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, February 28, 2010

Epic Book Shelf: World War One

All gourmands know it. Sometimes you are in need of a true feast. The twelve course chef's menu. With a couple of fine bottles of wine. Other times, nothing but a plate of steak frites and a carafe of vin rouge will do. There are several fine extended histories of World War One. Twelve course feasts for the true enthusiast of the period. Recently, however, I was given a one course delight on the subject.

It should be plain by now to the return reader that I am quite interested in history in general and in World War I in particular. There is such a superior body of literature surrounding the tragic events of 1914-1918, both fictional and historic, that the reading person cannot ignore the period. Add to the mix the fact that the "resolution" of the First World War set in inexorable motion the forces that lead to the Second World War and to many of today's problems in the Middle East and Central Europe, and a good volume or two on the clash should be required reading.

Sadly, the topic of the First World War is merely a footnote in most American primary educational curricula and few people really know much about it. This may not be limited to our shores. Robert McCrum noted in The Observer a few years back that the new generation finds the First World War almost as remote as The Iliad. An interested person seeking to begin learning about this vital and interesting era often finds their efforts impeded by the fact that war histories in general tend to be thick tomes overburdened with troop movement maps and tactical theorizing by armchair generals. Fine for the amateur tactician but rather heavy food for a person who has interest in, but not passion for, the history of a particular conflict. Another obstacle is the pace of modern life, which lends itself more to endless dashing about than to sitting still reading, particularly when some degree of thoughtfulness is required by the subject matter.

Arriving to solve all of these dilemmas is World War One, a slender and elegant retelling of the conflict by the noted historian Norman Stone. In 186 pages, Stone manages to provide a superbly readable short study of the war, from its prelude in the rise of great European empires and modern notions of nationalism to its epitaph which endures today across the globe. That Stone can accomplish this task in so few pages is a testament to his mastery of the subject matter.

A few appetizers are in order to whet the literary appetite. Regarding the society which immediately preceded the war, Stone states:

In 1900 the West, or, more accurately, the North-West, appeared to have all the trumps, to have discovered some end-of-history formula. It produced one technological marvel after another, and the generation of the 1850s--which accounted for most of the generals of the First World War--experienced the greatest "quantum leap" in all history, starting out with horses and carts and ending, around 1900, with telephones, aircraft, motor-cars. Other civilizations had reached a dead end, and much of the world had been taken over by empires of the West.

If one finds this paragraph disturbingly familiar, one should read more about World War One. Immediately. Stone describes most key events of the war in a fashion certain to satisfy the interest of the historically curious, and even more certain to whet the appetite of the reader for more in-depth knowledge of this tragic time.

The book ends with reference to Hitler's Mein Kampf and its encapsulation of the fears expressed by Lloyd George years before...

...in twenty years' time the Germans would say what Carthage had said about the First Punic War, namely that they had made this mistake and that mistake, and by better preparation and organization they would be able to bring about victory next time.

The cessation of hostility in 1918 lasted all of twenty-one years.

Some tend to consider short histories no more than shallow treatments which at best ill-inform and at worst misinform the consumer. In reply to this notion, I refer the reader, again, to cookery. A sauce which is diminished in volume after application of heat is not called a minimization but, rather, a reduction. Rendered more potent and rich by the effort. So too, World War One is a master's reduction of a heart breaking and complex time which leaves the consumer hungering for more knowledge. The stimulative effect of this fine book upon the intellectual appetite is perhaps its greatest facet.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Reverie Of Old Florida

"Junior Clerk". John considered the title painted in gold leaf beside his service window at the Commerce Bank. As was his habit, he used a small felt cloth to dust the lettering and the heavy brass bars that separated his work station from the customers who would soon be filling the lobby. Lately, John had been thinking a lot about how that title would probably not change for the next ten to fifteen years. Junior Clerk. John felt lost in a titular purgatory located between the most senior bank teller and the Senior Clerk, Thompson. Thompson had been Senior Clerk for almost twenty years. Junior Clerk two decades before that. John grimaced as he folded the felt and placed it in the pocket of his best pair of trousers.

The weather was not helping John's frame of mind. Outside the doors of the bank one of the harshest winters in memory was coating the sidewalks and ornamental trees along the city's boulevards with snow and ice. Again and again. Even the huge steam boilers in the basement of the Commerce Bank were barely able to dispel the chill. As John arranged the customary forms and banking slips behind his customer window his mind turned again to the South. To Florida.

