times, a step-by-step guide to growing brew-friendly plants at home, and using them to make infusions that soothe and restore. The tea garden — a typically modest plot dedicated to the growing of herbs and flowers for steeping — has its roots in ancient herbalist traditions and helped lay the foundation for modern botany. 

According to “The Gardener’s Companion to Medicinal Plants,” a 2016 guide to home remedies, the study of herbal medicine can be traced back 5,000 years, to the Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia, who listed the names of hundreds of plants — including fennel, mint, thyme, sage, myrtle and marjoram — on clay tablets that were later rediscovered in what is now Iraq. 

 Modern scholars believe that the Sumerians used what they grew in medicinal preparations such as tea infusions that were intended to treat ailments from toothache to inflammation. And in England, says Timothy d’Offay, a tea importer and the founder of Postcard Teas in London, tea gardens have their origins in the work of 17th-century apothecaries such as Nicholas Culpeper, a botanist and physician whose encyclopedia of herbs, “The English Physician,” has remained in print since it was first published in 1653. 

“The apothecaries’ focus was on the use of herbs in healing,” explains d’Offay. “It was really the beginnings of modern medicine. We often think that drinking anything without caffeine is innocuous, but herbal tea has power.” 

CLICK HERE for the rest of this article. 

Monday, December 28, 2020


Vanity Fair & The Hive National Correspondent Emily Jane Fox

When a national magazine like Vanity Fair runs a headline the likes have not been seen on polite newsstands across the planet it begs the question: who wrote the article? Was it a gin swilling beat reporter worthy of a few noir movies based on his or her life? Or, a sweet faced blonde writer turned journalistic Attila the Hen? 

For an answer bet on the hen, whose words are sharper than carbon steel.

“Hand them a S—T pie so gross they will choke on it’: Michael Cohen predicts Trump’s post-presidency legal drama.” 

That’s the screaming headline in the current issue of Vanity Fair written by Ms. Emily Jane Fox, who cemented her place on national media radar after Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was arrested early in Donald Trump’s shit show Presidency.  

Since then she’s become a one-woman Cohen article industry for the Conde Nast magazine empire and a force to be reckoned within the top echelons of political punditry in America. She’s a sought after Pulitzer Prize to be machine coming at a time when magazine journalism needs more Emily Jane’s. 

Nobody is keeping up with the DC grit like Emily Jane, especially when writing about Michael Cohen. Can’t wait for the next article in the meantime here’s a subheadline for the ages: The president’s former fixer knows his legal playbook—“I fucking wrote it”—and has some advice for the various parties pursuing cases against Trump, some of which rely on Cohen as a witness. 

As found on the Internet on December 21, 2020 CLICK HERE for her latest Hive article.

Emily Jane Fox Bio on Wikipedia: Emily Jane Fox is an American reporter for Vanity Fair online magazine The Hive and author of the 2018 book Born Trump: Inside America's First Family. Fox graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. In the summer before her senior year she worked as an intern at the White House. She then studied at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Fox began her journalism career as a business reporter for CNN. She left to work for Vanity Fair's The Hive. 

At 31, married, she is also a contributor for NBC News and MSNBC. In 2015, she started covering Ivanka Trump for The Hive during the presidential campaign. In November 2016, Fox, after an agent contacted her, began writing a behind-the-scenes book about President Donald Trump's three marriages and his relationship with his five children, as well as his son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner. For more than a year, she followed the Trump adult children and interviewed more than 150 people. Her book, Born Trump: Inside America's First Family, was released by HarperCollins Publishers in June 2018. 

Born Trump made The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list at number 8 in July 2018. In 2013, while reporting for CNN Money, Fox received the Martha Coman Award for Best New Journalist from the Newswomen's Club of New York. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020



Four national articles on the renewed interest in jigsaw puzzles, plus a quality tip and two services that will help you make your own puzzle are found below:

1. Puzzles in the Pandemic. Click here.  

2. Eschew the naysayer. Gene Weingarten sorts socks in a Laundromat or how one low reporter finds time to slam jig saw puzzles just to be self-amusing. Click here.   

“Monday at the Met” is a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle made by the New York Puzzle Co. This witty puzzle inspired by a magazine cover has some of the most iconic subjects step off the canvas and onto the urban landscape, conversing and observing with their famous friends. New Yorker Cover by Artist Edward Sorel, originally published on May 21st, 2001. Linen Style Finish to reduce glare. Made in USA. 

3. Puzzle swaps, puzzle types and popular brands.  

4. The Eureka Moment or why we like jigsaw puzzles.  

5. Custom Puzzles. Click here.  

6. Buy better made puzzles. Once you do a few puzzles you should be able to discern the quality of the puzzle. For the best puzzles (loose fitting is bad) choose puzzles made in the USA or Europe. Read carefully a USA puzzlemaker who uses a low bid printer in China, for example, isn’t a puzzle that will make you happy. Puzzle shown here is made by EuroGraphics and made in the USA. Best puzzles subjectwise are found in museum shops, better bookstores and not mass merchandisers. The Gustav Klimpt puzzle (pictured above) made from an image of his painting “The Kiss” was purchased at the Palm Springs Museum gift shop.  Also available online at the Strand Magazine gift store.  Click here.

