Thursday, December 17, 2015


Book: Delicious!
Author: Ruth Reichl
Edition:ebook on Overdrive from the Mountain View Public Library
Read:December 17, 2015
549 pages
Genre:   Fiction, Cooking
Rated: 4 out of 5

Billie Breslin is newly hired administrative assistant at Delicious!. She dropped out of UC Berkley and into her dream job. Delicious! is a fictional foodie magazine going back a century. Here she meets many foodies and becomes friends with many of them. One of her duties is responding to Delicious! Guarentee-that is if the published recipe does not work, the magazine will refund the money for the ingredients.

One of the people she meets on the Guarantee phone is a cantankerous women named Mrs. Cloverly, who repeatedly calls and almost always substitutes inferior or even unlike ingredients. Billie having given in the first time continues to give in both with the fascination of stories Mrs. Cloverly comes up with and being caught having yielded before. But after awhile, Billie misses these calls if Mrs. Cloverly does not call. But Mrs. Coverly is not some old crotchety lady, but holds a key to the puzzle about who Lulu is.

Another mainstay in the book is Sal Fontanari's cheese shop. From Reichl, this is the heaven of cheese. It is also one of the sources of stability in the story as Billie is accepted into this family owned and operated shop. Here she sees food used by real people and understands what it means that food is more about the relationships than taste.

After a year, Delicious! closes, but Billie is retained to keep the Guarantee. Mrs. Coverly continues to call, but thus is not enough to keep her time occupied. Sammy, an older man from Delicious! comes by to collect his things when they make a discovery: a letter by Lulu to James Beard. This starts off a chase to discover all of this correspondences letters to James Beard. They are aided by the card catalog from a long past librarian who is leading them on a chase for these letters.

But they are under a time constraint: Timbers Mansion where Delicious! has been housed for a hundred years is going on the market. So they need to find the last letter before the house and the library is sold. This chase leads one to naturally want to know about the writer of the letters. That is the last part: to meet Mrs. Coverly and to track down this mystery writer of letters.

As a note: there is a web site called which is not associated with the book. There is also a movie by that name which is not about the book.

This book is full of people who are not what they seem to be. At the risk of giving away some of the magic-if you do not want to know, skip to the next paragraph. There is a character at Sal's cheese shop called Mr. Complainer. Mr. Complainer has an air about him, but is always making suggestions to Sal to improve, particularly in speeding up the line. Mr. Complainer profession it turns out to be is a high end architectural historian, who later becomes intertwined in the books plot. Many of the book's characters have backgrounds which Reichl slowly reveals. This is done well, while some of the contrivances seem a bit made up, they are part of the fun of this story.

I wanted her to look at me that way again. This is an important statement at the start of the book. It lays out the self-consciousness of the main character. While there is a lot more to the book, this is the main undercurrent-Billie, the protagonist, being talented, but not recognizing the talent she has. As you move through the book, she avoids cooking because of the association she has with her sister. This all points to the pain and insecurity Reichl wants to portray on Billie.

Did the picture from Annie Leibovitz called "Midnight at The Pig" really exist? I did not see a reference to it. But Leibovitz did live across from a restaurant called The Spotted Pig. Should be noted that the chief chef is April Bloomfield who has another restaurant called The Breslin, which happens to be Billie's name. Coincidence?

 most people can't follow instructions. (Guarenteed). This is in reference to the Delicious! guarantee-each recipe is guaranteed to work or they refund you the cost of the ingredients. The statement is true for the most part. But do you really want a world full of people who can do nothing else but follow instructions? Isn't that what a computer is? Shouldn't we be more than just a bot, following instructions? The trick is to know when it is best to follow instructions and when it is good to experiment and create.

Where is Alphabet City? Alphabet City is a neighborhood located within the East Village in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Its name comes from Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only avenues in Manhattan to have single-letter names. It appears to be a place where many ethnics resides.

What's the point of making piles of money to enjoy when you are not working? I'd much rather enjoy  my work. (Nowhere) Life is too short and money will not buy you happiness. So find something which you can channel yourself into and enjoy it. After all, you were created by God for more than being a cog in the works. lucky I was to be aware of happiness. Most people don't recognize their own good fortune until it has departed, (Seize Opportunities). How do I look at myself? Usually not as someone who thinks how bad everything is. But there is a tendency for me to think in terms that things will continue as they are without looking for the goodness in my life. It is the same with beauty. I take Yosemite for granted, but when I bring someone there for the first time, you gain the wonder of first sight. That is how my life should be, not taking anything for granted, but to be grateful to God for the goodness he has put in my path.

Billie's letters to Genie are interesting and you know there is more to it than meets the eye. But at times you think that Reichl is purposely leading you down a road which is a false trail. And so they are. I will not spoil the surprise. But compared to the rest of Reichl's writing in Delicious!, this just does not match up.

Also the discovery of James Beard's letters seems a bit too contrived. Reichl has Sammy finding a secret door and then out of the thousands of correspondences he reads an interesting letter to Beard. Seems so out of sorts with reality. But in actuality these things do happen. But not usually at the start. It is a rare player who hits a home run on his first big league at bat. But it does happen, you can make allowances for the unusual.

There is a whole story of the card catalog. Both the librarians who created it and the one who leads Billie down a trail of James Beard's letters. The big question in my mind is why did the original librarian, Bertie, make this trail leading to Beard? The story says that it was due to Beard being a homosexual and Delicious!  trying to hide the connection. That would be hard to do since his by-line was in the magazine. I do admire Reichl for creating such a trail, it was fun going with her through these clues. But believable? Probably not, at least Bertie probably would have had too much time on his hands without the knowledge that there was a probable payoff.

After looking at what a Verifax machine would do, I am suspicious that any magazine would go to that great of lengths to make copies of all of its correspondence. It looks like making a copy of a single page would be at least a minute and probably more like 3 minutes.   But I am happy to learn something new-I did not know about Verifax machines before.

Reichl makes a passing reference to Blum's of San Francisco. We ate there once. So good. It no longer is there.

