Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year's End

Dear George,

Well, there are just a few hours left for 2011. Once again, that slipped by too quickly. The year’s end always puts seems to generate a mood for reflection and summing up. All in all, 2011 was a pretty good year for Katja and myself. Our most monumental years together have been 1957 when we met, 1960 when we graduated and married, 1966 when we moved from grad school to jobs in Cincinnati, and 1969 when J was born. However, 2011 ranks up there too because of Katja’s retirement on June 1. She’s worked all her adult life, so this was a huge transition -- sort of in a league with marriage or childbirth. And. even though I retired three years ago, changes in Katja’s life situation have inevitably meant transitions for me too. I found my retirement disorienting at first, but then you start filling in the blank spaces, and, before you know it, you find yourself with a newly structured life. That seems to be happening for Katja too. She resumed her membership in the fitness center and began working out with a personal trainer. She joined a woman’s writing group which meets every two weeks, and she continues in her long-time women’s book club. Katja did three music courses in the university’s OLLI (Learning in Retirement) program and is expanding to five for the winter. With lots of flextime, we’ve done more stuff together during the day, including lunching at Panera or Olive’s a couple of times a week and going hither and yon.

From the left: J, V, K, L (at Burnet Woods, May 2011)

The other big happening of the year is that our grandchildren, V and L, turned three, thus completing a full third of their lives to date in 2011. That’s a lot of exciting growth and change. J, K, and V went to China in the autumn of 2009 to bring their new son and brother home to New Orleans, so 2011 has been L’s first full year with his family. When you think about how much happens from ages two to three and add on top of that a total change in L’s culture, community, and family, it’s hard to imagine. Given loving parents and a sister who is a best friend too, L has adapted excellently, becoming proficient in English for a three year old, secure and bonded in his family, and increasingly outgoing. Our granddaughter V has always been happy and full of enthusiasm, and her personality continues to blossom. The whole family came up to visit us in Cincinnati in late May, and we spent Thanksgiving with them in New Orleans. K and J are wonderful parents and fun to be with, laid back, full of good humor, committed, and always up to interesting things. We wish we didn’t live so far apart, but the distance makes get-togethers even more rewarding.

Duffy (left) and Mike in Mt. Airy Forest

On the home front, our Old English Sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, turned nine last April and continue to be a daily source of happiness in our lives. They are wonderful dogs – intelligent, loving, obedient (or maybe semi-obedient). Getting a little creaky in their senior years, they’ve been visiting the dog chiropractor in Northern Kentucky every couple of months, and that’s been helpful. Most days I try to walk them a couple of miles, and we often do excursions on the weekend with Mike and Duffy’s younger sister Sophie and her “mom” Donna. I took the dogs on half a dozen short camping trips this past season. Frankly, they are not enthusiastic campers, showing a clear preference for air conditioning and a king-size bed, but they’re good company nonetheless. In mid-summer Katja and I took them on a four-day camping trip to Hocking Hills State Park, a beautiful place on the eastern side of the state lined with deep gorges, sandstone cliffs, and rich evergreen forests. I’m trying to talk Katja into more camping road trips with the dogs, e.g., to Michigan or Tennessee, though I know she shares their preference for indoor comforts.

At the Western & Southern Tennis Tournament (Aug., 2011)

Thanks to Katja, 2011 has been a busy year for us on the cultural scene. We’ve had season tickets to the CCM (Cincinnati Conservatory of Music) series in drama, musical theater, and opera. We’ve gone to the symphony regularly and are subscribers to the Linton Chamber Music series. We have season tickets to the Playhouse in the Park. We go to each new exhibition at the local art museums. Katja goes to Metropolitan Opera broadcasts at Springdale Cinemas, and she’s considering joining the Opera Guild. We’re inveterate movie-goers and have also enjoyed some quality TV this year (e.g., Boardwalk Empire, Mildred Pierce). Always to my surprise, Katja likes to watch NFL football, and we’ve cheered for the Packers and the Saints as well as the Bengals who have had a better than expected run. In August we went to several sessions of the world-class Western & Southern Tennis Championships in suburban Mason. In New Orleans we went with J to a Saints game at the Superdome, our first pro football outing in years.