John had not been to Florida. Junior Clerks did not take vacations. But Junior Clerks could be thrifty and save what was left of their pay each week after paying the bill at the Young Gentleman's Boarding House. John had allowed himself two extravagances in the past two years. A suit made of faded, off-white linen. And a picture book of Florida. He had worn the suit to the Fourth of July parade with Helen last year. He looked at the picture book every evening during this endless winter, usually while sipping a small glass of rum...

Each evening, John's dream of Florida grew stronger. Helen worried about his enthusiastic descriptions of the photos in "the Florida book" as they shared dessert on Saturday dates. It all seemed so...distant...and vaguely dangerous. Inconsistent with certain topics that were, each Saturday night, seeming to congeal into a map for a lovely and seamless future for them both.

The Senior Clerk was unlocking the doors to the bank lobby and the first customers were drifting in, each accompanied by an auras of snow flakes and a gust of Arctic wind. John shivered. At lunch, he knew what he was going to do.

John did not discuss leaving with his superiors at the Commerce Bank out of fear that they would successfully point out the substantial list of reasons why he should not abandon a promising career. He left the bank at lunch, after drawing out all of his savings. Plus an extra sum derived from the sale of his grandfather's gold pocket watch. He went to the shop where Helen worked and said goodbye. She was saddened by the news, but did not seem terribly surprised. John left her an envelope too, for her to open later. Mrs. Lesley at the boarding house said she was sorry to lose such a nice, regularly paying young man as a tenant. In the closet of John's room were his few belongings and his father's valise...

...the one Dad brought back from Flanders at the end of the war. Inside it were the linen suit, some grooming items and the book of Florida pictures. John buttoned his jacket and walked through the snow to the train station. He booked a coach ticket to Florida. One way.

When John arrived in Jacksonville, the station's size surprised him...

He felt invigorated by the scent of the sea and the damp heat, even in February. He wondered what the fellows at the Commerce Bank would think of him now. Wearing his linen suit. Standing in Florida!

Through one mechanism and another he traveled to Tallahassee, where he found a nice place to stay for a few days...

They had a beautiful college there as well...

John met a salesman in the diner at the motel, a veteran of his father's battalion at Belleau Wood, who agreed to give him a ride south. They ambled down the state, past orange groves as far as the eye could see...

John spent a few weeks squeezing oranges and sleeping in the back room of a road-side juice stand. Quite a different atmosphere from that of the Commerce Bank, but John found that he took to the work rather well. Plus, he had all the juice he could drink. He had never experienced anything as refreshing as freshly squeezed orange juice. The sunshine and citrus helped John's normally pale complexion turn ruddy and strong. After a bit, he bid goodbye to his job at the juice stand and headed even farther south, across the longest, flattest, bridge he had ever seen. The "Oversea Highway"...

The sunsets at Key West were unlike anything John had ever seen. The sun seemed to fight the very pull of gravity, then, ultimately failing, it would tumble from the sky. The evenings were enchanting also, illumined by a solitary light house...

In his former life, John had never spent the entire night up without going to bed. One night in Key West, he decided to lie on the warm sand of the beach and wait for the sunrise. He was not shortchanged for the effort...

John's time in Florida had been so exciting and so full of new experiences that he had not even considered finding a place to live beyond a few weeks. Basking in the tropical sunlight, he had not allowed himself to feel how much he missed the inner warmth generated by a Saturday night date. He eventually found a perfect cabin to rent and a regular job tending bar at the resort he was calling home...

The days stretched into endless summer. Yet, particularly at week's end, John felt ill at ease. As if one of the "ocean storms" the locals talked about were slowly twirling just over the horizon. He had been sending regular post cards and letters to Helen. In one of them, he asked if she had opened the envelope he left for her months before. Her letters did not answer the question one way or the other.

One particularly beautiful Saturday found John with an evening free. He prepared a small grill outside his cabin to broil another newly discovered favorite. A fish called "grouper". As John squeezed fresh lime juice over the fillets at his tiny kitchen counter, he heard an auto pull up outside and a door open and close. Light steps on his patio. A tentative knock. John ran to the screen door and pulled it open. Auburn hair. Blue eyes. A summer dress and a big straw hat with a pink ribbon. Helen. As John held her close, Helen whispered that after months of trepidation, she had finally opened his envelope. To find the train ticket tucked away inside. Wrapped in a crisp sheet of Commerce Bank stationary bearing the notation "John Hutchins, Junior Clerk".

