Friday, January 15, 2010


Yesterday I went for lunch at the Epicure, a market in South Beach, which also has a coffee bar. Customers may buy food in the market and eat it at the coffee bar. I bought three slices of sable, a lightly smoked fish, a pumpernickel bagel, and cole slaw, and took my food to the bar. There was L. with his brother, S. and S.'s mother. They come here to shop, eat, but most of all to schmooze. I sat at L.'s table. He is a great talker, smart, well-informed. He brings people together. He has a marvelous speaking voice, much better than Garrison Keillor's without a trace of Keillor's crankiness. L. has an intimate voice. I can't imagine L. yelling.

I had been reading Leonard Michael's essay, "My Yiddish." Michaels grew up speaking Yiddish and entered kindergarden with very little English. In his essay he summarizes the critic Benjamin Harshav: Yiddish "contains many words that don't mean anything: nu, epes tockeh, shoyn ["so," "really," "well," "already."] These are fleeting interjections, rather like sighs." I would also say, like "shrugs."

I took the lid off the container holding my three small slices of sable. L. looked at it. I said, "Sable, I love it."

L. said, "Carp. It's carp. They give it a fancy name."

"S0?" his brother said, and I laughed. (I've made his response a question, but it was the faintest question.)

I broke up my bagel, scooped out the soft insides--I prefer crust--and covered the dark bread with sable. It was the best sable I had ever eaten.

The soft parts of the bagel I had scooped out filled most of the plate. "Are you going to eat those?" L. asked me, and I told him no. He took a small packet from his pocket and unfolded it, revealing coarse white breadcrumbs. "For the birds," he said. "For the birds," his brother repeated. L. took the pieces of bagel and crumbled the dark bits between his shapely fingertips as we talked about the Federal Reserve, Lincoln's assassination, Juval Aviv, the Israeli agent who was Golda Meir's bodyguard, and upon whom the film Munich was based.

"Yiddish serves speech--between you and me--rather than the requirements of consecutive logical discourse," Michael writes. The English of those who grew up hearing Yiddish, does this as well. At the Epicure we sighed and shrugged with our interjections.


  1. I don't understand what "Yiddish serves speech -- between you and me -- rather than the requirements of consecutive logical discourse" means... what a strange sentence in this lovely connection between all of you...and the breadcrumbs, the breadcrumbs...
    (I wish you were here and voting!)

  2. I'm not quite sure either but believe he sees Yiddish as a purely gestural language, signaling, so to speak, in contrast to English, which can be gestural but more often is logically discursive. I hardly know Yiddish well enough to say whether it could be used to mount, a philosophical, scientific or legal argument, etc. More simply, Michaels sees Yiddish as a beautiful language for making connections.

    Yours, dear Melissa, for breadcrumbs,

  3. PS: Martha Coakley seems to be in trouble.

  4. Martha is not a likable person. She had an attitude of entitlement and thought she would just sail in. Brown is no Rhodes scholar, but he is shaking her up, though she will probably win. I cannot believe that the perverse Massachusetts voters could be so perverse as to imperil the whole Obama agenda on a whim. Brown is a whim. The most interesting candidate has been Kennedy the unrelated. He is a smart and not zany Libertarian. Excuse the provincialism downunderfolk.

  5. Because Coakley is a woman people expect her to be warm. She's been a very good Attorney General, and in the past, on TV, in "Greater Boston," she has come across as smart and capable.

  6. While I agree with you in a general sense, the matter is not her gender or intelligence or her cordiality or lack of it, but rather with what for many is her mendacity and savagery as typified in the Fels Acre case, a very ugly chapter in Massachusetts legal annals, rivaling the Salem Witch Trials. Still I would not vote against her or withhold my vote. I hope she can make the leap from fierce prosecutor to legislator.

  7. Good points, Bluedog. I remember the Fels Acre case. But it would be awful if we lost a vote for the Health Care Bill, etc.