Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday Gallimaufry

I'm retreating ever further from what passes for the real world - with very good reason, given its state, if you ask me - and finding ever more consolation in taking pictures that keep my mind off the headlines. Herewith, a late-summer iris from August, recalled today, which has seemed like our first real day of Autumn.

- Not my favorite week, I must admit, given that it got off, quite literally, with a bang.

There I am, minding my own business and reading (a lovely book, more of which to follow) while taking the bus home from the office. The second of two buses, in fact, that I generally take as a result of having committed the more than venial, if less (thank goodness, as it turns out) than mortal sin of living in a distant suburb. I'd managed to snag an earlier one than usual, but at just the last moment, so that as one of the last passengers aboard I was denied my usual seat and took the next best available, one well toward the back and facing sideways. I don't generally like those, as one can slide about a bit when this particular bus (which takes an express lane for a good of its run) hits full speed.

In retrospect I think I noticed, first, that our driver was hitting even a fuller speed than usual on that particular stretch, but soon enough - milliseconds, probably - there was far more to notice. A violent swerving and swaying, for one, and the unnerving noises a bus full of people can make as they realize that something is suddenly Very Wrong. Another lurch, one that seemed almost to push the bus on one side; then just as strong a one to the other, like a sailboat being tossed about; then first one small and then one very large crash. The sound of shattering glass and a great deal more shouting.

Then quiet.  And all in just a few seconds, a few hundred feet or so, I'd imagine, of highway.

People were tossed about, and looking up toward the front of the now listing bus I saw them in heaps in the aisle, slowly sorting themselves out.  I sat up and tried to recall just what I had done, for it all seemed little more than a noisy blur.  I realized that I'd been very lucky indeed, for somehow the memory of having been in an emergency landing in West Africa nearly 20 years ago must have kicked in at more or less the lizard-brain level; I'd gone down into the recommended brace position absolutely without thinking about it, one arm grabbing a pole, the other wrapped around my chest (about which I'm I suppose understandably a little paranoid), and the rest of me wedged tight against the seat on one side. It sounds complicated, but it held me firmly in place. Had I been in my usual seat, I'd have been thrown like a rider off a horse, and the poor gentleman who was in that seat was one of the first removed in one of the ambulances that showed up.

The aftermath was both surreal and matter-of-fact. There was, up front, a great of blood, although the majority of it apparently came from one poor lady who lost an earring and a good bit of her ear lobe. The bus's windshield had disappeared entirely (that was the shattering glass), and soon after help appeared, someone had put a large fan in its place, for it was hot afternoon and the bus (on which we remained both at the police's instruction and in preference to being out on the very busy expressway) quickly grew sweltering. EMT's boarded and started dealing with the various levels of injured people. We began talking among ourselves, the luckier passengers at the rear, who'd been spared the worst, trying to reconstruct just what had happened.  No one quite agreed, but it seemed at length that for reasons unknown the driver had lost control (a blown tire? Faulty electricals?) and had been really rather remarkable in avoiding several cars and getting us over to the left-hand side, striking the median first to slow the bus and then to stop it. It seems plausible.

As the adrenaline drained, it started to feel oddly, bizarrely ordinary, like a kind of peculiar cocktail party (sadly, sans refreshments) that had gotten off to an especially bad start. At great length, another bus appeared, and under close police supervision, as the last of the ambulances disappeared, we were transferred onto it. And so home.

I'm fine. Sore the next day (and even now, a little), but fully intact, and on the whole it rather reminds me of how I felt, not long after my open heart, when I was falling - surprisingly not dismayed.  If anything the reverse: well, there's another thing I can live through. But my God, those buses really do go too fast.

- That book? A good fun read. It's called What She Ate, subtitled Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories, by Laura Shapiro. The women cover a fair amount of nineteenth and twentieth century territory, from Wordsworth's sister Dorothy to that slightly unconventional gun moll, Frl. Eva Braun, and they include our beloved Barbara Pym, as well as Rosa "Duchess of Duke Street" Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Helen Gurley Brown. An odd lot, really, but one that provides a lot of ground to cover, and the book is breezy even when discussing Mrs. Hitler's taste for Champagne (prodigious) or Mrs. Brown's (one feels she'd insist on that honorific) dinners (generally horrifying, and more often than not, frozen meatballs).

Of all the chapters, though, I think it's the one on Mrs. Roosevelt that really gave me, as it were, food for thought. The cuisine of the Roosevelt White House is generally excoriated as the worst in the executive mansion's history (although the mind blanches at what might be being served there these days), and Shapiro's account does nothing to contradict that.  How does pineapple rolled in crushed peppermint candies strike you as an appetizer? If you were a lucky guest, perhaps that little treat would have been followed by "Eggs Mexican," which consisted of boiled rice topped with with bananas and fried eggs - tasty! These delights and many others (prune puddings, limp salads, something called "Shrimp Wiggle") were the creations of one Mrs. Henrietta Nesbitt (known backstairs as "Fluffy," because, we're told "she was so very much the opposite") a widow of no particular culinary or domestic experience whom Eleanor apparently hired on more or less on a whim and kept in office until, after the sad end of the Roosevelt era, Bess Truman summarily fired her as quickly as she could decently manage.

Shapiro posits that Eleanor Roosevelt allowed the food (and most other aspects of housekeeping along with it - the Chief Usher described the Roosevelt White House as "dingy, almost seedy") to deteriorate so thoroughly during her husband's administration in part because she wanted to demonstrate strict economy as the Depression unfolded, but also as a way of separating herself - Eleanor, the private person, who actually rather liked good food and was even in a general way interested in good cooking - from her official role as First Lady and First Hostess. That it so annoyed Franklin might have just been a kind of extra fillip, a little lagniappe in return for all the bitterness that she'd felt in her often challenged marriage.

In any case, it's definitely worth a read if one is interested in any of these varied ladies or in the food of their eras. And I can now definitively recommend it as something to read while recovering from a bus crash.


  1. A rather dramatic way to enjoy a good book, I must admit - thank heavens for your "brace, brace" instincts, I say. I'm feeling rather bilious, myself, at the description of "Eggs Mexican"... Jx

  2. You poor dear, I'm so glad everything turned out all right. You know, we ladies of a certain age are delicate creatures and can't quite bounce around the inside of a bus as gaily as once we did.

  3. Goodness so glad you lived to write the tale

  4. I've tossed a few cookies, and more than my share of salads, but have never been witness to nor participant in a bus tossing. So glad you emerged with your person (and your reading) intact.