This picture is the spirit of Buffalo as far as I am concerned. It comes from the Buffalo Sabres Web site. I found it posted on the wall of my friend Jennifer, author of the popular and pioneering Web log All Things Jennifer.
It is a classic!
You have the Buffalo Sabres battling the enemy, one of the enemy players down and everyone screaming. Jennifer is the gal in the front cheering with her arms in the air. Next to hear is her fiance who has the Buffalo name of Weber. Jennifer has that in common with Mozart, both of them married people named Weber. Well, Jennifer has not married her Weber yet but she is about to.
So they are there in the front. Also check out that person on the other side of Jennifer, hammering against the glass! And all around people are screaming and yelling and carrying on.
That is Buffalo! I used to laugh with Leonard Pennario about that, that there is no place on earth like our hometown. Stuff here you could not make up.
We can go ahead and laugh about it because nobody died and the people who were hurt were treated and released. The suspect in the case is named Booze. The guy he allegedly hit is named Beers. And not only that but as my mother points out, it all happened in the Augspurger Ramp. That is a great name that conjures up visions of beer steins, Oktoberfest and the St. Pauli Girl.
Today I am feeling much better. I am kicking my cold! But I am still, as we say, convalescing. I did convalescent things. Isn't that a great picture up above? I found it on the Internet. It is called "A Convalescent."
I went walking in Delaware Park today with a friend from work who was kind enough to call me up. I wrapped myself up warmly.
A couple visiting the bison exhibit asked that we take their picture which we did. Tourists! They are everywhere!
Back home I did cooking chores and worked on my Leonard Pennario book which is coming together fast now. It is like a jigsaw puzzle, you get enough pieces and then it all starts coming into focus. That is the way I am thinking anyway! Watch, it will be five years from now and I will be writing the same thing.
The only trouble with the vanilla extract is now it sits in a cupboard undisturbed for a month. I do not like things that sit for a month without my doing anything to them. It is just how I am.
Maybe I can at least shake the jar daily.
Anyway. So there was that. After I worked on my book for longer than I thought was healthy I did a little Web surfing. I read up on the Republican candidate Rick Santorum. I like that Rick Santorum goes to the Latin mass and I do too. I mean, a candidate who goes to Latin Mass, what are the odds?
If I ever meet him I will say, "Dominus tecum, Rick."
And he will say benevolently:
"Mary, et cum spiritu tuo."
Ha, ha! That was fun. What else did I do? I made a pot of lentil soup.
I made a pot of chili.
I think tomorrow I will be totally back to normal.
So I am sitting home getting over this cold and what do I do, I start looking at eBay. Bad business! Step away from the computer!
I am looking at all the Pennario stuff which is what I do at the end of the night when I am too tired to do anything else. And there was this cool, cool picture of Leonard Pennario with the German conductor Eugen Jochum, rehearsing a concerto.
I had never seen this picture before in my life! Most pictures of Pennario, even if I do not have them, I am aware of them. This picture, I could not get over it. I imagine it was taken at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Jochum conducted there a lot and Pennario played there multiple times.
Here is a picture I love of people at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw admiring a portrait of Eugen Jochum.
Here is Eugen Jochum on a stamp.
If you are wondering how to pronounce Jochum you say it the same as you say the country singer Dwight Yoakam.
Darn, the picture I bought of Pennario and Jochum is no longer pictured on eBay because I already bought it, so I cannot lift it and put a picture of it here. Even with the seller's watermark splashed all over it, you could get the idea of why I could not resist it.
This picture will be SO COOL in the book. And, I mean, there were other great pictures, like this one...
... which I like, because you can see his hands, what great hands. But I already have that one.
This shot with Eugen Jochum cost me over $20. I do not like to spend money like this but you know what, God knows when this picture would surface again. Plus you go out for drinks with your friends after work and you spend $25 without blinking. I spend that much when I go with my mom to the Wehrle Restaurant.
Plus at the rate the economy is going none of our money is going to be worth anything anyway in the long run, you know?
Eugen Jochum is looking intense and cadaver-like, leaning over Pennario's shoulder. Pennario is at the piano and has one hand resting on the piano desk. And he looks great. Plus he looks as if he does not have a worry in the world. Here I am, playing the Concertgebouw, with this conductor breathing down my neck, who cares, what me worry.
There was never a pianist like Leonard!
Yesterday I was reading an article about the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin. And I am thinking, Pennario could do everything he did with one hand tied behind his back. Kissin played both Chopin concertos when he was 12, big deal. Pennario played the Grieg Concerto at 12 and he learned it in a week. And he didn't grow up coddled in some special school with some special teacher, either.
OK, Mary, time to take your medicine and go to bed.
The, ahem, liturgical calendar says this is the Octave of Christmas. That means you sit for a week, technically eight days if you count the first and the last day, and drink all the leftover wine that ended up at your house. Did I say drink wine? I meant contemplate everything that happened 2011 years ago.
That really puts it in a new light, to say 2011 years ago.
I have to say I did kind of burn myself out over Christmas weekend and I was pretty foggy when I made my way to church on Christmas morning. But then I woke up. The church was full of crimson and gold. Why write "red" when you can write "crimson"? Anyway it was stunning.
We sang the great Gregorian Gloria and throughout it the altar boys rang the bells.
Plus at the start of Mass, the priest, Father Secondo, chanted the Christmas Proclamation.
I had never heard of the Christmas Proclamation! I looked it up and found it here. It is a fascinating piece of paperwork. What it does is, it places the birth of Christ in the context of time. I had not known for instance that it occurred 2,051 years from the birth of Abraham. I had not known how that worked out. Also 1,510 years after the Exodus from Egypt.
These are not really long time spans we are talking about, you know?
I mean, when you start guessing about the Second Coming, it could really happen around now, couldn't it? There would be a kind of symmetry to that.
