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Inexpensive Tea House in Washington D.C.
No, they don't read tea leaves here. If they did, platoons of
politicians and pundits would throng the aisles. But this tiny chain of serene
self-serve tea houses does offer fine teas and tasty Asian-accented foods at low prices in
East-West-chic surroundings. Menus vary at the three locations, but one might try a
breakfast eye-opener of cilantro scrambled eggs with naan and raita, or
a hearty lunch of ochazuke, a "soup" of seasoned brown rice and green
tea. Even standard dishes have an Asian twist: a Black pepper Ham and Jarisberg
sandwich comes with eggplant chutney, while a rich chocolate torte is accompanied by green
tea ice cream. In hot weather, limeade spiked with fresh ginger juice is refreshing.
The perfectly brewed teas range from the house favorite--Golden Needle, a
"smooth, elegant" black tea--to rare green teas such as the "intensely rich
and vegetative" Japanese Gyokuro. We noted, but didn't try, Pu-Erh Camel
Breath, described as a "hearty, musty, aged Chinese tea reputed to have digestive
properties." Sounds like a brew for the campaign trail. Contact: Teaism,
2009 R Street NW, Washington, D.C. Telephone: 202-667-3827. (There are two
other locations.) Website: www.teaism.com.
Intimate Museum in Washington, D.C.
In a city of monumental museums, the intimacy of the Textile Museum is
well-nigh irresistible. Housed in two historic buildings in Kalorama, its exotic
collection of rugs and fabrics from Africa, Asia, and Latin America is one of the world's
finest. Recently we stood enthralled before a group of diaphanous Ottoman textiles,
intricately embroidered with flowers in gold and silk, so tight and airy that they
fluttered in the slightly moving air created by a fan. A passionate young father
whipped through the exhibition with his five-year-old son, holding him up to see ornately
stitched scarves and count dresses. It's a small fish swimming upstream in the era
of Nintendo and golden arches, but what a way to spend quality time with one's children.
The Textile Museum was founded in 1925 by George Hewitt Myers, an
avid collector who donated 275 of his own rugs and sixty related textiles. Now
located in his family's gracious townhouse, it has some of the best pre-Columbian
Peruvian, Islamic, and Coptic fabrics in existence, as well as a superb collection of rugs
from every major rug-producing area of the world. Once a year, the museum sponsors
alluring expeditions to textile-weaving villages in places like India, Turkey, and Bhutan.
Volumes on every conceivable aspect of the subject can be found in the library, in
the museum bookshop and on-line. Contact: The Textile Museum, 2320 S Street NW,
Washington, D.C. 20008-4088. Telephone: 202-667-0441. Website: www.textilemuseum.org.
98. Juggling Balls
Is Better than Viagra
Years ago an Arizona friend gave us a set of juggling balls, presumably
because we tend to keep too many balls in the air at all times, so he thought we should
get better at it. At any rate, it was and is a delightful present. The outfit
making the balls is called More Balls Than Most (see http://www.juggling.co.uk/index.html), so
we assume that it will soon supplant Viagra as a life support system for old codgers.
The outfit was started in London by three computer company guys, two of whom were
regular jugglers in Covent Garden. The More Balls people have now moved to Watford,
outside of London, so we have sent our man in Watford over to check them out.
Sea Lion Viewing in Glacier Bay, Alaska
Whiskers bristling, flippers flapping, stellar sea lions are the antic
giants of these northern waters. Viewed on the rugged outcroppings of Glacier Bay,
dark-skinned alpha males, some weighing over 2000 pounds of rippling flesh and muscle,
feint and tussle in the most laborious fashion to ride herd on their lesser brethren.
But when a swim is in order, they turn into galloping quadrupeds, sliding down
hill, knocking their companions over like bowling pins, till the whole crowd falls into
the milky green sea with a seismic splash. In the water, these big-bodied creatures
become sleek and graceful, diving for fish and tossing them in the air. One of the
best places to see and hear (their voices are surprisingly deep and vibratory) stellar sea
lions at play is South Marble Island, preferably from a kayak or small boat anchored
offshore. Wildlife cruises of Glacier Bay, including sightings of sea lions, are
offered by Cruise West, which operates relatively small boats, such as Spirit of
Discovery. We were docked in Juneau one morning when this boat pulled in and
disgorged what appeared to be a uniformly happy and satisfied crowd of passengers.
Book on Glacier Bay, Alaska
One of the world's great natural wonders is revealed in all its grandeur
Bay National Park, Alaska, a privately printed book by photographer Mark Kelly.
Crystalline blue glaciers, sleek pods of orcas, gorgeous sweeps of wildflowers--all
this and more can be viewed in the pages of this photographic voyage through a
magnificent, unspoiled wilderness. Pictures of sea kayakers in the rain brought back
vivid memories of our own expedition in these icy waters--but Kelly's photos are a lot
better than ours. This would be a fine gift for anyone who's been to Alaska, or who
is contemplating a trip to this remarkable place. To purchase the book directly from
the photographer, contact: Mark Kelly, P.O. Box 20470, Juneau, AK, 99802. Telephone:
Coffee Mug for the Car
It is the Nissan JMH400. This is certainly better than the cars, and it is
made by Thermos. Dont get tricked into buying the new styles you see in the
retail stores, but get the wonderful original. It looks good, does not leak, does
not dribble, and it fits your car holder. You can find it on the Thermos website--www.thermos.com. Now if we could
only get Thermos to design the holders for the car, since the car manufacturers do a
Chocolate Made in Alaska
Normally we're not fond of flavored chocolates, but the bars produced in Sitka by
the Theobroma Chocolate Company became so addictive that we ordered another batch when we
returned to the lower 48. Three varieties were irresistible: Dark Sitka Crunch, a
bittersweet chocolate lavishly studded with pecans and raisins; Dark Midnight Expresso,
flavored with finely ground Raven's Brew coffee from Ketchican (much favored by the U.S.
