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I was never lucky enough to see him live. He had a club in Brussels, but we seemed only to hear about his appearances after they happened. He lived and played well into his 90s. It's not a common jazz instrument, but he did wonderful things with it.

His obituary in The Guardian
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Chef Michel Richard died. His restaurant Central is one that I took out of town guests or other friends to when I needed somewhere nice but not too formal.

When I volunteered at the Smithsonian's Seafood Sustainability event during my unemployment, I was tasked to look after him for the evening book signings. The line for Alton Brown was vast. Maybe three people came up to Chef Richard's table and only one bought a book (I was too broke, sadly). For 45 minutes we talked about his time in Belgium and what it had taught him about food. We discussed restaurants we'd both eaten at and what made the Belgian approach different from the French approach and I don't know what all. We went back and forth on language spoken as one or the other of us groped for a word a reverted to our own tongue, but I just remember that fairly brief meeting as one of genuine kindness.

With my first paycheck, several months later, I took myself and a friend to Central for dinner. It was lovely.

Here are his books:
Happy in the Kitchen,

Sweet Magic

Home Cooking with a French Accent which is only available second hand.
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I was flabbergasted, as I think most of us were, to read of Prince's death. Like Bowie, I wasn't a huge fan, but it feels as if an important cultural influence has gone. In some ways, Prince was the cultural touchstone of the 1980s into the early 1990s in the same way that Bowie was to the 1970s-80s.

The song that I'm playing is Baltimore. It was performed publicly for the first time last year in Baltimore during the Freddie Gray riots. I'm still amazed that the Crips and Bloods did more to keep the peace during that week than the government did.

But the line that grips me from the song is "Peace is more than the absence of war."

In the mid-1980s I was working toward a Master's in International Relations and was required to take International Systems. One of the central texts was On the Causes of War by Michael Howard. In it, Howard argued that peace wasn't merely the absence of war, but absence of the threat of war. I was mocked by the professor for agreeing with Howard.

I still think it's one of the most important points, and may be part of the disconnect on "Black Lives Matter." Too many white people don't feel the threat of daily violence and so don't grasp that even when things are quiet, the neighborhoods aren't at peace.

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I was never a huge fan. I didn't even really hear about him until the late 1970s (what? I lived in DC. I listened to The Osmonds on records and Funk and/or Soul on the radio. BTW, Osmonds was being a preteen white girl; it's the Funk and/or Soul which was the DC signifier.). I saw the "Jazzing with Blue Jean" video in the movie theater when I went to see Company of Wolves (my first X rated film - British X, I don't know what it was rated in the US). I've still never seen Labyrinth, but I grinned to see him as Tesla in The Prestige. I'd recognize him if we passed on the street.

And yet, I feel terribly sad to hear of his death. Whether or not I liked him, he was a force in the arts, not just music, and his passing leaves a ripple over all their surfaces.

The In Memoriam article at Esquire sums it up:
The Beatles are classics now, like Handel or the Louie Armstrong Hot Fives. The Stones are a touring museum piece. But look around. In the major cities of the western world, we live in a world that David Bowie made. It is a better world for his making. Stephen Marche
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The Guardian obituary

I loved the old Avengers (never really saw the new ones, but I understand that Joanna Lumley was a key part of it). Catherine Gale in leather, Tara King in a suit, or Emma Peel in a catsuit were extremely important to the series, but John Steed was the point and Patrick MacNee played him perfectly.

As a fan of Kingsman: The Secret Service, I know their iconic umbrellas wouldn't be in their arsenal if Steed hadn't carried one first.

The Telegraph's obituary is racier.
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Guardian Obituary

I can't write anything right now.
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Those of you who know me may have heard me mention being a Royal Shakespeare Company groupie in my not-misspent-enough youth. Alan Howard was the star of the troupe at that time. I actually got a lump in my throat when I found The Guardian obituary today. The first photo was from Coriolanus which was the first RSC production I ever saw. It was on tour in Brussels and my Humanities class read the play and took an evening field trip to see the production.

A year later, I'd flunked out of college and was taking an intensive Shakespeare class through University of Maryland to prove to my family (and myself) that I could handle university level work. The class took place in Stratford on Avon and introduced me to one of my favorite professors, Claire Baker. Alan Howard was her favorite of the actors, and she was disappointed that he wasn't in any of the current productions.