How is that for a thought for when you cannot sleep?
I love all these details. They are thrilling because they are proof that the story was not made up. That this happened. Oh, this reminds me of something funny that happened this weekend. Howard and I were going to Christmas Eve at my mom's. Howard has been an angel putting up with me and my Christmas, I have to say that. And my religious zeal.
Anyway we get in my car and I have this CD in the player that is playing Gregorian chant. What was it? Thank you for asking! It was "Puer Natus Est." Howard was driving but he was polite and did not turn it off. I said, Howard, you don't have to deal with my Gregorian chant. And I switched it to WBEN.
But WBEN was broadcasting a sports game or something and Howard pushed the radio button again and it switched to Catholic Radio 101.7 because that is how my car radio is rigged. And right at that moment this voice kicks in with the Gospel of Luke.
"At that time there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child ..."
At that point I could not help it, I said: "What, you want to listen to Scripture."
Hahaha! Three cheers for the bus driver who puts up with me!
Subsequent to that Howard did change the station and he put on Al Jolson.
But later my mind returned to that thrilling Gospel and I was chewing on those details. The order came from Caesar Augustus, a person in the history books. There is this one friend of Leonard Pennario's, her family comes from Augsburg, Germany, and she told me recently that Augsburg was named for Caesar Augustus, who personally founded the city. Augsburg is very proud of that, she said.
So that happened at about the same time, during the reign of this emperor. Augsburg dates to the time of Christ. I also love the bureaucratic little note pertaining to Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. Was Syria named for Cyrinus? Seriously? Hahaaaaa.
Anyway all these little things that make what happened believable.
Things to contemplate during the Octave of Christmas.
Howard took this picture on Christmas night of our nephew George Henry. Howard calls him Hank.
George Henry, or Hank, likes to have fun with the orange plastic bags that The Buffalo News arrives wrapped in. He pulls the bag over his head and then rips it for maximum alien effect.
This is another thing about George Henry: One winter day my sister got a call from his school. He had hurt his tongue, they told her.
Then they said, "Do you want to know how he did it?"
Steeling herself she said yes.
What had happened was, he had licked the outside of the school bus. It was cold and his tongue had stuck to it.
Hahahahaaa! We should not be laughing probably in this politically correct day and age but laugh we did, last night. George Henry joined in the laughter. And his uncle Joey said to him, "You learned your lesson, right? So if you see another school bus, you will be ready, and you won't lick it."
George Henry is endlessly amusing. As Howard says he is right out of Mad magazine. It will be pity when he grows up!
Remember when he and I went sledding? That was three Christmases ago, ye gods.
Howard took this picture of me in my pajamas under the tree.
Howard gave me the funniest present. It is a Mood Alarm Clock! You set it and it turns different colors during the night to alter your mood and your dreams. The directions are written by someone who does not quite know English so this will be an adventure.
"Living in a fast-paced society brings a lot of pressure and stress to people," the directions begin, bravely. "How to soothe and relieve these problems has been an important project to researchers and scientists for years. They have discovered that light and color change can bring a significant improvement on these problems. Our cutting-edge product MoodiCare clock is made based on that idea The special features are, it can soothe and relieve your pressure and stress which are caused by many other factors such as work."
I have tried to keep the punctuation and capitalization the same. When I was reading it out loud I had to stop at the point I just left off because I was laughing too hard.
Today I finally finished using up the big pumpkin that some mystery person abandoned after Halloween on my mom's doorstep. I do not know if I wrote about this pumpkin before. It was huge!
People say you cannot cook with these jack o'lantern size pumpkins but you can.
And you should! I had fun with this pumpkin. I took it home -- well actually it rolled around in my car trunk for four or five days before I was home the requisite few hours it took to roast it -- then I cut it up in wedges and into the oven it went. That was a very pleasant Sunday evening I roasted the pumpkin. I worked on my Leonard Pennario project while it baked and reveled in that I was getting around to doing two things I was loving doing.
All in all this jack o'lantern yielded me two pumpkin pies and two Chilean Squash casseroles. That is a recipe from the old Moosewood Cookbook and I have made it with butternut squash but I prefer it with pumpkin. Pumpkin is milder and goes better with the rest of the ingredients which include corn, eggs and Cheddar cheese.
It is delicious. My little niece and nephew love it. I took the Chilean Squash to my mom's for Christmas Eve and the leftovers went home with them. Speaking of pumpkin my brother George and I have been laughing for the entire Christmas season about the lines from Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" ....
There's a special feeling nothing in the world can buy When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie
And, just as funny ...
There's a birthday party at the home of Farmer Gray It'll be the perfect ending for the perfect day....
OK, maybe you had to be there. Isn't that a cute version by Harry Connick Jr.? Dear Harry. I interviewed him once back when I worked at the Niagara Gazette. I might have interviewed him since then. I do not remember, I am ashamed to say.
Yikes, that video cuts off so abruptly!
Oh well. Back to the big old pumpkin. It is funny to think that it was part of our Christmas Eve.
Seeing Kenny Rogers at Kleinhans last night at Kleinhans, I have respect or this show business veteran.
He was kind of startlingly frail considering the big, husky guy we remember from the '80s. But his heart was in this show. Here is a guy born to perform. There is a beauty to seeing someone like that out there on stage. It is as close as we come to old-style vaudeville. Plus, his voice is still beautiful.
The bad news was, Kenny did not change his speech about "O Holy Night" as I had asked him to. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks! He did the whole thing, starting with that hilariously wrong-headed statement that the song "was written as a Catholic Mass."
Hahahaaa! Next he said "Silent Night" was written "as a Catholic Mass."
It is rare to find someone so at sea as to the Catholic Church, you know?
