Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Famous, the Not So Famous, and the Academy Awards Highlight the Week

 
 Sunset over the Pacific, Domenical Costa Rica. Peaceful...
.unlike my last day in the country!

Poor internet connections, iPad woes and a shuttle van trip from h*ll marked the last full day of my Costa Rican adventure.  Hopefully everyone else's experiences this week were more upbeat. 

The boomers were busy this week reading and researching, interviewing and writing about some famous individuals, and others not so well known. A famous poet, a fashion blogger, and a Mom are in the spotlight. A Dad also receives a few good words..

Laura Lee of The Adventures of the New Old Farts has been enjoying the writing of the great American poet Maya Angelou and a GREAT PBS Special about her life this week! So thought provoking...

On a lighter note, over at Heart Mind Soul Carol's got a shoe obsession and knows someone who is even more a fan of great shoes. She's interviewed Linda Hobden here and Linda has shared some photos of shoes that are hot in the U.K., where she lives. 

Carol's also talking about how she learned to let go of things she thought she wanted, only to find that even better things came her way.

And if you're in the mood for a bit of nostalgia, laced with some humor, check out the post by Tom Sightings, My Mom's Cooking, which shows how some things change, while other things remain the same.

Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, has been busy watching the movies from last year that have been nominated for Academy Awards. She has some gripes about the nominations as well as her list of preferred winners.  Robison hopes Hollywood will change its pattern and make more less-violent movies and make more movies about women. These trends continue despite fantastic movies last year such as “Hidden Figures” and “Arrival.” She also found time to write about income tax scams, how to make lamb stew, and new protections when you write an online review.

Spend a few minutes this week perusing these interesting posts by our boomers and perhaps leave a comment. We love to hear from our readers!

Friday, February 24, 2017

It IS a Jungle Out There

Costa Rica is all about the environment, much of it jungle. Thick, dense forests. Tall trees, shorter ones hugging the trunks of their neighbors, smaller plants reaching high, all sinking roots into the rich soil below and stretching above craving sunlight, other plants starting life on the branches of trees and sending long roots down, eventually settling in the ground.
 
Hanging Bridges waterfall, La Fortuna

I thought the jungle would be noisy. And it is, early mornings and evenings. But during the day it is eerily silent. No birds chirping, no monkeys howling, no animals rustling through the underbrush. Only the sound of intruding homo sapiens. Visitors are cautioned to tread softly and avoid loud noises, and most heed the warning. Occasionally loud bursts disturb the stillness - a child imitating a Tarzan scream or friends greeting each other too loudly.

Costa Rica seems hilly everywhere and mountainous in places, although flat expanses line the coasts. Hub and I live in a flat area, great for walking and bike riding, but not for getting into shape for mountain climbing.

Our Nuevo Arenal Airbnb sits on the edge of town, only a few minutes walk to the town center. However a steep hill leads up the main road through town. Short distance, not so short in walking time.

One afternoon hub and I hiked to a lakefront restaurant recommended for spectacular sunsets and great food. Directions were clear, but distance varied depending on the giver. Half mile, mile at most.
Sunset over Lake Arenal
 
Two miles later, slogging along unpaved, pitted roads and steep inclines - mostly uphill - who would think you have to walk uphill to arrive lakeside - panting and sweating, dodging dogs eager to announce our arrival and escort us, we arrived in time to enjoy the sunset. 

We took a taxi back to our lodging. 

Another day we hiked in the Montverde Cloud Forest Reserve to the Continental Divide, viewing both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans in the same place. The trek was mostly uphill, steep grades testing our stamina and resolve. And our relationship. Hub blamed me for not knowing the place involved a difficult forced uphill march. The positive - most of the time we were in shade.
 
View of Montverde Cloud Forest, clouds obscuring the forest.

Our best decision on this trip was NOT renting a car. Our itinerary took us on too many unpaved, potholed, dusty, windy roads characterized by hairpin turns, steep rises and descents. No guardrails. 