There is a chapter called In The Nightmare Kitchen which describes what happens to food left out, unattended in a large kitchen over a long period of time. It is wonderfully descriptive, sort of a cross between Ghostbusters and The Blob. You can just feel the ooze.

During the past year, I have had several books talk about the internment of the Japanese-American. But one thing which has been curious to me was why weren't the Germans or the Italians interned? Delicious! does talk about this. Not so much internment, but about the hostilities faced by Italian-Americans. She talks about Rossi in San Francisco, hostility towards eating spaghetti and how the west coast had more prejudice than the east.

Something I am finding interesting is the amount of substitution being made during war time for various foods. Honey for sugar-this was something I thought. But milkweed for cheese, ....

I suspect that Reichl has a large vocabulary-which is useful for a writer, or a very good editor. In Sammy's mouth she puts little used words there and which seem appropriate-he accounts for many of the words in my "New Words" from this book. There are times authors like to place these words in a character's mouth just to show they know these words. With Reichl, or at least the character, they flow well, highlighting the sophistication of the character.

In one of the Beard letters, there is a reference to a Edward R Murrow broadcast from accompanying a bombing mission over Berlin. You can listen to it on YouTube.

In the past, Italians have come by the millions into (to) the United States. They have been welcomed, they have prospered, they have become good citizens, community and governmental leaders. They are not Italian-Americans. They are Americans -- Americans of Italian descent.  Reichl in one of the Beard letters quotes a speech by Franklin Roosevelt.  This sort of puts to shame all of our hyphenating-Americans. By this hyphenating, it makes us more separate than equal.

At times Reichl has Sammy being someone of great insight, such as the death of one of the people in one of the letters brings him to ask about Billie's sister. This seems like too much of a stretch.

I'd like to bottle the scent of old libraries. (Vintage Cookbooks)  There is some of these smells which I would not mind having around. Not the mustiness, but the smell of knowledge which books have.

People are scared. Said in reference to she sees things as a front and people have their own shtick to cover that fear.

Refrigerated drawers under bed. What a great concept. In the story, Mitch stores ice cream for that midnight snack. Sounds great for those warm Central Valley Summer nights

You have a lot to learn about decadence,  (Appetites) Doesn't decadence come naturally? Isn't learning to live simply really the question? I suppose learning to be decadent in style may take some doing. So why do I need to be taught?

Family love is something you take for granted until you are confronted with a situation where it is in diminished quantities. This is something which Billie learns. She has a family which cares for her as she is. While her boyfriend, Mitch, did not meet family expectations. So he became the black sheep of the family. That love without condition. Sometimes you need to be apart from your family to realize how good they are. Other times you see how different someone else's family is before you see how wonderful your own is. Either way, the goal is to appreciate and love your family.

...longevity's not all it's cracked up to be, even when you have your health. Life's not much fun when you're the last one standing. (Akron) We forget about the pains and sufferings. My parents outlived many of their generation, including my Dad's brothers and sister and their spouses. At one point he said, "I guess I am the last one". So much loneliness which even a son who was present a lot could not change.

...young people have such contempt for the old that you'll believe any foolish thing we do. (Akron) This explains the strangeness of Mrs. Coverly's substitutions. As she got older, she got more lonely. So she started calling the customer service lines. After awhile, it became a game to see how far she could go. It turns out, if you become cankerous enough, miserable sounding enough, you might be able to get away with anything.

Along with the old age theme, Reichl points out through Sammy that Any soul who has survived to age of eighty-two with nary a secret would be extremely dull. ... We all have something to hide.  (Strudel) This goes along with the everyone has something to hide theme. It is just as we age, we have more to coverup-sometimes with less and less success.

James Beard:

  • Like much of the references in the book, The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland is a real place with James Beard connections.
  • Who is Marion Cunningham? The book is in memory to her. According to Wikipedia, she is an assistant to James Beard and also a renowned chef in her own right.

On January 22, 1964 there was an episode of the Patty Duke Show called Author! Author!. In it Patty Duke tries to become an author and thinks the road to success is to include a recipe in it. As I was reading Delicious! I kept thinking, when will Reichl include a recipe in this book about taste, cooking, and a young woman finding herself.

The books starts with the line,  I wanted her to look at me that way again. That is the main part of the book, Billie trying to find her own image. If you read the book from this perspective, it is a rather common book. But you include the descriptions Reichl has and it at times is like reading through a small Italian restaurant, complete with pleasing scents.

Reichl writes with a great deal of humor. You can just imagine what goes through this young woman's mind when she is on the line with an incorrigible women who is trying to get a refund and is going through all of her substitutions for a recipe. I was snickering and sputtering though out the book. The richness of her humor is second to her ability to describe  food and people. On the food, she has your mouth watering for dishes which I would normally reject. On the people, the main people in the book you have a pretty good idea-they are not two dimensional. Even Jake, the editor, who turns into a minor character has enough dimension to make you want more.

The first two parts were interesting and kept me reading. But by the time the third part, where she solves the mystery of the James Beard letters, the story, or maybe it was me, ran out of steam. All in all, it is pleasant read with some good reminders for a person to understand themselves, what there gifts are, and try to explore life. Oh, by the way, yes, there is a recipe.

Notes from my book group:

I wanted her to look at me that way again This book is about identity. How was Billie's identity formed? What effect does formation  have on us? How does comparison's between people help or harm our ability to form?

How does fear work its way throughout the book? Souffle, cooking,

When Billie writes her article, she talks about Sal's place as a "way of life". Explain what makes something a "way of life". Have you gone into establishments like that? What was your experience?

What foods from this book would you most want to sample? Along that same lines, which of the restaurants or food places described would you want to visit? Avoid?

Reichl describes the foods and visuals of Billie's world. Were you able to enter into that world? Would you have enjoyed it? Where does decadence start and enjoyment end?

Billie has a phobia about cooking. How did it develop? How realistic is this phobia? Does Riechl describe it well?

Do you get any food magazines? What stories would you have wanted to write for Delicious!?

What wild food have you eaten?

What has been your worst meal or dish you cooked?  Do you adapt recipes? Before trying the original?