The good news was that in the Meet and Greet -- a story in itself -- Kenny was nice to me and wanted to talk to me. Which was fun! Except I did not notice. My brother George was kind of disappointed in me because I did not pick up on that. George said, "Kenny wanted to talk to you and was trying to get your attention and you were just busy finding your coat."
Hey, you know what? That is just too darn bad.
Leave 'em wanting more, is my philosophy.
Plus you have to watch it with these guys. Leonard Pennario came to town and he asked me to sit down next to him and I said yes and look what happened, suddenly boom, I am in California.
I would get talking with Kenny Rogers and suddenly there I would be on his tour bus with his band, helping him with his memoirs. Instead of Lenny it would be Kenny. No thank you, I have to wrap this project up first.
You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.
Naturally I wait till now to go Christmas shopping.
I went to TJ Maxx after work which, I was surprised it was not a zoo. The music was mercifully soft, and other than one kid with a really piercing scream, the place was pretty quiet. I got a cart and walked around throwing stuff into it. This is the fun of last-minute Christmas shopping! You just say, what the hey, and toss it in.
While I was thus shopping I ran into my Facebook friend Steve Cichon. He was buying an unusual present. I do not want to write what it was in case the recipient is a Leonard Pennario fan and reads this. But anyway, I trailed after Steve Cichon for a while and we talked about TJ Maxx and our families. It felt kind of surreal, trailing around after him. It changed my shopping experience.
Steve is the, ahem, news director for WBEN-AM and when I got home I saw that he had already posted on Facebook that he had run into me. Steve has a million Facebook followers so now I am famous. That is how life is in Buffalo! As is often said it is like one big room.
Now Christmas closes in.
I am going to jot down the few remaining things I need to get and then comes the big Christmas Eve family gift exchange. The big gift exchange, haha. We just give each other little stuff, including stuff we buy at garage sales and Goodwill.
After that comes the big family Christmas Day dinner.
After that comes the getting together with friends for big glasses of wine. Well, I already started that last night with my friend Gary. Howard and I went to Gary's and sat around with huge glasses of wine. The lounge piano sensation Guy Boleri was there too but he was drinking Krupnik. Krupnik is this wonderful Polish honey liqueur. Howard and I have a bottle that was a gift and we treasure it but I have to watch it with it because it puts me on the floor, does that Krupnik.
I am enjoying my yuletide! That is for sure.
Let us pause to hear Jussi Bjorling singing "O Holy Night."
Now that is a voice! Listening to it I find myself reflecting on what the season is all about.
This is terrible! I am so in the Christmas goodie zone. I wake up thinking, OK, what can I eat today? Yesterday I had pumpkin pie for breakfast. Other people have long eaten their Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. And I did too. But I took the step of baking new ones!
I am sorry for my silence. I had to clean my house! With other people that is just something they do on a Saturday afternoon along with their other chores and errands. With me it is this big deal.
The reason I had to clean my house was, I was the host of the office cooking club. When I took it into my head to do that I had know way of knowing that Larry would leave his post.
Larry, remember, is the friend I pay to come over and clean the house.
Larry's car went on the fritz and he lives somewhere out in East Amherst where the buses do not run. I do not think he has plans to fix his car. Apparently he is just going to sit in his house like some troll.
So Larry was not here and naturally, everything also conspires to make this into the perfect storm!
There was this cider from the Clinton-Bailey Market that Howard and I were ripening in the fridge and it leaked through its plastic bottle, creating this sticky mess.
Then I thought I had my act together with my Christmas tree put up in a stand I bought at a garage sale. Well, guess what? That stand leaks too!
I am going to have to sell my story to WikiLeaks!
But anyway. The up-side to this story, the triumph of it, the Leonard Pennario-like aspect of it is that I soared like an eagle and cleaned the house myself. I did a masterful job. It took days, but were I to tackle it again say, next weekend, it would not be that big of a deal.
I feel empowered! When I got up this morning I was walking around the house amazed.
Thinking: I did this!!
Perhaps Larry walked away from his post at just the wrong time! When he finally fixes his car he will be out of a job.
As Howard puts it, he left his bowl.
Ha, ha! Normally I picture a big dog but the puppy is cute too.
Big dog or little dog the moral of the story is the same:
Howard and I celebrated our anniversary today! It has been seven years since Father Butch married us at St. Gerard's Church.
Howard and I met at Fanny's and this year was traumatic because Fanny's not only closed, but the building was torn down. If you go down Sheridan in Amherst you will not even be able to see where it was. It is now a medical building or something.
We used to go to Fanny's to celebrate our anniversary but now it is as if we have been orphaned. What to do? What to do?
We thought of doing something new, going for sushi. But we do that anyway, once in a while at least.
It is practically right down the street and we love it, the dark inside, the circular booths. We sat in one of the booths near the bar and enjoyed the ambience. I chose the Cornish hen because that is my job at the upcoming office cooking club, to make Cornish hens, and I wanted to see how the masters do it. Just like, if you are learning the Liszt Sonata, you want to hear Pennario play it.
The bad news was, I ate and ate and there was no stopping me. Well, finally I had some of that hen wrapped up to go. This was one of those dinners I just love remembering. Cutting-edge foodies would probably not think it interesting, but it was just good, you know? This perfectly roasted hen and mashed potatoes and I think spinach. So yummy. The mashed potatoes, mmmm.
I left really feeling I had been fed.
Howard got lobster tail. Afterward we hung around and gabbed with Mike, the bartender, who remembered the Round Table which is now Big Blue. Mike was little at the time that the Round Table was still opened but his dad had been one of the owners. As I understand it. At the time I was thinking more about my dinner than anything else.
One other nice thing, as usual I was scrambling around at the last minute trying to figure out what to wear. I tried one thing and did not like it. Tried another outfit. Not quite right. And I was all mad at myself. God forbid I plan in advance, you know? God forbid I have a plan.