7. Yes, those kind of jigsaw puzzles are available, too. Click here. 

Saturday, December 26, 2020


HIGH END. Founded in 2016, China’s Greybox Coffee has 23 stores in Chinese cities. Unlike other small specialty coffee shops, most of which are located in alleys, most of Greybox’s sites are located in high-end shopping malls and prime office buildings in better downtown areas. Greybox is a leader in consumer education by holding classes on coffee related topics to coffee aficionados. 

GUEST BLOG/ International media sources--Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality has never grown a single coffee bean, but China's largest coffee trading center flourishes there. Chongqing is China’s oldest and most populous city (Pop. 30.48 million). 

Cumulative transaction volume of coffee products on a parallel e-platform launched in 2019 has exceeded 5.2 billion yuan (750 million U.S. dollars). Coffee beans produced in southwest China's Yunnan Province, South and Southeast Asia are brought there to be shipped to Europe by freight train. "Chongqing is a logistics distribution center that connects coffee producers in Asia with the market in Europe," said Feng Yue, founder of Chongqing coffee trading center. 

Domestic coffee consumption has recently been growing by around 20 percent each year, according to Feng expects the market to top 600 billion yuan in the next ten years, from the current 100 billion yuan, so it is an attractive investment prospect. 

The Belt and Road Initiative has facilitated the China-Europe train. It takes only 13 days for beans to arrive in Duisburg, Germany from Chongqing by rail, 30 days less than by sea, and at a fifth of the cost of air freight. CLICK HERE.  

That means coffee beans grown in China can now reach Europe far faster than cargo ship. "Coffee tastes best within 14 days of roasting. A long time at sea increases the moisture content of the beans, which affects their taste and quality. The travel time by rail perfectly matches market requirements in Europe," Feng said. 

"The altitude, humidity and temperature in Yunnan make it a very good area for coffee growing. The province produces 99 percent of China's coffee and more than 60 percent of that is sold overseas as low value-added raw beans," said Peng De, manager of the center. "Due to poor planting techniques and lack of domestic specialist agencies for quality assessment, Yunnan's coffee beans are not as popular as they should be. 

The center in Chongqing will help to introduce better technology for planting and roasting, offer financial and professional support in production, transportation and training," Peng said. "Yunnan coffee could easily fetch a good price," he added. A standard testing system, led by the center, has been followed since this year's harvest. The center also releases reference prices, customer requirements and global market dynamics to planters in Yunnan for them to improve their products and services. 

"We are actively helping China's coffee industry to move up the industry chain so that domestic coffee beans secure a larger share of the domestic market and sell at a good price in the global market," Peng said. 


TUNNEL VISIONIn late 2019, a Chinese freight train travels through the Marmaray Tunnel under the Bosporus in Istanbul early Thursday. The journey was the first uninterrupted freight train journey from Turkey to Europe, transporting cargo from China while skirting Russia. (Anatolia News Agency) 



LAST WEEK’S COFFEE QUIZ ANSWER-- Coffee bar, micro-roastery, products, educators, Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories (Saltiniu g. 20-17, Vilnius) are coffee enthusiasts and coffee product creators based in the Lithuanian capital. At their coffee house they freshly roast micro batches of different world beans and invite to taste them with various tools in their brew bar. The minimalist shop also takes coffee education and culture seriously by organizing coffee tastings and yearly coffee conference called “Dark Times” with international guests. 


WEEKLY COFFEE QUIZ--Where in the world is this coffee establishment? Answer next Saturday in Coffee Beans & Beings post. 

Friday, December 25, 2020


 Norman Rockwell is the perfect artist to celebrate Christmas Day. He has created "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," which he painted for McCall’s magazine in 1967. 

There’s the public library, the old town office, a Victorian hotel, and, at far right, Rockwell's South Street home and studio from 1953 to 1957. His eye for automotive detail is remarkable, too. His oil painting of the Berkshires community represents for many the quintessential New England small town. 

And, the only thing about this painting that isn’t timeless is the fact those ten year olds playing in the slushy street are now in their retirement years. (from the Norman Rockwell Museum.


Thursday, December 24, 2020



Sun sets next to the Christmas tree at the end of the Pacific Beach pier in San Diego.

Photo:  Michael Shess, 12-08-2020


Par Adolphe Adam

GUEST BLOG / By Peter Sanfilippo, a Toronto-based journalist @PeteSanf
--All Christmas music can be plotted along a spectrum. On the one end, we have “religious reverence and Christian service to God”, and “winter-related nonsense” on the other. If “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Jingle Bells” sit on the “Winter-Related Nonsense” end, “O Holy Night” pretty much sits exactly opposite it. This carol has been a staple in churches and holiday films for decades, and its notoriety is well deserved. 

The song is epic, like the Lord of the Rings in carol form, with huge, swelling chords climbing to peaceful resolve. It’s glorious, yet serene, with just a little darkness mixed in. “O Holy Night” is the product of circumstance in southern France. 