How many Beard references did you find? (Not the overt ones by names, but things like restaurants, ...) Did you consider this part of the fun of the book? Also the card catalog was a central part of the book. How realistic was this indexing? Was this part of the fun of the chase?

Sammy has a voracious vocabulary.  Did this distract from your reading? Was this natural to Sammy's character or did you feel it was forced?

Comments about Roosevelt's speech on Italian-Americans. Are we hyphenating our nationalities too much? What is the impact of this hyphenation?

Both Lulu and Mrs. Cloverly felt like because they were old, they were not looked as having ability. Do you agree with some of the old age references like  ...young people have such contempt for the old that you'll believe any foolish thing we do.

The New York Times called this book "verbal chloroform". Do you agree?

Questions from the publisher:
1. Billie eventually writes about Sal's as if it's "a way of life." Do you have a favorite establishment that you would describe similarly? What is it like, and how does it make you feel?

2. Mrs. Cloverly’s disastrous concoctions are even funnier because she’s unfazed by failure. She seems to keep trudging forward, turning ever-less-palatable dishes out of her kitchen. Have you encountered such a cook? What is the most astonishingly—and hilariously—unappetizing dish you’ve ever been served?

3. Diana and Sammy's friendships help the formerly-contained Billie become more confident. Has a friend ever given you the courage to be more fully yourself? What did you reveal?

4. Try to imagine a story that Sammy might have written for Delicious! Where in the world is he, and what is he writing about?

5. Lulu’s letters teach Billie about the relentless uncertainty endured by the people on the homefront during World War II. She learns that Lulu finds solace in cooking with Mrs. Cappuzzelli and for her mother. Can you remember a meal that helped get you through a particularly painful moment? Where were you? Who were you with? And what was the meal?

6. Rationing changed the way Americans ate. Lulu throws herself into this new food landscape, experimenting with unfamiliar vegetables like milkweed and pumpkin leaves. What would you make if you had no butter, meat, or dairy? What would you forage for?

7. If you had a victory garden, what would you grow?

8. Do you have friends or family who remember what it was like to eat during World War II? What stories have they shared with you?

9. Lulu writes: “When Mother, Mr. Jones and I were walking through those strange, crowded downtown streets, where people were sticking their hands into pickle barrels, pointing to smoked fish, and eating sliced herring, I saw the scene in a whole new way. They weren’t buying food: They were finding their way home.” What foods feel like home to you?

10. As the book closes, what does Billie discover she owes Genie?

New Words:
  • Fenugreek (Guaranteed): Fenugreek is an annual plant in the family Fabaceae, with leaves consisting of three small obovate to oblong leaflets. It is cultivated worldwide as a semiarid crop, and its seeds are a common ingredient in dishes from the Indian subcontinent.
  • Osmanthus (Seizing Opportunities): flowers  are used throughout East Asia for their scent and flavour, which is likened to apricot and peach.
  • choleric (Seizing Opportunities): bad-tempered or irritable
  • dilatory (Seizing Opportunities): slow to act.
  • celerity (Magic Moments): swiftness of movement
  • perambulate (Magic Moments): walk or travel through or around a place or area, especially for pleasure and in a leisurely way
  • nugatory (Dripping Pudding): of no value or importance
  • salubrious (Dripping Pudding): health-giving; healthy
  • Orecchiette (Anzio): a variety of home-made pasta typical of Apulia, a region of southern Italy. Its name comes from its shape, which resembles a small ear.
  • Pazzesca (Cake Sisters): crazy, insane
  • denouement (Mad Bee Jars): the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved
  • Verifax (Mad Bee Jars):  The original sheet to be copied is placed face-down against the shiny side of a sheet of translucent sensitized "negative matrix" paper, then placed with the matte side of the matrix paper against the glass. The papers are exposed to light for about 15 seconds, where shorter exposure darkens the copy, and longer exposure lightens it. The original sheet is removed, and the matrix paper is immersed into the developing solution for 30 seconds, then extracted by pulling it out through pressure rollers, finishing the negative. This wet negative is pressed against a sheet of copy paper, and fed back through the rollers, giving gentle pressure. Finally, the two sheets are peeled apart, obtaining a slightly damp copy of the original, that has to dry-out
  • abstemios (Mad Bee Jars): abstaining from wine, abstemious; sober
  •  approbation (Member of the Club): approval or praise.
  • Alacrity  (Member of the Club): brisk and cheerful readiness.
  • Butterscotch Wood (Appetites): 
  • Quotidian  (A Trick of the Mind): of or occurring every day; daily.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: You should have used fresh ginger!
  • Last Line: whenever I miss her, I think about time being a trick of the mind, and I know that she's here somewhere, walking down the street. And when I think that, I know you're there with her.
  •  Having flavors in my head meant I could re-imagine them, put them together in entirely new ways. (Gingerbread)
  • Giving people presents is such  an intimate act; you're basically telling them who you think they are... (Nowhere)
  • ...age had not significance unless you have frittered your life away. (Seizing Opportunities)
  •  In bad times it's the people we love who can help us. (Cake Sisters)
  • when people don't know what they're looking for, they usually destroy them [details]. (Vintage Cookbooks)
  • there is nothing more attractive than competence in action. (Vintage Cookbooks)
  •  You have no idea what a relief it is to come home and do nothing.  (Appetites)
  • ...working is the only thing which keeps you young. (A Trick of the Mind)
  • ...time is only a trick of the mind. (A Trick of the Mind)
  • of the best things about writing letters...: You get to be the person you wish you were. (Truth or Consequences)
  • The truth is often uncomfortable, but that doesn't give us the right to hide it.
    (Truth or Consequences)
  •  There are many kinds of crimes...the most unforgivable is to have a gift and turn your back on it. (Gingerbread Girl)