Notes: To all my readers who are currently mired in one of the harshest winters on record and who may be in need of a small respite. Also, with apologies to the Allman Brothers and their great song "Nobody Left To Run With". Finally, the Florida Department of Tourism did not pay me money to write this. I wish they had. ML

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ribbons Redux

I thought and thought. And I couldn't do any better than last year...

Oh so long for this night I prayed
That a star would guide you my way
To share with me this special day
Where a ribbon's in the sky for our love
--Stevie Wonder

There have been several phases of my Valentine's Day experience. The first was what I call the "little candy heart with 'kiss me' on it" phase. From about age 6 through 12. When I met and won my first girlfriend. Nell. Gave her a ring from the dime store with a little pink stone in it. She grinned so big I thought she would pop. Those forty years ago.

Then the "my stomach hurts when I see her" phase. From about 13 through, oh, 21. Then the "in a bar in the Blue Ridge Mountains learning about how not to drink vodka while the Valentine's dance is going on" phase. Definately 21 through 23.

Then the halcyon days. Champagne and roses. Barry White and The Manhattans on the stereo. And lots of Valentines. Of the grown up sort. My favorite Valentine song ever is Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky". I send it out today for my very last, and very best, girlfriend D. And for all of your Valentines...

This is not a coincidence
And far more than a lucky chance
But what is that was always meant
Is our ribbon in the sky for our love

We cant lose with God on our side
We'll find strength in each tear we cry
From now on it will be you and I
And our ribbon in the sky
Ribbon in the sky
A ribbon in the sky for our love...

Here's to an Epic Valentine's Day to each and every one of you.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


In New Orleans!! Thanks to the amazing, fantastic, incredible, odds-beating, historic SAINTS!! Champions of American Football after defeating a mastermind and an "unstoppable" offense.

These are the best potato chips anywhere, fresh from New Orleans! You can get them here.


Underwriting Note: Zapps isn't paying me anything for this. I wish they were. ML

Sunday, February 7, 2010

When I Go...The Hotel

There seems to be some debate, even now, post-Ghostbusters, as to whether our spirits can inhabit a favorite place after they do not need our shells any longer. I have no firm opinion on the topic, but I am hedging my bets. If my non-encapsulated spirit should happen to NEED a place to alight, I hereby request the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. I love this hotel. It meets all of my criteria for a great restorative spot. The entrance above is the first clue that you are entering the realm of sophisticated lodgings. The lobby is another. Pure "old Florida". Just waiting for Barrymore to walk through...

First, it is in a residential neighborhood but close to diversions. The street running by the front is quiet and dignified. And only a short block from the glorious shopping, strolling and tippling of Worth Avenue! Perfect peace and quiet pervades the entire block on which the Brazilian Court sits. Ceiling fans swirl the perfect Florida air, containing hints of citrus and sea salt. The voices of various birds just barely audible. Just walking up through the front doors of the Brazilian Court does two things. Immediately relaxes you. Immediately makes you feel like a star--of the Clark Gable school. The latter not an easy task after one has just tossed the keys of the usual business microbox rental car to the attendant.

Second, it has a great history. Think Barrymore. Garbo. Cary Grant. Think romantic getaways. Trysts. Staying here is like entering a very pleasant time machine. That takes you back to an era of true gentility. The folks that run and work at the Brazilian Court make sure it is, and stays, that way.

Third, it has a great restaurant. Chef Daniel Boulud needs little introduction. His restaurant at the B.C. is just a marvelous place. It has a pretty decor, sunny and bright during the day...

And with a few lighting adjustments, demure and svelte at night. On my last visit, I had a marvelous tartine of squab with mushroom duxelle and truffle sauce. Squab which almost made me sob. With pleasure. Perfect service, perfect food, great wine list. I could eat at this restaurant every meal, every day. The ultimate hotel dining experience. In three seasons of the Florida year, you can enjoy dinner on the outside patio, gazing at the twinkling lights and majestic palms around the center courtyard. Here is a view looking toward the dining patio...

You may want to forego returning to your room and just sit outside all night, sipping a very good Calvados and awaiting sunrise. And the extraordinary breakfast menu at Boulud. I tried an open air sojourn one night, although I cannot say the sitting/napping outside part was entirely voluntary.

