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GP 22 November 2006: Easy Shopping for Christmas and Other Celebrations 

Immobile Gotham.  When we advise New York politicians about the planks they should run on, we say, “Forget schools, jobs, crime, transfats and smoking (the autocratic mayor of the moment is a micromanager of small issues), and a bunch of other things.  Just promise to keep the traffic moving.”  In fact, that’s the acid test for Hiz Honor The Mayor as it was for his predecessors.  Can he keep things moving? 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg can’t and so his administration should be given a failing grade.  From midtown it took 25 minutes to get to the neck of the Midtown Tunnel on Friday morning, though rush hour had long since departed.  In fact, we have never seen such bad traffic.  Many of the cabs won’t come out now during the day anymore, because it takes too long to get from A to Z, given the gridlock.  So we took a 2-mile hike to a dinner on Thursday night.  We hear the place was a mess even on Saturday, and one had to commit unnatural acts to secure a yellow cab. 

This is a long way of saying that we won’t be going to the Big Apple this Christmas to do our shopping.  Rather, you want to order over the phone or on the Internet.  You won’t get to inspect the merchandise, so we are going to give you some recommendations on which you can rely, sight unseen. 

Ginger Crisps.  About as far away from town as you are going to get is Mrs. Hane’s Cookies, which you can find on our Global Province Network.  They’re a must, no matter what else you get.  They’re better than the imitations you can secure elsewhere, simply because they are handmade.  The cookie everybody orders is the ginger crisp, though personally our favorite is the Black Walnut, a taste we share with Mona Hanes Templin, the chief executive.  This style of cookie is known as Moravian, which, as well, is the name of the denomination from which they spring.  Not far from the Hanes family is a lovely Moravian Church in Clemmons which we mean to inspect on our next visit. 

The Audubon Society The Audubon Society is also in our network, and we have several other comments about it on our website.  It’s sort of the granddaddy of the conservation type societies—and a membership is a worthy gift to anyone.  We are pleased to find that local chapters still are much in love with the birds of America, which were so amply celebrated in the works of John Audubon.  The Society strikes a nice balance in trying to ameliorate the effects of rapid urbanization on America.  On the one hand, it is asking Congress and others for environmental restraints to make sure we don’t ruin our backyards everywhere.  On the other, it is bringing nature to the people, building sites close to city dwellers, so that they can see the wildlife they might not otherwise encounter.  It’s fitting that the Society should try to put nature back in urban areas, since Audubon himself is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery and spent his last years in New York City. 

Really Fresh Smoked Salmon.  Etta Mackay greets it at the plane and has it off to you in a jiffy.  She’s known as the Salmon Lady, and she’s fun to visit with, having advised us on where to secure tartans and other wares.  What she does is to ship in salmon overnight from Tobermory so that it does not sit in the distribution pipeline, which takes the taste out of so many of our foods.  If you’re not a teetotaler, you might want to get it scented with a whiff of Scottish whiskey, which makes it all the more fun.  We always wondered if Etta got tipsy working out the perfect whiskey infused salmon. 

Grill Pan.  We’re not for fast cooking—under any circumstances.  But when you have worked all day, we don’t mind if you make the task a bit easier.  In this vein, we have grown more comfortable with the wares of Berndes in Germany, which has an array of shops and online dealers in the United States where you can find its pans.  They’re cast aluminum with a DuPont non-stick surface: fast reliable cooking and easy clean-up.  Naturally you can go to Amazon to buy them.  For some reason, we have been using Kitchenworks, perhaps because we find the people friendly.  Our 11” Grillpan (no. 671041) recently wore down, and the company made good on its guarantee of a replacement.  That gives Berndes a certain ethical standing in our eyes that’s absent now from most commerce.  We have particularly found this grillpan handy when we are doing chops and especially when we throw in an assortment of vegetables.  We intend to find out more about Berndes so we can talk about its excellence in more detail. 

The Missing Bag L.L. Bean ranks even higher on the ethical ladder, and that’s why our families have been using it for 3 generations.  Everything about the place is reliable.  One can quibble only about its styling sense.  We have communicated with the company about this, but it does not understand that it lacks an eye for color and cut.  Of late, the company has been discontinuing some of its better products, such as its zipper duffle bag, which was a true winner, as well as its simple travel clock, its croquet set, and its better quality cargo pants and shorts.  Style aside, it clearly lacks some merchandising genes. Yet it is a great place to buy reliable backpacks for your children. Get the next one there—at a reasonable price.  The Bean people are such fine folks that we feel it’s almost a duty to buy from its catalog with some regularity. 