  • Gingerbread Cake
  • Kitakata ramen (Japanese): Kitakata noodles derive their name from a place in Honshu province in Japan. These noodles are flat, thick, curly and prepared from buckwheat. These noodles are traditionally known as soba in Japanese.
  • Gnocchi
  • fountain's famous french nut cake
  • Red salad-roasted beets, red onions, sour cream
  • Scallop mousse
  • Fried pig's ears
  • Braised duck hearts with snails
  • Pork-snout terrine with pickles and toast
  • Grilled rabbit livers with bacon
  • Rabbit liver terrine 
  • Whole grilled mackerel
  • Lamb burgers
  • Breaded pig's tails
  • Gorgonzola soufflĂ© 
  • Calamari in aioli
  • Nutty Apricot Lace Cake
  • Yorkshire Pudding
  • Blums coffee crunch cake 
  • Crybaby Cookies
  • Anzac biscuits
  • Chicken liver toasts
  • Milkweed floss
  • Feast of the seven fishes
  • Scungilli salad
  • Sugar-dusted sfinge 
  • Pumpkin leaves
  • Perfect War Cookie
  • cheese souffle
  • orecchiette
  • panettone
  • madeleine
  • strudel


Monday, November 23, 2015

Jesus is the Question

Book: Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered
Author: Martin R Copenhaver
Edition: eBook on Nook
Read: November 23, 2015
131 pages
Genre:  Christian, Religion
Rated: 2 1/2  out of 5

The idea behind this book is that Jesus asks more questions than he answers, so we should take a look at what those questions are and get a better understanding of Jesus and what he taught as well as how he taught. Along the way, you get to understand the power of forcing people to answer questions and getting them to think.

Does Copenhaver accomplish what he sets out to do? Yes in that at the Introduction he shows us how Jesus taught. But then afterwards he falls into the role of a Bible teacher rather than letting the questions of Jesus talk for Him. That is until the last chapter where he lets the questions roll and you get the flood of the effect of His questions.Each chapter between break down the questions into categories which Copenhaver then talks about what Jesus is trying to get across. So to me, it would have been a more effective book to be asking questions about Jesus questions than trying to answer them for us.


Book References:
  • John Dear: The Questions of Jesus: Challenging Ourselves to Discover Life's Great Answers
  • Carol Anderson with Peter: Knowing Jesus in Your Life
  •  James Alison: Knowing Jesus
  • Debbie Blue: Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible
  • Samuel Wells: Power and Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection
  • James Martin: Jesus: A Pilgrimage
  • Cynthia Bourgeault: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity
  • Thomas Merton: Opening the Bible
  • NT Wright: Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did and Why He Matters
  • Rowan Williams: The Dwelling of the Light: Praying with Icons of Christ
  • Ernesto Cardenal: The Gospel in Solentiname
  •  Luke Timothy Johnson: Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: I have been hanging out with Jesus for a long time.
  • Last Line: Do you love me?
Table of Contents:
  • Foreword by Lauren F. Winner / xi
  • Introduction: So Many Questions / xvii
  • Chapter 1: Questions About Longing / 1
    • “What are you looking for?”
    • “Who are you looking for?”
  • Chapter 2: A Question About Compassion / 13
    • “Do you see this woman?”
  • Chapter 3: A Question About Identity / 25
    • “What is your name?”
  • Chapter 4: Questions About Faith and Doubt / 35
    • “Where is your faith?”
    • “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
    • “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
  • Chapter 5: Questions About Worry / 45
    • “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
    • “Why do you worry about clothing?”
    • “If God so clothes the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”
  • Chapter 6: Questions About the Reach of Love / 55
    • “Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
    • “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”
    • “If you do good only to those who do good to you what credit is that to you?”
  • Chapter 7: Questions About Healing / 65
    • “Do you want to get well?”
    • “What do you want me to do for you?
    • “How long has this been going on?”
  • Chapter 8: A Question About Abundance / 75
    • “How much bread do you have?”
  • Chapter 9: The Questions Jesus Answers / 87
  • Chapter 10: Questions About Who Jesus Is / 99
    • “Who do people say that I am?”
    • “Who do you say that I am?”
  • Chapter 11: A Question from the Cross / 109
    • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  • Chapter 12: Questions from the Risen Christ / 119
    • “What are you talking about as you walk along?”
    • “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
    • “Do you have anything to eat?”
    • “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? Do you love me? Do you love me?”
    • “Who are you looking for?”
  • Chapter 13: All Those Questions / 129
  • Notes / 143
  • Readers Guide / 145
  • For Further Reading / 161


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Pope Joan

Book: Pope Joan
Author:Donna Woolfolk Cross
Read:November 22, 2015
410 pages
Genre:  Fiction-History
Rated: 2 1/2  out of 5

This is a fictional biography of a female Pope. It starts from her birth around 830-840 in a Frankish town-France or Germany, close enough to the coast to be worried about Norwegian invaders. While her father was Christian and missionary, her mother was a pagan. the home life instilled a great deal of fear and apprehension from the irrationality and brutal nature of her father.

But education comes to the rescue. Joan has an insatiable appetite and curiosity. So she clandestinely has her older brother teacher her reading and writing.  Her older brother dies and her younger brother John is expected to take over. But he is not very studious. So when a Greek teacher comes through, he is cajoled to teaching him, but he also teacher Joan. After awhile, he is forced away, and the younger brother is sent off to a school, which Joan runs away to.

While brilliant, Joan is not accepted at the school, being the only female in a male schola. But she meets a man 15 years her senior, Gerold. It is at his house where she stays with him, his wife and two daughters. She excels here despite the harassment. She is emotionally attached to her benefactor and feels loved there. That is until Gerold is sent away on a mission his wife decided that Joan is getting to close to her husband. So she arranges a wedding. The Vikings attack Dorstadt on her wedding day, burning the city, killing almost all, including John. But Joan some how manages to hide.

Because her brother is dead, she assumes her brothers identity and becomes a novice at Fulda monastery. Here she manages both to be in trouble and to become very proficient in the healing arts. Enough so that she attracts the brother who is in charge and he takes her under his wing. She prospers beyond her mentor until one day she too becomes sick. Rather than risk discovery, she runs off and finds herself being cared for by someone she had saved from starvation. She is discovered to be a female, but is not "out'd".

Rome is her next stop. There she is able to practice her healing science and be able to study in obscurity. That is until someone in the Vatican-or what would be the Vatican-hears about her. She comes and heals the Pope. From there he gets more and more access to the Pope. There is palace intrigue and Joan gets thrown into prison because of a made up affair. A new people arises and defends Rome against invaders. But he is murdered and a new Pope is selected. This would be Joan.