Line Dancing Party (DCL at right)

I get a lot of regular enjoyment from get-togethers with friends, e.g., hiking with the dogs, walks in the neighborhood, lunch out or dinner at our house, antiquing, going to the movies. Every Tuesday night I go to my line dancing class which I look forward to all week. I’ve kept an office at the university where I work on writing and keep up informal contact with long-time work friends.

My siblings – Peter, Steve, Vicki

On a more melancholy note, I’ve found myself dwelling during the holiday season on our loss of family loved ones in recent years – my younger brothers Steven and Peter and my brother-in-law George, all in their early 60s. I’ve always had a vision of us all growing older together, and my and others’ lives today would be richer and more fulfilling if everyone were still around. There’s no good way to sugar coat this. I guess I would just say that our long history of shared experiences continues to make life more meaningful.

I looked back at a blog posting from twelve months ago where I made about a dozen New Year’s resolutions for myself for 2011. They were admirable though challenging. I recently rated my yearlong performance on each on a scale from 0% (nothing) to 100% (total fulfillment). My average score was 11%. I had more zeroes than anything else, and never topped 30%. I guess I’ll skip New Year’s resolutions this year. I’ll just plan to enjoy the year for what comes up, and, if I accidentally become more healthy, wealthy, or wise in one domain or another, so much the better.



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yes Virginia, Santa is a Vampire!

Dear George,

When I was seven, one of my best friends, Marvin K., told me that Santa Claus was a vampire. I got very upset and told him that couldn’t be true. But the idea stuck around in my head, and I still think about it every year when Dec. 25 approaches. I never found a definitive answer in the past, but now that the Internet is available, you can get the facts about almost everything. As it turns out, there are some very knowledgeable people who have examined this question. I won’t list them here, but you can find them by googling “Santa Vampire”. Here’s just some of the pertinent information that vampire experts have determined:

(1) Santa Claus’s favorite color is blood red (i.e., observe his suit).

(2) Santa Claus lives forever and never ages (exactly like the undead).

(3) Like some other well-known creatures, Santa flies through the night sky.

(4) Santa is a nocturnal being who never appears in the daylight (do you suppose he would burst into flame?).

(5) All vampires possess superhuman speed; Santa visits all the houses in the world in a single night.

(6) Santa has other supernatural powers such that "he sees you when you're sleeping" and "he knows when you're awake." (Dracula watches people when they’re sleeping too.)

(7) Santa never comes through the door like a normal human being, but shrinks his chubby body down to the size of a bat so he can come down the chimney.

(8) Both Santa and vampires have an affinity for deer.

(9) Santa prefers a cold climate, just like the vampires in Transylvania.

(10) Santa has a ravenous, vampire-like appetite and consumes over a zillion cookies and glasses of milk in a single night.

(11) Santa is surrounded by an army of elves who also live forever, look eerie, and do his every bidding.

(12) Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, was published in 1897. The famous New York Sun editorial to Virginia, “Is there a Santa Claus?”, was published in 1897. A coincidence? I think not.

(13) If you rearrange the letters in Santa's name, what do you get? Could it possibly be...........Satan?

There are many sophisticated people out there who have concluded, without question, that Santa is a vampire. Some of the most cutting edge are members of the "Santa Claus is a Vampire" Fan Club at The club’s 11 members include: narlyvamp1234, xgirl98, and girpandababies. Also there are numerous Facebook pages for believers: Santa Claus is a Twilight Vampire (24 likes); Vampire Santa (14 members); The Vampire Santa (107 likes); Santa Claus is a Vampire (24 members); Santa’s A Vampire (52 likes); I Believe That Santa Claus Is A Vampire (10 members); and Vampire Santa’s Egg Nog (63 members). Not that it’s totally conclusive, but when I googled "Santa Claus is a vampire," I got 33,400 hits. But when I googled “Santa Claus is not a vampire,” I only got 3 hits, One of those three claimed that Santa is not a vampire, but a zombie. I also looked for images of a “Vampire Santa” on the Internet. I got approximately 40 million hits. Most are drawings or cartoons, so they don’t settle the question. However, there are actual photographic images of vampire santas which are hard to dispute. For example, here’s one that’s pretty much settles the question:

