An Ode To A Princess

Red Fez, February, 2017.

It’s hard to know what to write when your heart is heavy. I’d been out all day on December 27, 2016, a difficult day, when I began to scroll through my phone as I waited at the Yankee Stadium stop for the subway to arrive. The feed began with a dark headline about Carrie Fisher, the actress who played Princess Leia in “Star Wars.”

On the platform, as twilight darkened into nightfall and a chilly wind blew against my face, a whiplash of disbelief ran through me. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I felt as though I’d lost a dear member of my own family. A thought flickered through my mind. Princess Leia had now transformed from matter into energy and become one with the Force, “an energy field,” which, as every fan knows, “surrounds us and penetrates us and that which binds the galaxy together.” There, she’ll be … forever.

Emotions poured out of me like oil out of a well. More than 35 years have passed since I saw “A New Hope” (1977) for the very first time. But it sure doesn’t feel like it happened a long time ago. Over the past decades, I hadn’t been like one of her younger fans, camping out outside movie theaters, waiting to catch the release of each new installment, hot off the reels, but I’d ardently watched every one of them at home, with fresh excitement every time I did.

At a teen, growing up in the decadent Eighties, I feasted on every blockbuster science-fiction that came out that decade: “E.T.” (1982), “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), “Star Trek III: “The Search for Spock” (1984), “Back to the Future” (1985), “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” (1986), “Aliens” (1986). Sure, they were all thrilling. But none were powerful enough to make a mark as indelible as “Star Wars.”

It was a science-fictional fairy tale. But Leia was the “princess” who didn’t need to be rescued by a prince charming. In fact, it was she who went to rescue Han Solo, a man who looked every bit the prince charming, but was a debonair smuggler. Leia was the princess who became a senator; a senator who became a rebel leader; a rebel leader who became a general. And her hair? Braided into an unorthodox coiffure of two lateral buns, framing her ears. Leia was a princess who didn’t quiver to wield a blaster gun; who sat comfortably in a spacecraft as it make a jump into hyperspace, where it hurtled through interstellar space faster than light.

Much before Katniss Everdeen of “The Hunger Games” fame came along to liberate an oppressed nation from a cruel dictatorship, Leia was fighting to save the Old Republic from the evil clutches of the Sith lords and restore democracy in an entire galaxy, let alone a nation.

As a kid, so mesmerized was I by the “Star Wars” saga that I wanted it to pop out of the cathode ray tube. To that effect, I put up life-size posters of Princess Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker on the walls of my room. My parents got me my very own Millennium Falcon, which I parked on top of my bookcase.

This was a tale I loved so much that somewhere along the way, I didn’t grasp that these folks that I adored were people living on Earth and not in a galaxy far, far away. Princess Leia was Princess Leia. Who else could she be? It’s embarrassing to admit that when it came to “Star Wars,” I almost never wanted to believe that it was, after all, a movie made in Hollywood. That Princess Leia was a “role” played by an actress named Carrie Fisher dawned on me way into adulthood. In my mind, one had melded with the other. This sowed the seeds of another notion: that she could never be touched by mortality. She was supposed to transcend time, wasn’t she? That she should go so soon is what deals it all the more of a blow.

But she’d want to make us to smile, in the knowledge that she “drowned in moonlight, strangled by [her] own bra,” as she wrote in her book, “Wishful Drinking.” But not before she strangled a slimy crime lord with her golden bikini.

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Bagel And Lox

On a recent windy evening, M. and I had bagel and lox at the Russ & Daughters cafe in the lower basement of the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue. We shared “The Classic,” a board with Gaspé Nova Scotia smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion, and capers.

Bagels and lox is a staple that’s as American as the burger, though lesser-known. For some, the dish isn’t complete without onion rings and a sprinkling of capers. Neither the bread, nor the fish originated in the U.S., but their pairing happened in New York.

Smoked salmon is commonly called lox. But not all smoked salmon is lox. The salty, pickled, belly meat of cold-smoked salmon is what traditional Jewish lox is.

Lox comes to us by way of the Scandinavians. It was they who mastered the art of preserving salmon in brine. The bagel, a cousin of the pretzel—which is boiled before it’s baked—traces its roots to Polish Jewish bakers.

Why I Blog?

Red Fez, November 13, 2016.

I

The only time there’s been a long break in my blogging is between a day in November 2009 and a day in March 2010. By the standard of speed of communication in the Digital Age, that interval in writing is the analog equivalent of 50 long years.

When I resumed blogging after that gap, I felt like a weary, but happy, soldier, back from a war. But I didn’t offer any explanation as to why I’d suddenly stopped posting. None was needed. After all, perhaps no one was reading the blog. Acknowledging my leave of absence, as I’m now, in itself, is enough.