Our last week in Costa Rica we are staying with friends who plan on making the country their permanent home. After a few months the driving no longer intimidates, Jim says, "it is what it is". I sit in the back of the car and (usually) enjoy the ride. The rest of the time I wish for a stiff drink and a tranquilizer, and pray no trucks come towards us.

Sometimes it takes time to ease into la pura vida. 
 
Living la pura vida on the beach, Domenical CR. 
View of Pacific Ocean.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

My Vitamin D Dilemma

 
The intense sun shines day after day in the tropical country I am visiting. Not wanting to sunburn badly or get skin cancer, I lather up. 

I hope to return home with a tan sheen over my white winter skin.

Besides a tan, I desire a huge dose of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is all about the sun. D deficiency causes rickets in children, resulting in soft bones and bow legged kids. D deprived adults develop osteoporosis.

My dilemma is how much sun time is enough time but not too much.  As we age it is harder for our bodies to absorb Vitamin D. I know this because magazine and news articles inform me of the dismal fact that it is increasingly difficult for those of us past 50 to synthesize enough D from the sun. We are encouraged to get our fix artificially.  

Our bodies obtain some vitamin D through food but not as much as needed. Too bad, because I like to eat. Unfortunately food does not provide substantial quantities of the vitamin. Fatty fish - tuna, salmon, mackerel - offer the best source. Beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks contain small amounts. However as much as 90% of our vitamin D comes from the sun. Because we cannot get enough via food, manufacturers do us a favor and add vitamin supplements to food products, such as milk and breakfast cereals. Vitamin producers encourage us to take a daily pill. 

I prefer to obtain my vitamins the natural way. And since I am in a land of 12 hour sun, I hope to absorb a huge amount of vitamin D. But a number of questions concern me.

Does sun screen, while protecting my body from harmful rays, also screen out Vitamin D? 

If I don't wear sunscreen but get my vitamin D fix will I get skin cancer? Or a bad sunburn? 

If I start the day sunscreened, then get wet and/or sweat off the sunscreen, will Vitamin D then soak into my perspiring body? 

Does vitamin D filter through areas of the skin covered by clothing but not sunscreened?

If I get a substantial vitamin D dose, how long will it last before I am once again D deprived?

To answer these questions my fingers marched across my iPad. I got answers, but also got confused.

No, sunscreen does not block Vitamin D intake. It takes only 15 minutes of sun exposure everyday to boost one's vitamin D.

Yes, sunscreen does block vitamin D. Some sources say it is better to get additional vitamin D from food supplements rather than risk being in the sun screen-less.

Bundling up for winter weather protects us from cold, rain, snow - and vitamin D. However D can get through light-weight, loose cotton clothing  especially when wet. I guess I can walk around wearing a wet T-shirt, but sadly my wet T-shirt days are long, long gone...

There is a bit of good news. Assuming my body soaks up an abundance of vitamin D now, the supply will last three months.

In three months it will be spring. Late spring. The best time to enjoy the outdoors and the sun.

I may not need extra helpings of fish or cereal or pop a vitamin pill until next winter! 

I will not have to worry about vitamin D deprivation until next December or January. Meanwhile I will lather up, wear a cotton shirt, venture outside, enjoy the sun, and hope those D rays surge through my age 50++ body.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Pursuing La Pura Vida in The Place of Turtles

Green turtles have nested along the island beaches of Tortuguero, the place of turtles, for millions of years. The animals are an endangered species and Costa Rica, on the forefront of protecting the environment, created Tortuguero National Park to protect turtle nesting areas and over 200,000 acres of surrounding land and waterways.

A village existed on the island for thousands of years, off and on, residents farming, fishing, and in the early 20th century working for area sawmills and the timber industry. When the sawmills closed many residents left. The remaining villagers lived without electricity and running water almost to the dawn of the 21st century. Today these amenities plus Wifi make a stay positively plush.
  