Joan, still a man, rules the church justly of course and makes reform. That is until Gerold and her decide to leave Rome when Joan becomes pregnant. But Gerold is murdered during an Easter time parade. When Joan tries to come to his rescue, she gives birth, revealing her secret. She dies a short time later after being removed as Pope.

The final chapter has Joan being dead and one of the power brokers writing the history of the Popes. She is conveniently left out, except for one manuscript which a friend of Joan copies. Joan is placed in the correct biography.

Taught by Aesculapius to appreciate clarity and style, Joan never considered the question of whether Homer's poetry was acceptable in terms of Christian doctrine; God was in it because it was beautiful. (Chp 5) While some follow a strict if it is not in Scripture then it is not from God, I think that CS Lewis had a better view of things. That is all beauty, whether in nature in stone, or in word has its origins in God. Who else could it come from? Sometimes that beauty is disguised or just a faint reflection, tinged with the ugliness of the world, it still is part of Him. Isn't that what God saw when we sent his Son? That faint spark of Himself in us?

At times it seems like Cross likes to show how bad Christians are, or how much Christianity has in debit to pagans. Such as she talks about Thursday really being Thor's Day. Most of these are very minor and are more pin pricks. Just an indication of Cross' attitude towards the things she writes about.

When Joan becomes John, she becomes a male except in body. Cross continues to call Joan her, even though she uses John to identify her. This mixing of genders can be confusing in places, but for the most part it helps keep track of when Cross is talking about Joan and when she is talking about someone else in this male society.

The amount of last minute saves in the book gives it an air of contrived plot. You have the scholar who saves herself from a Viking intrusion, a healer who floats unconscious to the one person who would be sympathetic to her, you have a married man fall in love with her, and the list goes on. But that is no more than most novels which try to force a reader into a direction. But then that raises the question, is Cross trying to write a good story, or a best selling one or forcing a point?

Sometimes we are all caught up in our own self to see how foolish the thought is. Sergius condemned John/Joan to prison because of a supposed affair. But when Sergius found out the Joan was set up, he thought that the hand of God was against him because of this and he was to be annihilated because of this act. Joan points out that there are easier ways for God to take a person out than to destroy a whole city.  This is a good thing to remember-God can use a scalpel rather than an axe to remove sin.

Joan calls Pope Leo a true spiritual leader. What made him that? According to Cross it is because he was a man of drive and energy and enormous strength of will. This would be in contrast with the more mystical who seems to think being a spiritual leader is one who is more humble and willing to be a servant to all.

Through out the book there is 20th century values inserted into a 9th century piece. Such as towards the last, Gerold is talking to Joan towards the last of the book. He has realized Joan was not killed or taken away by the Vikings. As he talks, he says things like he was going to divorce his wife so she could remarry. In a brief looking through of things, I suspect this is more of a 20th century talk than a 9th century. Even though there is a mixture of acceptance of divorce among the pagans of the area, it was increasingly difficult to get a divorce through the church.

Or Joan says to Gerold, You always were my protector. I think this is taken more like a friend to a friend. But considering it was given in terms of Joan and Gerold about to run away, it may also be a strong female swooning under the influence of a knight. Seems out of character for someone who has made a whole life out of not being claimed by a man.

Probably the one thing more is that this book could not have been written in a culture where morals mattered. From the start, Joan masquerading as a man, instead of being a woman and excelling? She had an example in St Catherine of a women excelling in the church. Then having an affair while Pope. How does one reconcile that with the moralness the Pope is to exhibit. Isn't that the contrast which Cross was going for? That you had a Pope disguised as a man being on a higher moral plain. But yet, she yields to lust.  What kind of Pope does Cross want Joan to be?

I distrust historical fiction and this book is a good example of why. Donna Woolfolk Cross writes about a character in the 9th century which may or may not have existed. Builds up the person as a real person and then inserts all sorts of 20th century values into the the piece. This has the reader thinking in terms of this is how the events happened, how the attitudes were. Even a book group which I am in which consists of many people I respect could not not keep from acting like Cross' portrayal was how it happened.

Having started this with a rant against historical fiction, I will also say that Cross does write enjoyably. She has done a good deal of research on the events of the period and weaves the events fairly accurately into her story-from what I can tell as I have not really studied this era of history. The characters are developed well enough so that I was rooting for Joan throughout the story.

But at the end of reading this story I was stuck between liking how Cross' writing, but having the feeling I was reading a cross between a female Indiana Jones character and a romance novel, albeit an intelligent one. So I was stuck with not really liking this book.

New Words:
  • Lots of Latin, which Cross usually provides a translation. I am assuming it is the correct translation. In any event it is what Cross wants us to understand the translation should be for the purposes of the book.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: It was the twenty-eight day of Wintarmanoth in the year of our Lord 814, the harshest winter in living memory.
  • Last Line: Requiesce in pace, Johanna Bapissa