Fast forward another year, and I'm taking two semesters of British Theater with Claire Baker in London. It's the last season for the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych and we have tickets to see every production including three with Alan Howard:
Richard II
Richard III
The Forest by Alexander Ostrovsky

I ended up seeing both Richards multiple times, including the final RSC performance at the Aldwych Theater which was Richard II. Alan Howard came forward at the end and gave a lovely speech about the theater and the ghosts of past productions there.

During that same season, he also performed in C.P. Taylor's Good at the Donmar Warehouse. It's a fascinating play with music interspersed throughout. As it shows a good man slowly becoming a Nazi, it used Alan Howard's resemblance to his uncle Leslie Howard as a way of keeping the audience off balance. It was the only performance of his that I genuinely loved. I was lucky enough to see it several times at the Warehouse, which is a tiny venue, making the transformation very intimate.

I wish I liked him more as an actor. Other than in Good, he was, for me, a somewhat cold, remote presence.

For most of you, I know that your exposure to him was probably either as the Lover in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover or as "The Ring" in The Lord of the Ring trilogy.
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Guardian Obituary

New York Times Obituary

Washington Post on the DC Summer Jobs Program

I met the man. I've shaken his hand. He kept a group of us waiting for over half an hour for a meeting he'd called. Once he was in the room, though, he was laser focused on the issue at hand, and he knew the facts of the matter. He had the knack for remembering people -- maybe not their names, but why and when he'd met them -- which made him a popular politician.

There is an annual turkey giveaway in DC. In addition to providing turkeys to poor families, there's a meal for every homeless person in the city. It's financed through donations and city funds, by the way, not a penny of federal money.

Marion Barry helped make Home Rule possible. Was he a great man? Well, he certainly had great flaws. But I think he achieved some niche greatness.

This is a response to someone else's comment at The Guardian:

Let me tell you about Marion Barry. But first, let me tell you about myself. I have lived in DC for 7 years now and lived in the DC area for 12 years in my childhood and teens.

DC has a non-voting Delegate in Congress. We wouldn't have even that much, if it weren't for Marion Barry. We wouldn't have the ability to make our own laws, if it weren't for Marion Barry. We have a better city for the poorest because Marion Barry fought for them. You can be cynical and say he was only doing it for a vote, but the fact is he got people fed, clothed, and employed.

His summer jobs program continues to this day and is the biggest in the country with 14,000 getting jobs last year and we do it all with local, not federal money.

At his death, I think it's just as appropriate to remember the man who helped achieve home rule, and who did so much to improve the city as it is to remember the man who was arrested for crack.
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The obituaries are here:
LA Times

The Guardian

He founded the Manhattan Transfer in both its iterations. I have loved their music since I was 13.

Their album Vocalese is one of my favorites. One day, while working in Germany, I came back from lunch and found the cassette of Vocalese in my in-box. I asked my colleagues who had left it (there were five desks in the office), and no one had seen anyone near my desk. I asked in every other office if anyone had lost it, and no one had. I consider it a gift from the gods (or whatever). I went home and listened and melted into the lush music.

I saw them live three times, and there was never a bad performance. Their music is tremendous, but it was his vision and, in the early days, his arrangements that made them what they are.

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Polly Bergen, best known to my Glee friends as Carson Phillips grandmother in Struck by Lightning, died yesterday. She was a good actress -- thought she was perfect in Wouk's The Winds of War and its sequel -- a good torch singer, and a good business woman. She was the first woman to play the President of the United States, though it was in a sexist bit of 1960s fluff, and she tended to play people who were self-possessed.

When I was a kid, my mother used Polly Bergen cosmetics (originally called "Oil of the Turtle"). The moisturizer was fantastic and, a few years later, illegal as the turtles were put on an endangered species list. (I could also no longer get turtle soup which had been my comfort food since a trip to Germany when I was six.)

She also wrote a beauty book called Polly's Principles which was a giveaway with purchase at one time. It was the first beauty book I ever read, since it was on Mom's shelf, and I've always been grateful.