In the medieval town of Requemaure in 1843, the parish priest of the local church wanted to commemorate the renovations to the church organ. This led him to poet and wine merchant Placide Cappeau, a man with little to no interest in religion. Cappeau accepted the request, and on a stagecoach en route to Paris, penned the poem “Minuit, chrétiens,” or “Midnight, christians.” 

 The priest suggested Cappeau bring his poem to Composer Adolphe Adams. Adams was actually a friend of Cappeau, and used the poem as the basis for a composition. Adams was a prolific composer, writing music for several operas and ballets including Giselle, and can be placed on the lengthy list of Jewish composers who’ve written Christmas music. 

The resulting carol was simply titled “Cantique de Noël” or “Christmas Carol,” and premiered in 1847, performed by local opera singer Emily Laurey. The carol was instantly popular, but took a sharp nosedive once word got out about Cappeau. Cappeau was an atheist with strong disdain for religious authority. Outraged, the church leadership banned the song from the French liturgy. 

The French people, however, wouldn’t let the song go, and for a time it lived on outside the church. Eventually, this tune reached the ears of John Sullivan Dwight, an American Unitarian Minister and influential music critic. In 1855, Dwight decided to translate it to English, and the resulting translation is what we now know as “O Holy Night.” 

Due to his more religious philosophies, Dwight decided to take a few liberties with Cappeau’s lyrics, and “O Holy Night” is much less subdued by comparison. Dwight changed Cappeau’s refrain “People, kneel down, await your deliverance. Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer” to “O night divine, the night when Christ was born.” 

Dwight was a Transcendentalist, essentially a reactionary movement to Intellectualism that states there is an inherent goodness to everything and everyone. “O Holy Night” presents the night and the event itself as being holy, an element absent from the original. 

This version became popular, overshadowing the original, and with a few tweaks here and there over the last 160+ years, we have the modern version. 

There is one more little oddity with this story. Legend has it that “Cantique de Noël” played a part in the Franco-Prussian War. During a lull in battle on December 24th, 1870, French troops started singing the carol from their trench, and it moved the German soldiers so much, they began to sing one of Martin Luther’s hymns. The impromptu battle of the bands resulted in a 24-hour truce so the soldiers on both sides could celebrate Christmas. There isn’t much proof that this actually happened, but it may have lead to the growth in popularity of the tune across France at the time and its eventual reinstatement into French churches. 

So that’s “O Holy Night,” a song written by a Jewish man, based on a poem by a French atheist, rejected by the church, translated by an American Transcendentalist, maybe sung on battlefields with German troops, and most certainly sung every year by more and more singers who don’t give a damn about any of this. 

*** suggests a terrific version of O, Holy Night is sung by Jennifer Nettles on YouTube. Click here. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020


Trump's order stipulates that new buildings commissioned for the federal government must be "beautiful" and names classical and traditional architecture as the preferred style, but stops short of banning other styles, such as brutalism (pictured above: San Francisco Federal Building). 

Lame duck US president Donald Trump signed an executive order earlier this week insisting all new federal government buildings must be considered "beautiful" and ideally be designed in the classical or traditional style, reports a host of architectural industry trade publications, including dezeen online architecture and design magazine. 

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) says not so fast as it "unequivocally opposes" Trump’s lame duck architecture rules. "Communities should have the right and responsibility to decide for themselves what architectural design best fits their needs," said AIA CEO Robert Ivy. "We look forward to working with president-elect Biden to ensure that," he added. 

To read Trump’s Executive Order Click here. 

AIA Publicly Declares Trump design mandate "appalling" 

GUEST BLOG / By India Block, Executive Order on Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture, the last-minute decree from Trump rails against an "architectural elite" and states that classical and traditional building styles are "the preferred architecture". 

The AIA expressed relief that the final order was less concerning than the draft order published earlier this year, which threatened to ban modernist architecture styles such as brutalism and prompted the AIA to send over 11,000 letters to the White House in protest. 

"Though we are appalled with the administration’s decision to move forward with the design mandate, we are happy the order isn’t as far-reaching as previously thought," said Ivy. 

AIA backs "diversity" in architecture styles Still, the AIA took exception to the executive order's attempt to prescribe architectural styles and establish a new design council that would report to the president. "It inappropriately elevates the design tastes of a few federal appointees over the communities in which the buildings will be placed," the AIA statement said. 

Instead, the AIA said it maintained a "style-neutral" stance on public architecture and remained committed to "diversity" in American architecture. Earlier this month the AIA banned its members from designing spaces for execution or solitary confinement in a move to "dismantle racial injustice".


“Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas," more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas" and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" from its first line, is a poem published anonymously in 1823 and later attributed to American college professor and poet Clement Clarke Moore, who claimed authorship in 1844. 

The poem was first published in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823. 


'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house 

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; 

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, 

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; 

The children were nestled all snug in their beds; 

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; 

And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap, 

Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap, 

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, 

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter. 

Away to the window I flew like a flash, 

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash. 

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow, 

Gave a lustre of midday to objects below, 

When what to my wondering eyes did appear, 

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer, 

With a little old driver so lively and quick, 

I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick. 

