In the late 1960’s, I was a graduate student living in Berkeley and subsisting on the GI Bill and Linnea’s meager check from working at the Ski Hut. Making things seemed a good way to stretch our funds. I heard you could make your own beer, so I bought a large crock, some canned malt, a package of dry yeast, and a bottle capper. I don’t remember where I got the hops. Then I methodically collected a supply of used beer bottles. The directions were to cook the malt with water, pour it into the crock, add yeast, cover it with muslin and wait a few weeks before bottling. Stories abounded about the bottles of eager tasters exploding in closets. It all seemed simple enough.

I waited the full two weeks, bottled the brew, and waited another week for it to age. It didn’t taste very good. In fact if it hadn’t been for the alcohol it provided I wouldn’t have drunk it at all. It gave new meaning to the phrase, “struggling student.” I made a few batches after that but eventually gave it up. As I lifted each bottle to my lips I thought, are you really this desperate? Continue reading

A New York Weekend

In reviewing my book in the American Alpine Journal, Peter Hahn “wonder[s] what happened ‘after the Nose’ and why he [me] ended up a dedicated New York City dweller.” So do I, sometimes. The short answer for after the Nose is sex and then twice, love. A longer answer would trot out other interests and the unlikeliness of a livelihood in climbing. As to New York, it was love again (and still again), and New York City is a great city for other interests. Which gets me to recent days.

Thursday night, after dinner in a cozy French restaurant (Rosamond, lamb chops, me, a big bowl of mussels) we went to see a production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Two Character Play,” a late work not often produced. It is unusually dense for a Williams play. Continue reading

Blue Jasmine

We went to see Woody Allen’s new film, Blue Jasmine. There are some laughs, but it isn’t a comedy. Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine who once was driven around Manhattan in a stretch limo by her own driver, who was bedecked in jewels and furs and Hermes bags. Then, her husband was sent to prison for some sort of financial fraud. Now she has no money and no prospects and has moved to San Francisco to live with her sister—sort of sister since they were both adopted and couldn’t be more different from each other.

The range of Blanchett’s acting is amazing. In the New York scenes she is the epitome of hauteur whose sense of the good life includes some charity enterprises as well as support of the arts and culture. With her sister she displays her middle class roots even though she hasn’t fully adjusted to her drop in station or her sister’s life style. And then she starts talking to herself. She loses it because beneath all of her plans and patter and surface mannerisms there is no core, no center. One thinks of Yeats. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold, / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” She manufactures whatever she thinks the current situation demands. Even her name. She was formerly called Janette, but that didn’t evoke a glamorous Manhattanite . But regardless of the face Jasmine presents (and there are many), Blanchett is utterly convincing. Continue reading

Belgrade, Serbia

Last year, Rosamond received a grant from the NIH to run a program in research ethics for the Balkan and Black Sea countries. The structure of the program involves intensive course work (9 am to 4 pm) for two weeks, followed by a year of online courses, and then a final week of on-site course work. So we went to Belgrade.

The teaching faculty was Dan, Henry, Nada (a native Serbian), and Rosamond from Mt. Sinai Medical School, and then an assortment of doctors and professors from Balkan medical schools. Nada stayed with her mother, but the rest of us, including Henry’s wife, Jill, rented apartments in a building across the street from the St. Seva cathedral. It was only after a day or two that we realized that the façade of our building looked like it was slated for demolition, but the apartments had been recently renovated and even came with bottles of Scotch and gin and assorted liquors left by previous renters. Continue reading

Paris in the spring

No news is not good news. As if only bad news was worth the three-cent stamp it cost to mail a letter when I was young.  Good news ought to be worth a lot more than three cents. And if you merely want to have a say you can for two cents. Whatever it’s worth. No, no news is no news.

All of which is a way of saying I have been absent from this site for too long (for me, if not for a reader). Toward the end of May I broke a few bones in my left foot. The foot guy was in Scotland, so I had to wait a week until he returned, looked at the x-rays, and then operated to put the ice cream back on the cone as he quaintly put it. Ten days after the surgery an assistant took out the stitches, and two days after that Rosamond and I flew to Paris. Two days later I found that the incision had opened up. It looked rather ugly, a gaping maw surrounded by dark and swollen tissue, but doctors (who were also friends) were attending the conference that was our reason for being in Paris, and one of them determined that there was no infection. “It’ll fill up,” he said (and it has, mostly). Granulation, they call it.

We had rented a funky garret kind of apartment on the Ile Saint Louis. Across the street was a church whose bells tolled from time to time (but not for me). A bakery with Continue reading

Sleeping in Seattle

We polluted more skies (see previous post) flying from San Francisco to Seattle to see my son, his wife, and their year-old son. They are all doing fine, thank you very much, but this isn’t about them. It’s about domiciles. Let’s start with theirs.

