Not so new addiction X

In the Ravine and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

A Delicate Truth by John le Carre

The Kiss and the Duel by Anton Chekhov

A Way in the World by V.S. Naipaul

In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul

The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling

Ganges by Sudipta Sen

Rain and Other Stories by W. Somerset Maugham

The Short Stories by John Galsworthy by John Galsworthy

Wessex Tales by Thomas Hardy

Without ever Reaching the Summit by Paolo Cognetti

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin

The Black Nile by Dan Morrison

Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier

Last Man in the Tower by Aravind Adiga

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

Journey to Armenia by Osip Mandelstam

Questions of Travel: William Morris in Iceland by Lavinia Greenlaw

Not so new addiction IX

In Morocco by Edith Wharton

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Third Man by Graham Greene

Arabs by Tim Mackintosh-Smith

The Longest Journey by E.M.Forster

No Room in the Arc by Alan Moorehead

One’s Company by Peter Fleming

A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

Smoke by Ivan Turgenev

The Professor by Charlotte Brontë

To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron

A Short Life in a Strange World by Toby Ferris

American Bloomsbury by Susan Cheever

Amerika by Franz Kafka

In Chancery by John Galsworthy

The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy

One More River by John Galsworthy

The Kreuzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Not so new addiction VIII

Belly of the Beast by Emile Zola

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

John Buchan Stories by John Buchan

Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson

The Comedians by Graham Greene

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

The Living Room by Graham Greene

The Destruction and Other Stories by Graham Greene

Off the Rails by Beppe Severgnini

Bliss and other Stories by Katherine Mansfield

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger

The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

The Ambulance Drivers by James McGrath Morris

Artful by Ali Smith

Being Wagner by Simon Callow

The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell


The wheels will fall off

During the span of a significant birthday a few days ago, I was spoon fed several tablespoons of hard to swallow gloop:

First tablespoon. Lydmilla phoned with good wishes, also explained: “At your age there are no prints left on the tips of your fingers.”

I hadn’t known this.

Second tablespoonful. Richie phoned with congratulations, laughed at my shock at reaching this great age (a number closer to one hundred than to forty). “Like it or not, youthful or not, healthy or not, mentally fit or unfit, face it, Ali, sooner or later, the wheels are going to fall off the wagon.”

I’m getting an idea of what he means.

My sister came and went. Because we’ve both had Covid 19, had tested negative after quarantining, we were able to embrace. This was the very first physical contact I’d had with another person (not a doctor) in four months. It felt great. (*)

After she admired the roses and tomatoes in my tiny garden, she went on her way. Back upstairs, I put on my pale green pajama bottoms, stretched out and dipped a fork into the waiting celebratory slice of amber cheesecake from Katz Delicatessen. While savoring its silky luxury, unable to decant the news of my ‘new’ old age since, when not face-to-face with a mirror, all seems unaltered. On the other fingerprint-free hand, air now leaked from my tires which are (at this point in life) retreads though they still have traction, are flexible, still absorb shocks and still rotate. Is it possible that I’ve blown out someone else’s candles?

I stretched out, read Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. At Chapter 20 (on Lake Como in 1867) I read:“A mile away a grove-plumed promontory juts afar into the lake and glasses its palace in the blue depths; in midstream a boat is cutting the shining surface and leaving a long track behind, like a ray of light, the mountains beyond are veiled in a dreamy purple haze; far in the opposite direction a tumbled mass of domes and verdant slopes and valleys bars the lake, and here indeed does distance lend enchantment to the view – for on this broad canvas, sun and clouds and the richest of atmospheres have blended a thousand tints together, and over its surface the filmy lights and shadows drift, hour after hour, and glorify it with a beauty that seems reflected out of Heaven itself….

I’d visited Lake Como, loved everything about it. Now, in the comfort of my own nest, Twain gifts me with a second breathtaking visit.

At days end I slip off my pajamas, slip on my face mask and slacks too, and go out to get the mail. In the box, a few birthday cards and a copy of Notting Hill Edition’s “Questions of Travel, William Morris in Iceland” (where he went in 1871) by Lavinia Greenlaw. Just the medicine a wise doctor might order for me. Thus, in hand, happily, is my next dose of lightning in a book rather than in a bottle.

