Getting to Know Seattle: The Crumpet Shop

The Crumpet Shop is a real English tea shoppe on 1st Avenue at Pike Place Market. I’ve literally walked by hundreds of times without going in. Friend Barbara asked if I wanted to go there for breakfast, and acting on my philosophy that I’ll try anything once, I readily agreed.

The website describes “crumpet” as an English griddle cake. I’m thinking of Lily here, and her question of how a bun differs from a scone. Now we’ll add “crumpet” to the mix, and really send her over the edge.

The Crumpet Shop was fabulous. They have a wide selection of international teas, but they also serve a really good cup of organic coffee. They have scones, and groats — something like a rice porridge — but the specialty of the house is crumpets. You can have one with butter and jam, or peanut butter, or marmite — a salty English paste made out of yeast that people apparently either love or hate. Sounds vile to me. You can order a crumpet with egg, cheese, and ham — real, thick cut ham, not deli ham from a plastic container — and a slice of tomato on top, or any variation thereof. You can have a crumpet with ricotta cheese and lemon curd, which sounded great for later in the day, like brunch, or a crumpet with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

The place is small, with a few tables and a long bar with stools. A lot of people get their crumpets and drinks and continue walking. We found a table, and enjoyed a leisurely conversation — no one rushed us out despite the consistent line of people seeking their favorites.

For a carb lover, as I am, crumpets are a new and wonderful way to indulge my craving. I had the egg/ham/cheese with a tomato atop a warm crumpet, and it was to die for. I’ll be back.

Panama 2018: Planning Already

Planning has already begun for Panama 2018, which will be in January this coming year. I’m going a little earlier than I have been for the past few years, taking into account Minga’s declining health. I’m hoping she’ll be well enough to come to the villa, get some of Gloria’s wonderful cooking, and be fussed over a bit.

Booking this early probably sounds crazy, but when you’re looking for very specific flights on specific days, there’s no point in waiting. The fares don’t change that much, and once I have the villa dates locked in, I’m ready to set the rest in place.

I’ve written before about how Lily, Minga’s granddaughter, is even more of a planner than I am. Just as I was in the process of booking the villa, she emailed to see if by chance I’d started thinking yet about next year’s trip. I think she loves the planning she gets to do on her end — she coordinates with David, our driver, and makes all the arrangements for our Panama city time. The adventure gives her something to anticipate in the new year.

This year week one will include friend Sally — who’s come every year since the first and has been a key part of all the adventures — plus her significant other Michael. They will be joined by Bob and Candy, a college friend and her husband with whom I reconnected at the recent reunion. Week two, at this point, will be just Sally and me. I’m sticking to two weeks, since I’ve become a part of Matt and Amy’s support system with kid pickup. They cope when I’m not here and never ask me to cut trips short, but I know it adds to the number of moving pieces in their lives when I’m away. And, I treasure this time with my grandkids.

Lily sent me an online article from a Panama City news source: the flight I take from Houston to Panama City experienced severe turbulence, and several people were taken to the hospital upon landing. I wonder if that has anything to do with the extremely hot air that has been plaguing the Southwest in recent days.

I like planning for Panama too, and looking forward to the annual adventure. What we do doesn’t change that much from year to year, although the guests do. But it’s a very special part of my life. I’m going to miss it when I get too old to go.

Saudi Arabia in a Snit

People get in a snit, and take action. During the HBO series The Sopranos, mob wife Carmella got mad at Tony, and threw his clothing out a second story window onto the ground. Tony got the  point.

Saudi Arabia is in a snit at Qatar, its tiny adjacent neighbor. The Saudis have thrown out 15,000 Qatari camels, which Qataris keep in Saudi Arabia because Qatar lacks enough pasture land to feed the herds. Many of the animals are stuck at the border, and in poor condition with too little food or water.

And what do you do when you’re in a snit?

Cook Political Report on Georgia Election

Trump is gloating about Karen Handel’s victory in the Georgia special election, and Democrats are demoralized as the blowback to Trump and his chaotic White House has yet to show up in electoral victories.

I watch Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour, and that’s where I’ve heard Amy Walter of the Cook  Report. She’s smart, measured, and data-driven in her commentary — which took me directly to the Cook Report site for their take on the Georgia election. This story isn’t written by Cook, but by a colleague, David Wasserman. When I’m looking for any sign that we can pull the country back from the free fall into which Trump is leading us, this article restored a bit of reason.

Here’s the gist of the article:

“If Democrats were to outperform their “generic” share by eight points across the board in November 2018, they would pick up 80 seats. Of course, that won’t happen because Republican incumbents will be tougher to dislodge than special election nominees. But these results fit a pattern that should still worry GOP incumbents everywhere, regardless of Trump’s national approval rating and the outcome of the healthcare debate in Congress.

Put another way, Democratic candidates in these elections have won an average of 68 percent of the votes Hillary Clinton won in their districts, while Republican candidates have won an average of 54 percent of Trump’s votes. That’s an enthusiasm gap that big enough to gravely imperil the Republican majority next November—even if it didn’t show up in “the special election to end all special elections.

Writing Life: What Great Writers Do

Really great writers, those born with natural talent — as distinct from commercially successful writers, like John Grisham — don’t rest on their laurels. They work and work at their craft, and get better over time, usually much better.

The Grishams of the world, on the other hand, get richer. But they often don’t get better. Rather, they come up with a formula that works, and put out novel after novel using that same formula. Often the later books have lost their edge, and they become boring. That happened for me with Patricia Cornwall. Her early books were riveting. The later books were not, and I stopped reading them, even on airplanes.