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, 

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name: 

"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen! 

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen! 

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! 

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!" 

As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, 

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; 

So up to the housetop the coursers they flew 

With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too— 

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof 

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof. 

As I drew in my head, and was turning around, 

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. 

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, 

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; 

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, 

And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack. 

His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry! 

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! 

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, 

And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow; 

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, 

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath; 

He had a broad face and a little round belly 

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. 

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, 

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself; 

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head 

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread; 

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, 

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, 

And laying his finger aside of his nose, 

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; 

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, 

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. 

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight— 

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” 


Clement C. Moore
Illustration by Daniel Huntington

Tuesday, December 22, 2020



Santa's view of London via NASA's Jessica Muir aboard the International Space Station.

The Wolseley Tea Room Christmas Tree, 2020

Priceless reaction to Chrismas at Covent Garden

Holiday tree at St. Pancras transportation centre, East London
Buckingham Palace

The Embassy of the United States of America, London

Harrod's Department Store in Knightsbridge

The Ritz Hotel

Ravensburger Disney Christmas Puzzle from Selfridge's
Oxford Street $16.50 US.

Christmas dinner preparations at Hogwarts

Monday, December 21, 2020


A photograph of the position of the Sun, taken at the same time on different days throughout the year, shows a figure-eight pattern known as an analemma. This photo was taken in Callanish, Scotland. Image by Giuseppe Petricca, NASA

Editor’s note: Dr. William Teets is the director of Vanderbilt University’s Dyer Observatory. In this interview, he explains what does and doesn’t happen during the winter solstice on Dec. 21. Another cosmic phenomenon is also going to occur on the same day called “the great conjunction,” where Saturn and Jupiter, both of which can be seen with the naked eye, will appear extremely close to one another. The following guest blog was first published in

What happens on the winter solstice? 

The winter solstice this year happens on Dec. 21. This is when the Sun appears the lowest in the Northern Hemisphere sky and is at its farthest southern point over Earth – directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For folks living at 23.5 degrees south latitude, not only does this day mark their summer solstice, but they also see the Sun directly over them at local noon. After that, the Sun will start to creep back north again. 

The sequence of images below shows the path of the Sun through the sky at different times of the year. You can see how the Sun is highest in the Northern Hemisphere sky in June, lowest in December, and halfway in between these positions in March and September during the equinoxes. 

The winter solstice is the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere but not the day with the latest sunrise and earliest sunset. How is that possible? 

The winter solstice doesn’t coincide with the latest sunrise or the earliest sunset. Those actually occur about two weeks before and two weeks after the winter solstice. This is because we are changing our distance from the sun due to our elliptical, not circular, orbit, which changes the speed at which we orbit. If you were to look at where the Sun is at exactly the same time of day over different days of the year, you would see that it’s not always in the same spot. Yes, the Sun is higher in the summer and lower in the winter, but it also moves from side to side of the average noontime position, which also plays a role in when the Sun rises and sets. One should also keep in mind that the seasons are due to the Earth’s axial tilt, not our distance from the Sun. Believe it or not, we are closest to the Sun in January. 

What is ‘the great conjunction’? 

Saturn and Jupiter have appeared fairly close together in our sky throughout the year. But on Dec. 21, Saturn and Jupiter will appear so close together that some folks may have a difficult time seeing them as two objects. If you have a pair of binoculars, you’ll easily be able to spot both planets. In even a small telescope, you’d see both planets at the same time in the same field of view, which is really unheard of. That’s what makes this conjunction so rare. 

Jupiter and Saturn appear to meet up about every 20 years. Most of the time, however, they’re not nearly as close together as we’re going to see them on Monday, Dec. 21. For a comparison, there was a great conjunction back in 2000, but the two planets were separated by about two full-Moon widths. This year, the orbits will bring them to where they appear to be about one-fifth of a full-Moon diameter. 

We have been encouraging folks to go out and look at these planets using just their eyes between now and Dec. 21. You’ll actually be able to see how much they appear to move over the course of a single day. 

Let's Meet Again in 2080

The next time they will get this close together in our sky won’t be for another 60 years, so this is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people. In fact, the last time they got this close together was in the year 1623, but it was really difficult, if not impossible, to see them then because they appeared much closer to the Sun and set soon after it. Go back another 400 years to 1226 and this would have been the last time that we would have had a good view of this type of conjunction. 

What advice would you give to people who want to see the great conjunction? 

If weather permits at Dyer Observatory, we’ll be streaming a live view of the conjunction from one of the observatory’s telescopes, and I’ll be available to answer questions. Even if you don’t have a telescope or a pair of binoculars, definitely go out and check out this very rare alignment with your own eyes. Remember that they set soon after sunset, so be ready to view right at dusk! 


“Here’s Where Covid-19 Outbreaks Have Happened in San Diego County”
Exclusive from KPBS. Click here [for Part 1]. Click here [for Part 2]: “Hundreds of Covid-19 Cases Tied to San Diego County Tribal Casinos.”

San Diego County Covid-19 Cases by Neighborhood. A public safety report from the San Diego Union Tribune: Click here. 