There is also historical evidence for the Santa-vampire link. In a discussion among fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a very articulate participant named Ahnya revealed that in the sixteenth century Santa appeared on Christmas night with flying reindeer and came down the chimney, but instead of delivering presents he disemboweled the children

( Similarly, on “Yahoo! Answers” a vampire named Antoine reports that Santa's real purpose on Christmas eve is "drinking the blood of naughty children." I should note that some of the skeptics who replied to Antoine (who, incidentally, is a former King of the Vampires) don't agree with him. For example, Ornetta wrote, "I really do not believe that there is a Santa Claus let alone a vampire one. I believe that this is a fantasy of yours and you need to find an outlet to this passion." I think Ornetta is being a little naive about this, if not downright rude.

I haven’t made an absolutely final conclusion, though virtually all of the evidence points to Santa being a vampire. Just to be on the safe side this past Xmas, I put garlic around our door frames and nailed silver crosses here and there. As far as I can tell, Santa skipped our house this year which certainly says something. Some people think that because Santa generously gives so many gifts to little children, he can’t be an evil vampire. It’s very possible, though, that he’s been lulling the population into a false sense of security for a couple of centuries, while getting ready to drink the blood of all the naughty children in a single swoop. I guess we’ll see, maybe next year. If I were back in second grade, I would start behaving really good right now.



G-mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (12-29): Dave, Love the photos - cute story. Phyllis

-Donna D (12-28): this is so insightful! i will never again think of santa as i used to! donna

-Gayle C-L (112-28): David. This is good. :)). Fun :)).

-Jennifer M (12-28): Very funny! C and I both laughed at it.

-Mary B (12-28): This is hysterically funny! Thanks for a belly laugh (but not "a bowlful of jelly" or you might think I'm one of his minions). Hahahaha.

Monday, December 26, 2011

My Most (& Least) Favorite Movies of 2011

Dear George,

Often on Friday nights Katja, Donna, and I take in one of the week’s newly opened movies, either at the Esquire Theater in our neighborhood (which features indie, art, and foreign movies) or at one of the Rave cineplexes in the suburbs with their 16 screens of mainstream blockbusters. Over the course of a year we see a lot of the important movies that come out. I don’t think this year’s crop has been particularly memorable, though we have usually managed to find a picture we enjoyed. My standards aren’t real high. I’m usually happy if there’s something you can watch moving about on the screen. We haven’t seen some of the most recent holiday movies yet (e.g., Mission Impossible, War Horse), but here’s my current list of most favorite and least favorite pictures of 2011.



1. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara. We came to this American remake of Stieg Larsson’s novel with high expectations, but David Fincher’s interpretation of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salanders foray into a corrupt, evil family was even more powerful than expected. I decided it was a near-perfect movie.

2. Midnight in Paris. Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams. Woody Allen created a warm, loving fantasy about a young engaged couple traveling in Paris with her parents when he is transported to the 1920’s world of Hemingway, Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. Woody’s clearly recaptured his form.

3. Bill Cunningham New York. An intimate documentary portrait of the 80+ year old New York Times photographer who has been riding around New York City on his bicycle for forty years, documenting fashion trends on the street by day and New York’s social science at night for his two weekly columns in the Sunday Times. I found it totally inspiring.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione continue their quest of destroying Lord Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes and uncover the Deathly Hallows, Voldemort finds out about their mission, and the biggest battle of their lives begins (filled, of course, with state of the art special effects).

5. Hugo 3D. Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley. A tribute to childhood, love, imagination and the origin of the movies in which Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives inside the clock in a Paris train station, encounters a broken machine, an eccentric girl, and the aloof man who runs the toy shop.

6. Moneyball. Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill. The true story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's unorthodox but successful attempt to put together a baseball team on a limited budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft players ignored or rejected by other teams. Exciting movies about statistics are hard to find.

7. Sarah's Key. Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance. In modern-day Paris, a journalist commissioned to write an article about the notorious Vel d'Hiv round up in 1942 finds her life becoming entwined with the tragic history a young Jewish girl whose family was destroyed by the Nazis. Reminded me of Sophie’s Choice.