Then I found this one red dress I had forgotten I had. No way, I thought, this will not fit me. Or it will not look right. But ... I stepped into it, I zipped it up. It did fit! Not only that but it felt good. And it looked right! Well, I thought it did, which was good enough for me.
It is funny how when you find the right thing to wear, that makes your evening. Nothing could go wrong because this red dress had turned up out of the ether.
This weekend has been a very Advent weekend, what with the "Rorate Mass" I went to Saturday at St. Ann's Church, and then the Gospel today, all about St. John the Baptist shouting in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord.
So today I chose a Christmas tree!
I went between Budway's and going to my mom's. There is this garden place on Kenmore Avenue where I go every year. They are always crabby and not at all in the Christmas spirit and they do not offer a good deal but so what, my life being what it is, I am grateful that I can just pick up a tree between errands.
So I went and as is my custom I picked out the tree in about five minutes. Throw it in the trunk, boys.
As is the staff's custom at this garden place, nobody cracked a smile. Not even when I said how wonderful the tree had been that I had bought from them last year. How it did not lose one single needle even with me forgetting to water it for weeks on end.
No smile. No "Merry Christmas."
Hahahahaaaa! I made sure I said "Merry Christmas" just so I would look like this idiot.
I got that tree home later on and unlike last year I was kind of prepared. I had a stand I bought at a garage sale last summer. Except Howard said the stand was made for a bigger tree. Well, he got it into the stand more or less, me standing there holding it and apologizing for its poor fit. If it is not one thing with me and trees, it is another. The tree is too big or too little. Its trunk is too fat or too thin. And another thing, no stand works completely well. With this stand, one of the screws is frozen and does not turn.
I would not mind buying a new stand except they are never to be had in the stores this time of year.
So. We jerry rig. We improvise, like Leonard Pennario. Well, not quite as gracefully as Leonard Pennario. But we get through it!
I take time out from my travails to enjoy the season.
I have started my little niece Barbara in on Edward Lear.
There was a time at my mom's when I thought she needed entertainment and so I asked her if she wanted me to read her the poetry of Edward Lear. She said yes! A most excellent thing in a child.
I went and got the book. I remembered where it was from when I was a kid. And we sat down on the couch. We read "The Pobble Who Has No Toes."
It was all about the Bristol Channel and porpoises and red flannel and I could not believe Barbara could even follow it. She just turned 6. I never know how old kids should be for stuff like this. I always find it hard to believe any kid these days could understand it. But Barbara did!
You have to love the quaint correct Victorian grammar:
"The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we..."
We read a huge number of limericks, Barbara loving the pictures. Like this one:
There was an Old Man of Cape Horn, Who wished he had never been born; So he sat on a Chair till he died of despair, That dolorous Man of Cape Horn.
Then we reread, by popular demand, "The Pobble Who Has No Toes."
Here is the poem read to you so you may enjoy it as Barbara did.
At the end of it I went, "It's a fact the whole world knows, that Pobbles are happier without their..."
"Toes!" Barbara got to cry out.
As Howard would say the software still works. That is amazing, I thought. Considering that these poems were written when, 1910?
Still charming the 6-year-olds after all these years.
Edward Lear sounds like a strange character. To begin with he was his parents' 21st child. Also Wikipedia said that Edward Lear made two marriage proposals in his life, both to the same woman, who was 46 years his junior. Both of them were rejected.
You cannot blame a guy for trying!
Here is "The Pobble Who Has No Toes" complete with, would you believe it, analysis. It is sweet actually. One gentleman comments, "I read this poem when I was 6 and am rediscovering it after 67 years." Someone else writes, "EL is the most underrated of children's writers." Being the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario, who has sometimes been called the most underrated of pianists, I can appreciate that.
After that the comments sort of descend into spam. Edward Lear would probably have appreciated the humor of that.
What I love about the first snowfall: the silence.
This morning the street was full of cars but when I woke up it was as if I were a princess in a castle. In that castle, pictured above! No sound.
Last night I was expecting the snow and so I made sure that besides waking up to snow outside I would wake up to soup in a crock pot. This is a work day for me so it is not as if I will be able to make soup during the day. I have to think in advance!
Last winter I wrote about making yummy white bean soup. Last night I went with black-eyed peas. To most people the Black-Eyed Peas are merely a band but with me, they are dinner. And not just on New Year's. Black-eyed peas on New Year's are a Southern custom. And it is funny, if you research recipes on the Internet you will see all these people saying, "This is great -- I made it for New Year's." Where does the law say you cannot make these yummy peas any other time?
In the end I did not really use a recipe. I just poured in a pound of black-eyed peas, covered them with water, chopped up an onion and two carrots and threw them in, and I think that was it. This morning I had this bunch of kale I had washed a few days ago and stashed in a plastic bag, so I chopped up the kale and threw that in too, while the coffee pot was brewing. Then I tossed in kosher salt and a pinch of dried thyme and oregano.
One thing, I hate to say this but it is one more sign of our economy going south (south, black-eyed peas, this is all adding up to something but who knows what):
The other day I picked up these black-eyed peas, and they are the Goya brand, and they are now in a really cheap-style crackly plastic bag. Used to be, only foods from foreign Third World-type countries would come in these crackly plastic bags. Our plastic bags were nicer.
I am not saying the quality of our plastic bags should matter to us. I am just saying.
This bag is another sign that I have to get my Leonard Pennario project done before the world's economy collapses.
That was because I went to Pilates class after work and we got killed because the teacher was not our usual teacher. It was Jim! And whatever the dancers in Configuration, LehrerDance or Alvin Ailey go through, it cannot be as strenuous as this.
I sure hope so because otherwise when I get to the other side he is going to be there waiting for me and he will not be happy. If I even get there. A big if, especially if I do not finish this book.
