You think it's hard moving hundreds of thousands of troops to Iraq? Try moving Bess to Florida. The preparations begin weeks before. First Gilda and then Nancy came up and packed and made arrangements to transfer the mail and the telephone and the paper and the cable tv. We all made valiant attempts to help her to throw out papers from the mid-20th century--monthly statements from savings banks in Nebraska that were giving 1/4% extra interest and a set of dishes in 1957; a few of the 845 plastic containers and jars in her cabinets, some of the decades-old spices in her kitchen cabinets (she never cooks, by the way). Success was only partial, and when Carol and I picked her up on Friday morning at 8:00 AM, there were still 4 pieces of luggage, a walker, a carry-on bag, and her purse. The plane got off OK, and we landed in Cincinnati--that's right, Cincinnati. [I had to use up some expiring free Delta credits and Cincinnati was the only available route.] It was a small Canadian jet, and we had to disembark down a built-in steep rickety staircase and get into a commuter bus to take us to another terminal, where we boarded a regular jet for Fort Lauderdale. After the usual hassles with Alamo, who tried to give me a luxury SUV instead of the regular car I had ordered, because they had no regular cars left, I finally left in a brand-new 9-passenger Chrysler van with sliding doors. I could have run a shuttle service, but there were no shuttlees. A Letter from Farklempt is forthcoming.
We arrived in late afternoon at the condo, which has been painted a Cinqueterra aqua to replace the Florida flamingo pink of so many years. Konstantin, the maintenance man was there to greet us, fawning in anticipation of the money my mother was to pay him for opening up her apartment for the winter. Twice he returned: "Kali mera, Michael! Your mother hass dee check for me?" The big news at the condo is that Joe Sausage will no longer be running for president, and his consigliere, Alan, will be retiring with him. A woman was running for the office, but she was found floating face down in the pool...an unfortunate accident. She sleeps wit' da manatees.
We spent some time unpacking. I went to the Ambassador, formerly the Clarion, to check into my room. I tried my "Farklempt Travel Editor" business card and asked for an upgrade. The place is still such a shithole. But the room was big, and, if you stuck a mirror out on the balcony, you could see the ocean. $69/night + $8 for parking. No breakfast. No lightbulbs, no one available for checkout the night before, so I'll try yet another Letter from Farklempt. I have yet to pay them any money after 4 years. We went out for dinner at the Gourmet Diner on Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami Beach. The Belgian has sold the place to an Iranian, but the staff and recipes, the mood, the quality, and the menu are still the same. One of Florida's hidden treasures. Informal dining with superb European food. We had frogs' legs (frogs from the Everglades, yet) sauteed in butter and tons of garlic; liver with onions that was a bit overdone; and coconut encrusted mahi-mahi. As an appetizer, we split a plate of bufalo mozzarella, fresh red and yellow tomatoes, and fat delicious grilled asparagus. For dessert, a homemade fruit tart by their famous Jamaican pastry chef. The wine was an excellent Sancerre.
Saturday morning, we went to Sage's to pick up breakfast and lunch. Melissa was there when we arrived. She is just wonderful, but her husband had fallen off the roof the week before and she was needed at home to help him recuperate. So, she made arrangements to send her sister-in-law, Acclema, whom she brought by later to visit and orient. She, too, seems lovely, bright, helpful, energetic.
Carol and I went out shopping, and when we returned, Carol began a two-day stint of cooking--a brisket, minestrone, baked apricot-honey mustard chicken, kugel, and spaghetti sauce with meatballs. The refrigerator and freezer, which had been emptied over the summer by Konstantin, were filled with containers. There was not even room for a restaurant aluminum swan.
It began to really pour, with lightning and thunder. Carol and I ventured out into the night. Our umbrella went inside-out. The Trattoria Toscana that we had enjoyed last year in the mall on A1A was closed for remodeling, so we went to another restaurant in the same mall, Chef Orsino, an Italian restaurant run by a French family. We had excellent onion soup, a wilted spinach salad with pancetta, a grilled portabello salad, and a salad of finocchio and parmesan. Along with a half-carafe of wine, it was just fine. They have a $12.50 earlybird special that can't be beat.
Sunday, we hung out--it was still raining. We took a break and went out to a Jewish bookstore on 163rd Street (which looks like Williamsburg now) and bought some Hanukah stuff for Josie and a Sephardic Rebbe card for Adam. For the unitiated, Hasidic boys collect "Rebbe cards"--playing-card sized with photos of the great and learned Hasidic rabbis, with summaries of their works on the back. It's just like baseball cards, with the photo on the front and the stats on the back. The Hasidic cards are in black and white and are quite drab. The Sephardic cards are in full color, with lots of gold edging. Our particular Rebbe, Ovadiah ben Yosef, is really cool, with a turban and brown aviator glasses.
Late in the afternoon, Carol went over to Nova Southeastern University in North Miami Beach, where she had secured a gig. This university, funded in large part by the Rite Herring Company of Brooklyn, is the only university in North America that offers a masters degree in lox slicing. Their graduates, currently placed in locations such as Barney Greengrass, Russ & Daughters, and Murray the Sturgeon King, know how to cut thin on the bias by hand. Carol, of course, can teach teachers of anything how to teach. As it happens, she herself knows a thing or two about gravlax, which is a related field of concentration, so she was not like a fish out of water. Needless to say, she was received with open fins. When she was done, we went out to eat at André's on Biscayne Boulevard around the corner. I found this place on Fodors.com, where it got the top score of 5. At first, it was disappointing because of the terrible service and rather ordinary surroundings in a strip mall. André and his waiters would rather watch MSNBC in the bar than serve their customers. But what finally does come out of the kitchen is fabulous. A good caesar salad; superb osso buco, as good as it gets; excellent veal picatta, and a delicious snapper provençal. The food was so good that when André came out of the kitchen in his undershirt, the entire restaurant gave him a standing ovation. Unfortunately, their credit card machine went out of whack, so they offered a 25% discount for cash. We barely made it.
Monday morning, we returned the car at the airport. The woman checking the car in asked about the white stuff all over one side of the van. It certainly looked like some bad driver had scraped it against the post of the Ambassador Hotel garage while parking, but I wet my finger, ran it over the white stuff, tasted it, and said to her, "Tastes like birdshit to me." She took my word for it and passed us through. When we arrived at the terminal, Delta check-in was a mob of swirling people. We went to one of the new automatic kiosks, which told us that our flight was delayed and that we would not make our connection in Atlanta to Providence, and to see the agent. It seems that Monday is the worst day to leave Fort Lauderdale because all the cruise ships come in on Sunday and people go home on Monday. After much sturm und drang, we got assigned to a non-stop flight to Boston late in the afternoon, with a promise of transportation to Providence from Logan. Then just as we were about to get on our flight, Carol was able to get on a flight to LaGuardia, so she took it and made her first stop in New York Filene's Basement, where she bought a winter jacket. I took the flight to Logan, but when I arrived at 7:10 PM, the supervisor gave me a pass to take the Bonanza bus to the Providence Airport. It wasn't scheduled to leave for another hour and a half and made 6 stops on the way. I said I wanted a cab. She said, "Don't be ridiculous." She will get delicious mention in a Letter from Farklempt. I took a cab and paid $151, and will send the bill to Delta, along with a request for two round trip airfares.
I'm home now. This was a weekend from hell.