The book emphasized things like getting exercise, eating well (even her diet tips weren't extreme), and finding ways to be happy in your own skin. There was even a chapter about sex, though I didn't understand it when I first read it. She also acknowledged plastic surgery as an option but emphasized that it could only change the exteriors and might not yield a happier life.

Moisturizer was her key beauty trick, though she also gave instructions on a three minute emergency makeup when needed. The pictures in the book included an extreme closeup with the caption "A good photo retoucher is a girl's best friend" and a then recent photo (she was in her early 40s) without any makeup on a camping trip. All of these messages were in contrast to the ones I was getting from magazines like Seventeen, Glamour, and, later Cosmo.

I went through my glam phases, especially in boarding school where I wore more makeup than most of my friends, but, as I grew up and fell in love for the first time and started walking everywhere, I found myself using that three minute makeup routine as my every day one.

Since my years in Boston, I rarely wear much more makeup than a tinted lip gloss. I can still do some pretty elaborate makeup work when I feel like it, but I'm not compelled to put it on every day. I can honestly say that some of my comfort is getting older, but a lot of it comes from hearing that health and feeling good can do more for me than anything out of a jar.
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She was 89. Her obituary in The Guardian is here.

I can't even begin to tell you how much her movies meant to me and she has long been Sis' favorite actress -- she went to see her in Woman of the Year when it was on tour.

When I trained as a singer, this was the first song I worked on. Rumor had it that Andy Williams (who was then 16) recorded the song, but it was later confirmed that his version wasn't used: it was Bacall singing.
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Suspected suicide. The article at The Guardian has more details.
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The Guardian Announcement

I saw him as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls multiple times. The last time I saw it with my roommate, we went backstage between the matinee and evening performances (yes, we saw both) to get autographs. Bill Paterson, who was playing Harry the Horse, went to the actor's area and got everyone he could for us, (we'd already gotten his, Ian Charleson's, and David Healy's -- who told us to look up his brother when we got back to DC, his brother being the President of Georgetown University), but no Bob Hoskins.

After the evening performance, we waited. We got a couple of autographs we'd been missing, including the bands', and we kept waiting. It was terribly late when Bob Hoskins came out and he said, "You've spent all this time waiting for me?" He called us a cab and gave the cabbie some cash and chatted with us until the taxi arrived. He was a genuinely sweet man to a couple of fans.

I've heard other sweet stories about him. I don't know what his private life was like. I know he could play ruthless on the screen, but I'll remember a disarming smile and kindness.
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Nelson Mandela has died.

Truly someone who made his mark.
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I may be an atheist, but I still love good liturgical music. Some of the best from the 20th Century was written by Sir John Tavener who died today. I didn't know, until reading his obituary, that he also wrote opera.

Go, listen.
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He was the husband of our concierge. Therese spoke no English -- though she learned the word "tomorrow" very quickly. Guillaume's English, learned while he was in the Resistance, often came in very handy, especially when I wasn't around to translate in my poor French.

Our first New Year's Eve in Brussels, he knocked on the door around eleven. He had three little vials of perfume for Mom, Sis, and me and a tiny aftershave for Dad. When he found out Dad was already in bed asleep, he said, "Madame, your husband, my wife, they are too dull for a New year." He ended up staying and watching "Toast of New Orleans" with us. He also explained why we kept seeing hyacinths around and why he'd brought perfume. A sweet scent brings sweet luck for the new year.

He didn't speak much of his Resistance days. Many of the Belgians I knew were embarrassed that the king had surrendered without a shot being fired. I do remember him saying, "It was more enjoyable than the school was for me."

He and Therese laughed when they found out shoes were rationed in the US during the war. Food was rationed in Belgium, cloth too, but never leather.

Guillaume Neefes-Rumens talked about how proud he was at seventeen, right after the war was over, to walk to City Hall and marry Therese. They were already grandparents when we met them, and they were so proud of their children and grandchildren.

In the grand scheme of this world, Guillaume was not a man of great importance. He did factory or handy work most of his life. He smoked like a chimney, had an accent like Boyer, and voted middle of the road. If you didn't know him, you'd pass him on the street and not think twice.

