Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Epic Listening: The 2014 Christmas Music List

Holiday music.  I love it, and I find that unlike any other time of the year, the Christmas/Holiday period provides a varied and rich soundtrack.  Realizing the busy schedules of Epics this time of year, I have taken to publishing a list of some of my favorite albums of the season.  That said, please pour a glass of my favorite store-bought egg nog...

...add an extra toddy if you like, and try out one of my current favorites.  Happy Holidays!

1. Pentatonix: That's Christmas to Me.

I don't think that I have ever before bought an album of music while watching a parade.  Until Thanksgiving 2014 when I was fooling around in the kitchen, drinking some wine and making some side-dish or other.  The Macy's parade was on the television as usual when I cook on Thanksgiving, and I heard perfect a capella harmony singing the best version of Santa Clause Is Comin' to Town I have ever heard.  On a float was the group Pentatonix.  I had never heard of them before.  Through the miracle of modern electronics I owned this album about twenty seconds later and I have been playing it over and over since then.  These young people have serious musical chops and their arrangements of the classics are just stunning.  There is no possible way [egg nog or no] that you can be in a low mood after you listen to this album.  This group is like a gin and tonic with double tonic.  My favorite of the season.

2. Will Downing: Christmas, Love and You.

Man, do I love Will Downing's albums.  I don't recall how I first became acquainted with this man's music but he is just superb.  Think Lou Rawls with a snifter really good Cognac on the side.  Mr. Downing has a great voice just made for sitting before the fireplace with that special someone.  The title track added to other well produced versions of classic tunes such as The Christmas Song and The Little Drummer Boy all provide a fresh and soulful take on the season.  If this one doesn't get you in the mood to give and to receive I don't know what will...

3. Gunnar Idenstam.  Folkjul.

Sooner or later, I know, I have to play the Scandinavian card.  It is my heritage after all.  This is a rather amazing collection of songs, some of which you will have heard before [probably not in Swedish] and some of which will be new to you.  The titles alone [like "Varldeus Fralsare"] should lure you in but if you love peaceful, inspiring Holiday music that is unlike anything you will hear at someone else's house, you will love this album.

4. Christmas at Downton Abbey.

It should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of the PBS series Downton Abbey.  Call me an Edwardian at heart, I can take it.  In any event, this marvelous album has everything you could want on it for your classic and classical Holiday sound track.  Not only do they work a couple of tracks of the television show's lovely theme song into the forty-five tracks on this album, but you get cracking versions of "Good King Wenceslas" and "Come Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" [two of my all time favorites], but to hear Jim Carter read "Twas The Night Before Christmas" is worth the entire price of this absurdly cheap album.  This is the sort of album you want to just put on a loop and play and play and play.  So break out a good bottle of Port, a slab of Stilton cheese and your smoking jacket and settle in...

5. James Taylor: at Christmas.

Ten years after his only other Christmas effort, the fabulous "A Christmas Album", James Taylor brings us another musical keepsake, this time with more collaborators such as Chris Botti, Natalie Cole and Yo Yo Ma to spice up the fun.  How there are people that do not like Taylor's voice is beyond me, but I have always loved his work.  Everything on this album is great, but tops are the aching "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "Auld Lang Syne" along with "The Christmas Song" in which Toots Thielemans comes along for the ride as well.  Taylor at his absolute Holiday best.  What more do you need?

6. The Four Freshmen: Snowfall.

I may have mentioned this great album of perfect harmonies in the past but I've had four egg nogs by now and I don't remember!! In any event, this is a swingin' album that makes you want to put on your best red cardigan [the one with the shawl collar--you know you want to break that out again this year] and swizzle a Blue Blazer cocktail [no, on the other hand better not...too much fire involved] or a Hot Buttered Rum [MUCH more like it] while you watch the flakes tumble down slowly outside the windows.  The title track is wonderful but my favorite is probably "Let It Snow".  