Main Street, Tortuguero 
 
Main Street, Tortuguero 

I promised hub our visit to Costa Rica would be more relaxing than trips to sightseeing-intensive places like London or Paris. So our first stop included much downtime.

The only event pre-arranged was a boat tour through the park. Upon arrival we were informed the tour began the following morning at 5:45 a.m. 

Hub was not happy, but we set the alarm and met our guide and fellow passengers at 5:45 as directed. We boarded an open boat and spent the next three hours slowly maneuvering in and out of park waters, spotting wildlife, taking pictures, and getting wet.
 
It rained. A lot. We were unprepared, but our guide was not. He passed around large ponchos. We put them on, huddled underneath, then emerged when the rain stopped. Viewed more wildlife, then as rain began again donned rain gear. This scenario repeated four times. 

The area receives 20 feet - that is not a typo - of rain a year.

We returned to Casa Marbella wet and hungry. A breakfast of hot coffee, fresh fruit, eggs and toast satisfied.

Four days passed...we rented bikes and explored the island, learned about chocolate making and crushed our own cocoa beans, and visited the Turtle Conservancy. We spent lots of time reading, writing, resting, meeting other tourists, and discussing important topics of the day like which restaurant should we try for dinner?

I have no doubt our blood pressure decreased, for two reasons. First, pursuing la pura vida, and second, no immersion in political events, occurring only when locals and Europeans asked something like (and I am paraphrasing only slightly here) "What the hell is going on with you Americans?".

Tortuguero is a colorful tropical locale, but the heat wore us down. We became lazy and lethargic and always felt sticky. Hang around and we will get used to it, locals told us, but we did not linger.
 
On the boat leaving Tortuguero...an hour and a half ride.




Sunday, February 12, 2017

Costa Rican Road Trip

Juan arrived promptly at our hotel 7:30 a.m. eager to escort us to Tortuguero, a national park on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast renown for wildlife, turtles in particular. 

The three hour drive lasted over four hours. Our van crept along two-lane paved roads zig zagging through congested towns and over hilly terrain. I don't believe the country's engineers know how to build a road in a straight line. Skirting trucks unloading goods, stopping for pedestrians scampering across the street everywhere but at traffic lights, slowed by construction and traffic, an hour and a half after starting the van entered the highway.

The Costa Rican highway system does not boast four lane superhighways. It does have lots of BFTs - big *** trucks - and plenty of cars, small trucks, buses and vans, occasional traffic lights, construction and accidents. Hub commented he was not surprised, considering Costa Rica is a second or third tier country, and anyway it was not much different than driving through the Bronx, his hometown. 

The highway meandered through a national park and over a mountain. Great scenery, if we could see it. Approaching the summit it began raining and fog severely limited vision, but cars and trucks streamed by, intent on arriving at their destination without being delayed by anything as mundane as fog and rain. 

Beginning our descent, we suddenly halted behind a long line of vehicles. Inching forward, the reason for the delay appeared. On the opposite side of the road a car's door had been sheared off. Sitting in a ditch alongside the road a BFT lay on its side. Speeding too fast on a wet, windy road, the truck veered too close to a car approaching in the other direction and hit the car sideways. The driver attempted straightening the truck but instead drove into the ditch.

Driving on we found ourselves on a flat stretch of road with produce stands, gas stations and restaurants enticing tired, hungry travelers. We stopped for coffee and found restrooms surprisingly clean and neat. Continuing, construction forced another stop and additional delay.

About ten miles from the end of our ride the road turns from adequate to abominable. Unpaved, full of awesome-sized potholes and stones, dust kicking up, uneven terrain, the van moved along at an agonizingly slow pace.