Just like the framed artwork (above) hung in a New York museum, the wording of the "unwritten constitution of the United States" may be hard to fathom.

--Americans are taught that the main function of the U.S. Constitution is the control of executive power: curtailing presidents who might seek to become tyrants. 

Other republics have lapsed into dictatorships (the Roman Republic, the Weimar Republic, the Republic of China and so on), but our elaborate constitutional system of checks and balances, engineered largely by James Madison, protects us from despotism. Or so we think. 

The presidency of Donald Trump, aggressive in its autocratic impulses but mostly thwarted from realizing them, should prompt a re-examination of that idea. For our system of checks and balances, in which the three branches of government are empowered to control or influence the actions of the others, played a disappointingly small role in stopping Mr. Trump from assuming the unlimited powers he seemed to want. 

 What really saved the Republic from Mr. Trump was a different set of limits on the executive: an informal and unofficial set of institutional norms upheld by federal prosecutors, military officers and state elections officials. You might call these values our “unwritten constitution.” 

Whatever you call them, they were the decisive factor. 


Sunday, December 20, 2020

SUNDAY REVIEW / SHORT FICTION: God’s Gonna Trouble the Water or, A Great Day for Pork Chops

Hurricane waters flood Interstate 40 through North Carolina

For Mrs. B. 

Short Story by Randall Kenan, 2020 National Book Club honoree for his short story collection “If I had Two Wings.” The short story below is from Kenan’s earlier works. It most recently appeared in Oprah Magazine. 

Mrs. Streeter was down in Barbados being chased by monkeys when the storm struck. Her son, Aaron, had sent her on vacation with his daughter, Desiree. The two had been returning from a trip to the caverns—the spooky Harrison’s Cave with its stone pillars hanging down and sticking straight up—when the hooligans showed up, green monkeys, but a brownish gray they were, with white furry breasts and menacing red eyes. 

Desiree had found it amusing at first, but at eighty-two the widow wondered about the promises her son had made about the recuperative powers of Caribbean sun and ocean breezes. As she listened to the monkeys hooting and howling and grunting, she felt it might be better for her to be at home tending her okra and string beans. 

Desiree, only 18, a college student at Spelman, pushed her scooter faster than the monkeys ran. (Mrs. Street had a problematic back and couldn’t do a lot of long-distance walking.) The mischievous bandits seemed to have no objective, no reason, just causing trouble. But this did not inspire solace. Desiree kept just ahead of the troop, and made it back to the shuttle safely, and helped her grandmother climb aboard. “I was so scared, Nana.” 

“I was worried, child. 

I’m glad I wasn’t on foot. Lord have mercy.” 

“Nobody told me there would be monkeys!” 

When they got back to the resort, murmurs were going on all about the lobby from other guests, mostly Americans. Clearly something was afoot. Two hurricanes were in the forecast: one headed to Barbados, and one headed for the North Carolina coast. Home. 

In truth the Barbadian encounter with wind and rain felt like a mere thunderstorm—it came and went the next night in a hurry, leaving little damage—but the news regarding the North Carolina coast was not so benign. Category 5, they were predicting. The governor was calling for evacuations. 

It looked like Mrs. Streeter would not be going home, but that is where she longed to be, deep in her heart, floods and wind be damned. 

Back to the States two days later, Aaron met them at Dulles International Airport, and insisted his mother stay with him until conditions at home were safe. His town house was in Alexandria, and the sun was shining. Hard to imagine how different things were at that moment back in Tim’s Creek, where the storm was supposed to hit land the next morning. 

“Girl, it’s been raining hard for the last two days straight, and I mean a hard rain too. All the creeks and rivers are about to spill over.” Mrs. Streeter had been on the phone with her sister back in Tim’s Creek several times each day. 

“Are y’all gonna leave?” 

“No, child. Clay says we’ll be just fine. You remember in that last flood we stayed high and dry, and the water got pretty high that time around town in the lower spots. So we’re gonna take our chances.” 

Mrs. Streeter’s days were largely CNN and the Weather Channel and talking on the phone, from the time Aaron left for work until he returned. Some days she’d cook his favorite meals—her special spaghetti, smothered chicken, oxtail soup—it was nice that he did all the shopping. 

Or, he would take her out to a nice restaurant. She really enjoyed that place called Busboys and Poets. They had some really nice shrimp and grits, and she enjoyed their Cobb salad. These young folk today sure wore their hair in some peculiar styles and colors. 

After a week she worried more and more about home. They said miles and miles of Interstate 40 were still covered by water. Her sister told her their power had been out all week. “And you know that great big oak tree in front of Mama’s house? Girl, it snapped in two. It blocked the road for three days before they could get to it and haul it out of the way.” 

That tree was truly massive, too tall to climb, probably close to two hundred years old. It had been there when her great-grandfather built the house. Mrs. Streeter fondly remembered playing on its great gnarled roots as a girl. Something twanged at the bottom of her heart. Now she was even more worried about her vegetable garden, a thing in which she took enormous pleasure and spent a lot of time and effort cultivating. Her doctor had once told her, her longevity and robust health—even when considering the back problems and mobility—were surely aided by her daily exertions in that great big plot of earth, a third of an acre large. 