Coast Guard, we hear); and Milk Choco Latte, a lighter version of the same.
Theobroma saw us through a host of really tough adventures: orca-watching at sunset,
soaking in hot springs, and the like. Just don't leave crumbs for the bears.
Contact: Theobroma Chocolate Company, P.O. Box 2237, Sitka, AK 99835. Telephone:
888-985-2345. Website: www.theobromachocolate.com.
Northern Exposure Experience in Alaska
Almost everywhere we went in Alaska, we seemed to encounter the goofy, slightly
ironic characters of TV's Northern Exposure. Here in one of the world's
last great unspoiled spots, everyone's pursuing a dream--of riches, of adventure, of
self-realization--even if the dream is decades old and nowhere near fruition. Alaska
has become the canvas for the dreamer's fantasies. One place to view dream weavers
of various sorts is the Baranof hotel in Juneau. The oldest hotel in the state (est.
1939), it has a gloomy, cavernous interior that is itself a throwback to some baronial
fantasy of Alaska's mining and furtrading past. To get the flavor, stop in the lobby
bar, a.k.a. "The Bubble Room": dark, redolent of beer and years past, peopled
with state legislators, lobbyists, lawyers, tourists and artistes of all stripes, you'll
hear a hundred tales unfold in an evening. The vaguely W.P.A. mural of poker players
and dance-hall girls above the bar sets the tone. Contact: The Westmark Baranof
Hotel, 127 N. Franklin St., Juneau, AK, 99801. Telephone: 800-544-0970.
Small Museum in Alaska's Inside Passage
The best small museum in Alaska devoted to Native Indian culture was founded,
paradoxically, by a missionary who worked overtime to get Indians to adopt the ways of the
white man. In 1888, the Rev. Dr. Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary, was
appointed the first General Agent for Alaska. He spent much of the next decade
traveling throughout the Territory and coastal Siberia, trying to persuade all the Indian
tribes to give up their native traditions and religion. At the same time, Jackson
was avidly collecting magnificent totems, Chilkat blankets, and black argillite
carvings--in all, over 5,000 of the finest examples of Indian artifacts imaginable--in
order to "show coming generations of natives how their fathers lived."
this rich collection is housed in the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, a prosperous
fishing town on the west coast of Baranof Island. A handsome octagonal concrete
building made to resemble a Northwest Coast Indian community house, the museum is wholly
contained in one large room with a central totem pole. Around the walls are
Victorian-era glass cases displaying beaded garments, ceremonial regalia, kayaks, tools
and weapons of the four major Native groups of Alaska. In the center of the room are
dozens of cases with labels that read, "Drawers may be opened." Inside
there is more treasure: ivory carvings, jewelry, games, knives. During the summer,
Alaska Natives demonstrate their craft at the museum. We watched one gentleman
painstakingly weave a small, stunning black baleen basket whose intricate artistry
surpasses any we've seen, even that of Nantucket's famous lightship baskets. The
small shop has exquisite modern handicrafts at equally exquisite prices. Contact:
Sheldon Jackson Museum, 104 College Drive, Sitka, AK 99835-7657. Telephone:
907-747-8981. Website: www.museums.state.ak.us.
Large Museum in Alaska's Inside Passage
Only one museum surpasses the Sheldon Jackson: the Alaska State Museum in Juneau.
Its handsome, well-lit, informatively labeled galleries are filled with a
wealth of astonishingly beautiful artifacts from all of Alaska's native tribes. We
saw Aleut baskets woven from beach grass, one small as a thimble; a finely crafted
Athabaskan birch bark canoe; and Eskimo ceremonial masks representing humpback whales,
eagles and other power animals. Be sure to spend time in the dramatic Northwest
Coast Indian galleries, which are constructed of Sitka spruce in the fashion of a clan
house. Of special note are vivid red, turquoise and black panels made from the
Thunderbird House in Yakutat, Alaska, with massive, handsomely crafted house posts
featuring wolves and frogs, and the top of a totem pole with the face of Abraham Lincoln,
said to have been carved from a photograph. The beauty of each artifact cannot be
overstated. Computers in each gallery provide excellent information on each tribe.
museum also has rooms devoted to the history of Russians and furtrading in Alaska, the
Japanese occupation of Aleutians during World War II, and the American period with
displays of a rugged mining assay office and artifacts relating to statehood. In the
children's room, there is a one-third scale model of the stern of the Discovery,
the ship captained by George Vancouver during his exploration of the Inside Passage.
An enormous mammoth bone is one of the more impressive natural history exhibits.
The shop has attractive, affordable Alaska Native handicrafts. Contact: The
Alaska State Museum, 395 Whittier St., Juneau, AK 99001-1718. Telephone:
907-465-2901. Website: www.museums.state.ak.us.
Old Book About Alaska
The Scottish naturalist John Muir first saw Glacier Bay in 1879, just 12
years after the United States bought Alaska from Russia. Climbing a thousand feet up
a mountain in the rain, the clouds parted as Muir reached a vantage point:
"...sunshine streamed through the luminous fringes of the clouds and fell on the
green waters of the fjord, the glittering bergs, the crystal bluffs of the vast glacier,
the intensely white, far-spreading fields of ice, and the ineffably chaste and spiritual
heights of the Fairweather Range, which were now hidden, now partly revealed, the whole
making a picture of icy wilderness unspeakably pure and sublime." Though some
now regard Muir as a egotistical arriviste, as adept at claiming credit for his
"discovery" as any 21st-century publicity hound, his collected Alaska journals
are mesmerizing. We read excerpts of his extraordinary, almost off-hand explorations
(preparation consisted of tossing "some tea and bread in an old sack and jump[ing]
over the back fence") as we sailed through Glacier Bay. Miraculously, it seems
not to have changed enormously in the last century. See: John Muir, Travels in Alaska
(Houghton Mifflin, 1998).