Our initial destination, Pavona, is a dock where water taxis ferry folks to the island town of Tortuguero. We arrived a half hour after the boat we wanted had departed. Thanking our driver Juan we dragged bags into a pavilion to await the next boat, glad to be temporarily sedentary, no longer flopping up and down, almost carsick. Kids would love the adventure, but our fragile bodies wanted steadiness and stability.

A slow, meandering boat ride took us to Tortuguero. We experienced the jungle, the entire route on calm waters flanked on both sides by thick greenery - tall trees, shorter palms and flowering plants in every shade of green. Sharp eyes detected birds flying overhead, lizards, iguanas, snowy egrets with yellow webbed feet sunning on logs, a crocodile swimming in the dark, murky water, small turtles, and an otter.
 
Snowy egret
 
The boat got stuck on a sandbar. 
The captain pushed the boat back into navigable waters.

Our lodging was a short walk from the boat landing. We again dragged bags - we wished we packed lighter - and checked into Casa Marbella, finding accommodations underwhelming but adequate. Small room, dim lighting, tight bathroom quarters, with one window facing the street, ideal for hearing street noises late into the night and at dawn, but equipped with overhead fan and oscillating wall fan.

We discovered a ramshackle town catering to hiking, camping, outdoorsy, active, mostly folks younger than hub and me. We don't exactly fit in, but the landscape is pristine and quiet, as long as workmen hammering and sawing stay far from us, the rooster crowing at 5:30 a.m. stops quickly, dogs do not join in the cacophony, and workers do not collect garbage or deliver goods before dawn-5:45 a.m. Everyday life goes on...even in a remote island village.
 
Can you see the iguana blending in with his (or her) surroundings?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Exploring the Country of La Pura Vida

Travel broadens horizons and broadens me in unwanted ways, specifically around my waist and butt. I consider it a win when, stepping on the scale following a trip, the number displayed is the same as before I left home. But of course travel is not solely about the food and my waistline, although I  do spend a lot of time thinking about food, shopping and cooking for food, finding recipes, deciding where to eat, researching restaurants, perusing menus...on and on.

I mention food and travel, complementary and intertwined activities in my mind, because Hub and I are once again on the road. Following a visit with our Florida family we packed passports and summer clothes and boarded a plane for the Central American country of Costa Rica.

We often fly Spirit Air, the budget airline people love to hate. I do not believe a lot of other boomer-aged and older tourists choose to fly this low-budget, nickel-and-dime-to-death, difficult-to-get-through, buy-more-options-on-each-screen-website airline. Hub and I, however, accept the challenge in exchange for cheap rates.

Our plane departed Fort Lauderdale airport 11:30 p.m., on schedule. The late flight sounded like a good idea when booking, allowing a day with family before flying off to an exotic foreign land. Bleary-eyed, yearning for comfy beds, we endured tight seats, no wiggle room and definitely no way to get comfortable, finally rising three hours later, sort of, bent over and achey, slowly shuffling off the plane.

Looking around at our fellow passengers, few appeared to be tourists. This was confirmed on landing when most passengers entered the immigration line for citizens, while we, along with perhaps a dozen others, approached and swiftly passed through the line for foreign visitors.

Unfortunately we still had to get through customs.  Exhausted, head pounding and cranky, the customs line snaked for what seemed like miles. Over half an hour later we reached the security machine, placed our customs form on a table, shoved bags onto the conveyor belt, grabbed them on the other side and walked into a terminal lined with closed shops and few people.

Would our hotel shuttle await us? Hub, the pessimist, considered a number of scenarios if we found ourselves stranded at the airport. I displayed optimism.

Directly in front of us as we exited doors that shut behind us, a man stood holding a sign with my name on it. Our hotel shuttle driver!

Twenty minutes later we entered our hotel room and dropped into bed.

Our Costa Rican adventure officially began.

We look forward to exploring the country of la Pura Vida - the good life, an enjoyable life, a life of contented, peaceful, low-stress days.
 