8. Another Year. Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville. A funny/sad/deep movie in which Tom and Gerri, a happy couple in their sixties with a grown son, deal with the emotional upheaval of their friends and relatives over the four seasons of a year.

9. Water for Elephants. Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz. Vet school student Jacob loses his parents, jumps a train and joins the circus, then falls in love with equestrian star Marlena, bringing the wrath of her husband, circus owner and ringmaster August. An old-fashioned romance with tormented love, a hugely appealing elephant, excellent performances by all the stars, and a fun journey with a 1930’s circus.

10. Waste Land. Vik Muniz. Documentary of artist Vik Muniz’s collaboration with the pickers of Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill outside Rio de Janeiro, as he recreates photographic images of them out of recyclable garbage and reveals their dignity and despair.

11. The Fighter. Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg. A gritty, distressing, nearly documentary-like picture of the early years of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his addict brother Dick Eklund who helped train him before he went pro in the mid-1980s.

12. Hanna. Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana. Ex-CIA man Erik raises his daughter Hannah in the wilds of North Finland to become the perfect assassin, then realizes that she needs to go out in the world for the first time to deal with her family’s unfinished business (which she does with aplomb).

RUNNERS-UP: 13. Incendies (Lubna Azabal); 14. Bridesmaids (Kristen Wiig); 15. Super 8 (Kyle Chandler); 16. Buck (Buck Brannaman); 17. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen); 18. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (by Werner Herzog); 19. The Debt (Helen Mirren); 20. The Conspirator (James McAvoy); 21. Biutiful (Javier Bardem); 22. Rabbit Hole (Nicole Kidman); 23. The Ides of March (Ryan Gosling); 24. The Help (Emma Stone); 25. X-Men: First Class (James McAvoy).


41. Cowboys & Aliens. Daniel Craig. A stranger with no memory stumbles into an Arizona town and is jailed by the sheriff, only to be called upon when the town comes under attack from powerful space aliens; good action scenes, but this movie appears to have been written by people who’d just ingested Ambien.

42. True Grit. Jeff Bridges. When 14-year-old Mattie Ross’s father is shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney, she enlists the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cobgurn, to hunt the killer down; the Coen Bros. successfully reproduce the look and feel of 1950s Westerns, but who wants to return to 1950s Westerns?

43. Blue Valentine. Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams. An arty, emotionally gripping examination of a contemporary married couple, Dean and Cindy, who to try and save their failing marriage – so miserable and despairing, I concluded there’s no redeeming social value.

44. The Adjustment Bureau. Matt Damon. A hokey philosophical conflict between free will and predestination in which a politician meets a beautiful dancer, but, just as he realizes he’s falling in love, mysterious “adjustment” men conspire to keep the two apart.

45. Horrible Bosses. Jason Bateman. Three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realize they are destroying their lives and happiness; occasionally funny, but more often gross, sexist, and juvenile.

46. Breaking Dawn - Part 1. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson. Bella and vampire Edward must deal with the consequences of their marriage, honeymoon, and birth of their child; we disregarded the critics who claimed that only 12-year-old girls would like this movie, but, in fact, the critics proved correct.

47. Thor (3D). Chris Hemsworth. Marvel Comics superhero Thor is sent to Earth as punishment for reigniting a reckless war, but has to learn how to be a true here when a dangerous villain from his world threatens Earth; accompanied by dull 3D special effects, a non-charismatic hero, and a stupid story line.

48. 127 Hours. James Franco. True-ish story of a mountain climber who saves his life by cutting off his arm after a fallen boulder traps him in an isolated canyon; supposedly inspiring, but only to masochists.

G-mail Comments

-Phyllis S-S (12-27): Dear Dave, Thanks for the reminder to see the Cunningham movie. What about "Beginners" the Mike Mills movie? I loved it? You? Phyllis

-Tyler W (12-26): Dear David, This is your nephew Tyler -- I agree with some of your choices on this list, I have to say you missed a bunch of the best ones of the year! Not only that, some of the entries were released in 2010:

127 Hours - 2010

Biutiful - 2010

Cave of Forgotten Dreams - 2010

The Fighter - 2010

For some "best movies" I would suggest (before the year is up) to watch:

The Artist

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Into the Abyss


Tree of Life



Cedar Rapids


Troll Hunter

One released in 2010: Monsters (one of my favorite films from 2010!)