New Book About Alaska
Just before leaving for Alaska, we were given Johnathan Raban's
to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings (Pantheon, 1999). This too is a
fine companion piece for a cruise up the Inside Passage. The British-born Raban uses
his lonely, often perilous thousand-mile voyage from Puget Sound to Alaska to reflect on
his own life, the death of his father, his relationship with his young daughter and his
troubled marriage. Interspersed with Raban's account are often lugubrious excerpts
from the log of George Vancouver who, as captain of the ship Discovery, explored
the same turbulent waters and wild, mountainous coastline in 1792-1794. Neither man
had an entirely successful voyage: Raban survived thick fogs, dangerous whirlpools and
submerged tree trunks only to face heartbreak in Juneau. The middle-class Vancouver,
clearly Raban's alter ego, never achieved recognition or respect from his aristocratic,
fashionably Romantic ship's officers. But the book is a superb piece of modern
travel writing, the sort that uses terra incognita as a mirror for the soul.
Kayaking in Alaska's Inside Passage
Glacier Bay National Park, 60 miles north of Juneau, is an enchanted body
of limpid green water, rimmed by dazzling glacial fjords and punctuated by rocky islands
densely covered with dark green firs. Although cruise ships regularly ply these
waters, this is still wild, uninhabited country populated by playful harbor seals and
gamboling ponds of humpback whales and orcas. Flocks of yellow-billed puffins wing
by, as snorting sea-lions cavort on stony outcroppings. While there's a lot to be said for
keeping warm and dry in frequent chilly rain, there's even more to be said for getting out
in the bay and seeing this wondrous beauty from the vantage point of an ocean-going kayak.
We spent an afternoon in the aforementioned drizzle, without
proper rain gear, sitting in an inch or two of frigid water, and were utterly enthralled.
We paddled through tiny ice floes around the hulking Marjorie Glacier, felt the
ocean swell as chunks of ice the size of trucks crumbled with a thunderous crack into the
water, watched a harbor seal poke his sleek nose out of the sea to investigate our boat,
and gazed in awe of the vivid turquoise crevices and earth-hued striations created by
thousands of years of slowly creeping ice. The best part is the silence, hearing
only the water dripping from your oar as you dip it into the glacial sea.
Whether you are contemplating a leisurely day's paddle or envisage
a week-long camping expedition, a good place to start is Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks.
Based in Gustavas, GBSK has the park concession for kayak rentals, with orientation and
instruction sessions, and drop-off and pick-up service. The website has important
information about necessary gear (don't forget bear canisters), maps of Glacier Bay, and
tide information. Proprietor Bonnie Kaden and her husband Hayden are well-versed in
the natural lore of this wondrous spot, and Hayden is also a naturalist for hire should
you need a hand on a trip. Contact: Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks, P.O. Box 26, Gustavas,
Alaska 99826. Telephone: 907-697-2257. Website: www.he.net/~kayakak.
Bear Viewing in Alaska's Inside Passage
How do you know a bear is in the neighborhood? Easy, it's the faint scent
of "unsheared sheep's wool" that lingers in the air. Or so we learned from
a young British Columbian as we climbed the mossy trail to the Anan Bear Observatory.
And yes, although the forest around us was magical and silent, there was the
slightest reek of lanolin in the air.
Every summer, silver-skinned salmon fight and thrash their way up
the swirling falls of Anan Creek to spawn and die in the same water they were born in
years before. Here, the Tglingit Indians once had a fishing camp; today, it's
reserved for hungry brown and black bears who come for the ursine equivalent of fast food
drive-through dining. At the end of a half-mile trail through the antediluvian
rainforest, thick with firs and ancient Sitka spruces, the U.S. Forest Service has built a
bear-viewing pavilion from which you can observe the creatures in relative safety.
We watched a female black bear and a pair of five-month-old cubs clamber down the
precipitous granite boulders to the churning river, where the mother repeatedly thrust her
aquiline muzzle into the icy water, triumphantly seizing one writhing fish after another
in her powerful jaws. The creek was so choked with salmon that she abandoned each
silvery corpse after only a few choice bites, and selected another. All this
unfolds at a distance of 20 to 30 yards.
Accessible only by a small boat or seaplane, the Anan Bear
Observatory is located on the Cleveland Peninsula, about 27 miles southeast of the town of
Wrangell. Forest service rangers will meet you at the lagoon and also at the
observatory, where they will give you safety instructions (keep on the trail; don't take
food; stay in a group; if you see a bear talk or sing loudly, but above all don't scream).
For more information, contact the Forest service Information Center, Centennial
Hall, 101 Egan Drive, Juneau, AK 99801. Telephone: 907-586-8751.
Comedic English Gardening Book of the 1950s
There comes a moment in late summer when the desire to tend the garden
wilts before clouds of hot steam issuing from the earth and airborne armies of ravenous
mosquitoes. The cure, for a day or two at least, is to abandon all pretense of
horticulture and curl up on a sofa in the air conditioning-- preferably near a window
where you can glimpse the white Seafoam roses, but not the weeds springing up about their
base--with a glass of tropical iced tea and a book. The book, if it is even about
gardening, should be purely frivolous, not at all instructive, and certainly not
guilt-producing. It should, in short, be Merry Hall by Beverly Nichols.