 
Day One in Costa Rica - lounging by the pool.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Glimpse Into The Lives of the Ridiculously Rich During America's Gilded Age

 
The entrance to Biltmore

Biltmore, touted as the largest private home in America, is a massive, palatial mansion modeled after the residences of European royalty. Constructed during America's Gilded Age, the home and others built during the era reek of the wealth, self-importance, and status of an aristocracy comprised of the businessmen who built the oil, railroad, bank and other huge industries that we learned in school made America great (I am convinced this is the time period Trump is talking about when he declares he wants to make America great again. He sees himself as a modern version of these successful but too often unethical, dishonest, deceitful and sometimes totally ruthless, crooked businessmen). 

The Gilded Age robber barons include recognizable names - Rockefeller,  Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Mellon, Morgan. Their lifestyle may not have lasted long, swept away by the ravages of World War I, income taxes, family dynamics, and the Depression, but these men, their families and heirs lived a privileged lifestyle for a few precious decades. 

Biltmore, in the mountains of western North Carolina, was constructed by George Washington Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius, the business baron who made a fortune building railroads. 

George got his money the old-fashioned way - he inherited it.

The mansion, briefly, from the top down, encompassing 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms (we did not see most of them!):

Servants quarters occupied the fourth floor, and most of the 40 domestics assigned to the mansion lived in the house. Additional employees worked the farm and stables. Cattle, cows and other animals fed estate occupants and provided fertilizer for newly planted forests.  Professional landscapers and assistants tended acres of forests and gardens, including a conservatory. 
Biltmore reflected in a lake on the property. 

The third floor provided guest rooms and a large living room where folks gathered, enjoyed  afternoon tea and could just hang out.

The family's living quarters spread across the second floor - suites of bedrooms, dining rooms, plus rooms for whatever the family requires. George Vanderbilt's family included, besides himself, his wife and one daughter.

The main level encompassed public rooms - a banquet hall larger than many American neighborhoods, a library with thousands of books Vanderbilt collected over his lifetime, informal dining halls, living rooms, a conservatory filled with plants and flowers year-round, and large connecting corridors.

The basement included the kitchen and pantry, sleeping quarters for some of the kitchen staff, dining facilities for the entire household staff, and recreational facilities for the family - a two lane bowling alley, swimming pool with a series of separate changing rooms for men and women, a fitness room with state-of-the-art early 20th century equipment, plus additional rooms used as the family required.
 
An informal dining room set for lunch or dinner.

Paintings by artistic masters of the past and living artists of the time, medieval tapestries, Oriental antiques, china and glassware decorate the vast spaces. The family and employees utilized the most up-to-date conveniences available at the turn of the 20th century.

So what did the occupants - the wealthy owners, not hardworking servants - do all day?

* They changed clothes several times a day, a different outfit required for each activity and meal. Servants, always close by ready to fulfill the family's every whim, assisted with outfit changes, hair and makeup.

* A constant round of activities entertained mansion owners and visiting celebrities, politicians, family, friends, and businessmen. Outdoor activities included horseback riding and hunting, fishing, golf, and hiking. Indoors there was bowling, swimming, billiards, games, reading, conversing, and of course eating.

* Family and guests ate carefully planned meals. Breakfast might be eaten in one's room, in a breakfast parlor, or perhaps in good weather on the porch overlooking the mountains. The family might gather for lunch in an informal dining room. Folks often dressed for dinner in formal attire. Dinner, served promptly at 8:00 p.m., lasted a couple of hours. Or longer.

* The family traveled, visiting other wealthy people, staying on estates and cities across the country and abroad, often spending a month or longer in Paris, purchasing clothes for the next 'season'.

* The men managed business affairs while the women planned visitations and parties. George Vanderbilt planned and managed his property, the goal a self-sufficient estate.

Such was the lifestyle of the rich, famous, infamous, and the born rich during America's Gilded Age. Maybe some people live that way today, or have the money to do so if they wish. After all we recently learned only stupid people give up hard-earned money paying taxes. Smart ones avoid the nuisance. Or so our illustrious leader tells us.  
 