DCL to Tyler W (12-27): Thanks for the tips, Tyler. You and your dad are my best movie informants. We are eagerly awaiting "The Artist" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", but they haven't opened here quite yet. I'll also keep an eye out for the others on your list. I enjoyed "Cedar Rapids" a lot, but forgot to include it because I'd watched it on HBO. We saw "War Horse" last night and wept a lot of tears -- a good, old-fashioned tearjerker. I'll see if our library has "Monsters". Happy New Year,


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Xmas at Our House (and Ami's)

Our Xmas tree at Williamsburg Apartments (circa 1972)

Dear George,

The Xmas season always elicits a storehouse of memories. Katja and I started doing family celebrations when our son J was three months old. It wasn’t that meaningful for a tiny infant, but his parents were over-flowing with enthusiasm. When J became a toddler, we’d take him over to Johnny’s Toy Store in Greenhills to look over the aisles and aisles of merchandise in order to get some sense of his wishes. These outings would start out thrillingly, but after 30 minutes or so J would break into tears because of the hyper-stimulation. Early on we celebrated eight days of Hannukah gifts topped off with Santa’s Xmas Eve visit, but that became a little excessive, so we trimmed back to just family presents and Santa Claus. I’d start producing tree ornaments in October, and J would add those that he made and brought home from Clifton School. Mostly I’d use acrylics to paint faces onto paper mache or cookie dough heads. One year I painted happy faces on clam shells we’d brought home from the Menominee River bank (see pic above). We saved the ornaments each year and accumulated a sizeable collection (still stored somewhere in a cardboard box in our basement).

Cowboy J at Xmas time (circa 1973)

Around mid-December we’d buy a Xmas tree at the Clifton Methodist church and set it up in a corner of the living room. We’d also build a snowman in the side yard. J assisted, and the older and taller he got, the larger the snowman got. Actually, they weren’t really snowmen. Since we were a rabbit-owning family (Thumper, Sunbeam, etc.), we built snow rabbits. When J reached 12, we used a stepladder and built a snow rabbit that was eight feet tall. It was the wonder of the neighborhood. I used to go out at night when the temperature fell below freezing and sprinkle water on it so it would turn to ice. A passerby saw me one night and started hollering at me from across the street, thinking I was a vandal out to destroy the spirit of Xmas.

Snow rabbit at our Ludlow Ave. house (circa 1977)

We almost never celebrated Xmas at home in Cincinnati. We’d open our family presents four or five days beforehand, then set out on the turnpike for grandparents Buck and Helen’s house on Sherwood Rd. in northwest Philadelphia. J was the first grandchild in their extended family, and Helen and Buck would invite the whole group to come over and ooh and ahh. Xmas itself was pretty irrelevant in their Jewish household, but there would still be an abundance of holiday presents. Buck would take us downtown to the wonderful Italian street market for Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches, and we’d have a family holiday dinner at Horn and Hardart’s, Katja’s childhood favorite. Helen would treat us to pink lemonade and cucumber sandwiches at the Crystal Tea Room on the top floor of Wanamaker’s. Katja, J, and I would tour the Art Museum, the Franklin Institute, Lord & Taylor’s, and the Bala Cynwyd shops. Sometimes we’d go to the zoo and the Japanese pavilion in Fairmont Park. Then, on the morning of the Dec. 24, we would head off for Katja’s sister Ami’s and her brother-in-law Bruce’s home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Buck at Sherwood Road (circa 1973)