Randall Kenan
After her back operation, Aaron wanted to pay someone to come help with cleaning and various chores around the house. Mrs. Streeter insisted she would be fine on her own, but Aaron insisted. Some of his high school buddies recommended Marisol Cifuentes, a pleasant dark-eyed woman in her mid-twenties with a gentle manner. who often brought her two girls along, Lourdes, age eight, and Ines, age six. 

Her husband Simitrio worked as a logger in the swamps. He ran heavy sawing equipment. They lived in a trailer park about eight miles away. In time Mrs. Streeter grew to like Marisol, and looked forward to seeing the girls, who would sit and watch television with her, color in their coloring books, or fiddle with their phones. She remembered the day Ines asked her sister, “Can you itch my scratch for me?” and how it made her laugh out loud. 

Surely they had gotten out in time. God knows. That trailer park was awfully close to the Chinquapin River. 

Finally, eight days after returning to the States, she caught a plane home. Her sister had told her the coast was clear, the water had largely gone. Her brother-in-law Clay picked her up at the Raleigh-Durham airport. She had already been filled with something like dread, though darker, about what she would find at home. Once she’d pulled off the interstate into York County and driving down the country roads to Tim’s Creek, the dread grew thicker. 

Hurricane damage

The roadsides along the way, in front of a great many houses, were littered with piles and piles of ruined and soggy Sheetrock, waterlogged mattresses, useless refrigerators and other appliances, and all manner of refuse. Such a sight made a person wonder about the hours of work done and to be done. Her mood lightened a little when Clay turned into the driveway. 

The brick ranch-style house her husband had built for them back in 1972 was standing proud, the flood had not budged it. Now for the insides. Clay came with her. As soon as she opened the garage, the foulest odor she had ever smelled greeted her. 

It smelled like death itself: a profusion of fish and shrimp, spoiled. 

Even closed, the two freezers kept in the garage reeked from the spoilage. Also gone were all the corn and okra and butter beans and squash and collards and cabbage she had grown, not to mention the blueberries and pears and peaches and sweet potatoes she had frozen for pies. The water did not enter; the lack of power had struck. 


The widow rarely swore, if ever, but this was one of those occasions. 

Clay took her luggage to her room. The lights were back on. The water was running. She inspected the refrigerator, which was of course in bad shape, as expected. Otherwise the house seemed intact. 

As for the garden, it had indeed become a total loss. All the plants had drowned. The water had caused most of the rows to erode and melt away. There was little green left, mostly yellow and brown and black. The sweet potatoes had commenced to rot. She knew it would be weeks before the ground would be dry enough for replanting. 

She let out a frustrated sigh. “Jesus help me.” 

After many hours on the phone, arranging for someone to come help her clean the freezer and the garage in the morning, filling in Aaron and Desiree, and catching up with her sister and all the news around town, she finally went to bed in her own bed for the first time in two weeks, and she slept like the proverbial baby. 

Mrs. Streeter woke to the sound of a vacuum cleaner, and the sounds of little girls’ laughter. 

Marisol! She let herself in. She’s okay. 

Mrs. Streeter took her time but was eager to see mother and children and to tell her all about her trip and to hear about the storm and how they fared. But when she rounded the corner down the hall into the family room, she was met by no vacuum cleaner, no little girls, no mother. 

The room was silent and empty, save for the light pooling in through the sheer curtains. The sense of bewilderment in her breast was a thing akin to her dead garden out back. How could she imagine such a thing? Why? 

It took two cups of decaf coffee and the entire Today show to get her relaxed finally. 

One of her cousins, Noreen, showed up to help her empty and clean the stinky freezer, and to mop up the leakage that had spread all over the two-car expanse. This was a nauseating task, full of elbow grease and discarded once-deliciousness. It took several cleanings to get rid of the stench, which somehow lingered faintly for days. 

Still no word from Marisol. No one was answering her cell. The widow decided to take a drive. The small community where the trailer park was located was known locally as Scuffletown. No one she spoke with knew how the tiny huddle of farms and homes had fared, being so low and so close to the river. 

Many trees had toppled over in the woods on either side of the road. As she approached, she witnessed more and more damage. When she got there, she saw trailers off their mounts, floated into odd and strange configurations; some overturned; many light poles down and wires downed and exposed. Surely the Cifuenteses got out. Surely they were okay. Lord knows. 

On the way back home, Mrs. Streeter stopped by the local shop, La Michoacanita Tienda Mexicana—“the getting place” for the Spanish folk. She had never set foot in there; for some reason she just didn’t feel comfortable going in there. She reckoned they didn’t sell anything she couldn’t get at the IGA or the local Dollar General. 

But she knew it had a particular reputation among the local folk for its extra-thick pork chops. Her sister swore by them. (“I mean to tell you, it’s the best pork I’ve ever put in my mouth. They say he buys his hogs whole from a little farm over near Kinston. Talk like the farmer only feeds the pigs mostly on fruit. That’s some sweet meat, girl. You hear me?”) 