 
The view of forest and gardens from the front of the mansion.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Savoring the Cuisine of Foodtopia City

Walking around a city, meandering in and out of restaurants, enjoying a plate at each stop is a favorite way to spend time in and learn about a new city. Looking forward to trying new foods and unusual dishes, hub and I put diets aside for a day and signed up for Eating Asheville

Asheville NC is known for, among other things, its food scene, the city dubbed Foodtopia by locals, travel magazines and food devotees. Restaurants source as much food as possible locally. Vegetarian and vegan options abound. Farmers markets offer a wide variety of produce three seasons of the year. Approximately 40 breweries produce over 100 beers that patrons can enjoy. Not all at once, I hope...

Hub and I joined ten other food enthusiasts on the Eating Asheville tour, encompassing two and a half hours, seven restaurants, seven dishes, champagne, wine, and sangria. 

The Eating Asheville advertisement warned participants would stroll about two and a half miles over the course of the tour, but the length varies depending on the restaurants on the tour on a particular day. We walked a little over a mile. Not much exercise, but all that tasting and drinking took a lot of energy, and less walking allowed more time to savor the food and drinks. We were exhausted by the end of the sixth restaurant, but managed to complete our tastings at stop number seven. I was not going to forego chocolate! 

Sometimes words do not do justice to a physical object, and that especially applies to food, in my opinion. Rather than wax poetic (something I cannot do anyway) describing the food, some of the dishes sampled are pictured below for your drooling pleasure.
 
 
The large store, in the heart of downtown Asheville, stocks thousands of used books.
While browsing and reading, patrons can enjoy beverages and light bites.
We savored a glass of bubbly and a couple of appetizers.
  
 
The champagne bar and bookstore.
 
We enjoyed two Italian dishes at two restaurants. Pictured above a classic Bolognese
Dish with pasta, meat sauce, cheese, and greens peeking out at the bottom of the dish.
Risotto Restaurant
 
Pork spring roll with a mango sauce and a side of Sangria at Zambra Tapas and Wine Bar.

 
Cheese ravioli and wine at Strada.
 
Gourmet chips with a chocolate and caramel sauce.
 
No tasting tour would be complete without chocolate!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Joining the Migration South, Temporarily

People around the world journeyed from one seasonal residence to another for centuries. They followed food sources, like the Indians tracking the buffalo. People trekked to climates amenable to planting crops, moving back and forth across the same lands twice a year. Romans spent summers along the lakes and mountains of northern Italy, far from the filth and diseases pervading the city during the hottest months of the year.

Today a mass movement floods American highways and air routes every winter. Retirees from the Northeastern states across the midwest to the Pacific coastal enclaves of Alaska, Washington and Oregon pack their bags and travel south. Seniors from our neighbor to the north, Canada, also head south in winter. Travelers settle throughout the southwest, Mexico and the Caribbean, South American countries, and Florida.

Hub and I are following the tide, driving south to savor warm weather for a few weeks. Visiting family and friends in Florida for a few days, we will then venture further south. I would call our trip a vacation but since neither of us work I guess it is not technically a vacation. I am not sure what to call it.

Our first stop, besides one night in a motel is Asheville NC, location of the largest privately owned home in the U.S., Biltmore, a Gilded Age residence built by a member of one of the wealthiest families in America during pre-income tax days, the Vanderbilts.

Asheville lies in the mountains of western North Carolina. The city has undergone a Renaissance of sorts over the past twenty years, morphing from a sleepy, rather poor country town to a city known for its food, beer, art, hipsters, funky ambiance, year-round recreational activities, and tourists.
 