Decades before Peter Mayle ever thought of renovating a house in
Provence, Beverly Nichols, a prolific English writer, bought a horribly run-down Georgian
manor house with a derelict garden and proceeded to resuscitate them both. His
adventures at Merry Hall are chronicled in this supremely light, frothy book. Very
much a post-World War II period piece, peopled with wonderful characters who probably no
longer exist, even in rural England, it will teach you little about gardening--Nichols
wasn't much of a horticulturist--except perhaps the fun of having acres of white lilies to
drive your friends and enemies insane with jealousy. But it will make you laugh at
the antics of Miss Emily and Our Rose, neighborhood viragos who try every angle to trap
Nichols into sharing the bounty of his exquisitely maintained vegetable garden, when they
are not at each other's throats to see who can best decorate the local church for a visit
from "the Princesses." And it will make you long for an Oldfield, who does
all the actual work for Nichols, whose own principal contribution, at least in the early
pages, is to burn down an offending holly hedge after drinking too much champagne.
Hall, by Beverly Nichols, originally published by Jonathan Cape, 1951; reissued
by Timber Press, 1998.
Home-Design Store on West 39th Street, New York
Ten floors above the grit and bustle of Manhattan's garment district lies
the serenely seductive lair of interior designer Vicente Wolf. In this retail store,
which opened last fall, one can stroll through the understated, elegant interiors that
have made him the darling of the shelter magazines. Do-it-yourself types can get the
look by purchasing Wolf's own line of furnishings, from simple upholstered chairs and
sofas to textured fabrics and wall coverings in disarmingly neutral shades. These
provide the perfect backdrop for the well-edited collection of accessories Wolf has picked
up on his world travels. Each item has been chosen with an unerring eye for the best
of class. Among the temptations were a pair of exquisite 19th-century Indian land
deeds, each adorned with a handpainted miniature of the owner, old Japanese sake jars, and
handsome Tibetan butter lamps. Wolf's beautiful silver flatware,
"Jasmine," was patterned after the triangular handles of an Indian maharajah's
fans. VW Home is most fun when the ultra-charming, Cuban-born Wolf is in the
adjacent design office; he loves chatting up his customers, and why not? They all
adore him. Contact: VW Home, 333 West 39th Street, New York. Telephone:
Website for French Cheese
We celebrated Bastille Day on July 14th with a bottle of La Croix du
Sancerre and a magnificent array of French artisinal cheeses ordered from www.fromages.com. The five cheeses were the real
thing, made of raw goat's and cow's milk--definitely not available in our local gourmet
food store. Shipped overnight from France, they arrived still cool in a silver box,
individually wrapped with attractive labels, and very precise, very Gallic instructions on
the order in which they were to be enjoyed.
The website is a joy to visit: Directeiur Marc Refabert
has created a picture library of over 100 distinguished French cheeses, listed by the
origin of the milk (goat, cow, sheep), with a page for each selection that not only
describes where and how the cheese is made, but also advises the consumer on the best
season to "indulge" and the best wine to drink as an accompaniment. There
are articles on many subjects ranging from how to cut cheese to the difference in cheeses
made with raw and pasturized milk; recipes; and books and posters that can be ordered.
Oh, yes, and ten tempting cheese "boards," including a selection from
chef Joel Rebuchon, that can legally be delivered to your home in the U.S.
Our plateau de fromages Revolutionnaire began with two
goat's milk cheeses: a delectably oozy Pave de Chirac from a small cheesemaker in
the Massif Central and a mildly pungent Pave de Berry from Chavignol, both superb
with the young Sancerre M. Refabert recommended. We progressed to a delicate Tomme
des Chouans, and then to a ripe Cure Nantais--said to have been created by a
priest from Vendee fleeing his revolutionary brethren--finally finishing with a fine,
fruity Tete de Moine from Switzerland. In all, our plateau included almost
a kilo of cheese, enough for 8 to 12 guests. Alas, we didn't share. Contact: www.fromages.com.
Purveyor of Tea in New York's Chinatown
Dr. Andrew Weil often extols the antioxidant, cholesterol-lowering
properties of green tea. Among the bewildering array of purveyors of tea, we often
find ourselves returning to the Ten Ren Tea Company on Mott Street in New York, which
sells choice green and black teas grown in Taiwan. Although much has been made of
the shop's hospitality and willingness to educate the novice, we find that the staff is
usually more brusque than welcoming. On our last visit they were more interested in
the woman who was purchasing a counterfull of one-pound packages of tea (paid for with a
stack of well-worn $100 bills, we couldn't help but notice), than in our own paltry order
of a pound or two of osmanthus oolong.
Still, the loose tea scooped from the large black canisters behind
the counter has never failed to please. The first grade osmanthus oolong is among
the most costly ($125 per pound), but it produces an exquisitely delicate, pale gold brew
with a hint of citrus. The first grade jasmine ($100 per pound) is a lovely tea,
fragrant with the scent of the flower. A good opening strategy is to try one-quarter
pound lots of two or three teas in different grades and determine which you prefer.
Then you can decide if you must have the Ginseng Oolong King's Tea at $144 per pound, or
whether the fourth grade version at $48 will do. Be sure to pick up a brewing
instruction sheet which provides information about water temperature and steeping
times. Ten Ren Tea Company, 75 Mott Street, New York, New York 10013.
212-349-2180. Toll Free: 800-292-2049.
Healthful Chinese Restaurant in New York
In Western culture, "food as medicine" is a novel concept that's
suddenly getting more attention. The Chinese, however, have long had a tradition of
treating ailments with quasi-medicinal culinary preparations, often involving esoteric
ingredients. The Sweet-n-Tart Cafe in New York's Chinatown is one of the few
restaurants in this country where one can sample tong shui--literally "sweet
shops"--that are said to nourish and restore balance to the body. The tiny,
downstairs cafe is always crowded with people ordering dishes such as Doubled Boiled Pear
with Almond (believed to be good for a cough or irritated throat) and Fresh Walnut Tong
Shui, a rich, pleasantly sweet soup that is said to aid the kidneys and lungs.