At this point in life, in spite of everything that’s quailing outside, with or without working wheels, I still possess everything I need (or might want) right here. Everything. Not that I deserve it, but I’ve been utterly blessed by fate and feel like a king.

(*) Correction: I also shared a warm hug with my friend DE as he was departing the city after our ten week co-quarantine.


If any loquacity remains in my life’s stockpile, it hasn’t been diminished during these months in quarantine, the quarter of a year that got tagged onto concurring years of (mostly supine) solitary living. As it’s happened, I’m almost mute. Or have been muted. I don’t know why, nor by what and don’t even mind. Truth be told, there’s little I have to say; am fed up with my story. Just about any request seems like (almost visceral) pressure. Thus: friends, family, neighbors, allies, anyone contemplating even a commonplace conversation with me, please forgive me for dullness or thwarting you or hiding away  Think of me as …. as what? …. your loving comrade whose mute button got compressed. By what? By whom? Temporary or otherwise? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, a dial has turned to high. As one who has been seriously addicted to various activities in this lifetime (some harmless, some foolish, a few lethal), I’ve fallen under the sway of a new vice. This clinging monkey, the talking book, is cuddly, seductive, beguiling and, thanks to the NYPL, I’ve had free access to hundreds of thousands of these verbose pets. Through intense listening spells, I’ve even fallen in love with several voices. Following: two who have made me laugh out loud in this darkened room, caused tears to rush down my cheeks, have lulled me to sleep or awakened me .
Stefan Rudnicki (originally from Krakow, Poland) is one. His rendering of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness kept me tuned-in for three days and four nights. The other reader (London born David Case), my other favorite, has kept me happily shackled  for thousands of hours … through every single articulated word in Proust’s Remembrance of things Past. Right now am under his spell as he reveals John Galsworthy’s family Forsyte. I’ve completed A Man of Property and begun In Chancery. It’s a relief to this addict that seven more parts await – ‘protecting supply’ being one of the keynotes of addiction.

Might all this actually belong in 20/5/20’s blog-posting Third Childhood? One more childish delight resurrected? Daddy reads to child, Mommy reads to child. Childish comfort resumed later in life: Lover or friend or radio reads to adult child?
Or, (could it be true) as Covid 19 has absconded with my ability to smell, has it also robbed me of free speech?

Needle or haystack?


“One wants to be the needle in the haystack. Not the haystack.” – Don Draper

One sister wants to be the needle. The other sister doesn’t want to be either one. My friend DE would prefer being the needle. Me? I would like to be the haystack.

Third childhood



“For people of my age,” she thinks, “the places that they truly loved and to which they once belonged are no longer there. The places of their childhood and youth have ceased to exist … And if their outer form has been preserved, it’s all the more painful, like a shell with nothing inside it anymore. I have nowhere to return to.”*

True. Not true. Truth reflects in a mirror, untruth in appetite. Since plunging into quarantine, a child’s pallet from the 1950s has reawakened. This reincarnation suggests I microwave two White Castle hamburgers for breakfast, cut a slice from a half-defrosted Pepperidge Farm lemon cake for 4 o’clock tea. Then, as the city lights come up, zap a frozen Marie Callender chicken pot pie. Are these flavors what they were? Yes and no. Yes. I think so. No. Having totally lost my sense of smell and much of my sense of taste more than two months ago, I don’t actually know if I’m tasting or imagining.

A tune comes to mind:

Wake up, wake up you sleepy head
Get up, get out of your bed
Cheer up, cheer up the sun is red
Live, love, laugh and be happy

Third childhood?

Now I’m walking through,
Walking through the fields of flowers
Rain may glisten but still I listen for hours and hours
I’m just a kid again doing what I did again, singing a song


Here’s a tune that’s been frozen in memory, my Aunt Florence and Uncle Harry sang it to me at their wedding in 1950-ish. Obviously it’s been lounging in my memory bank.


As frozen memory cubes unfreeze, here’s a question for the over fifty crowd: were Lucy and Ethel actually funny?