Xmas was a wonderful time to be in New York. Horsedrawn carriages, Santas on the street corners, roasted chestnuts, and the hustle and bustle of holiday crowds. As soon as we arrived, J and I would set off on the subway for Times Square. With all the bright lights and extravagant displays, it was like Xmas there every day of the week. We would accompany Bruce to buy a Xmas tree on Broadway in the 80s. The price always seemed exorbitant to me, but it didn’t phase Bruce. Katja and Ami were enthusiastic, generous present givers, and we would have sort of a potlatch gift exchange on Christmas Eve before sitting down to Ami’s elegant dinner. We’d go to Rockefeller Center to watch the skaters and admire the Xmas tree which had been transported from Vermont or Maine. Then we’d stop in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We’d head down to see the Xmas windows at Macy’s and tour the Soho galleries. We’d do the Canal Street plastic stores, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and sometimes the South Street Seaport. Katja would buy tickets for the opera at the Met, and Ami would get us all Broadway theater tickets. She and Bruce would take us out for a night on the town at one of New York’s finest restaurants. Usually Ami and Katja would go to Bloomingdale’s to take advantage of the post-Xmas sales, then have oysters for lunch at the concourse in Grand Central Station. J and I would go off on our own and wander around the city. One of our most memorable experiences occurred on the Upper East Side when J was about 12. We were walking along on the edge of Central Park, talking and laughing, and I noticed an attractive brunette woman in a fur coat smiling at our father-son camaraderie. When I looked more closely, it turned out to be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. We smiled back to Jackie. That was our heartwarming brush with fame.

Ami (circa 1973)

Our snow rabbit was always waiting for us when we got home, and we’d go to the kennel to pick up our traumatized Bedlington Terrier, Winston. We’d keep our Xmas tree up in the living room for a long time, usually till Valentine’s Day. One January J and I gathered up discarded Xmas trees that our neighbors had put out by the curbside, and soon we had a dense forest of about two dozen trees on our porch. It was difficult to get to the back door. Now it’s 2011, and we’re home for Xmas this year. As has regularly been the case when we’re in town for the holidays, we’ll be “adopted” by our dear friends, the Minkarahs, and we’ll go over and join their family on Xmas eve. Their kids and grandkids come in from the East and West coasts, and they always have a spirited get-together, culminating in a splendid Lebanese feast. We’ll have a good time, though we do miss all our dear family members.

Happy Holidays and Love to All,


G-mail Comments

-Ami G (12-22): It's not too late! Come to NYC! It's all here waiting for you! Merry! Merry! Love. Ami and Bruce

-Gayle C-L (12-22): Ur too much. I am sending you something. U probably will get it after xmas. Talk to u at Xmas.

Love u. :))

Monday, December 19, 2011

Saturday Night Fever 3: Crazy for Line Dancing

Our Line Dancing Class (Halloween, 2009)

Dear George,

Except when I’ve been out of town, I’ve gone to my line dancing class every Tuesday night for the last two years. I look forward to it all week long. In fact, I wish they’d offer it three or four times a week. Recently the instructor, Jack, sent around an e-mail announcing that he was starting a new line dancing class on Monday nights. That sounded great, and I was all ready to sign up. However, when I looked more carefully at the message he’d sent to 138 prospective enrollees, mine was the only male name I could find on the address list. Hmm. I decided instead I should expand my line dancing practice by watching videos on YouTube.

Katja, our friend Donna, and I joined the line dancing class together at the fitness center two years ago. There were three or four men in the class and about fifteen women. Katja injured her knee after six months, and she dropped out. Donna, who’s a very skilled dancer, eventually lost interest, and she discontinued too. By that time there were just two men left, me and another guy also named David. I decided to stick with it. We two Davids couldn’t have been more opposite. The other David was very gregarious, pal’d around with all the women before and after class, joked with the instructor, and delighted in showing off his ability to shake his booty. I, by comparison, was the prototypic wallflower, rarely talking to anybody, concentrating solely on learning new dance steps. The other David told me one evening he was glad I was there so there would be at least two males, and I agreed. Then about three months ago talkative David stopped showing up. After he missed several sessions, I asked Gillian, one of the assistant instructors, where he was, and she said he’d moved to Colorado. That was a shock. By then there were about two dozen women in the class and me.