For Westerners who are interested in trying tong shui,
Sweet-n-Tart cafe has one major drawback: the staff speaks little English and is
hard-pressed to describe--or prescribe--a particular dish or its benefits. But the
rest of the menu is prepared with a light hand--Shanghai-style dumplings are particularly
delicious--and would satisfy almost any health-conscious diner. The truly
adventurous could always just point to the black viscous soup the grandmothers in the
corner are slurping (Black Sesame Paste with "Sau Woo"). You may emerge
reinvigorated--or not--but you will have had a memorable meal. Sweet-n-Tart Cafe, 76
Mott Street, New York, New York 10013. 212-334-8088.
Love Story of 1999
Iris Murdoch, one of the band of fine women English novelists that academic
England nurtured after the war, died February 8, 1999. Her husband's love affair
with her and their time together are beautifully remembered in Elegy for Iris
(John Bayley, Picador, 1999). One is not quite certain how well Bayley understood
what Murdoch was about. In some respects, they are strangers to each other and to
the planet. But love they did. With their mutual passion for their water and
for swimming, they cavorted together as water babies, well into old age, even in the buff.
Bayley, about whom we are just learning, has written some fiction (The Red Hat),
a host of criticism, and has also edited a number of classic novels by Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace,
Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago),
Henry James (The
Wings of the Dove), and Anthony Trollope (Can You
Forgive Her?), among others.
For years now, Across the
Board, the principal publication of the Conference Board in New York City, has stood
head and shoulders above the scribblings from other associations. That's not hard, of course. There's only one thing worse than magazines from
associations and that's the cheerleader stuff America's corporations put out. Occasionally there's a great corporate magazine
such as Saddlemen's Review from Levi Strauss, but soon enough the good ones bite
Across the Board goes
on and on. An inventive editor, Lewis
Bergman, set it in motion creatively. The
current Managing Editor--Al Vogl--does interviews that matter with business leaders from
all ends of the spectrum.
It looks at enough topics
from oblique points-of-view to be influential with the business press and with middle
managers across America. See the Conference
Board at www.conference-board.org.
Robert J. Coen of Universal McCann (a division of McCann-Erickson Worldwide
Advertising) has been watching the ad numbers and predicting the future for years.
He's the authority. Once again, he has had to ratchet his numbers up for this year
and next. See "Advertising," by Stuart Elliott, The New York Times,
June 28, 2000, p. C8. If Coen is right, "ad spending as a percentage of gross
domestic product would reach a record 2.4 percent" for 2000. In case you
wondered, this is too much and is one more sign of how capital is being misallocated in
our severely distorted economy. In company after company, SG&A is not only out
of control but is being spent on the wrong things.
Best Friday Afternoon Lunch in New Orleans
Friday lunch at Galatoire's: Lots of locals--business folks, lawyers and uptown
ladies--make a leisurely afternoon of it. The place really bubbles. The last
two times we were there, we ran into Francis Ford Coppola, and he doesn't even live in New
Orleans. It's common to end up chatting with folks at nearby tables, who often offer
suggestions as to what to order while trying to figure out who you are. The noise
builds as the cocktails flow and business talk seems the exception rather than the rule.
Many of the waiters, attired in tuxes, have been at Galatoire's
for years and many speak French. (Several very competent female waiters have been
added in recent times.) Regular customers are asked at the door if they desire a
particular waiter. The food is pretty much the same as they served up fifty years
ago, with a strong emphasis on local seafood, particularly crab, which comes in many
varieties. Ask the waiter to explain the differences, and then be sure that someone
orders the one with the eggplant. Or try one of the most popular dishes, the trout
meuniere. The wine list is good and well-varied in price. Have a white
Burgundy to help wash down the wonderful loaves of hot crispy-crusted French bread that
are brought to your table when you arrive and again throughout your dinner.
A recent renovation left the main downstairs dining room almost
exactly as it was previously, although an elevator which takes you to an attractive bar
and more upstairs dining rooms has been added. You no longer have to wait on the
street, an old Galatoire's tradition that, rumor has it, even a President once succumbed
to. And they now take reservations, though not for the main dining room, where the
regulars eat (unlike Antoine's, another classic New Orleans' restaurant, where the main
dining room is left for unknowing tourists.) Galatoire's is on Bourbon Street, a
block-and-a-half from the Canal. It's a pretty seedy section of the French Quarter
(though reasonably safe), but when you enter the doors, you enter a New Orleans that
hasn't changed in fifty years. Contact: Galatoire's, 209 Bourbon Street, New
Orleans, LA. Telephone: (504) 525-2021.
NOTE: This entry comes from Blake Ives,
multi-faceted Professor of Information Systems at both Tulane University and Louisiana
State University. See his website: www.blakeives.com.
Two Best Hotels in Dallas
The first is ten minutes from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and is a Four Seasons
Resort. On another occasion, we will review it for you, but the bottom line is that
it has a spa and athletic facility attached where you can unwind after traveling on
America's fast-declining airlines.
Downtown, it's the Hotel Crescent Court, a homegrown product of
Rosewood Corporation. It is conspicuous for its excellent decoration of its public
spaces including, on most occasions, an especially fine display of flowers and other
accoutremant in the center of the lobby. There are lots of other nice
touches--pretty soaps prettily bound, the right complimentary newspapers at your door in
the morning, the only decent barbeque in Dallas within walking distance, etc.
This is a luxury hotel with not-quite luxury service, however.