How did I get onto this? Back to Jim and the gym. This class I went to, it was at the Buffalo Athletic Club for Women. We are not used to guy instructors and Jim used that to his advantage.
He was way tougher than our usual teacher, Jill. Jill is a great teacher but she pretty much leaves you on your own, whereas Jim walks all over the place, adjusting you, policing you. He used me for the model a couple of times. I loved that. "Mary's a downtowner," he said. "She's used to the drill."
Then he would twist me this way and that and I would stand there obligingly on my mat and let him do it.
"Imagine there are 20 of me," he told the class as he did it. "Imagine I am pulling on your arms the way I am pulling on Mary's."
Ha, ha! At one point I glimpsed a figure all tied up in a kind of knot. It was me! I was looking in the mirror and I did not realize it!
We were all sweating and miserable and by the end of class there were these girls just lying there. I was not lying on my mat but I confess to having cheated a couple of times. I always imagine a magazine called Grueling Pilates. It would contain articles on how to deal with these stretches and poses.
I have to say though that Pilates is worth it. Zumba is easier and more fun and sure, you can say Pilates is boring in comparison, but Pilates tones you up, if you stick with it. And it makes you strong. Which, as the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario, I have to be.
Today is the feast of St. Nicholas. Happy St. Nicholas Day! That is a picture above of St. Nicholas in his bishop's robes.
The other day in The Buffalo News we published this essay by a kid who has begun celebrating St. Nicholas Day. This was funny, at the end of the essay she was writing that St. Nicholas reminded her of Santa Claus. Both of them show up in the night and leave you presents, etc.
Um, honey, St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are, like, the same person?
No one had ever explained that to her!
I am not blaming her. I am honestly just floored sometimes by the things that are not -- how do you say it -- universally understood. Everyone should understand that Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, you know? As in "A Visit From St. Nicholas."
Just like everyone should know that Leonard Pennario was America's greatest pianist. Well, educating people on that is up to me.
Here is a bit of trivia I bet you did not know about "A Visit From St. Nicholas," the famous poem that begins "'Twas the night before Christmas" and goes back to, yikes, 1823. Can you believe it is that old? It is holding up rather well.
This is a nice reading except the reindeer are supposed to be "Donner and Blitzen," not "Donder and Blitzen." Donner and Blitzen is German for Thunder and Lightning.
But that is not the trivia I was talking about.
Here is what I love: The poem was written by Clement Moore who was a professor at Columbia University. He was friends with Lorenzo da Ponte, who collaborated with Mozart on "Don Giovanni," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Cosi fan Tutte."
Should your day need jump starting the way mine does, take two minutes to hear the famous Champagne Aria from "Don Giovanni" sung by my favorite singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
Hahahahaa! Is that marvelous or what?
Lorenzo da Ponte was born in the Jewish ghetto of Venice but came to America after Mozart died. That is where he met Clement Moore and my understanding is that the two poets hit it off.
I like playing this "six degrees of separation game." Who knew who.
Probably if we could go back far enough we would only be six degrees away from St. Nicholas.
Yesterday I went to church in the morning and afterwards I was in the vestibule gabbing with a friend. And while we were talking this cool-looking guy came in to go to the Italian Mass. The Italian Mass is after the Latin Mass. And he waved to me.
I waved back but I said to my friend, "Who is he?"
The guy looked like someone I had seen only I could not think who.
Then I realized who he was. He was the Italian guy from the other night whom I had said ...
Ha, ha! This would not happen if I were single, I will tell you that right now.
Meanwhile the padre and I were laughing about our Friday night at the Hyatt.
"A night out on the town!" he said.
I guess he and his friends really made the scene, going to the Statler too, and to the Convention Center.
Me, working on the book about Leonard Pennario has clipped my wings somewhat. I could not go out until later! I have to ask the padre if he heard Howard playing the piano at the Statler, because Howard was playing that night.
When Padre Secondo came into the Statler he said hello to Howard first thing, even before saying hello to Jocko. Howard was bragging about that.
"Everyone must have thought I was really important," he said.
Howard liked meeting the padre. "He wasn't the way I had pictured him," he said.
"How had you pictured him?" I asked.
"I guess I pictured Father Guido Sarducci."
I really did not know who Father Guido Sarducci was. I thought he might have been on "Saturday Night Live" and sure enough he was.
"He was this hipster," Howard said.
Howard was educated by the Vincentian Fathers but sometimes he has a hilarious conception of the Catholic Church.
Imagine, all these past four years here I have been going to St. Anthony's and talking about the Tridentine Mass there and Howard has been picturing Father Guido Sarducci.
Whenever I mentioned Padre Secondo saying this or that, Howard would imagine Father Guido Sarducci saying it.
Today I went estate-sale-ing with my mom where I added to my Melachrino Orchestra collection.
Remember the Melachrino Orchestra? I found another copy of "Music For Dining" and snapped it up.
My mother said: "But you already have one."
"No," I said. "Actually, we already have three. But we can always use one more."
That is because Howard and I have more than one location. Plus you never know, in those hectic moments before dinner is served you may be unable to find one copy of "Music For Dining." If you have multiple copies, there is more chance you will be able to get your hands on one when you are ready to eat.
Besides the coveted "Music For Dining" I also found the Melachrino Orchestra's "Music For Two People Alone," pictured above.
These covers are the greatest!
And "Music To Work Or Study By."
Ha, ha! Look at the woman looking at the kid studying. I will have to work on my Leonard Pennario book while listening to this album, see how this record works out in the field.
Tonight I went with my mom to the Wehrle Restaurant and then we walked for a while around the new Tops picking up this and that. We had to walk a little because we had both absolutely cleaned our plates and needed to move.
