Screenshot from HBO's magnificent "Band of Brothers."
I’ve never understood why nations with great cheese don’t have better armies. Right now to my left I have a plate that contains six chunks of Stravecchoio Grana Padano, each wrapped in a gossamer-thin scarf of prosciutto. Any Italian worth his mettle would take one bite, contemplate the perfection this combination represents, and decide that his nation should - no, must muster the forces required to repulse anyone who would take such cheese from his countrymen. Cheese this fine would cause armies to cross the Alps to have it; surely they demand armies sufficient to protect it.

I mean, this is good cheese.

I met it for the first time Friday afternoon at the grocery store. One of the elderly demonstration ladies had set out some padano and prosciutto; I took a bite and swooned on the spot. I am not one of those epicures who will spend his ducats in search of a new sensation that will gladhand a few obscure tastebuds in the outlands of his tongue. I do not regard the variegated nature of the cheeseworld as a field I need to master. But this. This was sublimity. It was like meeting the mayor and the blacksmith at the same time - the taste was smooth and subtle, and simultaneously coarse and cheery. I had to have it. For the first time in my life, I had met a cheese I could not put off for later.

If I may boast: I can speak Italian. I’m not saying I can read it, or make intelligible sentences on the spot, but I took enough Italian to know how to pronounce it, and my improv Italian is better than my improv French, for obvious reasons. Italian is what it is. French is what it perhaps might be, although it depends. Drag Dante out of the ground, thrust a modern cheese label in his hand, and he’ll speak the words correctly. My tongue can negotiate the rs and deal with double cs. I am not a member of the gli club. (To those who struggled with Italian in high school, that oft-repeated line in movie reviews - “Gigli rhymes with really” - must have ticked them off, because it doesn’t. There’s an extra sound in there you get by touching the tip of your tongue flat against the front of your mouth. English doesn’t have the gli sound, as far as I know.) (Over to you, Dr. Weevil.) So I note the name of the hallowed cheese and go to the cheese department, and say: I’d like three dollars of the stravecchio grana padano. And the cutter looks at me: the what?

The cheese she’s selling, and I point to the old cheese lady. Now it’s all ruined, and I feel like Mr. Fancy Pants.

Tonight at dinner, guests asked what the ordure-vrs were. Parmeezan and pig! I said. I call ‘em oinker chunks!

A weekend of fairs. Friday night: a neighborhood Catholic fair on the other side of the freeway. Quite the operation - a real ferris wheel, kiddie rides, a funhouse. Hot sweet mini-donuts. Brats detonating on the grill, flat pop, poker-chip hamburgers lost under slabs of bubbling cheese. The kids were running around with strange gun-like toys; turns out they were PVC tubes that shot marshmallows. Five bucks. You could buy them in the fellowship hall. Without these toys, kids would have milled about and done the usual kid things, but introduce marshmallow-launching armaments, and you create an instant subculture that completely dominates the kid-demographic. I saw little armies form, watched scouting parties thread through the food tent; recon, ambushes, fragging. Human nature on full display on the grounds of Our Lady of Peace.

Gnat wanted to go on all the rides, of course. Fearless little girl. We climbed the giant slide, and did not exactly assume the proper posture on the way down; I was certain we would be airborne, or hit the plastic-web fence at such speed we would be expelled as chunks, Tex Avery style. She was thrilled. Thrilled! Next, the Ferris Wheel. She went up with Mom and Grandma. I would have been happier if the Ferris Wheel had been, say, bolted into the ground instead of balanced on stacks of wood, but it was reasonably safe. The operator conformed to Federally Mandated Stereotype #1932: Thin, tall, ponytail, prominent Adam’s Apple. We rode all the rides until we ran out of tickets and daylight; as we left the tableau had that perfect fairtime symmetry: the lights on the rides came on just as the dusk began its regular surrender. If this is summer’s end, you think, then summer has ended well.

But Saturday was unexpectedly hot. Shorts and T-shirt weather. I took Gnat to another church fair. I had to laugh; well, of course this is why the Saudis hate us. Look at this: a beer garden, games of chance, rock music, hot dogs, teen girls with bare midriffs, purple hair, exposed bra straps and you-go-Jesus! baseball caps - and it’s a Catholic Church Fair. Of course, this is why I love us. Gnat bounced around in the Pooh-themed inflatable room for 25 minutes; we partook of tubular minced meat-product in a tent, wandered down to the giant inflatable slide. She clambered up alone. Fearless. Too many heedless tween girls though - they seemed annoyingly unaware that flinging their solid American selves into an impromptu moshpit of tangled toddlers might be a bad thing, so we moved along.

Pony rides!

Can I touch the pony? Gnat asked. Can I pet them? She could. For eight tickets she got a walk around the parking lot. The handler was laughing when she dismounted: “she asked, ‘are they real ponies?’”