OSHER Book Group questions, probably from LitLovers

1. Donna Woolfolk Cross wrote the story of Pope Joan as a work of fiction. Do you think there really was a Pope Joan?
2. How important is it that Pope Joan actually existed? Are there lessons to be learned from this story whether it's true or not? What do you think those lessons are?
3. One reviewer said, "After finishing Donna Cross' novelization of Joan's life, one may want her to be a real person, only because it is so gratifying to read about those rare heroes whose strength of vision enables them to ignore the almost overpowering messages of their own historical periods." In contrast, a professor of history said, "I think we shouldn't even think about [Pope Joan] at all. It's bunk." Referring to Joan's pregnancy, the professor also said, "The whole point of the story is 'If you let a woman in as pope, she'll goof up.' The story was invented for the purpose of saying, 'Women can't be trusted.'" Which interpretation do you agree with? Why?
4. Many priests and nuns, in recent years, have urged the Vatican to ease restrictions on how far women may advance in the Church hierarchy. Women, they say, should be allowed to be ordained as priests. What are the implications of Pope Joan's story with regard to the limitations placed on women by the Church?
5. One reviewer wrote, "Pope Joan—is a reminder that some things never change, only the stage and the players do." Although the position of women in society haschanged dramatically since the middle ages, do you feel there are similarities between the way women live in various societies today and the way they lived in society then?
6. According to the author, Joan's story was universally known and accepted until the seventeenth century. Why do you think that changed?
7. Why do you think medieval society considered it unnatural and a sin for women to educate themselves or be educated?
8. Why might medieval society have believed so strongly that education hampered a woman's ability to bear children? What purpose might that belief have served?
9. One reviewer wrote, "Joan's ascendancy might not have been unusual in political spheres—many females in ancient and medieval times attained absolute or shared power. Joan earned disapproval because her intelligence and competence challenged prevailing male opinion that women lacked the ability for scholarly or clerical pursuits." Were there other females of ancient or medieval times who challenged this prevailing opinion? Do their stories give you insight into Joan's?
10. What other strong female characters have you encountered in books? What are the similarities and differences between those characters and Joan?
11. Did Joan make the right choice at that moment when she decided to disguise herself as her dead brother following the Viking attack? What would her life have been like had she chosen differently?
12. What do we learn about medieval medicine, and the logic of the learned medieval mind, in Pope Joan?
13. What happens to Joan when she tries to improve the lives of women and the poor? Why do you think Church and civic leaders were so resistant to such improvements?
14. Discuss the inner conflicts Joan faces—between the pagan beliefs taught by her mother and the Christian beliefs she learns from religious instructors; between her mind and her heart; between faith and doubt. How do these conflicts affect the decisions she makes? Does she ever truly resolve those inner conflicts?
15. Do you think Joan's secret would ever have been discovered had she not miscarried during the Papal procession or had she not become pregnant?
16. According to one reviewer, "Joan has the kind of vices—stubbornness and outspokenness, for example—that turn out to be virtues." Do you agree? If so, why? If not, why not?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Up and Down California

Book:  Up and Down California: The Journal of William H. Brewer, 1860-1864
Author: William H. Brewer
Edition: eBook, scanned copy from Yosemite Library
Read: August 21, 2014
672 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

This journal is really a series of letters to friends who were located in the eastern United States while Brewer was in California doing the Whitney survey. Brewer was the second in command of the 
“California State Geological Survey, and in reality was the chief of those who did the actual traveling through out the state. He started his travels in 1860 and completed it in 1865, going from Los Angeles in the south to Mt Shasta in the north. From San Francisco in the west to Washoe, Nevada in the east. He provides brief descriptions of the places he been too-more of his travels than the places.

In the Introductory biography, it is said that you will not find any hearsay. All of his publications were based upon observation. His notebooks corresponded to his writings, the only thing the writings did was to clothe the statistics with description.

But that is not to say that Brewer is without a sense of humor, you just have to look for it. He relays a few practical jokes played during the party's travels. Also some humorous insights. Some of this is used to skewer the State politicians of his time. Such as when he has not been paid for over a year and he and Dr Whitney have paid for the expenses of the Survey with their own money. Brewer notes that the politicians have no problem finding money for themselves, even during times when tight.

While it is easy to think that California being so far west was not affected by Civil War issues. But it is worthwhile remembering that Brewer is a Northerner landing in San Francisco the day Lincoln was elected. The first area which Brewer visited was Los Angeles. Here the question was should Southern California be considered a separate Southern state or part of California. Brewer exhibits his bias on this question by pointing out that the treaty with Mexico called for any Mexican in California when it became part of the Union to be considered an American citizen. Mexico regarded Indians, blacks, whites and Latinos all as citizens. There are smatterings of talk of the Secessionists and the Unionists. At one point he talks of camping in a Secessionist field while having a Union flag flying from their tents.

He makes his observation on page 86 There is a very strong Union sentiment prevailing here, although the governor is Secession, and there are thousands of desperadoes who would rejoice to do anything for a general row, out of which they could pocket spoils; yet the state is overwhelmingly Union. Later on he goes  on with concerns that even though there is popular sentiment for the Union amongst the populist, among the state politicians there is strong sentiment for secession. Also see his thoughts at the end of Book 4, Chp 4 where he talks some on the Secessionists, and what he feels is their generally corrupt ways.

The War played itself out in California in a lot of other ways. Around Lone Pine you have the Alabama Hills and and area where Kearsarge is a prominent name-Kearsarge was a name of a Union ship.

You hear about the Wild West. But at least I did not understand what that really meant until I read this book. Right from the get-go, Brewer talks about what the normal protection he usually carries: a Bowie knife and a navy revolver. But at camp they have carbines and rifles. Was this really needed? When they land at Los Angeles, there is 50 to 60 murders a year. This is out of a population of 4,000 people. This is just for the first two weeks of his visit to California. There is many other stories throughout the book which illustrate how this plays out in 1860,

The enormity of Brewer's project comes home to him. He had climbed up an area north west of Los Angeles, alone. He is a couple thousand feet up and sees sea shells. He ponders how long ago this ancient shore was by the ocean. It is here he realizes if he is just starting out on this survey of California, what else will this State bring to him? There is not despair, but awe.

“No place but California can produce such groups. (96) Brewer not only measured California, he also observed its people. He saw a true melting pot where somehow Mexicans, Chinese, Germans, English, French and a score of others somehow were able to make a go of things together. Not saying he did not observe problems, but that they lived side by side without  fighting constantly.  An Easter Sunday worship service exemplifies it.

He also meets plenty of individuals. Some them friendly, a few unsavory, but almost all interesting. He talks about this hermit hunter in Northern California, a good shot and hospitable old man with quite a history, More is his name. As a conclusion, he says, He is one of those erratic characters with which this state abounds. (268)

He also talks about the Indians of California. He thinks in terms of them being savages. But he also thinks of them terms of them being human beings. He talks about the inhuman treatment the Digger Indians received at the hands of the miners. Later on he observes a funeral of a Digger Indian. He thinks the ritual with the dancing and hopping is somewhat barbaric. But he turns around and wonders about how we observe a person's passing.

