The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Although I have a few editions, the other day I picked up a nice, used copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It is one of my favorite books/poems of all time. I think it all started in the early 80s when we were living in London. My mom hired an Iranian English teacher to teach her English. I rarely saw her. I would come home from school and she would be in class with my mom. But one holiday she came to visit us in my parents’ country house outside Madrid. As a gift she brought a kilo of pistachios -which to this day I love, and a beautiful edition of the Rubaiyat.

I immediately fell in love with that book, it had an illustrated cardboard cover and beautiful illustrations. Every page had the verses in the original (more on that later) Persian or Farsi, English, and French. Right after college I purchased my first copy, and I would read it occasionally. For the last few years, I read it almost every Summer! This is not so strange, as there are several books I read and have read multiple times: Voltaire’s Candide and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea are examples.

At any rate, the book is not without controversy: About the original text, about authorship, about religious interpretations, and about the translations. I have no academic interest in the text, I just enjoy the poetry. I love the flow of the verses, the circularity of the themes, the imagery. It is ancient Persian but feels totally modern. It is an appeal to stop and smell the roses, something that we so often forget to do. Take for example:

I sent my Soul through the Invisible

Some letter of that After-life to spell:

And by and by my Soul return’d to me,

And asnwer’d “I Myself am Heav’n and Hell”

While I do not consider myself an Epicurean or a Hedonist in the modern interpretation of the words, I do enjoy small pleasures in life – which is much closer to the original thought of Epicurean philosophy, to enjoy modest pleasures from tranquility. Thus, I love a good cup of coffee or glass of wine, a well-prepared meal, a well rolled cigar, a piece of music or any art. That, I believe is the message of the Rubaiyat: to enjoy the moment that is life.

Let me know what you think of the Rubaiyat in the comments section.

The Fox and the Stork

A few months ago, at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown, a dear friend and old colleague from Seacrest Country Day School started reading to her Lower School students via the interweb. She called her daily reading “Trespassers Will” , and she soon reached out for more readers to help her with her daily story, including me!

Of course, I volunteered. Our only issue was reading a story in Spanish and then adding English subtitles. Although I have uploaded a few videos to YouTube, I had never done the subtitle bit. The trick lies in synchronizing the voice to the subtitle. It took a few tries, including the one where I deleted everything as I was almost finished, grrr.

The Fox and the Stork is an ancient Aesop fable. La Fontaine refreshed it in the 18th C as a perfect vehicle to teach and enjoy, the Dulce et utile theme of the time. It really took hold of the popular imagination, and was popular in the 19th and 20th C. I even have a tie with the fable’s motif! (you can see it on the video)

At any rate, I read the story, recorded it, added the subtitles, and now it has a whopping 48 views, I am sure it must be a record of some kind.

So, for your viewing pleasure, here is the story of The Fox and the Stork, and a clip from the real pro, the aforementioned Angela doing her thing. Spoiler: she is phenomenal and light years ahead of my hack job. Enjoy:

The great American restaurant: The diner

Thanks to almost 30 years of the Food Network and food magazines, the US is finally waking up to eating good food. This is not to say there was no interest in food before. Look no further that the Amish communities with their all organic and local only fare -long before that was even a thing. For too long Americans in general only considered food as fuel for the body. Generally, Thanksgiving is the only exception when families cook and sit together to eat. Of course, there have always been restaurants around the country that venerated food. I think of Locke Ober’s in Boston, which my dad loved, and of course many others. Speaking of the Food Network, think of all the restaurants Guy Fieri features in his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives show, revealing some of the generations old, mom and pop restaurants that are temples of food.

It is my opinion that diners are the finest representation of American food and therefore, culture. It boils down (sorry for the pun) to the Puritan/Protestant DNA, of our work ethic ingrained in our culture; work is the way to earn your salvation. It means one must have a big breakfast to work all day towards one’s goal. Thus the big breakfast at the diner, who has time to make eggs and toast and hash browns, etc, etc, at 5 in the morning? Lunch is a non-event: I have seen people wolfing a slice of pizza while they walk, a sandwich at one’s desk is more than acceptable, it is respected as a sign of your hard work, taking your time for lunch means you are a slacker.

My love for diners started way back in 1983, my freshman year in college in a small town outside of Boston. Exploring the town, I discovered Wilson’s diner. Its shiny blue and chrome was beckoning, inviting. What a discovery! It looked like a railroad car that was permanently placed there. And what a breakfast they had, buttery everything. Big dollops of butter to make the pancakes, the eggs, the omelets, the hash browns, everything! The first times I went with my best friend Theo who quickly got to chatting with the staff in Greek. I was amazed at the coincidence until I learnt that many, if not most of the New England diners are family owned and run by hardworking Greek immigrants. There is obvious irony in the fact that a Greek family was cooking perfectly buttery, greasy American breakfasts. I immediately fell in love with Wilson’s and walked the couple of miles  -sometimes in foot deep snow- into town on Saturdays for my breakfast: eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, pancakes, I tried everything and everything was delicious. During those four years of college I explored other diners: The Blue Diner in Boston, and the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown, quickly cementing my love for diners and what they represent.

Since then I have had the chance to discover many diners and I always make it a point, whenever and wherever possible to breakfast in a diner: The Empire Diner in Chelsea (The New York one, sorry) around the corner from my apartment after college, The Agawam Diner near Newburyport where I lived for a winter, tiny Casey’s Diner in Natick where I would sometimes take my advisory group, it is so small it does not even have a regular door, but a sliding door which takes up less space, the famous Red Arrow Diner in Manchester New Hampshire where presidential candidates go get their photo taken during the primary election campaign. There are not many diners outside of the Northeast, but that does not mean that there are not great breakfast places that do the job of the diner: Ye Olde Waffle Shoppe in Chapel Hill is one of them. I even held the oral component of my final exams there; the students had to order their breakfast in Spanish from the wonderful Latino staff (although the ownership was Greek!) to pass the class! Visiting the University of Virginia, I discovered the White Spot on which I wrote one of my earliest posts (you are going to have to scroll way down…). The Clover Grill in New Orleans, I even bought their T-shirt: “We love to fry, and it shows”, Plato’s Diner in Maryland, and so on.

The other day I discovered The Boynton Diner in Boynton Beach in Florida, and I am happy to report it is a perfect specimen of the species: great waitresses, perfect breakfast, and, of course, an endless cup of piping hot coffee.