The place looked to be like any other convenience store, except for the many colorful signs and banners advertising in Spanish, and all about were phone cards for sale, and even some cell phones. The place was quite orderly and kempt. She didn’t know what she had expected.

“Hello,” she said to the young woman behind the counter. “I’m looking for Marisol Cifuentes. Would you happen to know her? Or Simitrio Cifuentes or their children?” 

The young woman, a girl really, shook her head no. “I’m sorry. I do not know this woman.” 

Mrs. Streeter briefly considered leaving a message or to ask for some other type of help but thought better of it. “Thank you.” 

After a pause the young woman said, “The owner, Mr. Garcia, he might know her. But he’s in Greenville. His son is in the hospital. I don’t know when he’ll be back.” 

The widow thanked the young lady and returned to her car and went home. 

Weeks passed. Things got better, bit by bit, inch by inch. Eventually Mrs. Streeter was able to replant her garden with a few items, mostly cabbage and collards and mustard and kale. It being August, the growing season was going to be mighty short. It would start to frost in about six weeks. You could already sense fall coming. 

The community slowly rebuilt. Very slowly. Many homes still remained gutted and vacant. Some stores had opened and restocked. The county and groups like the Red Cross and church associations were still showing up in trucks loaded with free bottled water and canned goods; one crusading minister was famous in eastern North Carolina for driving to the aid of hurricane victims with hammer, nail, and a strong back. 

Yet places nearer the coast were still impassable. 

Most of the schools had finally reopened after weeks. 

Wilmington was essentially an island, the governor said. “Did you hear about Malcolm Terrell, Percy’s son, you know the one with all them factory hog farms? You hear what happened at his walled-off country club and golf course? You know, that place over near Crosstown? . . . Well, you know he’s built that big old house right smack plumb on the riverbanks, that place they call Biltmore East, with all that old expensive timber they found at the bottom of the river? I ain’t never been in there, but folk talk about how it is some kinda fancy. A real palace like. Great big . . . Well the place flooded, and you know the hog lagoons with all that hog shit spilled over into the river, along with dead hogs from his farms. I was told when his mansion flooded, not only was the first floor filled with shit, but with dead hogs too! Now ain’t that something? God don’t like ugly, I’m telling you!” 

A week before Thanksgiving, Mrs. Streeter heard her doorbell. She wasn’t expecting anyone at this time of day. 

It was the postman. “Good morning, ma’am. This letter came for you. It’s foreign. I didn’t want to leave it in the mailbox. It looks important. I figured you’d want to see it right away.” 

She thanked the man. The letter in hand had a fancy, colorful stamp and the postmark read: Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. 

Mrs. Streeter returned to her chair and opened the handwritten letter. The printing was very neat. 

Dear Mrs. Vanessa Streeter, My name is Sonya Ruiz. We never met, but I was the elementary teacher of Marisol Cifuentes and I am a friend of her family. I have known Marisol for most of her life. You should know I was born in York County, where my parents were migrant workers in the 1970s. So I know your town. Some local church people took pity on me and sponsored my education at East Carolina University. Despite my US citizenship, I decided to return to Chihuahua to care for my ailing mother in 1990 and decided to stay. 

In any case, I wanted you to know this. During the hurricane two months ago, Marisol’s little girl was lost in the flood. Marisol and Simitrio and Ines survived, but Marisol was heartbroken, as you can imagine. She returned to Chihuahua with the aid of a Mr. Ramon Garcia, who I understand runs a local grocery store in your town. 

Marisol and Ines made the trip okay. She came to see me after she arrived. Things were quite fine, though she was sad, as you can understand. She spoke very well of you and said you were a very kind lady. Two weeks after returning home, something very bad happened. As you no doubt have heard, there are some very wicked men in our province, men who always wish to get their way, no matter what they must do. Marisol’s younger brother, Jaime, was kidnapped by one of these men and the family could not pay the ransom. 

The entire family has been missing for two weeks. 

I found your address among Marisol’s things at her mother’s house. I thought you should know. I will certainly contact you if I get word of their whereabouts and what has become of them. I pray to God that they remain safe. I understand you are a woman of faith. Please pray for them as well. 

Very Sincerely yours, Sonya Ruiz,
Ciudad Juárez

That night she dreamt of her late husband, now dead ten years, and she dreamt of her grandchildren and their parents and all their various pursuits. She dreamt of her little friends, as she thought of them, and of their mother, who worked so hard, and she dreamt of a way to raise them all and make them a new part of her family. 

She dreamt of the howl of green monkeys and the sound of their claws against concrete. In the dreams the pain felt camellia-petal soft and bearable, and her heart was eased. Somewhat. 

The next morning, widow Vanessa Streeter was awoken by the sound of a Weed Eater attacking her front yard edges. The telltale whirl was somehow comforting. She had slept late, for her, but Herman Chasten liked to start his yard work on the early side. As she lifted herself and thought about the day ahead of her and of what she was planning to cook for supper, it occurred to her: this would be a great day for pork chops. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020


Honore de Balzac par Pablo Picasso
The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee”
by Honore de Balzac, circa 1830s.