In case you think Brewer is somebody who smears others, he also looks at his own kind and sees an equal amount of distress in them. When a ship he was on strikes a rock, several men become panicked and try to be the first on the life rafts. Brewer's comment is: I really felt ashamed for my sex, for manhood, when I saw what arrant cowards some of the men were. About two-thirds were as cool as if nothing had happened, but some of the remainder showed a cowardice most disgraceful. (Book

 the wife pro tem of two or three miners. (95). Such an interesting term. The wife for the moment, rotating between several miners. Sort of makes it like the women has a job as a substitute wife.

Wherever Brewer met a woman, he generally gave an estimate on the physical attractiveness of the person. I am not sure if this was for the benefits his friends or if he just had that kind of streak in him. There does not seem to be any indication he chased after them, just an appreciation of their appearance.  Such as The Misses Walkinshaw were even more lovely and agreeable than usual. We had a pleasant time. Book II, Chapter 4. It is more just interesting to see his thoughts in that direction. As a note: right before he obtained his position with the Survey, he lost both his wife and daughter.

This Spanish grant land-title system is one of the great drawbacks of this country. One man will make an immense fortune from that ranch, but the public suffers. Book II, Chp 4 The problem which Brewer sees is that you have these vast tracts of land which are in the hands of a few families. This hampers the ability for the State to accommodate the influx of people. Usually the ranchoes which were developed from the land grants were the best parts of land in the state for mineral and grazing.

In places, Brewer can be a good story teller. He tells of stepping on a rattlesnake, but not getting bitten. Then killing it. Later on after beheading it, he is struck by its body. There was fright from that. But he notes that much more was made of getting a skunk away from camp. Book II, Chp 4

Brewer notes in several places a phenomenon he observed. When he is sleeping inside, like in the cities, he catches cold. But if he is outside, even in the rain, he remains well.

Brewer's position was mostly the operations and science manager for the Survey. As such, he was the man in the field while Whitney was the political man. Brewer was involved with trying to maintain the fiscal solvency of the survey so he had connections with the politicians of the day. In his letter/journal he says the work is in advance of the intelligence of the state, and is, therefore, not appreciated; and, a more potent one, that several prominent politicians have hoped to use the Survey for personal, private speculations in mining matters and have failed—they will oppose us. (Book III, chp 7) He has a pretty low opinion of California politics of the time. I wonder what he would think of today's politics? What he observes then is similar today. Unless there is an immediate payoff, we do not want to spend for something which will bring benefit 10-50 years in the future.

In Book 4, Chp 5 he talks about the toll roads. He talks about how the State of California spent $100,000 to build a road over the Sierra's south of Tahoe. When silver and other metals proved to have some value, the mining companies improved the road and started charging tolls.  These rights were "sold" by the legislature, not necessarily to the public good.

Earthquakes. These mysterious quakings and throes of Mother Earth affected me as no other phenomenon of nature ever did. (Book III, Chp 7) Sounds so understated for earthquakes.

A good description of a mining town in Book 4, Chp 5 where he talks about Silver mountain:  Silver Mountain (town) is a good illustration of a  new  mining town. We arrive by trail, for the wagon road is left many miles back. As we descend the canyon from the summit, suddenly a bright new town bursts into view. There are perhaps forty houses, all new (but a few weeks old) and as bright as  new, fresh lumber, which but a month or two ago was in the trees, can make them. This log shanty has a sign up, “Variety Store”; the next, a board shanty the size of a hogpen, is “Wholesale & Retail Grocery”; that shanty without a window, with a canvas door, has a large sign of “Law Office”; and so on to the end. The best hotel has not yet got up its sign, and the “Restaurant and Lodgings” are without a roof as yet, but shingles are fast being made. On the south of the town rises the bold, rugged Silver Mountain, over eleven thousand feet altitude; on the north a rugged mountain over ten thousand feet. Over three hundred claims are being “prospected.” “Tunnels” and “drifts” are being run, shafts being sunk, and every few minutes the booming sound of a blast comes on the ear like a distant leisurely bombardment

  Brewer was a man of his times. While he believed in the Union cause, he also had the attitude of a white man concerning other races. Such as in Book 4, Chp 8 he notes there was a lot of intermarrying between Indians and white men, resulting in mixed races. He then talks about What is to become of these half-breeds, and what their situation is to be in the future society of various parts of this country, is a serious problem. It is a good American doctrine that a man not entirely white has few rights or privileges that a pure white is bound to respect, and as abuse and wrong has thus far failed to civilize and raise the Indian, it is, indeed, a serious problem. I think he was right in that as we approach change in a society, we need to understand what this change means-I do not think he was right concerning the rights of non-whites. As a society, we are marching head long into gay rights and abortion. How will this change our society in 50 years.? Will we be thinking this is the right road or say, what were they thinking in 2015?

Some things are pretty cyclical. Such as drought. In 1864 Calif suffered through a terrible drought. Brewer talks about the ranch as San Luis-currently where the reservoir is-which had over a thousand head of cattle. He had to sell all of them-no water or feed. Have we learnt anything once then?

The soldiers brought back a lot of newspapers from the camp at Fort Miller—papers from the East, from various parts of this state—old many of them, but very acceptable.  Yesterday, after washing my clothes, I spent the rest of the day in reading. There is a sort of fascination in reading about what is going on in the busy world without, in the noisy marts of trade and commerce, in society and politics, in the busy strife of war, of brilliant parties and gay festivities, and sad battles, and tumultuous debate, while we are here in these distant mountain solitudes, alike away from the society and the strife of the world.  Book 5, Chp 3

Talking about Nevada becoming a state: It has just been made a state, but I see no elements here to make a state. It has mines of some marvelous richness, but it has nothing else, nothing to call people here to live and found homes. Every man of any culture hopes to make his fortune here, but to enjoy it in more favored lands. The climate is bad, water bad, land a desert, and the population floating.  Book 5, Chp 4. Being a Californian, I sort of endorse his view of Nevada.

Up and Down California is a series of letters written to family and friends by William Brewer while he was on the California State Geological Survey, from 1860 through 1865. This was the Whitney Survey which gave the first good natural resources description of California. As a book or literature, it is dry. But when read as a honest and personal travel journal, you can imagine yourself traveling this state.