On the road to Asheville

An Airbnb apartment is home for our four-day stay. We have a kitchen, a room with a TV larger than ours at home, upholstered chairs and a couch (actually a futon) for relaxing, a bedroom and bathroom. Definitely better than a hotel room for hanging out. Our days of being on the go from early morning to well past dark are long gone. We are leisurely travelers. Directly across the street the Greenlife grocery stocks organic merchandise.  Recently purchased by Whole Foods, the store retained its original name. We scoped out the place and purchased a few groceries. More expensive than a conventional supermarket, but a lot less than eating every meal out.

Downtown Asheville retains its late 19th century Victorian and early 20th century Art Deco architecture. Since the city was economically depressed for decades following the Depression, buildings were not torn down to make way for larger structures. We spent an afternoon on a Comedy Tour, riding a reconditioned school bus around town hearing about the city's history and the colorful characters who lived in or passed through Asheville, such as Thomas Wolf. Asheville is the real town depicted in the author's book Look Homeward, Angel. Another celebrity gracing the environs was Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott. She spent time on and off for years in a local sanitarium, and was unlucky enough to be staying at the place when a fire broke out. Locked in her room and strapped down awaiting electroshock therapy, she died in the blaze. The year 1948, and Zelda was 47.

If never in Asheville, put the city on your bucket list. It has made top must-see lists in various magazines. Lonely Planet named Asheville the Best in the U.S. Destination in 2017Check here for additional endorsements.
 
NPR calls Asheville the"Napa Valley of Beer," and the city
Boasts over 40 breweries and pubs. 
 
North Carolina made headlines over the passage of transgender bathroom laws.
Asheville is a liberal enclave in the midst of a conservative rural area.

 
Artists took over old warehouses and transformed an area along the river
Into the River Arts District with studios, galleries, stores, and cafes.
 


Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Day in the City

Hub and I ventured into Philadelphia last weekend to rendezvous with family and celebrate Mom’s 92nd birthday (Wow!).

Dining options proliferate everywhere nowadays. However finding unusual, fun places can be challenging. My niece, a Philadelphia resident, discovers interesting city eateries when family gathers. This day’s selected spot: Victor Café in south Philly.

But before enjoying dinner and the family, hub and I had to get to the city.

Center city parking can be problematic and expensive, so we opted for car/train transportation. First we drove to a suburban train station, parked (free on weekends!), and then took a 25-minute train ride into the city. Round-trip senior fare for the two of us: $12.00.

Cheap, no traffic jams, no parking fees.

Once in the city we exchanged our suburban transport for a SEPTA train for a two-stop ride.

Cost: free!

Life as a senior sometimes has advantages.

Victor Café is an Italian restaurant with a history reaching back almost 100 years. An Italian immigrant with a love for classical music opened a record shop in 1918, actually a gramophone shop, and sold RCA Victor recordings. Eventually the owner, John DiStefano, added a café to keep patrons in his shop longer, and the store became a gathering place for music devotees. 

The café’s uniqueness is the entertainment. Every 20 minutes a bell rings. Everyone stops chatting, puts eating utensils aside, and turns their attention to a restaurant employee. The performers do double duty as wait staff and opera singers.

Our meal ended with the entire wait staff, a.k.a. chorus, approaching our table with a piece of cake for the birthday girl and singing a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday. It was the most beautiful operatic Happy Birthday any of us ever heard!

 On to the theater…by the way, the food was very good…for the play Laughter on the 23rd Floor, a Neil Simon comedy. The entire performance takes place in one office in a New York City skyscraper, the time 1953. The slapstick comedy initially opened on Broadway in 1993. Playwright Neil Simon evokes his experience working with the comedian Sid Caesar and a group of young writers who eventually made their mark on Hollywood, including Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks (different names used in the play).  The comedy also  reveals the political and social sentiments of the time. The actors rant about Joseph McCarthy, ethnic eccentricities, relationships, stereotypes, and attitudes toward women.

The play kept me smiling most of the time, but at the same time I got a sad feeling realizing too many of the issues highlighted in the show remain societal problems today, over 60 years later.