I know you will enjoy these albums as much as I do.  For your holiday cocktail party I would recommend The Four Freshmen and Pentatonix, then for dinner Downton Abbey and Folkjul. For after dinner drinks and chit-chat James Taylor and then.....finally....when its late at night, cold outside, and its just the two of you, the fire logs crackling in the grate, Will Downing.  Thank me later.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all Epics everywhere!  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Frank's Day

Happy Birthday Frank.  It's still your world and we just live in it.

"I'm gonna live...Till I die"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Epic Bookshelf: Be My Guest by Conrad Hilton (1957)

Years ago, in a hotel room far away, I pulled open the bedside table drawer and found one of the most interesting books I have ever read.  Conrad Hilton's autobiography, Be My Guest.  It used to be in every Hilton Hotel room, everywhere.  The book has disappeared from Hilton hotels but I highly recommend it to any Epic.  To me, the best part of the book is Hilton's struggle during the Great Depression to keep his young hotel empire alive.  When your housekeeping and maintenance employees walk up to you and hand you their life savings to try and help you out in a financial crisis that tells me that you have been the right sort of business mogul.  And an amazing sort of leader.  This was a man of tremendous style and accomplishment who tells his story with rare objectivity especially in regard to his personal failings. 

The book also contains Mr. Hilton's rules for success in life:

1. Find your talent.
2. Be big; think big; act big; DREAM big.
3. Be honest.
4. Live with enthusiasm.
5. Don't let your possessions own you.
6. Don't worry about problems.
7. Don't cling to the past.
8. Look down on nobody and look up when you can.
9. Pray constantly.

In that Hilton hotel, many years ago, I picked up this book and I really didn't put it down until I had finished reading it. When I came to the rules for success I wrote them down on a small piece of notepad paper that I still carry with me everywhere I go.  I also put the list on my phone. I look at it all the time to see how I am doing. To see how I am measuring up to this extraordinary man.

I looked at my copy of Be My Guest this morning and as I skimmed through it for the hundredth time I felt the way I always do. That I wanted to be more like Connie Hilton.  The person and the businessman. If you go to Amazon you can pick up a copy of Be My Guest for one cent. Trust me, it will be the best penny you have ever invested in yourself.  And when the time comes, you can invite me to the grand opening of your hotel... 

P.S. I wrote about Conrad Hilton and Be My Guest earlier in The Epic archives. Looking at the book again today, I felt it was worth while to revisit the topic.  Especially the nine rules of success.  I needed the refresher course, even if you might not.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Lovely Tiffany Holiday

I don't know how many of you have seen this commercial for Tiffany & Co. but it is just lovely. How romantic! The long version is even more beautiful on the Tiffany & Co. website. Alas, the song is not available for purchase. Yet.  I am starting a movement to allow fans to buy the song with all proceeds going to charity. I hope that Tiffany will go along with it. Email them through the Tiffany & Co. website if you would like to see this happen. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

100 Years Ago

It was their wedding anniversary.  This photo was taken on June 28, 1914, five minutes before the world would begin to unravel.  Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, are seen leaving a state visit at the town hall in Sarajevo.  They would be dead within the hour at the hand of an assassin.  Various diplomatic threats and maneuvers were triggered by the killings but a month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and the largest bloodletting the world had ever seen began. 

They were an odd and touching love story.  Despite being a Czech countess, she was considered "common" in Austria-Hungary.  Franz Ferdinand married her against the wishes of his father Emporer Franz Joesph who only agreed to the union under the stipulation that no child of the marriage could ascend to the throne.  Emporers were nothing to trifle with in 1914.  She wasn't even allowed to sit next to him at state dinners. The only exception was when he was in military status, in uniform.  When his father ordered him to go to Sarajevo and review troops, it was the perfect occasion for an unimpeded excursion with his beloved Sophie.  His last words implored her to live for the sake of their three children.

In the event, one could consider Franz Ferdinand and Sophie the first two of the 16,000,000 casualties and 21,000,000 wounded of the "great" war.  My favorite posts about Armistice Day [November 11] are here and here.

In England, they have created the most wonderful memorial of the start of World War I.  888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British soldier that died, placed at the Tower of London...