Reading the journal for good writing, there are several of his contemporaries which do better such as King. But for a straightforward account of the Whitney Survey and the times, this is pretty good.

New Words:

  • compendious (11):  containing or presenting the essential facts of something in a comprehensive but concise way.
  • Californian sabboth (34): cards, songs, whiskey
  • alpengluhen (54): (alpine glow)-is an optical phenomenon in which a horizontal red glowing band is observed on the horizon opposite to the sun. This effect occurs when the Sun is just below the horizon. Alpenglow is easiest to observe when mountains are illuminated but can also be observed when the sky is illuminated through backscattering.
  • Panoli (60): a village in the Ankleshwar Tehsil of Bharuch district in the Indian state of Gujarat
  • Guirado (71): 
  • Sancha (80): The woman that your man is cheating on you with. 
  • vivaparoa  (89): the tule perch is found in freshwater habitats
  • Palaver (97): prolonged and idle discussion.
  • California gallop (101): 
  • misanthropic (78): disliking humankind and avoiding human society
  • Asphaltum (84):  asphalt
  • Billed shirt (85): 
  • Palmetto (86): meaning "little palm"
  • expatiated (94): speak or write at length or in detail
  • arabesque (Book II, chp 4): an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in Arabic or Moorish decoration
  • desideratum (Book II, chp 5): something that is needed or wanted.
  • anthracite (book II,chp 5): a hard, compact variety of coal that has a high luster. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest calorific content of all types of coal, which also include bituminous coal and lignite.
  • Bituminous (Book II, chp 5):  coal or black coal is a relatively soft coal containing a tarlike substance called bitumen. It is of higher quality than lignite coal but of poorer quality than anthracite. Formation is usually the result of high pressure being exerted on lignite
  • palliated (Book II, chp 5): make (a disease or its symptoms) less severe or unpleasant without removing the cause.
  • meerschaum (Book III, chp 2): a German word meaning sea foam. The geologist knows the light, porous Meerschaum as hydrous magnesium silicate. The pipe smoker knows it as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavorful smoke.
  • pommeling (Book III, chp 6): The upper front part of a saddle; a saddlebow.
  • jocosely (Book III, chp 6): given to or characterized by joking; jesting; humorous; playful:
  • peregrinationsy (Book III, chp 7):travel from one place to another, especially on foot.

Book References:
  • The Metallic Wealth of the United States”, by Josiah Dwight Whitney
  • Geogolgy by Josiah Dwight Whitney
  • Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada” by Clarence King
  • The Yosemite Guidebook
  • Bleak House
  • Mountains of California by John Muir
  • Steep Trails by John Muir

Good Quotes:

  • First Line: I SHALL sail at noon tomorrow, and drop a line before starting. 
  • Last Line: I trust you have had as much pleasure in reading as I have in writing them.
  •   It is glorious to watch  the stars and moon before going to sleep, but unpoetical to turn in the night and bring yourself in contact with a portion of the blanket soaked with dew, and ugh, how cold! But I have always slept gloriously in the open air, whenever I have tried it.  Book I, Chp 6
  • We are doing and reaping as monarchists have often told us we would do—put designing, immoral, wicked, and reckless men in office until they robbed us of our glory, corrupted the masses, and broke us in pieces for their gain. Book I, Chp 6
  • Ah! camp is the place to sleep—sweet sleep—refreshing sleep. There is no canopy like the tent, or the canopy of Heaven, no bed so sweet as the bosom of Mother Earth. Book II, Chapter 1
  • It is only in a Roman church that one sees such a picturesque mingling of races, so typical of Christian brotherhood. Book II, Chp 1
  • one’s fear could not always be controlled by one’s reason. Book II, chp 4, Footnote 8
  • How I enjoyed those hours of solitude, so far from men, such a picturesque spot! Near me the grand forests, behind me the lovely valleys below, before me the grand old peak, its outlines so beautifully cut against the intensely blue sky. I gazed on it for hours, as I lay there, not with the awe that I did two days ago, but with even more admiration.  Book III, chp 5
  • You at home little know the blessed charm that letters can have, their true value to the person that wanders, homeless and desolate, especially when his bed is the ground and his canopy the sky, and when all he holds dear is so far away.  Book 4, Chp 7
  • the miner leaves only desolation in his track, and everywhere here he has left his traces.    Book 4, Chpt 7
Table of Contents:
Preface by Russell H. Chittenden     vii
Illustrations     xi
Introduction     xv

BOOK I—1860-1861
I.     To California via Panama     3
II.     Los Angeles and Environs     11
III.     More of Southern California     29
IV.     Starting Northward     43
V.     Santa Barbara     55
VI.     The Coast Road     73
VII.     Salinas Valley and Monterey     91

BOOK II—1861
I.     An Interlude     117
II.     New Idria     135
III.     New Almaden     149
IV.     Approaching the Bay     169
V.     The Mount Diablo Range     191
VI.     Napa Valley and the Geysers     213

I.     The Rainy Season     241
II.     Tamalpais and Diablo     255
III.     The Diablo Range South     275
IV.     Up the Sacramento River     291
V.     Mount Shasta     309
VI.     West and East of the Sacramento River     325
VII.     Closing the Year—A Miscellany     347

BOOK IV—1863
I.     In and about San Francisco     365
II.     Tejon—Tehachapi—Walker’s Pass     375
III.     The Big Trees—Yosemite—Tuolumne Meadows     397
IV.     Mono Lake—AurorA—Sonora Pass     415
V.     To Carson Pass and Lake Tahoe     429
VI.     The Northern Mines and Lassen’s Peak     451
VII.     Siskiyou     471
VIII.     Crescent City and San Francisco     489

BOOK V—1864
I.     San Joaquin Valley—Giant Sequoias     505
II.     The High Sierra of Kings River     517
III.     Owens Valley and the San Joaquin Sierra     533
IV.     The Washoe Mines     551
V.     Homeward Bound—Nicaragua     561

Itinerary     571
Index     589