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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Epic Ads: Canadian Club, "Your Dad"

I love this ad campagne. Dad was not this louche', I think, but I bought a couple of bottles of CC for the Epic Bar when I was out. If you looked closely at the Mad Men premiere episode on Sunday night, bottles of CC were in some of the office scenes.

Sponsorship Note: Canadian Club did not pay me to post this. I wish they had. I would even take payment in kind.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Epic Book Shelf: "A Simple Habana Melody"

I am ashamed of myself and I don't feel that way very often. Like when I come across a writer so magnificent that it stuns me. That I have not read before. Or even heard of. Oscar Hijuelos and his tremendous and lovely book "A Simple Habana Melody (From When the World Was Good)" is the current cause of my shame.

He did win the Pulitzer after all, for The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. That somehow escaped my notice as well. But not any longer. A Simple Habana Melody is a lushly romantic story of a successful Cuban composer, a true gentle-man, whose loving nature carries him through the vicissitudes of a supremely interesting life from 1900 through the late 1940s in Cuba, Paris and elsewhere. A story that should not be missed by anyone who still appreciates highly refined craftsmanship in writing.

I have mentioned before that some writers are great at plotting and scenery. Some are great at characterization. The very best writers, however, create plot, scene and characters with equal aplomb. Mr. Hijuelos is one of the very best. How this man can turn a phrase! Consider this passage describing the composer Israel Levis in the late 1940s, his older age...

He had never been a handsome man, even in his best days; he did not have the Spanish good looks of his older brother,Fernando; rather, he considered that his charm had once arisen from his gallant manner, his affability and the attention he paid to others, staring directly into their eyes, save when he felt blinded-or outraged-by the most beautiful of women or the most strikingly handsome of men. In those moments a mixture of envy and admiration entered his heart, for these favored daughters and sons of life, moving through the world with effortless grandeur, embodied the very qualities of beauty that he had always aspired to through his music. Some women were like glorious sarabands, their dark and intense eyes mysterious as the deepest tones of an operatic aria; others more lustily disposed-the cheap women whom he had often cherished in his youth-were like jaunty rumbas, the wild gyrations of the Charleston. And men? Some were as graceful as the tango, or surefooted and capricious in their movement through life as the habanera-while he, lumbrous, awkward and ever careful, had always been the equivalent of a waltz or a simple box step. For many years he knew this to be the truth, as most of his grace lingered within, and he had spent so many hours, as a young man, in private self-ostracism, withing he could change this or that on his face or some part of his body, as if it were not enough to attract others through the power of his understated personality and a presence that most found enchanting; how foolish he had been, he now thought, to have wasted so much of his time on such petty concerns.

The composer becomes world famous for writing one love song, yet he is seemingly unable to communicate his feelings in person to the love of his life, singer Rita Valladares, who also provides the voice of his song. Over time, Levis meets many people, including at least one love, but Rita is never far from his mind. Mr. Hijuelos fully understands the nature of love. And of longing. That rarefied sort of longing that extends over the long-term. For example, who has not had the occasion to temporarily replace the aching desire for another person with food or wine? Levis poignantly describes a meal with George Gershwin at the [still extant and glorious Inglaterra Hotel] in Habana in 1930...

He ordered an entire roasted chicken, its skin nicely braised, with rosemary potatoes and a salad, the kind of fare that served the palette of the American clientele who often stayed in the Inglaterra. Mr. Gershwin ordered fillet mignon (with french fried potatoes and onions), which, to Levis's despair, he barely touched ("Tell your friend, Senor Levis" he said to Manny, "that I've got to watch my waist-line, mi cintura"). Even when he had finished off his chicken, leaving only a carcass and the slightest residue of salad oil on his plate, Levis could not help himself from looking enviously at those tender and succulent morsels that lay largely untouched under Gershwin's fork and knife, for, in those moments of small desires, a kind of sadness having to do with the missed opportunities for love in his life came over him, and he, his mouth watering, was half-tempted to finish his fellow composer's meal.

During his life in pre-war Cuba, Levis participates in anti-government activities directed at Cuban President Gerardo Machado.
Levis finally decides to leave Cuba in 1932 after government agents invade his home and menace his elderly mother. Who has not been in a time of intense stress and noticed an alteration of the very sense of time? Describing that evening of concern for his mother's injuries, Levis notes...