The bellboy will not stock your room with ice, but hands it off to room service
which appears an hour later with a bucket. On two consecutive evenings, room service
does not answer. When an order is placed with a concierge named "Bill,"
the order never arrives. No bags for laundry or cleaning are in the room.
There are nicks and marks on sundry room furniture. Inappropriately loud music trips
through the restaurant--Beau Nash--even in the morning, in a room that already suffers
from cavernous acoustics.
Nonetheless, the occasional touches make it the best hotel in the
market. If you arrive early for breakfast and establish a bond with the assistant
restaurant manager, good food--even with a complicated special order--arrives at the table
rapidly and decorously. In fact, this one manager was the most professional hotel
employee we have met in our innumerable visits to the Crescent over a 10-year period.
The Hotel Crescent Court (www.crescentcourt.com)
is located at 400 Crescent Court, Dallas TX 75201. Telephone: (214) 871-3200.
Royal Himalayan Website
The remote kingdom of Bhutan has lately been a hot destination for adventurous,
well-heeled travelers. Last year only 5,361 of them were allowed into the tiny
country that lies between Tibet and India, just east of Nepal. The last of the
independent Himalayan Buddhist kingdoms, it is as famed for its natural wonders
(rhododendron forests, flocks of rare black-necked cranes, mist-shrouded mountain crags)
as it is for its brilliantly colored, handwoven texttiles and the almost medieval quality
of life that still obtains there. Though modernization is in progress (direct-dial
international phones and e-mail have arrived), King Jigme Dorje Wangchuck recently had the
nation's only traffic light removed on the grounds that it was too modern.
Now you can visit Bhutan via its excellent official website (www.kingdomofbhutan.com) but not if you're in a
rush. As His Excellency Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuck, Minister for Trade and Industry,
warns, the handsomely illustrated site will take a while to download, "but rest
assured that your patience will be rewarded."
Rewards there are aplenty: Exquisite color photographs of
snowcapped Himalayan peaks, glowing faces of novice monks, monumental white dzongs, and
vibrantly colorful festivals, are matched by a literate text that introduces the visitor
to Bhutan's fascinating history, religion, government, and customs. The
easy-to-navigate site also offers a virtual tour of the three major geographic regions,
practical information on how to get there, and links to tour operators. Most of all,
one comes away with a sense of how thoroughly the fabric of Bhutanese society is permeated
by the Bhuddist religion--and a question as to how long such a nation can survive.
Antidote to Road Rage
The trick is to keep the atmosphere inside your SUV serene while everyone outside
is running amok. Two of the best mood-mellowing CDs we've recently encountered are Medusa
by Annie Lennox and The Best of
Marvin Gaye: Vol. 2: The '70s. If you saw American Beauty, you
heard Lennox sing her haunting version of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You
Down." Ten songs by such artists as the Temptations ("I Can't Get Next to
You") and Procol Harem ("A Whiter Shade of Pale") are elegantly interpreted
in this lushly scored 1995 album. Lennox's honey-sweet voice is as soothing as they
The Millenium Collection of Marvelous Marvin's 1970s Motown hits
is pure soul seduction, even when he's singing about the environment ("Mercy, Mercy
Me") and taxes ("Inner City Blues"). And when he gets down, he can be
as sweetly romantic ("I want you") as he is insistent (fabulous concert
recording of "Distant Lover"). Aggravations just seem to float away in the
cool innocence of Marvin's voice and vision.
Primer for Budding Scientists
If you have had a chance to look at science textbooks for primary school children
or adolescents, you know they dont work. In
fact, they turn kids off, discouraging their natural curiosity and nipping our future
scientists in the bud. But take a look at
Marshall Brains How Stuff Works (see www.howstuffworks.com). Brain used to teach in the Computer Science
Department at North Carolina State University. But
this evocation got the best of him, and now he is explaining everything--from How
car engines work to How Christmas works.
We like the fact that his top ten articles include How toilets
work. Brain has also written a fair
number of books in this vein:
Teenagers Guide to the Real World
Professional Applications for Windows 98 and NT Using MFC
In the 1950s there was a sometime ambassadoress Perle Mesta -- whom we called the
hostess with the mostest and who later became the subject of a fun Broadway play. Someday there will be a musical about Letitia
Baldrige, called In a Class of Her Own, re-using Cole Porters song,
Youre the Tops. As you can
see from her website (www.letitia.com), she is the
best of the manners ladies, because she believes good manners alone wont do
it. She is the mistress of manners and the
doyenne of civility. She feels you must have
heart, kindness, and style. Her family is
quality itself; the Baldrige Awards for Quality are, in fact, named after Malcolm
Baldrige, Ronald Reagans Secretary of Commerce.
She herself also put time in the White House, serving as Jackie Kennedys
Chief of Staff. Shes written
innumerable books about manners, a few of which we have listed below:
Baldrige's Complete Guide to the New Manners for the 90's
made in Mexico, but under the complete control of W. Park Kerr of El Paso Chile Company
fame. See An American in Jalisco:
Living Out a Tequila Dream, New York Times, May 21, 2000, p.6 (Business). Its called Tequila Nacional Silver, and it
took an alliance with Thomas Fernandez, a chap of American and Mexican heritage, to rescue
Kerrs dream and get the silver out of a Mexican distillery.
of the Beekeepers
just died. Dr. Roger A. Morse of Ithaca, New
York was the beekeepers beekeeper. If
youre in doubt, purchase his The New
Complete Guide to Beekeeping or A Year in the
Beeyard, much sweeter territory than A Year in
Provence. Apparently, according to
his obituary, he died with a sting on his eye, as will happen to those smitten by the
bees. (See New York Times, May 21,
2000, p. 23.)
best used to come from the West Coast, but a couple of scruffy, Scientologist investors
fouled-up the whole enterprise, and we dont know whats become of the founder. So now the best is La Maison du Chocolat in New
York City (i.e., an import from France) at 1-800-988-5632.