The young nation The United States of America entered the war in 1917 after clinging futilely to neutrality for several years.  President Wilson gave his commander, General John Pershing, only two directives. The first was to under no circumstances place American troops under the command of British or French generals.  The second was to win the war and get home.  "Black Jack" Pershing accomplished both tasks.  The first major American engagement was to relieve allied infantry who had been fighting established enemy positions in Bellau Wood.  It was a serious task...

And many of our Marines remain there to this day...

In America, we started off honoring Armistice Day on November 11 but in 1954 we changed the day to Veterans Day.  And with good reason.  There have been so many more that served and died than anyone  thought could possibly be needed after 11:11 a.m. on 11/11/18 when World War I ended.  People in 1918 never thought that such an effort, such a sacrifice, could ever be required again in a civilized world.  They were right. For twenty years.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Epic Bookshelf: The Horrors Of Love by Jean Dutourd (1963)

When you learn of an author through his wife, a lot depends on your impression of her.  My impression of Madame Dutourd, gained from a chapter in a wonderful travel book about Paris, was very good.  In the event, Madame was seen leaving her elegant Parisian home when a man sitting on the sidewalk asked her for charity.  She pressed a handful of money into his palm along with the direction that it all be spent on wine.  This caught my attention immediately. The person relating the story mentioned that Madame's husband was none other than the novelist Jean Dutourd, a member of the French Academy. This information peaked my curiosity even more and I began looking for translated copies of his books.  My favorite is the Horrors of Love.

The setting for this novel is Paris in the early 1960's. Dutourd and an old friend catch up on events during a walk around town during a single lovely day.  During the day, the two gentlemen frequent various places for a bite to eat, a glass of Rum or two, and finally an exquisite dinner at an elegant restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne.  The entire conversation between the two men consists of a discussion of a mutual friend named Roberti who is a respectable fifty-two year old family man and a member of the French legislature.  He has also been recently sent to prison for murder.  Throughout the day, the conversation paints a profound picture of not just the self-destruction of Roberti, but of the similar although usually less dramatic decline of many middle aged men.  In this fashion, Dutourd accomplishes the most engaging inspection of a "mid-life crisis" that I have read.

The issue that captivates Dutourd is why a man who has been married for years, very successful, and very stable in his path of life would emotionally unspool over a young mistress named Solange.  The American reader's immediate conclusion is that Roberti is fifty-two and has a young mistress and that he collapses under the weight of emotional and sexual excess.  This is true in part, but we must remember that the author, his three male characters and his immediate audience are French. As a result the conversation between the two flaneurs [who appear to be about the same age as Roberti] poses an engaging mystery to us and to themselves in light of the higher tolerance of mistresses in the marriages of the mid twentieth-century French upper class. Roberti has had many mistresses before Solange so the issue narrows to what was it about this particular affair that caused him to apparently lose his mind?  As with any great novel (particularly a French one) the plot presents a Rorschach test in which each reader sees a different picture and each reader sees, essentially, himself.

I first read this book when I had just turned fifty-two.  I had found the previous two decades unexpectedly challenging and taxing.  This is no doubt true for the majority of men who are lucky enough to enter their fifties.  Roberti, however, is one of those apparently charmed men who seem to hit the rails of their lives seamlessly, gliding along without incident or tremendous effort toward a glowing conclusion somewhere in the clouds. Dutourd's notion, however, is that what most exposed Roberti to calamity was not his success, nor his age, nor the (heavily Puritan-American) idea of a middle-aged epiphany of his onrushing mortality but rather the fact that Roberti had never been in love before. At one point, Dutourd's friend says:

Roberti never even saw what would have been obvious to the most shortsighted: that around fifty is a critical age--an age when one runs a severe risk of falling in love, especially if one has never been in love before, and when a pretty girl is a mortal danger.

