26 November 2009

T Day Menu

We're in Austin, Texas, visiting with Arthur's family, and decided not to have the traditional menu (for the most part).  So here's the offering from Anna, Linda, Patty, Michael, Arthur, Danny, and God-knows who else:

Butterflied leg of lamb marinated in ginger, citrus, rosemary, olive oil, and garlic.
Small Red Potatoes roasted in olive oil and rosemary
Japanese sweet potato with black sesame
Mahogany Rice Pilaf
Traditional Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallow
Asperagus Polanaise
Grated Brussel Sprouts sauteed with bacon, pine nuts, and garlic.
Mrs. Stanberg's Cranberry Sauce with Horseradish and Sour Cream
Spinach Salad
Cranberry Sauce
Cherry Pie
Apple Pie with Streusel top
Apple Pie with Caramel Walnut top
Pumpkin Pie
Chocolate Cake
Fruit Mold

now football.

22 November 2009


As with many of my pet peeves, there comes a time when you understand what the peevishness is really all about.  It becomes clear and transparent, and you can either give up on your attitude, or become clear about why you object to a behavior or situation.  Such moments of clarity are few and far between, because the reaction to certain things is so immediate that there is no time for introspection and wondering why.  This morning, however, the clarity was immediate and convincing.

We went to the 11:00 Mass at Saint David's Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.  This is a large church that early on resisted the temptation to build a larger worship facility, and instead kept its historic building and offers multiple services that make the space usuable to a much larger congregation.  It is a carpenter gothic building, with 19th century American glass, and all the naivite that comes with that.  It is a perfectly comfortable space inspite of all the "living room" types of spaces that greet you as you make your way to the church.  The liturgy was Rite II, sung for the most part, with choir, bell choir, and organ.  Perfectly fine.

The usual places where a choir might perform, such as the psalm or gradual, were avoided, and when the choir did sing, at the offertory, they filed out of the choir stalls and lined up at the front chancel steps.  This is always a bad sign - for to me it signals "performance".  When they sing at compline (see photo above) they do it in their stalls.  Now they were all linged up in front of us, a wall between the worshiping congregation and the altar.  They did "Worthy is the Lamb" from "The Messiah"; and it was a good reading, although they could have used a stronger tenor.  Following the lengthy "amen" that ends the piece is when it happened.

There was a brief silence, and then someone up near the pulpit burst into applause.  Some others joined in, but it was not the whole congregation that did so.  Applause in the middle of a service (when we are not offering an acclamation to a newly ordained priest, bishop, or deacon) makes me uncomfortable.  So I sat there, not applauding, and wondering why I have this reaction.  Suddenly, as the priest continued to set the table for the Eucharist, visible behind the choir basking in the congregation's scattered applause, I got it.

This is really all about sacrifice.  The music is offered up, and I think that those offering the music are doing so with the attitude that it is being offered up.  The applause turns the offering, the sacrifice, into a performance, that is suddenly centered on the individuals singing and offering. The relationship of choir and God was set aside, and the focus was only on their singing.  At best the choir was enabling us in our worship rather than entertaining us.  The silence that should have accompanied their gift might have been uncomfortable (our culture abhors silence) but was necessary. 

I must admit I have been greeted with applause, once following a difficult sermon at Trinity Church in San Francisco.  My feelings at the applause were mixed: pleasure, dis-ease, embarassment, and a certain amount of pride.  It was the pleasure and pride that made me feel uncomfortable, and even guilty.  Offering up for others is a difficult thing.  My preference is to greet the sacrifice of others, and my own sacrifices with silence. 

I keep thinking of how God greeted Elijah on Mt. Horeb.  God was not in the mighty wind or the loud noise, but in the still small voice.  As the hymn says, "Let all mortal flesh keep silence..."

09 November 2009

A Serious (Righteous) Man

Ok, maybe this wasn't a good movie to see on a Sunday - thereby overloading it with too much religious symbolism.  That, however, seems totally unavoidable.  This movie is inherently religious, that is its humor and delight, and that is the ground from which it grows.  The people who seemed to be enjoying it most were sitting behind us to our right - howling mightily - and later comparing all the religious allusions.  So what's it all about?  And is it as hilarious as a friend described it?  Does it help to be Jewish?