Then, on ordering a delivery of  a meatball hero and Tiramisu from Lena’s in Kips Bay, the coffee-soaked ladyfingers,  I find the mascarpone cheese  in a small glass dessert bowl exactly like those eaten-from in childhood. How many evenings did we six sit around our oak oval dining table with a chocolate or tapioca or butterscotch or rice or egg custard or colored jello in a such a little glass bowl as dessert? About a million times.

Thus: I searched for and found a small cardboard box of My-T-Fine Chocolate Pudding mix identical to what it was seventy years ago, grabbed a pint of heavy cream. Shrinking back to a comfy 4’8, (the kid with bitten nails returns) I heated the mix in milk until it thickened and bubbled, poured a portion into the newly owned dessert bowl, and three more into ordinary whiskey glasses. While still hot, icy heavy cream got floated on top. Paradise. Gave a bowl to DE and, later, ate the others myself. Yes, with heavy cream. Heavy cream is what I would order as a last meal in the event that I was about to be executed and had been asked what I would like to imbibe.

Then I listened to Dubussy’s Suite Bergamasque .*****


*****[ – Suite Bergamasque prelude]

*From Olga Takarczuk’s Drive your Plow

**When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ Along sung by Al Jolson, 1926, lyrics by Harry Woods

***10/19/1953 – Lucy and Ethel buy the same dress
**** “Let’s Take a Break” by Mia Stone at Art Leaders Gallery, Michigan

A*n*o*s*m*i*a mia.

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.”
  Erich Fromm

Before it happened to me, I’d only known one person with it. This was an older/almost old man with whom I had an amorous connection. He told me he could not smell at all, had lost it long ago, and the only time it returned was during orgasm. I pine: Might this be my story too? Or, is there a chance that even ecstasy will not unleash this savage, provocative sense ever again. Heaven help me!

“I went out in the garden in the morning dusk, When sorrow enveloped me like a cloud; And the breeze brought to my nostrils the odor of spices, As balm of healing for a sick soul.

Moses Ibn Ezra, 1060-1138

This vacancy hasn’t crimped smell memory: as in garlic, ammonia, Chanel-5, rosemary, the salty sea, baking bread, grandson’s hair, fish soup, the city in summer, burning leaves, vomit, chalk, a new book, fresh lemon, lilacs, pine trees, eucalyptus trees, peony, gardenia, jasmine, roses, lavender, thermal spa, Pont L’Eveque or Stilton cheese.

“Where there is a stink of shit there is a smell of being.
Antonin Artaud

The malady is anosmia; also known as smell blindness (not blind smellness); its opposite is hyperosmia or excessive smell.  Among possible causes: Ciliary Dyskinesia, Samster’s triad, cadmium poisoning, zinc deficiency, m.s., frontal lobe tumor, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s,  Suprasellar Meningioma, Sarcoidosis, snakebite, damage to ethmoid bone from head trauma, COVID-19 (to which I tested positive on 20 April), nasal polyps; it has somehow become entangled with mother and father – kicked off on my mother’s 100th birthday – got tested on my parent’s 80th wedding anniversary. Exactly on these historic dates. Why? I hope never to know.

I missed “Green Aria: A Scent Opera” by Christophe Laudamiel (2009) in which two dozen scents were bobbled into the audience by transmitters to music; I didn’t get to play Spice Chess and Smell Chess designed by Takako Saito (1965) when I was able to distinguish asafetida (the black king) from nutmeg (rooks) and ginger (knights) from cinnamon (pawns) as well as the white queen (anise) from the black queen (cayenne); I didn’t get to smell the roasted coffee brewing at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme (1938) and now (perhaps) I never will, leaving me without a chair when the music stops.

“Through seven figures come sensations for a man; there is hearing for sounds, sight for the visible, nostril for smell, tongue for pleasant and unpleasant tastes, mouth for speech, body for touch, passages outwards and inwards for hot or cold breath. Through these come knowledge or lack of it.”


Oh woe is me!

P.S. On 1 June I got retested for covid 19. This time, the result was negative. Thus: Am no longer infected. Unfortunately: Still can’t smell though doctor gives hope. More to follow.






‘Twas the night before Cavafy

You said, I’ll go to another land, I’ll go to another sea.

Another city will be found, a better one than this.