When I reappeared in my online grotto, oddly, I’d also returned to the comfort of my offline home. In the past, when I’ve been away from my blog, I’ve also been away from home. The blog is that plane then, where the digital and the physical meet.

It’d come to be an outlet of my intellectual expression after my move to the Big Apple, for it was only after I took up residency in Brooklyn that I began to bang out my thoughts there with fair regularity. The only occasions when I didn’t were when I’ve been harried to the point of panting, slipping, and scraping my knees to meet deadlines at work. For some puzzling reason, I attained that frenetic pace only when my job took me far from base.

In any event, I picked up where I’d left off.

II

Many moons ago, when I began blogging on Blogger—now owned by Google—the notion of blogging was at its infancy. Back then, I was in graduate school, toiling away. Back then, I had coffee with milk and sugar. Now, I take it black. Much has changed since.

As a photo album is a collection of memories, so my blog was intended to be a a depository of my reflections on anything: interplanetary travel; how I was smitten by a beverage bottle; an outing to the U.S.S. Intrepid museum; a book by Honoré de Balzac; an ode to SpongeBob. Yes, an eclectic mix. That could be because I’m a jack of all trades. Or, it could be that I have an assortment of interests. Which, of course, I do. Better that, than to have none at all.

Some six years ago, Anthony De Rosa, now of “The Daily Show” (with Trevor Noah), shared on his Tumblr stream that “we live in a world of digital feudalism.” “The land many live on is owned by someone else, be it Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr.” Sure, I didn’t own a piece of real estate on the web. But even as a digital fief, I could still till the land as I chose—as long as I didn’t pump out offensive or vulgar content.

III

The 15th century Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus asked his pupils to mark the occurrences of striking words, brilliant metaphors, adages, pithy wisdom, and archaic or novel diction. He also suggested that every student and teacher keep a notebook, organized by topic, so that as and when he came upon anything noteworthy, he may jot it down in the appropriate section.

Erasmus’ recommendation that every reader keep a notebook of memorable quotations was wildly followed. Such notebooks, which came to be called “commonplace books,” became fixtures of Renaissance schooling. Every student kept one. By the 17th century, they’d been adopted beyond the schoolhouse. They were regarded as vital tool for the cultivation of an educated mind. But their popularity ebbed as the pace of life quickened in the 19th century. By the middle of the 20th century, they fell out of favor.

Well, my blog is a 21st century edition of my “commonplace book.” Unfortunately, after I’d launched it, I hadn’t made much progress on it, when I was forced to neglect it all because of pressing demands on my time. Reason: I was busy earning bylines as a journalist.

IV

I’d dreamed of becoming an airline pilot, but by a quirk of fate—and under the tutelage of a pair of doting, but disciplinarian parents—I ended up being inside a newsroom, not the cockpit of a jumbo jet. I was a newspaper person, with little interest in newspapers, even though I cut my professional teeth in the most prestigious daily of the nation where I started out working. I did my job fairly well, even though I tempted the firing squad more than once.

So, I’ve tasted the magic and the dread of journalism. My career didn’t take me places. I took it, from the smog-drenched streets of a crowded and chaotic Asian capital to a tropical island (home to one of the oldest rainforests in the world) to the barren prairies of the American Midwest to Arcadian New England hamlets.

This journey—both through places and broadsheets—was an opportunity to cover a potpourri of events in municipal governments, cop houses, courts, schools, Main Street, and everything in between. At this writing, I’ve worked as a reporter and an editor; in print and pixel publications; in metropolitan dailies and community rags.

IV

As the pastures in the flagging media industry grew more fallow, I turned my blog into my own private newspaper, taking on the roles of correspondent, editor, and publisher. I made sure that I didn’t let it molder away. If anyone stumbled into it and read something that made them wrinkle their nose or hot under the collar, they could get in touch with me.

As far as interactivity went, though, Blogger seemed as lukewarm as the last sips of the deli coffee. Feedback was rare. “Blogging can be a very lonely occupation,” observed Sue Rosenstock, a spokeswoman for LiveJournal—now owned by SUP, a Russian online media company—in an interview with the New York Times. “You write out into the abyss.” That was one of the reasons blogs “[lost] their allure for many people.” People drifted to Facebook and Twitter, where they could connect with others.

But I made the decision to migrate to another blogging platform: WordPress. It was like arriving in a new country, with its new customs and codes (pun, please.) Slowly, I acclimated to the new environment. On another front, however, I dithered.

Should I make that space simply, a showcase of my work? If I did, it’d be a terrible waste of free storage space (of data.) So, I converted it into a dynamic venue, updating it every couple of days. But was I hankering for readership? If anyone happens to stop by, I smile. If not, I “keep calm, and carry on.”