I think that it does help to be Jewish - I'm certain that we missed most of the cultural refrences.  I can't wait to talk about it with my friend who was raised in a Jewish household.  In my conversation with her, I will begin, I think, to understand whether the film was a knee-slapper or merely intellectually and perhaps theologically amusing. 

I so want to slap the template of Job over the script of this film.  It would work,  There are the misfortunes which seem to mount on the principal character, and even though he doesn't lose his children, they are never really there for him.  His wife leaves him for an insufferable widower, and he is left to the dubious advice of three rabbis who do no more for him than did Job's friends.  And then there is that opening scene, the one with the simple farmer and his wife and the (was it really?) dybbuk.  As a twisted form of the court of heaven scene in which Satan asks for a chance to strike at Job, the dybbuk released back out into the world seems to work.  Perhaps it is all about Job.  Or is it David and Bathsheba, or could it be Joseph (or Daniel) the dreamer?  Or is it about a seduced Joseph, or a Solomon trying to decide what grade to give to his Korean student?  All of them work, and there are more to be sure.

Or is it too much to wrest meaning from a Coen film?  Should we let the black humor and absurdity stand on its own, and just enjoy it for what it is?  I think that's the easy way out.  There is just too much material here to decode.  "Serious" in Hebrew is not the same as the word for "righteousness", but it should be.  This film left me wrestling with the main character over the ethics of changing grades, and taking the easy way out.  Was G-d really talking about karma in the commandments, when talking about the sins of the parents visiting the children to the third and fourth generation?  Perhaps the Coens know.

03 November 2009


I love the challenge of left-overs.  Well, not everything was a left-over, just the pork roast.  I didn't want, however, just to heat it up - it never resembles its former glory.  Something new had to be done.  Hanging around in the kitchen were some fresh green beans (from our farm subscription) and some not-ripe Anjou pears.  What to do?  One inspiration came from the old Garibaldi's that used to exist on 17th below Potrero Hill.  They used to serve a wonderful green bean dish served with oyster sauce and pork and a little hot oil.  We went back time after time to enjoy that dish.  Now they don't exist any longer and the surviving sibling on Presidio doesn't serve this any longer.

So here's the menu:

Green Beans tossed in a sauce made of minced garlic, a dice of roast pork, a dash of cumin and chili, and about three tablespoons of hoisin sauce.  I forgot the hot oil, but not next time.  The beans were cooked in boiling water for about five minutes and then tossed in the sauce.

This was served with brown rice that had been cooked in beef broth with herbes de Provence.  On top of this I served slices of the Anjou pear that had been grilled on both sides.  The pears were a wonderful complement to the herbed rice.

Arthur said it was a success, and I'm happy! 

02 November 2009

Dia de los muertos

I came home on Halloween, after a long meeting, and found that Arthur had set up something that has become a custom in our home - a table for el dia de los muertos, the Day of the Dead.  I was happy to see it - a seemingly more interesting way to observe the days around the 31st of October than bad candy and even worse costumes.  So I sat and looked at it for a while - it would be a good way to focus thoughts as the Christian Year moved from All Saints' Day (1 November) to All Souls' Day (2 November).

What is really delightful is to remember by means of the objects that Arthur has placed there.  Track with me, if you will:

1.  A biography of Gertrude Stein, originally in the library of Arthur's good friend Pat, who died as the result of a heart operation.  We both miss her.  This book and a photograph of a cathedral side aisle keep us always in mind of her.

2.  Behind the book is a photograph of Kevin - a mutual friend, long before Arthur and I knew one another.  Kevin was the chair of Dignity, and had one of the longest funeral services that I have ever attended.  As the speakers dragged on and on, we finally decided to leave.  That funeral may still be going on over on Seventh Avenue.  But that was Kevin, and those were the stories that had accrued to his memory.  One humorous note, the photograph shows Kevin in a motorcycle jacket looking modestly butch.  Up close you can see that he is wearing suit pants.  He had come in to have a formal portrait done, and the photographer thought it would be fun to photograph him with the jacket.  Somehow it captured some of the spectrum that Kevin enjoyed.