Flannery O’Connor, one of the greatest American short story writers, published a story called The Geranium as part of her master’s thesis at Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Fourteen years later, just before she died, she rewrote that story and issued it as Judgment Day. If you only read The Geranium, you’d think it’s wonderful — and it is. But the re-write, with the benefit of fourteen years of hard work, is magnificent.

I read Kent Haruf backwards, from the last novel to the earlier ones. When I was in Minneapolis working with Dustin and Emily on their wedding, Emily’s dad Neil  gave me the print version of Haruf’s final work, published after his death: Our Souls at Night. It’s a beautiful book, I’d go so far as to say it’s a must-read for those of us who have reached a certain age and care about love and choices and the road not taken. Then I read the Plainsong trilogy, which came mid-career. Now i’ve gone back to read the early books, The Tie that Binds and Where You Once Belonged. They are fine reads. Our Souls at Night, like Flannery O’Connor’s Judgement Day, is magnificent.

Writing isn’t easy, and no one should think it is. Great writing, even for someone born with natural talent, takes years of effort and hard work. But great writing, when you find it, is a gift. If you haven’t yet found Kent Haruf, wait no longer. Start at the beginning, and read them all.

Being Chased and Killed by a Bear

I’m an urban person. There are lots of scary things that happen on city streets, from muggers to overly aggressive panhandlers to crossing streets in the midst of surging traffic to inadvertently interrupting a drug buy, but those dangers are familiar to me and I know how to handle or avoid most of them. The one and only time I went camping, that since moving to Seattle, I was terrified in the night by the sound of something sniffing outside my tent. I thought it was a mountain lion. It was probably a squirrel.

But the idea of being chased and killed by a bear during a mountain race, and having the time and presence of mind to text and say this was happening to you, sounds utterly terrifying to me. The young man was 16, and he didn’t do anything wrong. He was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and encountered the wrong bear.

Give me my city streets any time.

The Faith of Trump Supporters

People who believe Trump and believe in him seem to do so absolutely — which is a little scary when it comes to any elected official, more so this one who seems to lie without even thinking about it. The Washington Post has an article in which Trump supporters in Tom Price’s old district are interviewed re their thoughts on Trumpcare:

“The mental health counselor, a native of Sweden who became a U.S. citizen in 2004, calls herself “ultra-conservative” and strongly supports the president. “Trump wants to put something together that’s actually going to last and work for everybody,” Caswell explained. “To do that, you have to start over. That’s what they’re doing.”

She said the protesters’ concerns about people with preexisting conditions losing coverage are unfounded because, surely, Trump would never allow such a terrible thing to happen to people who need help. “That’s definitely one of the things he’s going to make sure they fix,” she said, referring to the Senate bill. “I’m sure Trump has scratched his head on that one a lot.”

Someone else interviewed expresses great distress that she has a $40 co-pay to see her doctor, and she is waiting for Trumpcare to give her cheaper premiums and lower co-pays but more and better care.

Dream on.

The Republicans in Congress have the votes to pass Trumpcare if Mitch McConnell leans on them hard enough, which he will. That means the burden of this cruel bill is going to fall hard on a lot of people, including Trump voters. Will their belief in him falter in light of their real-world experience? I’m not sure. Richard Nixon held on to 30+% of Republican voters all the way through Watergate and his ultimate resignation. History shows us that grifters and con men hold on to a lot of their true believers, simply because people are loathe to admit they’ve been duped.

I read another article yesterday morning by David Leonhardt in the New York Times that said millennials simply aren’t voting, less than 20% do so in federal elections. They don’t support Trump, and his actions will have effects on their lives that will last generations. But they don’t vote. Older voters who believe in Trump are voting, even though he’s going to pull the rug right out from under them.

Our democracy, as we all know, is in a real mess.

Karen Handle Victory in Georgia

I’m heartbroken at the Republican victory in Georgia — even though it occurred in a red district in a red state. Do 52% of Georgia voters really think the spectacle that is the Trump presidency is consistent with American values, American democracy? I can’t fathom it. I simply can’t.

Death of Otto Warmbier

Twenty one year olds feel invincible. I did, when I was 21 and in the Peace Corps in Panama. We did some incredibly stupid things — like hitchhiking down the Pan America highway at 11pm and being picked up by perfect strangers, or walking along the deserted harbor in Panama City after midnight just to see the lights on the ships awaiting transit through the Canal. God willing, life is kind to the young and we get away with the stupid things. But sometimes, life is not kind.

Otto Warmbier entered North Korea with a low-budget Chinese tour group, eager to explore the Forbidden Kingdom on a five day jaunt. While there, he may have taken a propaganda poster as a souvenir. He was arrested and detained at the airport, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was recently repatriated home in a coma, and on Monday he died. Medical testing here in the U.S. did not reveal the cause of his persistent vegetative state. But something terrible happened in a North Korean prison, bad enough to cause this young man’s death.

I wouldn’t go to North Korea, or Iran, or Syria, or Somalia. I wouldn’t go to a lot of places where there isn’t a direct U.S. embassy presence and a reasonable expectation of humane treatment as a tourist or aid worker — and I don’t think I would have at 21, either. If I had gone, might I have taken a poster as a souvenir? Yes. I wouldn’t have expected that simple act to lead to a cascade of events that would result in my death.

I’m sure such a dire outcome never occurred to Otto Warmbier either. I’m sorry for him, and for his family, and for the fact that the tolerance for his somewhat foolish act was so slight and that his life was so easily broken.