Theyre absurdly expensive and not quite as great as they should be, so
entrepreneurs will some day give us a better value. Meanwhile,
these will have to do.
69. Best State Song
its from New York, and several states have tried to knock-off its lyrics. Its I Love New York, and, as I remember, it came onto the scene when neither
the states nor the citys fortunes were at high-tide, due to the profligacy of
politics of yore, whatever their stripe. We
recently spoke to the composer, who wants to remain anonymous, so this is a statue to the
unknown, modest composer.
68. Best Comeback Kid
No, we don't mean Clinton's comback in New Hampshire after da-Flowers episode,
which was ludicrous. We are talking about Sir Terence Conran who, as much as anybody, and
more than Martha, brought style into the lives of the middle classes in the United Kingdom
and the United States. This includes home furnishings, restaurants, and a host of
other ventures. Virtually belly up at one point, he has been a marvelous Phoenix,
getting back on our screen when we visited his London restaurant Bibendum in its early
days. Conran is a revival or a Lazarus worth talking about. His new
Guastavino's, under the Queensboro Bridge in New York, is a giant, magnificent affair.
Read more about him at his extensive website or
in his several books:
67. Best Mail Order Company
It's still L.L. Bean. It answers the
phone. Its operators are painstaking, polite, accurate, and informed. The
merchandise is fairly priced. Bean does not resell your name to other merchants.
Bean does good repairs on shoes and the like. It makes good -- fast -- on
flawed merchandise. Its styling and selection leaves something to be desired, but
maybe it's good that Bean is "not quite in style." It's anti-stylish enough to
have "strong integrity," not a hallmark of the last decade. In the U.S.,
call 1-800-441-5713, or browse and order online.
66. Best in St. Louis
We're always hard put to know what's up in St. Louis, beyond beer and arches.
Even St. Louis people don't brag too hard about the city's wonders. But there
is a hot spot -- the Missouri Botanical Garden, which
adds 120,000 specimens a year. And, last we know, it had a whiz for a director named
Dr. Peter S. Raven, who not only grows his garden and his budget, but prowls the world
campaigning for the environment, the earth, and all the plants on it. See
"Through politicking for plants, he made his garden grow," The New York
Times, August 4, 1998, p. B11.
65. Best Quiz Show
Certainly not Regis et al. Win Ben
Stein's Money, which appears on the cable network Comedy Central, has some wit and reasonably
literate questions. Ben Stein, a Nixon speech writer, proves that conservatives can
help remake television.
64. Best 1960s Update
The Wonder Boys
is about a writing professor in Pittsburgh who has plateaued out and needs to recapture
the flame. Which he does, after some wonderful misadventures. The movie is a
new start for Michael Douglas, Robert Downey, and even Bob Dylan, who composes anew for
this wacky affair. It is also full of yesterday's music (Van Morrison and others) to
remind us of prior times when America had something to say.
63. Best Fitness Center
The Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas
is more than a fitness center. It embraces fitness, a medical clinic, funded
research, health exams, a campus, and a chitchat spa for all sorts of Dallas people.
It's not well decorated nor particularly comfortable, but it's effective, as
middle-aged and oldsters faithfully get their stretches done daily. It is the
creature of the father of aerobics, Dr. Ken Cooper. Strangely enough, Dr. Ken does
not cater to the young, even though there are modest accomodations for children. The
Cooper is very, very good. It could even be excellent if it understood a bit more
about the social and civilized aspects of creating fit people, because it would do more
about avoiding high blood pressure, since it knows a bit about getting rid of it.
62. America's Best Surfer-Legend
Joseph Wolfson just died at age 50. Teaching surfing classes was one of the
ways he got by. Surfboards he endorsed sold well. He used a body board to
spin full circle as he worked his way to the beach; this display of ultimate
agility was called a 360, and he seems to have been the first to do it. When he
learned he had cancer, he gave away his worldly goods and tried to commit suicide at sea,
working his way out to the ocean with a bellyful of sleeping pills. But he was
rescued, to enjoy a little more fame. Eventually he crashed -- in an
61. Best Irish Mystery Read
Bartholomew Gill, who spends a goodly amount of time in America, knows the old
sod very well. And that's the charm of his mysteries. You can learn about
Irish politics and fishing by reading him. And he will also lead you through
literary Dublin. His Inspector McGarr is one of the few mystery protagonists you
might actually be willing to hoist a pint with. Some of Gill's winners are:
The Death of
an Irish Politician
of an Irish Sea Wolf
of an Irish Tinker
of an Irish Lover
60. Best Book on Charts
Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale, is author of The Visual
Display of Quantitative Information, still the modern classic on how to build a
chart that says something Often he argues for charts that are a bit too complex, but
he is a wonderful advocate for clean, accurate graphics. His other books include:
Explanations:Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative
Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making
59. The Great One (of Food)
Craig Claiborne, the great New York Times food critic and its only
substantial cookbook writer, died recently at 79. The obituary in the Times,
while amusing, missed the essence of Claiborne. Like Wayne Gretzky, who forever
changed the game of hockey, he was in a league of his own. Pre-Claiborne, food in
America was pedestrian. After Craig (ACC), we began to eat. He put dining on a
new course. And, arguably, he is the most important journalist the Times
spawned, at least from the 1960s forward. All the rest have mixed records.