Epic living requires us to be in love.  With our lovers, with our food and drink, with the arts, with our new cashmere socks, with the way the dog runs around the yard or the way the wind blows from the north on a crystal clear Autumn morning.  Had Roberti been an Epicurean, he would have been fully used to being in love by the age of fifty.  And he would have been able to manage his feelings for a beautiful woman half his age with the maturity that his age, commitments and situation in life required.  But alas for Roberti, he was coming into contact with what for him was a unique feeling that he was wholly unequipped to handle in an adult way.  So, he reacted like a teenager. The result was sadly predictable and provides the reader (particularly the male reader) with an essential cautionary tale. Cultivate your loves in life from an early age. Age and savor them like a great bottle of wine.  And drink them in with the appreciation that they, and you, deserve.  Failing to do so makes you defenseless to first love which, if it hits you at the wrong moment in life, can lead to your undoing. In this regard, The Horrors of Love is an Epic tale for the ages.  I suppose that is why I love the book so much.

Another passage addressing the wisdom gained through the experience of love throughout life is:

With regard to Roberti, you know, I'm more reminded of La Rouchefoucauld's maxim: "He who lives without folly is not as wise as he thinks". He lacked that grain of folly which is like a grain of pepper, bringing out the savor of wisdom, making plain cooking delicious.

Certainly young love, usually gained in one's teens, is mostly crafted from folly.  So, how does one procure the level of wisdom required to inoculate oneself from folly that springs forth in middle age? Through appreciation of the arts.  Dutourd notes that the duration of a human life is insufficient to allow one to gain the knowledge and experience necessary to act properly at crisis points in life...

Forty years' experience is wholly inadequate.  One needs two thousand. The two thousand years' experience to be had from the works of good authors. As a guide to life one must have some idea of the major novels, epics and tragedies written since Homer.

Only in this fashion can a person accrete to himself the collective experience of humankind, thrashing about blindly over generations trying to deal with the ubiquitous issues that occur in every life. Such as falling in love for the first time at the age of fifty-two.  

Also, the name that Dutourd chooses for the woman who forms the catalyst for Roberti's ruin provides us a clue to the cause of his demise.  Solange is usually translated as "dignified" but one cannot avoid looking to the alternative meaning which is roughly "sun angel".  Perhaps like Icarus, once Roberti crossed paths with his sun angel [behind the receptionist's desk at his attorney's office] he was unable to avoid flying too closely to her light.  With results well documented since the time of Ovid. 

The relationship between Solange and Roberti also provides a fascinating platform for Dutourd to examine two people at different crossroads in their lives and to describe the different facets of love, marriage, adultery, and insanity from the opposite surfaces of their two sided mirror.  Describing Solange, Dutourd states:

In short she was entering that sober period of life when things begin to leave their mark.  When one ceases to be marble and becomes flesh...Let us pause for a moment with Solange at the crossroads of youth and maturity. These are the important events of our lives. They mean far more than wars, migrations, the partitioning of provinces. They are the great adventure through which every one of us must pass.

Consequently, the reader realizes that both Solange and Roberti are experiencing crises caused by their transition from one life phase to another.  From youth to maturity in Solange's case and from maturity to youth in the case of Roberti. When these two transitions intersect the result is tragic, however instructive.

As a result, although this book may seem inherently "male" in focus, it is a very insightful look at the trials of growing up.  No matter what our age or gender may be.  I cannot recommend The Horrors of Love highly enough.  It is one of the few books that I have underlined extensively as I read it.  I think you will be similarly impressed. Hopefully you will find, as I did, instruction and insight as you see the signs of your next crossroad looming in the mist ahead of you.

Jean Dutourd.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Best Cocktail Shaker EVER

It should surprise no one that I collect cocktail shakers.  Not a big collection, maybe half a dozen or so.  But this penguin is the greatest shaker I have ever seen.  The tip of his nose screws off to allow for pouring.  I found him at an antique market in Atlanta a couple of months ago.  He was tarnished, dirty and forlorn on a shelf behind a bunch of stuff.  But with a good soapy bath and a rub down with silver polishing wipes he is now returned to his former glory.  Swanky.  The next time I have guests over for martinis.....he is back in the game.  Cheers!