Translated from the French by Robert Onopa; produced for the Internet by Jay Babcock.

Coffee is a great power in my life; I have observed its effects on an epic scale. Coffee roasts your insides. Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring. Think about it: although more grocery stores in Paris are staying open until midnight, few writers are actually becoming more spiritual.

But as Brillat-Savarin has correctly observed, coffee sets the blood in motion and stimulates the muscles; it accelerates the digestive processes, chases away sleep, and gives us the capacity to engage a little longer in the exercise of our intellects. It is on this last point, in particular, that I want to add my personal experience to Brillat-Savarin's observations.
Coffee affects the diaphragm and the plexus of the stomach, from which it reaches the brain by barely perceptible radiations that escape complete analysis; that aside, we may surmise that our primary nervous flux conducts an electricity emitted by coffee when we drink it. Coffee's power changes over time. [Italian composer Gioacchino] Rossini has personally experienced some of these effects as, of course, have I. "Coffee," Rossini told me, "is an affair of fifteen or twenty days; just the right amount of time, fortunately, to write an opera." This is true. But the length of time during which one can enjoy the benefits of coffee can be extended.

For a while - for a week or two at most - you can obtain the right amount of stimulation with one, then two cups of coffee brewed from beans that have been crushed with gradually increasing force and infused with hot water.

For another week, by decreasing the amount of water used, by pulverizing the coffee even more finely, and by infusing the grounds with cold water, you can continue to obtain the same cerebral power.

When you have produced the finest grind with the least water possible, you double the dose by drinking two cups at a time; particularly vigorous constitutions can tolerate three cups. In this manner one can continue working for several more days.

Finally, I have discovered a horrible, rather brutal method that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins.

It is a question of using finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain.

From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination's orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink - for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.

I recommended this way of drinking coffee to a friend of mine, who absolutely wanted to finish a job promised for the next day: he thoughthe'd been poisoned and took to his bed, which he guarded like a married man. He was tall, blond, slender and had thinning hair; he apparently had a stomach of papier-mache. There has been, on my part, a failure of observation.

When you have reached the point of consuming this kind of coffee, then become exhausted and decide that you really must have more, even though you make it of the finest ingredients and take it perfectly fresh, you will fall into horrible sweats, suffer feebleness of the nerves, and undergo episodes of severe drowsiness.

I don't know what would happen if you kept at it then: a sensible nature counseled me to stop at this point, seeing that immediate death was not otherwise my fate. To be restored, one must begin with recipes made with milk and chicken and other white meats: finally the tension on the harp strings eases, and one returns to the relaxed, meandering, simple-minded, and cryptogamous life of the retired bourgeoisie.

The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach under these magisterial conditions produces a kind of animation that looks like anger: one's voice rises, one's gestures suggest unhealthy impatience: one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque, ill-tempered about nothing. One actually becomes that fickle character, The Poet, condemned by grocers and their like. One assumes that everyone is equally lucid. A man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public.

I discovered this singular state through a series of accidents that made me lose, without any effort, the ecstasy I had been feeling. Some friends, with whom I had gone out to the country, witnessed me arguing about everything, haranguing with monumental bad faith. The following day I recognized my wrongdoing and we searched the cause. My friends were wise men of the first rank, and we found the problem soon enough: coffee wanted its victim.


THE COFFEE QUOTE. “This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army on the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensign to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.”

Auguste Rodin (above in his studio) took seven years to complete his statue of Balzac in 1898.  It took another 41 years before it found its permanent site (1939) in a trendy part of Paris.

The controversial statue of Honore Balzac by Auguste Rodin is tucked away off the intersection of Boulevard du Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail.  Monsieur Balzac no doubt delights that he stands near two Paris café’s Café Dome (far left) and La Rotonde, where the coffee flows eternally.


All over Germany.  Above is located at Niki de Saint Phalle Promenade in Hannover, Germany.

Canadian chain below has 14 outlets.

BALZAC’S FATAL BUZZ or how can a man who drank 50 cups a day ever lie down much less die?
Click here for an opinion on Balzac’s caffeine OD.

Say hello to Ludwiggy Beethoven and Ben Much-too-Franklin


LAST WEEK’S COFFEE QUIZ ANSWER-- Located at the popular intersection of Union and Columbus in North Beach, Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café (above) is at the hub of this historic San Francisco neighborhood since its founding in 1971. Bohemian Cigar Store was established in 1930 as a convenience store selling cigars and cigarettes. In 1971 when Mario and Liliana Crismani came from Italy they took over the Bohemian Cigar Store and changed it to Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe. This establishment is where the Italian’s would come to smoke cigars, play cards and enjoy their Graffeo’s coffee (roasted nearby). Now run by grandchildren Daniella and Dario Crismani, the duo has spent time maintaining the integrity of their grandparents recipes. Outdoor tables with views of Washington Square Park across the street are highly prized. Caption: Bay Area locals Zac and Jackson Shess stop by for lunch. Dad Zac has been coming to Mario’s since he was a kid. 


--Where in the world (above) is this coffee establishment? Answer next Saturday in Coffee Beans & Beings post.