Fourth, this hotel has lovely, lodge-like rooms of the sort that, once settled in, one does not want to leave...

This man is not me. Needless to say. I understand him not wanting to leave the room. I meant to tell you, the bath robes at this place are really fine. And the beds are very inviting. I digress. Some of the rooms are very large, some are quite small...

This was not my bed. I am not sure this bed would fit into the room I ask for when I arrive. No matter. I do not require massive lodgings. What I do require is coziness and a restorative atmosphere. My favorite room at the B.C. has that in the extreme. Along with a twenty bottle wine cellar. A spacious shower and huge tub. I am not much for taking baths [although I do heartily endorse bathing], but a glass of chilled Tokaj wine and a long soak was certainly called for at the close of one of the days of my last visit. To restore. And contemplate. Nothing like Tokaj and a long, hot, bath to reconnect the senses and prepare one for dreamless sleep. Or at least to chase away the visions of pale peach satin engendered by the hotel room brochure. If additional assistance for dreamless sleep is needed, the rooms have wet bars containing all a cocktailing man could require. The tireless staff will stock up the bar with anything you need if you give them a couple of minutes of notice before you arrive. But why would you do that? Because...

Fifth, the B.C. has a great, small bar...

I typically, and correctly, raise an eyebrow at any bar that is slung into the middle of a hallway, but at the Brazilian Court, it just works. Plus, John the barman is top-rate. And the people I have met at the bar have always been sociable and fun. The pecky cypress paneling doesn't hurt either. Just the cozy place for a pre-dinner cocktail or an after dinner cordial. Or both. The bar and the people who frequented it on my last few visits were so engaging that I left the very comfortable confines of Boulud in order to belly-up to the bar for my Calvados.

It should, by now, be clear to return readers that I am not a "lets take a few laps around the pool" sort of guy. I am, however, a famous "lets go stretch out in a lounge chair by the pool with the paper and a silver pot of freshly ground, very strong black coffee" guy. The Brazilian Court has the perfect pool for just such activities...
Nothing better than to be sipping coffee in one of those fine robes and gazing absentmindedly at the paper while other people are swimming laps.

I have written before that at the best sort of places one feels enhanced. Part of the enhancement is that at the best sort of places one tends to meet the most charming people. Both of which are certainly true of the Brazilian Court Hotel of Palm Beach. This is a place where you dig out the crinkled, seersucker trousers and the double breasted navy blazer with plenty of gold buttons. Where you go to live, or re-live, a little. This inviting, well-run and vastly restorative hideaway comes with the highest Epic recommendation.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Work Day

Last week, I met a guy at work.

A young fellow less than half my age. His legs don't move. The result of a rather dramatic motorcycle accident.

Now, I have seen a lot. The things that tend to come into my life at this point in my career run the scale from not pretty to downright horrid. But of all the things I have ever seen, last week's events are unique. I have never met a man like this one.

In our meeting, he looked across at the nice lady that caused his injury and in a respectful, soft, almost loving voice spoke for half an hour. About his life now. About what he had lost. And also about the precious gifts he had gained. He has faith now. Is a better father to his children. Not an "uptight jerk" like he was before the wreck. He said that the things that used to make him uptight just do not seem significant any more. He even apologized for denting her car when she pulled out in front of him. After he finished speaking, he just looked down at his hands. There were eight other people in the room. Grizzled veterans of a grizzly business. We all sat and looked at our hands too.

Then, everyone expected me to say a few words to him. Extemporaneous speaking is one of my few talents. I am very good at it. But, for a moment or two, all I could do was look at this remarkable young man. Speechless. Finally, I told him that his words were a great gift to me and to all present in the room. On so many levels. Father to father. Man to man. Human to human. I told him that the rest of us could never appreciate what his life was like. I told him that George Washington was one of my few heroes and that he believed that a man is not defined by what happens to him but rather by his responses to those events. This young man had, in my humble opinion, defined himself very well indeed. In my mind, a hero. Unforgettable. It was not my place to try and mouth Epic principles to him. He already knew them all.

The day's business eventually concluded. When I got home, it was storming and very late. I pulled loose my tie, poured a stout bourbon and gazed out the window of my quiet house into the rain. Then I took my drink into my sleeping son's room. Sat on the floor. And waited for the morning.