A few years ago, before Jason and Robin got married, they bought a house boat on Lake Union. The price was right, in part because it was small, in part because the housing market was down, and also because it needed work. Jason looks good with a tool belt on. He started by taking out the wall facing the water and putting in large windows and glass doors. Light is good, especially when reflected off the water. That was it for quite a while, but when Robin became pregnant it was clear that the interior needed to be reorganized to make good use of what little space they had(about 700 square feet, the size, or a little smaller, of many New York apartments). It was a rule in the house boat community that the footprint of the existing house could not be expanded.

A friend down the dock drew up some plans, Jason and Robin moved into a another friend’s place, and Jason started gutting his house—walls, ceilings, floors, all the way down to the logs that floated the whole thing. The floor had to be reinstalled and leveled (it hadn’t been level). Then he bought seven closets from Ikea and installed them at strategic locations. He then framed in the interior walls and installed new plumbing and wiring. Sheetrock, appliances, kitchen counters and cabinets, book shelves, bathroom fixtures, flooring, lighting fixtures and outlets and switches. Paint. Continue reading

Friendly Skies and Real Friends

Rosamond had business at the American Philosophical Association’s meeting in San Francisco, so we had to pollute the friendly skies. Odd phrase, that. It looks like a metaphor, but metaphors usually have nouns or verbs as their ground. Skies just aren’t the kind of thing that can be friendly. Neither can sties, pies, fries, ties. Lies, maybe, as something between friends. Flies no, but since dogs can be friendly (one wonders about cats), perhaps the friendliness of other animals is an empirical matter, not a conceptual one as is the case with friendly skies.

So what are they trying to say? Airlines can’t be friendly either. People can be friendly, so it must be the people at the ticket counter, the pilots, the flight attendants (but not necessarily the guys who load your luggage onto and off of the plane). But are these people friendly? Or, more to the point, more friendly than their counterparts at other airlines? Possibly to the first, doubtful to the second. Continue reading

A Short Walk with Terray

March 1963. I am living with Linnea in an eleven room apartment in Barcelona. The apartment is on the fifth floor, and at the front a small enclosed balcony overlooks the street below, overlooks the lamplighter as he comes at dusk to light the street lamps. He turns a gas valve at the base of the lamp and then reaches up with a long pole that has a flame on top to bring the light to life. Gas light has a soft but warm glow more conducive than electric light to walking quiet streets, especially if your life is suffused with romance. Linnea and I are not usually up when the lamplighter makes his rounds in the morning to turn off the gas.

Royal had written me, giving me the address in Barcelona of Manuel Anglada, one of the better Spanish climbers. Anglada and I got in touch, and he invited me to go with him and some other climbers for a weekend trip to Montserrat, an area north of Barcelona with many conglomerate domes, spires, and faces. As it happened, the great French climber, Lionel Terray, was also in Barcelona to show movies of his climbing and skiing adventures, and he would join us. Indeed, the trip was organized for him, not for me, but Anglada was a good fellow, and we got along well. Continue reading

Bionic Woman

Three days after we got back from Barbados I drove Rosamond down to Lennox Hill Hospital early in the morning. Soon she was being prepped, and an anesthetic dripped into her arm. When she was unconscious, Ken, her surgeon (and as it happened the best friend of her son, David, since high school) used his scalpel to make a five inch incision deep into the upper part of her left thigh. He then went in and sawed off the top of her femur. You may have heard that doctors take an oath to do no harm. Like many other things, this simple principle obviously needs to be qualified.

Rosamond herself has often pointed out that we let doctors do things we wouldn’t let others do, like cut into us with knives and give us poisons and ask about our bowel habits and sex lives, all this presumably for our own (eventual) good. So, since doctors have these special privileges (and special knowledge and skills), they should have special duties and obligations. Foremost among these is to seek trust and deserve it. This may seem a universal principle, but the trick is in the deserving. Melville’s confidence man, the sellers of mortgage backed securities, Bernie Madolf, and the prototypical used car salesman are all experts in fostering trust but can hardly be said to deserve it. Physicians, though, cannot successfully ply their trade without trust, cannot act for our good, so any breach of trust jeopardizes the enterprise as a whole. Or so Rosamond quite successfully, I think, argues. Continue reading


I’ve been busy. And lazy. Too busy and lazy to blog. For a few months. I am sure you can live with it, but it isn’t good for me. So here I go again, about to take that ride again, starry-eyed again, taking a chance . . . .

In early January, Rosamond and I went to Barbados for two weeks, our annual retreat to the Caribbean from the frozen north. We rented a small condo on the south shore and on arrival were greeted with the sight of colorful kites, some twenty or thirty of them, flying like a disorganized flock of birds out over the water. The kite surfers shared the water with wind surfers, and they all zipped around, plowing through waves, tacking and then tacking again. They moved at high speeds and seemed quite close to each other.  I thought that there was a risk of running into each other or getting the shrouds of their kites tangled, but apparently they had developed rules of the road. Continue reading