“Well, you know kids today,” I said. “They have so many robot ponies at home they’re confused when they see the real thing.”

And the handler laughed, mildly. Which was good. Lame joke, yes, but sometimes you make a comment like that and you feel as though you’ve just said Stravecchoio Grana Padano.


Sunday wasn’t much, but it didn’t seem to want to be anything. Cool and gloomy, hunched and sullen. Towards the the end of the afternoon we went to Southdale for requisites - baby needed a new pair of shoes, Daddy needed more camcorder tape. I wandered into Radio Shack, having exhausted all other possibilities at the mall; I amused myself by looking at many things for which I had no need, and with which I would not know what to do. Then I saw a package of cable tags: put these on your unruly mess of cables, and never wonder again what function they might serve! Yes, I could easily see myself doing that the next time I went behind the desk and faced the tangled nightmare; let’s buy some. I strolled up to the cash register.

Did you find what you were looking for? asked the pretty young clerk. I looked at the package in my hand, and felt every inch the middle-aged man killing time in an electronics store while his wife is off with the kid, buying shoes.

“I wouldn’t say this is what I’m looking for,” I said. “I have greater aspirations in life.”

She laughed. Stravecchio moment averted.

I watched the TVs for a while - they were all turned to COPS for some reason. A stout, thin-haired woman was being arrested for choking her burly mate. Some folks will never be on Fox / but then again some folks’ll. I considered some other items, then went back to the register.

Over to KiddiePlayRideLand, or whatever it’s called; I was supposed to meet them there at 4:30. I was early, which is to say it was 4:30. So I played Galaga. Didn’t like it then, don’t like it now, but it killed enough time. Gnat & Wife showed up; off went my spouse for unencumbered shopping. Gnat rode some rides, but she’s bored with them. We went to the center court, threw coins in the fountain, then hit the Apple store. While I looked at some cameras she found an EMac and started typing; by the time I got there she’d already figured out this Curious George game. She was using the arrow keys to move him around, and hitting the space bar to make him wipe windows. Eventually she tired of it, said “I’m done” and hit the escape key. Three years old.

We were going to eat at a chain fusion joint we like, but since we were at the Mall we thought we’d try one of the new restaurants they’ve added. The California Pizza Kitchen sounded good; wasn’t a word in the name with which I disagreed.

When I pizza arrived I noticed that it seemed composed entirely of salt. I brought this up with the waiter, adding that the menu description said something about “sauce,” and as you can tell - and here I pointed to the splayed piece I had opened on my plate - there doesn’t seem to be as much of a hint of sauce. The sauce truck passed without stopping. He brought more sauce. The hostess took it off the bill. With the sauce, however, it was palatable, and I told the hostess that she didn’t have to comp it; I was happy. Pshaw, she said, or words to that effect. Now that’s how you turn a customer’s bad impression into a good one.

There was more sauce in the take-out bag, too. I just finished the remains.

Too damn salty.

But free!

Some cultural notes: We have one of those “zero tolerance” cases here, and I’m sure you can guess the details. Kid’s friends are playing around with cap gun. The gun migrates to the car in the course of weekend tomfoolery. Kid drives to school. Security guard notices gun in car while trolling the lot and peering through windows. Kid - who is a good student, and attends Bible class every morning for class - gets in trouble. And by “trouble” I mean he is suspended for the entire year.

For having a cap gun in his car in the parking lot.

It reminded me of “Suddenly!” which I think I mentioned last week; Sterling Hayden plays a cop who’s wooing a widow, and as we first meet him he’s trying to be a father to the widow’s son. The kid wants a cap gun. Mom hates guns, and says no. Sterling buys one anyway. (D’oh.) Later the mother is talking with her grizzled pappy, who’s ex-Secret Service, and the old man tells her to get over this gun nonsense. Sometimes you have to defend what’s yours and when that happens you reach for the best tool in the box. She’ll hear none of that, of course - but then Frank Sinatra shows up in her front room, threatens to slit her son’s throat and makes everyone wait while he sets up his tripod so he can blow Ike’s head off.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but she sorta comes around to the whole “defend yourself” thing by the end.

Makes me wonder when my first lovely interaction with the public school system will be, and what form it will take. I should get it out of the way on day one: What’s your position on cap guns?

1. “We regard them as a violation of our zero tolerance policy, and will expel for the remainder of the year any student who has one.”

2. “Once a year we pass them out and the class reenacts the Charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg.”

Thought of this story again while reading about the soldiers who were offered the chance to leave their post because of Isabel. They were guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington; this would have been the first time the tomb was unguarded. They said, in essence, sir no thank you sir.

You can break down the entire country into two camps, two reactions to the story:

1. Bemusement.

2. Gratitude.

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