3.  Behind the photograph, you can see a candleholder shaped to look like a palm tree.  It is my legacy from my good friend Gerry, who had more china and crystal than most people.  He was Italian, but born in Boston, and his home in the Castro made you think that you had just stepped into a house in the Back Bay.

4.  Leading up the table is a "stream" of black stones.  After a delightful dinner one evening, with my good friend Salvador, I discovered a fine box in front of my door that had been left by him.  Inside was a message from him, thanking me for the evening, and enclosing the black polished stones.  I open the box from time to time and just remember.

5.  Behind the stones is a small, old photograph of Arthur's father's (Arthur II) parents, Arthur I, and Mary Ethel Culbertson.  Arthur knew his grandfather, but his grandmother died in 1946, and so he never knew her.  She was buried in Saint Louis, Missouri, until they decided to put a freeway through - and now we don't know where she is.

6.  Behind the photograph is a painted vase, painted by my father's aunt, Ida.  I apparently met her one time when I was two or so - I've got the picture to prove it.  I don't remember her, however.  I do think of her - my parents both loved her dearly - and remember what a joy she was to them.

7.  Hovering behind the vase with a rose in it, is a series of Japanese dolls, that my Aunt Lola purchased when she was living in occupied Japan.  They were among many treasures that she gave to us, the value of which totally escaped us at the time - we thought they were just toys.  Now, as I look around our house, I find many evidences of her generosity, and of her taste.  Oddly enough, her birthday was on 13 May - the day that was originally celebrated as All Saints' Day.

8.  Behind the dolls is a portrait of my father.  I love this photograph of him in clerics - he is handsome, present, and smiling.  I miss him, and have so many things that I would like to have shared with him.  I remember Dad at the symphony - an appreciation that was given to me when he took my to my first performance at the age of 6, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

9.  Down from Dad is a wonderful photograph of my friend Tucker.  Tucker and his partner Casey lived across the hall from me on Divisadero, and became wonderful friends.  Tucker was an artist, and a party-giver.  He designed furniture, and decorated a million Christmas trees for businesses in San Francisco.  When he became ill and went into a coma at San Francisco General, Casey and the doctors came to the realization that it was time to discontinue the assisted breathing.  Casey called me and said that they were going to do this at 5:00, and wondered if I could come and offer last rites and prayers.  I said that I would be there.  Gently, Casey explained the situation to the comatose Tucker, saying that he and I would return later.  Casey left the room.  Tucker died fifteen minutes later - always in control.

10.  Down from the picture is a small cup and saucer - highly colored and glazed.  It was given to my mother by her brother Milford, whom we called Jiggs.  Jiggs was a walking comedian - always knowing how to make one smile and laugh.

11.  Up at the top of the table is a glam photograph of Arthur's mother, Pat.  I miss her terribly.  Once when she and Big Art were out here to visit, we went to a restaurant over-looking the Bay in Tiburon.  It was hot, and I slipped off my shoes, under the table.  Later I had to leave to go to the restroom, and couldn't locate my shoes - my feet were surreptitiously flying everywhere under the table trying to find my shoes.  I looked across the table at Pat, who was smiling angelically - she had taken and hidden my shoes.  I remember her when I eat onions (she hated them) or see an image of Our Lady (she loved her).

12.  In front of Pat is a photograph of Betty and O.P.  O.P. was the president of Valparaiso University in Indiana, and I did an intern year with his brother, A.R., in Chicago.  Betty, however, O.P.'s second wife, was our friend.  When I moved back to California, and showed up at St. Francis Lutheran Church in 1982, she saw me, came running over and said, "Michael Hiller, what are you doing in my church?!" When she turned 80, the family all came to San Francisco, and we hosted them all for a festive birthday cocktail party.  Betty loved it.  Later on, Arthur would become her friend, companion, and care-giver.  On her death bed, as she was being treated for circulation problems in her legs with a rather painful apparatus, she looked over to me with disgust and resignation and said, "Michael, this dying is a hard business."

Ah, but Betty - and all of you - this living was great "business" with all of you.  Sometimes Arthur and I will pack lunch, drive down to Colma, and to Olivette Cemetary, and have a picnic with Betty.  As we walk through the graves, having had our lunch with Betty, and encounter so many other saints, I think of Arthur's table and el dia de los muertos.  Resquiescat in pace amici mea.