Sunday, October 23, 2005

From Connecticut: apples and orange, redux

As a kid living in the city (there is only one city, come on, we all know that), I looked forward to the rare Sundays that we would head out for the country. Typically we would drive no further than Connecticut, where we would find some roadside stand selling apples, stock up (because these were what, fresher than city apples?) and return home.

My parents weren’t into holidays much and so pumpkins were not an option. Cider, yes, we’d get cider too.

For the past several years I have been coming to Connecticut in the month of October and each time, if the weather is good, I take whichever daughter has time, up to the orchards north of New Haven. I have always wondered if the place we typically go to is the same that I stopped at some forty-five years ago.

In a complete turn around, the weather turned brilliantly lovely on the Coast (it will rain again once I leave tomorrow, but for now – the skies are magnificent). Red apples, orange pumpkins, blue skies – I could not ask for a better set up. Yet it is the kids’ faces that made me take out the camera most.

Of course, everything is more crowded in coastal Connecticut. At the Green’s, south of Madison, my friend and I were the only visitors last Thursday. Here, they needed someone to direct traffic.

I’m sure most of the kids running around the pumpkin patch were city kids. I could see myself in them. Me, kickin’ pumpkin ass, stuffing myself with apples, preferably covered with caramel (I had a swe
et tooth). Me, wanting to take a pumpkin home. Me, loving the feel of the “country.”

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bundled up for the brisk country air

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a day in the fields; take a picture!

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city brats, taking it all in, the apple trees, the rocks...

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even the apple branch is crowded in this part of the country

The last photo is from the town square in nearby Guilford. But I needn't have identified it -- there are a million hints that this is indeed Connecticut: the colors and styles of the houses, the age and nature of the foliage, the suspended elctrical wires. Connecticut, aging gracefully in coastal towns, less so in the larger cities.

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In New Haven: savoring the warmth of… (3)

This town has something that no other town has for me: a bartender who is a good friend, the type of friend I would go out of my way to see, no matter where she worked.

There is a danger in this. My friend is permitted to pour drinks, any drinks, for a buck to her closest friends and associates. I would be within that circle. I can, therefore, have any and all drinks for a buck anytime I am in New Haven and she is working the night shift.

Last night I did something I never really do in Madison. I sat on a bar stool and watched this bartender at her tasks. From 10pm, until closing time, I watched. Occasionally she would make me a concoction with names that mystified me as much as the combinations of liquor, juices and flavors within the glass. A buck for the drink, a buck for her tip jar.

I went away thinking that hers is a tough job. Not unlike cooking in a restaurant. Orders are flying at you, customers want service, everyone expects things done exactly to their taste.

And the bartender needs to have wisdom and compassion oozing out of her face. In the restaurant kitchen, life is all about your relationship to the ingredients and the tools you work with. The cooks at your side are part of your dance, but you don’t ever have to look in their eye, nor utter a single word except “behind!” if you are moving outside their field of vision and they are likely to careen backwards and upset the entire operation. And you never make contact with the customers who eat your food.

Bartenders, on the other hand, have their critics there, in their face, needing a drink, needing the attention, the wiped counter, the refill, the wise word.

Take it from a former line cook. These jobs are grueling.

Treat them well, the bartenders, the cooks, the people who fill you with drink and food. Treat them well. Boost their spirits as they boost yours. Give 'em a pat, a kind word, a wise nod. Make it a tango, not a solo performance.

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