My mother said it was her first time she had ever gone grocery shopping without a list.
"Hahaha," I said. "Welcome to my world."
I never have a list when I go shopping! I told my mom, "That's why, after I call you up from Tops or Budway's to see if you need anything, and you tell me what you want, that's why it takes me an hour to get to your house. Because I am in supermarket going 'Uh....'"
Usually when I go food shopping it is after work and Zumba and I am hungry and zoned. I get overwhelmed with all the choices. But I forgive myself. You cannot go to work and Zumba and also be the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario and always remember your grocery list. Sorry Charlie.
After the Wehrle Restaurant and Tops I went and met Howard at the Hyatt. I almost did not go down there and then when I got downtown there was no parking. I parked about a mile away by TGIFriday's. Well, it was Friday! So, appropriate.
When I got to the Hyatt all kinds of people were there. Howard was sitting with our friend Gene. Also sitting at neighboring tables were our friends E.O. Smith, the great Buff State history professor, and Gerhardt Yaskow, who owns Gene McCarthy's Tavern. That is a place I should take my mom for a fish fry, McCarthy's. Remind me, someone, otherwise I will just home to the Wehrle.
Then we were joined by another group including the priest from my church, Father Secondo, and our friend Lucy, the Vice Consul of Italy, and her husband, historian Martin Ederer. And a friend of theirs, a guy visiting from Italy. I love dropping the title Vice Consul of Italy, you know? And it felt chic to have the padre there. At Jocko! We were laughing about it.
It was all over too soon but I got to tell the visitor from Italy ...
Last night we were driving home from Denton, Cottier and Daniels -- the august piano store that sponsored Leonard Pennario's first piano recital -- and Howard called my attention to the moon.
"It's in the bushes," he said.
A funny way of saying that the moon was way down near the horizon half obscured by trees and brush and such. It was big and red and a kind of crescent. Sort of a half moon. And it was arresting. It was weird. Tom Bauerle even talked about it on the radio today, how strange the moon was.
We went home and went to bed and I could not sleep because I had a lot on my mind, work stuff mostly. So I got up. I was not upset or anything because this happens rarely these days. Normally I am a good sleeper. I made myself some chamomile tea and I sat down on the couch to enjoy it. I love the taste of chamomile tea.
And sometimes what I do when I am up in the night is, I read my missal. It is fun to read Latin and I kind of try to translate it, only I am lazy and do not work too hard. I just kind of take a stab at it. It is sort of like doing a puzzle, and you feel you are learning something, so it helps me get sleepy again.
So. I am re-reading the prayers and the readings from Sunday which was the first Sunday in Advent. I love Advent, Christmas, all of it. It is a magical time for me and not just because you can go to the Place and drink Tom and Jerrys, yum. I just love this time of year. And I am reading how Jesus said to his disciples...
There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves ... For the power of heaven shall be moved. And then they shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty. But when these things come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.
I read this and remembered the moon.
Could that be a sign?
Jesus said the moon. The sun, the moon and the stars.
Everything has been looking weird lately come to think of it!
This is silly but I got up off the couch and went out to the sun room and looked up at the sky. I felt like an idiot but I had to check, you know? Everything was pretty much sitting there as it was supposed to. The stars. The moon, I guess that was there somewhere although I do not think I saw it.
I sort of hoped a star would fall or something but none did.
For a minute or so I stood there. The streetlight changed on the corner. It is funny, when it gets quiet enough in the middle of the night you can hear the mechanism that changes the streetlight.
You just get to wondering sometimes. The world sure does look strange these days. All the unrest, all the chaos. The trouble is, we do not have a good grasp of time given our short lifetimes. Now it is 2,000 years since Christ was born but we do not know if it will be now when He comes back or 20,000 years from now. There is just no way of knowing. I am not one of those people into Nostradamus or anything like that.
It is just that I can imagine Christ coming back. And I can imagine it being now. It has to happen in somebody's lifetime, doesn't it? It could be ours.
Well, couldn't it?
It is strange to think of what we are told will happen. The graves will open up, the dead will return.
I was remembering a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is a fundamentalist Christian. He is not a Catholic but we have certain things in common which, one of them is that he wonders about this stuff too.
He said, "You know, the thought of Christ coming back in our lifetime, it's scary. But it's kind of exciting, too!"
Sure, we were into the beer, but we both sat there with our eyes wide and thought about it.
So: From now on I am going to be on the alert. I am going to be keeping tabs on the sun, the moon and the stars. Everyone should.
What with all the other exciting things going on I forgot to say how I celebrated Black Friday. TGIBF! That is what Howard wrote on Facebook that day.
I went record shopping!
I spent $20 for 40 records. Something like that. The records at Goodwill are 50 cents each.
It is a funny thing about records. My record player and records make me feel so hip. One thing is, my nieces were over on Thanksgiving. One of them is 15 and the other is I think 11. They are the prettiest and most stylish little girls in the world but all they care about at my house is the record player.
They have organized all my records and they go and select a few of them and they want to play them. Then I have to coach them through getting the temperamental record player going. It is a challenge sometimes but that is part of the fun. And the thing always does work.
... but now it is in a new location in the living room where we can all get at it better.
The nieces went and found a stack of Christmas records. They chose one of the Firestone records, with Julie Andrew. And the classic Sinatra Christmas album. And the Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas.
After that I got to appreciating my record player all over again and later on, as I was doing the dishes, I played Placido Domingo's '80s era Christmas album. One side is really good, with "O Holy Night" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas." My dad used to say about Lauritz Melchior singing show tunes, "He sounded as if he could eat the song." That is what Placido Domingo sounds like in "I'll Be Home For Christmas." These Wagnerian tenors! I am telling you.
Now we are all on a vinyl kick. My mother made me move her record player so she could get at it better. We put it on a table by the window.