It had been a night that ran counter to the notion that "life is short", the hours moving so slowly that I would remember it for the dense and weary prognostications that came over me, ever so sadly, from some distant place, deep and dark as the heavens at night, over which I had no control.

The song writer Gordon Lightfoot also distilled the essence of the phenomena of stress-induced alteration of time when he said "does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?" Anyone that has found themselves sitting beside a hospital bed for hours at a time or who has been in an airplane tossing about in a thunderstorm knows precisely what Mr. Hijuelos and Mr. Lightfoot are talking about. The notion cannot be described any better.

Levis moves to Paris, where he eventually meets his love's new love. Again, time seems to be deflected or warped in some way by the void created by sadness and intense longing. Who has not felt a wringing emotional void after meeting a love's new love?

Later, when they had left him, Levis remained in the cafe drinking wine until dusk, and then he reasoned it was a good time to switch to a fine grade of Napoleon brandy, for there was something about the drinking of such a liquor that created the false but reassuring impression of more time passing than actually had, a few hours in the waning day, shifting like a continent of moments, so grandly, that weeks or even months could have passed. His last memory of that evening was of devouring a roasted pheasant with fried potatoes in a bistro near the Bastille, then of sitting on a metal bench along the railings of the Pont des Arts and daydreaming as he watched the lamp-lit reflections on the river, quivering like his thoughts.

The progress of Levis' life, as so masterfully rendered by Mr. Hijuelos, makes a satisfying and memorable reading experience. I will close this review with one further passage, describing how Levis feels when he is in Valladares' company. Who has not felt this way? Who could have ever described the feeling in this fine a manner?

Around Levis, she always seemed to leave the weariness of her professional life behind and regained her buoyancy and ebullience. In fact, whenever she and the composer were together, a change came over the very atmosphere of light between them, as if a million threads flared out from their perfume and cologne sweet bodies, connecting one to the other.

This is a very simple issue. If you love to read, read this book. If you love to live, read this book. If you love to love, read this book. Don't share my shame a moment longer for not having done so long ago.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Shopping Interlude

In the checkout line at a Huge Discount Store. She knew that her carefully prepared hair was just slightly beginning to unfurl. Also, she was acutely aware that the pale green and navy blue gown was something of an eye catcher in this building. Where the typical attire leaned more to the denim and terrycloth side of the scale. To say nothing of the matching shoes with just a hint of sparkle. She hoped that when she arrived at the dinner she would stand out just as much. If she arrived at all. Thirty seven minutes remaining. As she opened her slender, silver toned purse she was relieved to see the large earrings nestled in the silk lining. Faux stones but they had still cost a week's pay. And looked like the real thing. No necklace though. Due to her mother's dictum of "one eye-catcher at a time".

Thirty two minutes. The fifty-something man in front of her was attempting to manipulate his card in the scanner while making polite conversation with the tired clerk. At least he seemed to care what the clerk had to say. And he was dressed nicely. For a man over twice her age. Thirty minutes. The man finally moved away and glanced at her. Taking in her gown and purse for a moment. Not in the usual way of such things. More appreciative. Then as he seemed about to speak, his eye fell to her four items on the counter. Two cases of Ramen noodles. Two cases of Easy Mac and Cheese. He stopped still. Blinked. Looked quickly again at her gown. Seemed to repress a grin. Nodded and walked away. Twenty eight minutes to go. If he only knew what this day had been like.

Note: This happened to me on Saturday. I have no idea where this young lady was going. Perhaps to a Noodle Ball. I was dying to ask. But if there is one thing I have learned in over fifty years, it is not to get in the way of a well dressed lady in an obvious hurry. Especially when she is armed with Easy Mac. ML

Friday, July 16, 2010

Epic Listening: Summer Sound Track

Summer is in full swing. The temperatures are soaring. Pretty much typical for this time of year where I live. It is time to get cool, man.

This time of year has its own special sound track. When my ears want a mix of Latin, Cowboy, and some R&B music to fit into the withering heat and cool it down a bit. In that vein, may I present The Epic Summer Sound Track:

1. Jazz Samba, Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. Depicted above. Just looking at the album cover tells you all you need to know. It does not get any cooler than this. Not one but two cuts of Destifinado make this re-mastered CD a must have for any summer sound track.