It’s odd to be the sole man in an otherwise all-woman class. I don’t think in my entire life I’ve been a member of a big group where I was the only male. There’s an enjoyable atmosphere in the class, but I also feel I stand out like a sore thumb. I don’t think of line dancing as a gendered activity, though maybe it is. It’s easy to think of a group of men playing pickup basketball or Texas poker, but it’s harder to imagine an all-male group of line dancers. Line dancing might be a little too collectivistic and high in uniformity to be an all-male enterprise. Maybe it’s something men do when they’re recruited by their female partners.

About a month ago Jack announced a Saturday night line dancing party that he was organizing as a charity event at a veterans hall in Northern Kentucky. A couple of my female classmates asked me if I were going, and I said I didn’t think so. It’s hard enough to go to class on Tuesdays with a batch of mostly strangers, much less going out on my own to a big event on Saturday night. As the day got closer, though, I started reconsidering. Jack said that some of the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders might be there, and there might even be a local TV crew. Gillian, one of the assistant instructors, announced in class that I ought to go, and a number of my classmates voiced their agreement. I think Gillian thought it would be good to have at least one man there for the TV cameras. I struggled back and forth with the idea all week long. On the one hand, the social mingling part of it made me anxious. On the other hand, I realized that I’ve tended to react that way since I was six years old, so maybe I should try to be more socially courageous.

Saturday rolled around. Katja and I had an enjoyable start to the day when we attended a friend’s graduation ceremony at Northern Kentucky and then all had lunch together at the Netherland Hilton. That put me in a sufficiently good mood that I told Katja that I thought I might go to the line dancing party. She thought that was an excellent idea. I got there a little after the 7:00 start time. A couple of my classmates were dancing in the front row, and they blurted out my name in amazement as I walked in. I joined them in the Electric Slide, and, when the number was over, they said they were really surprised to see me. Actually I was pretty surprised too, but I didn’t let on. There was a good-sized crowd – people from Jack’s four different classes, as well as regulars from the Rodeo’s country line dancing nightclub that had recently closed down in suburban Cincinnati. I wasn’t the sole male -- there were probably a dozen or more men on the dance floor at various times. The Rodeo dancers stood out as especially good and made me want to get better. The Bengals Cheerleaders didn’t show up, nor did the TV crew, but that didn’t matter. There were a lot of younger people, some number in my oldish age group, and a ten-year-old girl who was pretty good. My female classmates invited me over to their table and went out of their way to make me feel at home. The dancing went on for three hours, and, all in all, it was a big success. In total, 120 people came, and they made four thousand dollars for the charity. Having gotten my feet wet, I guess I’ll definitely go again next time. Clearly line dancing fever is in my blood.



G-mail Comments

-Vicki L (12-19): I’m so proud of you DVD - I have to encourage my willingness to go solo adventuring! Lv, v

-Gayle C-L (12-19): David, You're so crazy. :).

-Jennifer M (12-19: YAY!!!!! I can't wait to hear more about this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thanksgiving in New Orleans

St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square

Dear George,

We’ve had many terrific trips to visit our family in New Orleans over the years, but this Thanksgiving was clearly the best. Our grandchildren V and L are growing up by the day, and they become more wonderful each time we see them. This time we went for a full week and did a whole bunch of things. Here are some photos which track our adventures.



At the Races (J, L, V, & Katja)

It was opening day for the 2011-12 horse-racing season at the Fairgrounds, and J took us over to check out the scene. They’ve held races here since 1852, the third oldest thoroughbred meet in the U.S., and the day’s events featured a $75,000 purse. V and L liked the brisket sandwiches and pork and beans, and we all enjoyed the horses. The best part, though, was the motley crowd, with women in extravagant hats and couples dressed in 40’s vintage clothes. New Orleanians seem to love their finery.

The Audubon Zoo Carrousel (V & J)

The New Orleans Zoo, with its 58 acres and 2,000 animals, is a gorgeous place, one of the nation’s top ten zoos. That includes the best merry-go-round we’ve seen in years (maybe ever). V chose the alligator for her ride, and L (accompanied by Katja) picked the orangutan.

City Park

Our family spends a lot of time at City Park which is within walking distance of their home. It’s the sixth largest public park in the U.S., about 50% larger than Central Park in NYC. K took me over with the kids on an outing, and I could see why it’s so beloved. City Park contains the world’s largest collection of live oaks, some over 600 years old. Definitely one of New Orleans’ most splendid features.