Union Station, Los Angeles, California >> Fullerton >> Riverside >> San Bernadino >> Victorville >> Barstow >> Needles >> Kingman, Arizona >> Williams Jct >> Flagstaff >> Sedona

Any new lands you will not find; you’ll find no other seas.

The city will be following you. In the same streets


Flagstaff Station, Arizona >> Winslow >> Gallup, New Mexico >>Albuquerque >> Lamy >> Las Vegas >> Raton >>Trinidad, Colorado >> La Junta >> Lamar >> Garden City, Kansas >> Dodge City >> Hutchinson >> Newton >> Topeka >> Lawrence >> Kansas City, Missouri >> La Plata >> Fort Madison, Iowa >> Galesburg, Illinois >> Princeton >> Mendota >> Naperville >> Chicago, Union Station

you’ll wander. And in the same neighborhood you’ll age,

and in the same houses you’ll go grey.


Hammond-Witing, Indiana >> South Bend >> Toledo,Ohio >> Cleveland >> Pittsburgh >> Cumberland, Maryland >> Washington, DC, Union Station

Always in the same city you’ll arrive. For elsewhere do not hope –

there is no ship for you, there’s no road*


Washington Union Station >> Baltimore >> Wilmington, Delaware >> Philadelphia, Pennsylvania >> Trenton, New Jersey >> New York Penn Station

[*excerpt from “The City” by C.P.Cavafy translated by E. Sachperoglou]



Cap in hand in Arizona – cliche upon cliche

In the same way that the source of the Nile River is Lake Victoria, I (by accident) stumbled on the source from where all clichés arise. Common places, banalities, platitudes, all matter of cliché bubble up gently in this location. How was I to know during a recent holiday after ordering huevos rancheros on Red Rock Drive in Sedona, Arizona (my companion chose a gigantic cinnamon roll covering an entire hand painted ceramic plate) that my tired feet and hands would be privileged to soak in a swirling bath of comforting clichés. I encountered “a point of no return” when I stepped “on the heals of” “another turn of the screw” which carried “awe and wonder” along for the ride. Shortly, a geyser-like “dose of salts” streamed “up my ally” and beyond. Each and every well-worn trope was “smooth to the touch” and always “slipped through my fingers.” One by one.

After a forkful of black beans blanketed by well-melted cheese smothered under piquant salsa I grew “happy as a clam” and more than willing to be led like “a horse to water.”  Near to our outdoor terrace rose red rocks, javelinas, gnarled cottonwood trees that were entangled in “all things that money can’t buy.” In that clear dry Arizona sunlight “I kid you not” bumped into “a horse to water” after which “never a dull moment” rear-ended “set the house in order” causing “never miss a meal” to veer, slide and finally slam against “a run for your money” head on. What a jam.

The enticing equinox of the familiar in counterpoint to the magical Sedona landscape (all underwritten by Mother Nature herself) freely offered “awe and amazement.”  Had I gone to Acapulco or Las Vegas or Sofia instead, I’d have missed “the quiet before the storm” cleaving to “kiss and make up” while “absence made the heart grow fonder” vigorously brillianteered “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This bubbling, churning lot rubbed “time heals all wounds” almost raw. I discerned neither a spring nor a glacier nor a marsh nor a lake as the well-spring from which the continueous cascade (torrent) flowed. Nor could I suss out any design guiding the entertaining parade.

All I know is what I witnessed, ankle height, hands and wrists dangling, at my breakfast estuary. It and me enroute toward “god knows where” roiling downhill (due to gravity’s rule) as “never a dull moment” clasped my hand lasting until each and every bromide “lost its luster” and I’d managed to “follow every footstep” as far as it took me.

Afterwards, depleted and full at the same time, I drove to the hotel to lie down and drink in the wondrous red rocks beyond the open balcony door.

Every runnel was a Rubicon
where every ditch was a last ditch.
Every man was ‘a grand wee mon’
whose every pitch was another sales pitch

now every boat was a burned boat.
Every cap was a cap in hand.
Every coat a trailed coat.
Every band was a gallant band

across the broken bridge
and broken ridge after broken ridge
where you couldn’t beat a stick with a big stick.

Every road was a straight up speed trap.
Every decision was a snap.
Every cut was a cut to the quick.

[“from “The Old Country” by Paul Muldoon]