The Thin Man.  William Powell was never thin, not with all the martinis he drank.  But he and Myrna Loy made such a compleat couple in the Thin Man series, as we remarked  in “Domestic Bliss,” that one easily forgives them any of their peccadillos.  You can get the whole shebang from Amazon or from Critic’s Choice, which is a big catalog movie seller in the Midwest.  By the way, if you are not as compulsive about Powell and Loy as we are, there are other great selections in our Family Movie List called Cool Runnings. 

The Wines of Carema.  “Carema has an ancient reputation.  Andrea Bacci, a medical doctor, said in his book De Naturali Historia Vinorum, published in 1597, that Carema was one of the finest wines available and that it was consumed at the Court of Savoy and appreciated by popes and cardinals.” 

Paul III greatly esteemed the wine.  He once told Sante Lancerio, his cellarmaster, that he was always pleased when someone presented him a gift cask of the wine because, according to the pontiff, it was “an excellent and perfect beverage for princes and lords.” 

The Caremas are rare and special—from a small prefecture—but are available and affordable.  We still not been able to replicate the Carema we tasted in Venice some 23 years ago, but that simply proves we must let go of the past.  We notice that Astor Place  in New York City, right near Cooper Union, stocks one: the shop is renowned for good deals.  Despite recent legal decisions that are trying to overcome the restraint-of-trade practices of the alcohol cartel, you may still have some trouble getting wines and liquors shipped to your particular state, the states being particularly resistant to interstate commerce. 

Gourmet Pickles.  We have put up a few picklers on the Global Province, but we must own up to the fact that we’re entwined with Rick’s Picks in New York, the leader of the pickle renaissance.  Rick Field is a freelance TV producer who woke up one morning in his forties and found himself in a pickle patch.  You can find his wares in Whole Foods, Harry and David, and a bunch of other emporiums across the nation.  For ourselves, we sidle up to the Spears of Influence, kirby cucumbers with cumin and lime.  But there are several gift packs for your friends, including the blow-out sampler where you get all 10 of his varieties. 

Periodicals.  Our U.S. news weeklies get a little weaker each year, and even our national newspapers have an insufficiently global point of view.  Years ago, one English noble commented on the vast statistical proficiency of Great Britain’s numerate classes.  “Yes,” he said, “we will have the most precisely charted business decline in economic history.”  That’s right: the English are doing a better job on the decline and fall then we are.  So you should give the Economist to everyone, as long as you advise them not to read its long, tedious country reviews.  Apparently it now has a bigger American circulation than English, as we manage to even outsource our media to other countries.  Not as widely appreciated is the Financial Times. There you want to subscribe to the week end edition only which covers gardening, wine, and everything else with panache.  It does not have the trenchant columnists of yesteryear, but it’s a darn good read.  The Week, a McMagazine that you can get through while eating your fast food, is a great hit with kids and a smart buy if you have young ones.  If the New York Times had any horsesense, it would drop its “Week in Review” and slot in something like this in its Sunday paper. 

P.S.  Our sister site Spicelines will also be doing a Christmas list soon.  We particularly recommend you take a look at black pepper.  There is no simpler way to give your food a lift than to get some decent pepper and lay it on, using one of the grinders recommended on Spicelines.  Chances are that you are using too much salt—and too little of the wrong pepper. 

P.P.S.  Our chum for a recent trip back home was just in from Dubai.  He was reading Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack to get back into the swim of things.  That made us wonder what book we should be recommending for the holidays.  We suspect you might like Buckminster’s Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth to which we alluded in “The Collapse of the Ivory Tower.”  It’s not only New York City that’s suffering from gridlock: its vise has tightened on almost all of our institutions.  Santa Claus can’t even get his sleigh off the ground, since he’s been accused of cruelty to reindeer. 

Fuller long ago gave us some hints on how to get started again, which involve shunting aside most of the current notions about how things work.  The book is mercifully short, a good thing, since we know you have no time to read.  And you have the choice of paying up for it if money is burning a hole in your pocket, or you can gander for free on the Internet if you are a fast study.  Overcoming inertia, both psychic and institutional, is the burning topic of the moment.

P.P.P.S.  But if inertia and momentum are too much for you, simply buy Jock Elliot’s Inventing Christmas, which we took up in “The Branding of Christmas.”  Our old pal Jock left these parts last year, but we are quite confident that he has a stand-in job for Santa.  He tells us how Christmas became the brand to end all brands.

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