My friend Michelle came over and we drank wine and listened to Carmen Dragon's great Capitol Records Christmas album.
Then we opened another bottle and listened to the Roger Wagner Chorale.
The Roger Wagner Chorale rocked!
I know I am jumping the gun on Christmas music by the whole of Advent but sometimes that cannot be helped.
Now Michelle wants a record player. We are going to look around and find her a dandy one. Except Howard says it will be difficult because no matter which one we find we will want to keep it. Plus I will have to find her extra copies of the Carmen Dragon and Roger Wagner Chorale Christmas albums.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent which means it is the day the Catholic Church switched over to its new translation of the English language Mass that is closer to the Latin. I went to the Tridentine Mass I usually go to, so it did not directly impact me. But I have to say, I am hooked on the drama!
I was reading stories about the switch. The best is this woman in Milwaukee quoted in the Associated Press story -- naturally they found someone like her -- saying, "I'm not going to learn the damn prayers."
I like how after you receive Communion you say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but say but the word and my soul shall be healed." That is what the Roman centurion said to Christ, the centurion whose servant was dying. An even bigger thrill is to say it in Latin, the language the centurion would have used. But I will not go there.
Naturally I love "and with your spirit" instead of that vanilla "And also with you."
And this is cool. In the Gloria, they restored that line that goes, "We give You thanks for Your great glory." I wrote right here on this Web log that I loved that line and it was too bad it was gone. Now it is back! Does that show the clout I wield with the Vatican or what?
Wow, reading that post, I cannot believe it. I had no discipline at all, frittering away my whole morning! I am much more disciplined now. That Leonard Pennario book is coming along nicely now, thank you very much.
Anyway, back to the new translation. I like those poetic lines. I remember them from when I was very little, when the Mass was in English but it was in a more formal translation.
Reading through the new translation, though, I am disappointed that so much is unchanged.
There are also all these options. You use this version of a prayer OR that version OR another version. Why all these options? One thing I like about the Mass I go to, the Mass in Latin, it just goes. No choices to make. It is like a train, you get on it and it rolls along the tracks. I like that.
Small as the change is, though, it is great it is getting all this ink.
Even though the writers in general seem to have a dim grasp of Roman Catholicism.
Even though the comment section invariably descends pretty quickly into: "What about the pedophilia? Are they going to stop that?" and "I got away from the Catholic Church years ago blah blah blah."
These people, they think they are being all original, you know? You just want to shake them.
That woman in Milwaukee, at least she was original.
Today I made it to Zumba class plus I made two (2) pumpkin pies. Good thing I went to Zumba, you know? If you are going to make pie it is best to exercise.
I would take a picture of the pies except you know what, we ordinary mortals cannot take food pictures and have them look good. It seems I am always searching for recipes on the Internet and I wind up on other people's Web logs and they always have pictures of their food and it always looks gross. People who are not professionals just cannot take pictures of food, I am sorry.
So, no pictures of my pies. But they look yummy! They look pretty much like the picture above. Except the crusts on my pies are more creative and homemade-looking.
For some reason the crusts mixed up really well and rolled out really smoothly.
Speaking of which, today Howard and I stopped by the Hyatt to say hi to Jocko and we ran into our friend Joey Giambra and he let me talk about Leonard Pennario for, I want to say an hour. A long time!
I told Joey Giambra I could not wait until my book was in print so I could tour the country and talk about Pennario.
Meanwhile there is Thanksgiving tomorrow. The two (2) pumpkin pies are made, if not photographed. Two (2) dressings for the turkey are also made. One is with dried bread that my brother George brought me. It was his gift! And I used it wisely. The other is with brown rice and walnuts.
I am off to a good start, I think -- compared with other years.
Ha, ha! I was thinking of this, there was one year I was so panicked that the Martha Stewart Everyday Food issue was lying on the counter and all I did was turn the pages and make the recipes. I just had not planned one bit. Now it was Thanksgiving Day and I had no plan and so I just kept turning the pages. "OK, what's next," I remember saying to myself. I think I made the whole menu!
Things will not be that bad this year ... I think.
"Stir-Up Sunday" is the last Sunday before Advent starts. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year. It gets its name because of the "Collect" prayer you say at the beginning, which on this particular Sunday starts with the words "stir up." The prayer starts out: "Excita, quaesumus, Domine," which means "Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord..."
It became customary over the centuries to take your cue from this prayer and stir up your Christmas pudding!
You would mix it up and then it would mellow with brandy or whatever until Christmas.
In response to "Stir-Up Sunday" I would like to make fruitcakes. They are not the yuchy desserts everyone thinks they are. Fruitcakes are yummy!
I did them a few years ago and even the little nieces and nephews were jockeying for extra slices. That was before I got involved with Leonard Pennario so I had time back then. I even made my own candied citrus peel, imagine that!
I do not know if I will be able to micromanage my fruitcakes to such an extent this year. But I should be able to toss one or two together. It is fun because you bake it and then douse it in brandy or some other liquor every week until Christmas. That is an adventure! I remember going down in the cellar to douse these fruitcakes and saying, "I'll believe this when I see it."
Well, it worked!
What got me baking those fruitcakes was, they showed up in Martha Stewart magazine, which in turn showed up on my doorstep. There were two that I made. One was the Dowager Duchess fruitcake. I loved that one! If you try only one fruitcake do that one. It is a pale gold with lemon and orange peel.
The other fruitcake I made I cannot for the life of me remember. Well, that must mean it was good!
I was not there for when he arrived but my brother George was. Apparently the chimney guy was really taciturn. George said "Hi, I'm George." And the chimney guy said nothing!
George said: "And you are?"
The chimney guy paused and then said: "Howard."
His name was Howard! After that, as I understand it, my mother looked at him and said: "But you aren't wearing a black hat."