On Bourbon Street

We made multiple trips to the French Quarter, usually riding the trolley down Canal Street from Mid-City. On our very first trip to New Orleans with my parents and Jean and Ann W. in 1970, we all fell in love with the Maison Bourbon jazz club, and we’re pleased that it’s still thriving four decades later.

Drinks at Arnaud’s

Speaking of family get-togethers, we met up with my sister-in-law Faith, my niece Jessica, and her husband Sean for pre-dinner drinks at Arnaud’s on Bienville Street. They’d come down from New York state and Michigan. Arnaud’s was founded in 1918 and is one of NOLA’s four classic creole restaurants. A great bar.

St. Louis Cathedral

We always visit the Cathedral on Jackson Square. It’s been around since 1718, though the current structure was built in 1850. It’s very beautiful, inside and out. After taking in New Orleans’ seamy side on Bourbon Street, St. Louis Cathedral reminds us that there are also more spiritual matters in the universe.

Café du Monde

As soon as possible, Katja headed for the French Market and beignets and café au lait. Café du Monde has been there since 1862 and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (except Xmas and hurricanes). We snacked on beignets three times during our stay, could easily have done many more.

On the Way to Domenica’s (JML photo)

We enjoyed two big downtown nights out with K and J, first at Ruth Chris Steakhouse, then at Domenica’s Restaurant in the Roosevelt Hotel (once Huey Long’s hangout). Here we’re in the Roosevelt lobby, dressed up for dinner at Domenica’s.

Lunch at Drago's

Lunches were oyster time for Katja, Po-Boy’s for me. We finally got into Bourbon House Seafood for lunch after a couple of failed tries on previous visits (too filled up). Katja also had great oysters at Drago’s. The oysters were gigantic – at the very peak of the season.

In the Sculpture Garden

We thoroughly enjoyed the Sculpture Garden in Audubon Park, beautiful for its lagoons and live oaks, live oaks, and pines, as well as its fifty-seven elegant sculptures (Henry Moore, Jaques Lipchitz, Louise Bourgeois et al.). We’ve been going there since they opened in 2003. And we visited the wonderful Art Museum too.

Doing the Art Fair

At J and K’s suggestion we took in the monthly Sunday Art Fair on Carrollton Ave. in Mid-City. With fifty or sixty excellent vendors (paintings, photography, wood, jewelry, etc.), it was lots of fun for browsing.

Trained Elephants

We haven ‘t been to a circus for a long time, and we’d forgotten how magical it can be (especially in the company of the young). We sat up close at the Shrine Circus and enjoyed the trained animal acts (tigers, elephants, dogs) and well as the clowns and trapeze artists. The daredevil motorcyclists, doing acrobatic tricks 50 feet in the air, blew our tiny minds.

World War II Museum

We think that New Orleans’ World War II Museum is one of the best museums we’ve ever been to. Originally centered on the D-Day invasion at Normandy, it’s been expanded to cover the Pacific Theater, and plans are underway to quadruple its size. We found ourselves choking up since my dad, Uncle Kent. and family friends and acquaintances were stationed in combat zones in Europe and the Pacific. We keep forgetting what a catastrophic, terrible war this was – unlike anything before or after.

At the Saints Game (JML photo)

We wound up our trip watching the Saints play the New York Giants at the Superdome (now the Mercedes-Benz Stadium). We hadn’t gone to an NFL game in years, and it was thrilling. Quarterback Drew Brees was at the top of his game, and the Saints fans were out of their minds. New Orleans won 49-25, and the newspaper the next morning said it might have been the most perfect game the Saints ever played.

V and L with Iko and Titus (JML photo)

Of course, compared to pro football players, giant elephants, abstract sculptures, speedy horses, stately cathedrals, and char-broiled oysters, we’d have to conclude that cutie-pies L and V remain the number one highlight of our most excellent trip!



G-mail Comments

-PSS (12-18): Dave, What fun. You make me want to go there. Especially the park…. Merry, Phyllis

-Donna D (12-15): how wonderful! donna

-JML (12-15): hey dad, nice memories already…. J***