Today, of course, there simply are no titans at the Times, though there are a few
middling journalists of quality. Below are a few of his titles (all of which are
worthwhile), including his last:
The Best of
Claiborne's Kitchen Primer
York Times Cookbook
58. Best Website for High Quality Tea
For exceptional handpicked teas from India, China and points east, lovers of the leaf may
wish to investigate www.inpursuitoftea.com. The site not only offers a wealth of information
about different types of tea, the regions in which they are grown, and health benefits,
but it also has beautiful close-up color photos of the leaves of each individual variety.
(And the variety is staggering.) Proprietors
Alexander Scott and Sebastian Beckwith journey to Asia several times a year, selecting
most teas from small family farms in remote mountain areas; some are winners of regional
competions; few, if any, are ordinarily available in this country.
names of the teas are poetry. It was hard to
resist Drum Mountain Cloud & Mist, or Snow Dragon, but at length we settled on two new
offerings: Oriental Beauty Charcoal Roast
Oolong ($40 for 1/4 lb) and Jade Spring Green Tea ($15 for 1/4 lb). We ordered by phone (though you can order online)
on a Wednesday afternoon and had the tea in hand on Monday.
Each of the two varieties came vacuum-packed in sleek black envelopes with
clear brewing instructions on the back -- important, since the ideal water temperature varies with the type of tea. Oriental Beauty produced a delicate pale gold
brew, with hints of cinammon; Jade Spring a lovely fresh aroma. This is a site that will please the tea connoisseur.
57. Best Article on Sleep Deprivation
it may be late to be making New Year's resolutions, one might put "get more
sleep" at the top of the list. Jane Brody's December 28, 1999, New York Times
column, "Paying the price for cheating on sleep," confirmed that chronic sleep deprivation has serious health
implications: obesity, diabetes and high
blood pressure. Participants in a recent
study at the University of Chicago experienced difficulty in processing glucose (leading
to insulin resistance and memory impairment), a rise in late afternoon and evening levels
of cortisol (an indicator of stress), and poor immunological response to flu vaccine. How much sleep is enough? Oddly, the article doesn't say, but we assume that
it's 7 or 8 hours a night. A followup column
on January 4, 2000, touts the benefits of brief midday naps.
56. Best Hedgerows
With the Fed putting up interest rates and looking at margin requirements, a
market fall is probably not far behind. The question where do you park the money, or
how can you guard principal? Click here to read more.
55. Best Ben Franklin State
No, not Pennsylvania. For years we've puzzled as to why West Virginia -- of
all places -- produces so many practical geniuses. I can only imagine that the very
oppressiveness of it all, the relentless poverty, the lung disease, the mining shards
produce people that soar (and often leave West Virginia) in some sort of weird dialectic
only Hegel could understand. Today, Professor John Dennison told me of the four Phi
Betas that came out of one household. Reputedly the state has spawned more Rhodes
Scholars per capita than any state in the union. For me, this was the state that
coined $.08 Marsh Wheeling cigars -- a very cheap smoke in college. But then, a more
apt symbol might be the wily Senator Byrd who who has raked in massive pork for his state,
using a mountain fiddle and complex rhetoric to conquer one and all. This lost state
is just enough at odds with America to create some very different drummers.
54. Best Sushi Hideaway
The name is SAZAN, owned by Mr. Sato and Mr. Murayama. The name is taken from
SA-TO's SA and Murayama's Yama (mountain), which is also pronounced as SAN or ZAN in
Japanese. They combined the two, SA and ZAN, together to come up with the name of the
restaurant. Mr. Sato is the chief sushi chef and I recommend you sit in front of Mr. Sato
along the counter, which seats about 10. He belongs to the old school of sushi chefs,
dating back to the Saito Restaurant in NY. It serves a wide variety of excellent
sake. Location: 729 Saw Mill River Road, Ardsley, NY 10502. It's off NY Throughway
(Exit Ardsley) and also reached from Saw Mill River Parkway (Exit Ardsley) and takes a
minute or two from these exits. Phone number: 914-674-6015. --Described by Toshio Ozeki as
Westchester's "hidden jewel of sushi bars"
Update: Best Economic Forecaster
Gail Fosler, The Conference Board's all-star economist, currently thinks
Europe will be in the ascendancy in 2000, with the U. S. growth rate dropping from 3.9% to
3.7%. But the world will rise from 2.7% to 3.5%. In The Wall Street Journal's
semiannual survey of economists, Fosler came in first. As chief economist at The
Conference Board, she directs the construction of so many domestic and international
indexes that she has unique insight into how the economic world turns. See WSJ, July
2, 1999, "Fosler, Avoiding the Crowd, is No. 1 Forecaster."
Update: 1-10-99 - Once again, Gail Fossler tops The Wall Street
Journal economic forecasters survey. See The Wall Street Journal,
January 3, 2000, p. A2. Apparently, her calls on our GDP and the strength of the yen
put her ahead of the pack. Watch out for the 2nd quarter of 2000 where she predicts
a dip that matters. To read more, click here.
See also her outlook books:
Outlook 1999-2000, Conference Board, 1998.
Outlook 1998-1999, Conference Board, 1999.
52. Best Christmas Show
At the Grolier Club in New York City until January 29, 2000. Even if
you, like us, have taken your Christmas tree down too soon, you can keep the season alive
at Jock Elliott's assortment (150) of Christmas mementos and books. He's put
together 3,000 or so over the years, while simultaneously tending to a career at Ogilvy
& Mather where he closed out a very good run as Chairman. See The New York
Times, December 15, 1999, B17, "Spirit of Christmas Past and Present, All
Stuffed Into One Man's Collection."
51. Best Way to Mine SEC Data
Look at 10Kwizard.com (10-K Wizard Technology). Or
look at Invisible World's Edgarspace. See The
Wall Street Journal, December 16, 1999, p. B10.
This turns out to be a simpler way for analysts to find warts that companies are
not bragging about. See http://www.10Kwizard.com.
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