That is the name of the company, Black Hat.
Howard just walked into the house saying nothing. He did not get much of a kick out of my mother's joke.
He was not like the chimney sweeps at 17 Cherry Tree Lane.
Burt would have laughed at my mother's joke!
But Howard, he was efficient. Darned if he did not go into the back room and fix the stove. He was still there working on it when I got there. I think he worked on it a couple of hours, in complete silence.
After he got it up and running my mother charmed him into looking at the gas fireplace and he fixed that too. Then, gallantly, he said he did nothing, that it was working all along.
Thank you, chimney sweep Howard!
My mother and I went to two estate sales in celebration.
No Leonard Pennario record. No records at all, zut alors. But I did nail a big book on music that my mom and I are going to read in front of the newly functioning stove.
It is time for another quick round of gripes about cooking magazines.
One, the inordinate amount of space devoted to desserts in Cooking Light magazine. Do you know how you edge a slice of cake to under 400 calories? You give the recipe for the big yummy and gooey cake and then you say, "Serves 20."
That is what the magazine does! One reason my subscription has lapsed.
Another reason being the last page which used to carry a yummy recipe from years past and now features a blame-filled claim in big letters like "Your turkey is dry." Then they tell you how to remedy that but the damage is done, you know? You have that headline pointing its finger at you.
And another thing, as Laurel and Hardy ...
... used to say.
Hahahahaa! Does anyone else besides me remember Laurel and Hardy? Leonard Pennario did but now he is gone. It is just me left to be the keeper of the flame.
Couple of other complaints.
Who in the world has ever sauteed anything in a teaspoon of olive oil?
Would a teaspoon of olive oil even cover the bottom of your skillet?
What is with all these breadsticks?
Why does every cooking magazine want me to develop an addiction to them?
Cooking Light is constantly suggesting they be served alongside pasta. Why in the world would you serve breadsticks with pasta? As if life did not just deal you enough starch.
There are some things that it appears to me are not worth the calories. Breadsticks are one.
Quesadillas are not worth the calories either. They are thin and unfilling but it is the same calories as eating a grilled-cheese sandwich. They are no bargain, those quesadillas! Do not be fooled.
"Cloudy skies and 54 degrees." That is what I heard just now on the radio.
It is hard these days to know what to wear and sometimes I screw it up. Monday I screwed it up. It was in the 60s or something and I wore a kind of light and swirly skirt and then I got really wild and crazy and ditched the black tights.
Was that ever a mistake!
I had an, ahem, business lunch and we ended up walking from The Buffalo News to the Pearl Street Brewery in a cold drizzle. Then when I left the office I walked out into whipping winds and a cold rain.
That was all because of me! Because I dressed as if it was nice.
I made mistakes like this when I was in California. It was supposed to be nice in San Diego, right? Well, guess what, they get cold rain too. And there I was dressed for the beach. Pennario would laugh at me. Heck, I laughed at me.
With which, I said to my mom last night, these black tights are here until further notice. Which means at least until March. Black tights.
The other day I decided I had to start playing the piano again. For a couple of months I had not so much as put my hands on the keyboard.
It felt terrible not to be playing because for so long I had worked pretty hard on the piano, you know? And I hate to let it all go.
Anyway, on Sunday night I think it was, I walked past the old Steinway in the living room and it was just sitting there forlornly all quiet with nobody playing it. Howard does a lot of his playing at Big Blue. It felt like forever since anyone had played this piano. And I remembered when my world revolved around it.
So I felt for the piano, sitting there like this big silent animal. And I sat down.
The first thing I did was play this Schubert Impromptu that I could play in my sleep pretty much. I thought I could start with that. Here is Al Brendel playing that piece.
I always have to say "Al Brendel" because that is how Earl Wild wrote it in his book.
Howard came in while I was playing the Schubert and he stood there and listened and told me it sounded great! Not only that but he took that picture of me up above, playing the piano. I am going to keep it to commemorate the occasion.
After the Schubert I got brave and decided to play a little part of Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata. I love the slow movement ...
... how Beethoven gives you this melody and then he doubles up the notes, then he takes it in threes, and then in fours. The part where he goes into fours is my favorite part. And, more importantly than what I felt about it, the music was sitting right there.
I started playing the Beethoven and then something funny happened.
I wound up playing the whole sonata!
I could not believe it!
It is not as if it was the greatest but it was way better than I had thought it would be. And this one part that used to give me problems mysteriously no longer gave me problems. I could not believe that. I stopped and checked myself to make sure I was nailing all the notes. Yep, I was.
Thank you God! Thank you Beethoven!
Today I felt different because I had played Beethoven's "Appassionata" the night before. I mean, already I am different because I am the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario. But having played the "Appassionata" the night before added that other dimension.
No thinking person should be surprised. I mean, seeing that the book includes a thousand recordings, you would assume Pennario would easily make the cut. But so many of his records are out of print that I am surprised when he turns up.
Pennario is in the book for a record he made with the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. They recorded sonatas by Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss which have been released on Testament.
There is a cool Piatigorsky site I just found where you may read all about this great cellist. Piatigorsky's autobiography is reprinted online, chapter by chapter.
Supposedly there are photos too. I eagerly clicked on a couple thinking maybe Pennario might turn up in one or two of them. But I could not get the photos to show up.
Ha, ha! What did show up was a pop-up ad: "Date a Russian Beauty. Get Scores of Replies."
The Internet kills me sometimes!
That is a famous picture up above of Pennario, right, smiling with his colleagues who are, left to right, William Primrose, the world's greatest violist, Jascha Heifetz, the world's greatest violinist and Piatigorsky, the world's greatest cellist.
An all-star team!
Here is a great clip where you can hear Heifetz and Piatigorsky accompanying Pennario in a trio by Dvorak.