2. Astrud Gilberto's Finest Hour. The silky "original" [meaning first heard by me] version of The Girl From Ipanema is worth the cost alone, but Corcorado [Quite Night Quiet Stars], So Nice and everything else on this compilation will smooth out any sort of summer day. Or night.

3. Buena Vista Social Club. Just because. When the heat is melting, sometimes the only thing to do is to make it hotter.

4. BWB, Groovin'. This fantastic modern jazz album by a talented trio led by Rick Braun adds some kick to any summer day. Like the lime in a Cuba Libre. The silky title track must be in every summer play list. Add "Ruby Ruby" and a smoking hot cover of "Lets Do It Again" with Dee Dee Bridgewater and you have one great album that will take you through any broiling day. Or week.

5. Cowboy Songs, Michael Murphy. When it gets hot and dusty outside, there is nothing better than some classic American cowboy music. Not country music, mind you. The Original. Cowboy music. Listening to "Spanish Is The Lovin Tongue", "Streets of Laredo" and other perfectly performed gems of this unique genre makes you thankful you don't earn a living on the range in summer and they conjure up just the right mood for being in the hammock at least.

6. Best of The West, Buck "The Big Man" Helton. Re-read what I wrote for Cowboy Songs. Then put it in the context of a fellow with a great voice that makes a living singing and reading poetry at cowboy festivals. His versions of "Cattle Call" and "El Paso" are spot on and put you right in the shade of a mesquite tree with a shot of Tequila. To the extent that a mesquite makes any shade, that is. This album isn't easy to find, but you'll be glad you got a copy when you do.

7. Dreamer, Eliane Elias. Talk about your perfect summer voices. Covers of "Call Me" [the Petula Clark hit, not the movie sound track cut from American Gigolo...for goodness sake trust me, will you?], as well as perfectly styled tunes like "So Nice" and "Dreamer" will move your mind from where ever you are to the coast of Brazil. Or, after listening to the album a dozen times in a row, you can listen to something else and just stare at the cover. It works for me.

8. Frances Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Because, even in summer, you can sometimes slip into the Wee Small Hours and need just the sort of songs to take care of you. They are all here. The Girl From Ipanema, Quiet Night Quiet Stars, Once I Loved. Just make sure you really need it before you open this bottle, pally.

9. Once Upon A Time In Mexico. Because sometimes the only answer to the summer heat is to take it to gonzo level. All the way. The clips of Johnny Depp from the movie embedded in this album are worth the price. Come to think of it, get the DVD of the movie too. It's summer, after all. Take a chance.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

From The Epic Den: A Dream Of Paris

I desired a print of this photo a long time before I actually owned one. Desire that heightened the joy of possession. As it will. Now it occupies a shadowy, private spot on the wall of my den. To inspire me. To make me dream and wonder. A woman and her dog alone on a boulevard. Waiting. For his limousine to take her to an afternoon rendezvous? For the liberators to parade down the street? For him to be gone when she returns to her flat?

I think she is waiting for me to stroll down that sidewalk after a late lunch and a couple of tots of Calvados. So I can pass by, smile, and tip my hat. She may think I am overly friendly. But then again, I've been waiting fifty years to see her.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Today Is The Day

The Festival of San Fermin. Pamplona. The running. It starts today and ends in a week. Say what you will (or not) about the World Cup, for the next week the only place on the globe to be. Not too late to catch a last minute flight, eh? Pack up a bottle of the traditional motivational juice...

throw in your white pants and red shirt. You can buy the ceremonial red sash anywhere once you get there. You can watch the running every day here.

Come to think of it, better pack two bottles of the traditional motivational juice. I'll see you there. Someday.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fuzzy Photos From Great Bars

The Pub, Hopkins International Airport, Cleveland, Ohio. June 2010.

An airport bar par excellence. Great atmosphere. Great food. An amazing scotch and beer selection, including a new favorite...

Belhaven Twisted Thistle. Belhaven is a Scottish brewer and my favorite of all time. Their Twisted Thistle is similar to an India Pale Ale and was a very happy find inside a busy airport at the end of a rather long day.

Brewers' Subsidy Note: Neither The Pub nor the Belhaven brewing company paid me anything for this post. I wish they had.