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Common Colds

January 29, 2015 | by

cold

“Coughs and sneezes spread diseases,” a famous British public health campaign.

As I wandered through the painkillers aisle, sniffling and throwing decongestants and tinctures into my basket, I thought that one of the annoying things about the common cold is the knowledge that it’s so benign. A harried-looking dad was bending over the babies’ section, staring at a bulb syringe and trying ineffectually to calm the miserable toddler in the red UPPAbaby. The little boy was howling. And why not? What had he done to find himself visited by a raw, red nose, troubled sleep, and a series of aches and pains? So far as he was concerned, this was the end of the world: nothing in this moment could have been worse. 

And the truth is, when you feel sick, it’s a small comfort to know you’ll be better within a week and what’s happening to you isn’t, in fact, serious. There’s none of the anxiety of a real medical problem, but then it’s in a different category entirely: it’s the very knowledge of its toothlessness—paired with its unpleasantness—that renders it irritating. Read More »

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Good News

January 28, 2015 | by

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Photo: Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks

Today, fans of the Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks store received a welcome e-mail. “Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks—MOVED!!” read the triumphant subject line. After being forced to leave its longtime home on West Tenth Street, and facing an uncertain future, the beloved institution has landed safely in a new location in the East Village. Many who love the terrific antiquarian shop—stocked with centuries’ worth of culinary history, lore, and recipes—and its knowledgeable owner have breathed a sigh of relief. 

Especially in cities, we’re all so used to seeing independent businesses and brick-and-mortar bookstores die—we’re almost inured to it—that it feels strange to get good news. Usually, we give our heads a mournful shake and think, Well, it was too good to last. But, thanks to the generosity of a pair of siblings who are providing a great space at an affordable rent, the shop will not merely survive, but enjoy three times its old space, plus a garden. As Bonnie wrote in an earlier e-mail, “What Margo and Garth [the aforementioned siblings] have done is extraordinary in this day and age, and especially in this city.” 

The 28 East Second Street location promises to be up and running by early February; do go by if you can. As Bonnie writes, “I’m looking FORWARD. CHANGE IS GOOD! Repeat after me: CHANGE IS GOOD!” (Well, occasionally, anyway.)

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Shying

January 27, 2015 | by

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Hermann von Kaulbach, Die Schuchterne, 1909.

One of the great sacrifices of adulthood is giving up shyness. Even if it’s been a defining characteristic since childhood, a constant companion through early life, at a certain point it is a luxury we cannot afford. So far as the world is concerned, we are all outgoing, delighted to be here, happy to see you. We can’t run away when we get to the door.

There are moments that change our lives. Sometimes big, conscious decisions, other times a word, a missed train, the last five minutes of a party. I can only remember one such, consciously. It was reading a quote by Penelope Keith: “Shyness is just egoism out of its depth.” Read More »

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Cold Comfort

January 26, 2015 | by

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Illustration from Die Gartenlaube, 1876.

“Brrr! It’s cold!” I exclaimed the other day, because it was. 

“Did you just say brrr?” my friend asked.

“I did indeed.”

“People don’t say that; they just write it.”

“That’s not true. Do people say ow? Or ouch? Or achoo?”  Read More »

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Politics as Usual

January 23, 2015 | by

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Al Smith in 1913.

At a certain point in the late nineties, my family’s living room needed to be rewired. It seemed the wiring had not been replaced since the house was first built. The hardware store sent up a very old man to tackle the job. I know because I was hanging around; it was summer vacation.

“I remember this house,” he said. It seemed he had worked on it as an apprentice electrician. 

“In 1919?” my dad asked.

“Yup,” said the man, getting to work. Read More »

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True Romance

January 22, 2015 | by

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Byron, meditating on mortality, no doubt.

’Tis time this heart should be unmoved,
     Since others it has ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
               Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
     The flowers and fruits of Love are gone;
The worm—the canker, and the grief
               Are mine alone!

So begins one of Byron’s last poems. Is it an ode to the Greek youth he loved? A general meditation on mortality? Choose your theory. The date, at least, we can estimate with a fair degree of accuracy. In the 1825 Narrative of Lord Byron’s Last Journey to Greece, his friend, Count Gamba, related of the occasion:

This morning Lord Byron came from his bedroom into the apartment where Colonel Stanhope and some friends were assembled, and said with a smile—“You were complaining, the other day, that I never write any poetry now:—this is my birthday, and I have just finished something, which, I think, is better than what I usually write.” He then produced these noble and affecting verses, which were afterwards found written in his journals, with only the following introduction: “Jan. 22; on this day I complete my 36th year.”

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