He was a man of great joy and good humor. I never saw him without a smile. He taught me more about delight than anyone I know.

One day, I was walking home from the bus, and he was on the front step. I saw Mom and Therese a house or two down the sidewalk. I started to go over, and he tapped me on the shoulder shaking his head. We were the translators for our families, but Mom and Therese were communicating just perfectly using mime, gestures, and the three words each knew of the other's language. Guillaume said, "Why should we spoil it?" And we watched them chat for a couple more minutes before I went in the house to make dinner.

I was lucky to have known him, and I feel the world is diminished by his loss.
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I found out last night that Roy Kraty had died. I don't expect anyone to know the name. I have two pictures by him in my living/dining room area. He was my father's boss in the late 1960s in London, and the few times I met him he struck me as a good man of good humor. He was in his 90s, too, so I can't say that he was taken too soon.

But I can honestly say that he contributed deeply to my life. He and his wife, Dorothy, who died nearly ten years ago, were among the people who taught me about war and deprivation and strength.

One of the odd fringe benefits of spending my late teens in Belgium was getting to talk to older people about World War II (some even remembered WWI). The perspective is so different for Europeans than it is for us.

The Baroness who lived downstairs told us a little bit about their experiences. Her husband had been the Belgian ambassador to Germany when Hitler invaded and spent most of the war in a prison camp. Because he'd been so outspoken, her life and those of her children were in danger. So she walked from Brussels to Madrid with nine children in tow. My mother was shocked. She thought class would be a protection from privation.

I also remember translating a conversation between our concierge and her husband and my parents. Mom had asked about rationing during the war. The list seemed endless -- most types of cloth, so many types of food, coffee and tea being nearly impossible to find, make-up (the component chemicals could be used in the war machine for other things), yet my mother noticed something missing. In the US shoes were rationed. They laughed. Shoes had never been rationed in Belgium and they were dumbfounded that America -- the land of plenty -- had felt the need to do it.

No matter how long their list seemed though, it was nothing compared to the British rationing. Roy Kraty was in the military (I believe army, but won't swear to it); Dorothy was alone with a small child. And one night, as we were on our way to Belgium, we listened to them talk about the war.

In some ways Dorothy's story was the more interesting. Little things were brought up, like how she taught their daughter to hide under the dining table when the air-raid sirens sounded, or the fact that her daughter didn't know what butter tasted like when they went to the country. The long days and longer nights during the battle of Britain were etched with words.

Roy spoke of the chaps with him who lost family on the home front and the fear that pervaded the troops that they might be the ones to survive while their families died from the bombings.

For the first time, I really grasped what Churchill had done. Both of them talked about him. He was a topic of many of their letters. Churchill instilled a hope that carried the British through until the Americans came.

And the coming of the Americans, for both the British and the Belgians was a miraculous thing. Not quite the miracle it had been in World War I, where diarists talk about the shock they felt at seeing healthy men, but a miracle nonetheless.

Mr. Kraty's death is reminding me of so many people and so many stories -- like Mrs. Weatherhead, who'd been born in Vienna and came to Britain in 1934 and worked with refugees during the war. She had to check in with the police monthly because her links to Austria made her prime spy material. Most of the stories she told me were from before the war.

My favorite was her high school graduation gift from her parents. It was a trip to Paris with her best friend (and her family -- properly brought up young ladies had to be chaperoned); she laughed about seeing Maurice Chevalier live and being shocked at the song he did. (For those who are interested, the verse was about the long taxi ride that he and a young lady had taken to get her home from a date. The chorus was his returning a little something that she'd accidentally left behind. The shock, from the two properly brought up Viennese young ladies, was the fact that the item to be returned was her panties.)

Her husband told me about working in photographic intelligence in North Africa during the battles against Rommel.

In some ways the most poignant was Herr Friess. He'd left Germany in the early 30s. During a brief visit to his parents, a law was passed that any man who'd been born in Germany was still German and still required to serve the Fatherland. It took him six months and many bribes to find his way to Holland and a ship that would return him to the US. When war came, he was a major in the US army. Now, in his old age, he was once again living in Germany. He couldn't talk to his peers about the war; they'd been on different sides. I was lucky. He talked to me.

Mr. Kraty spent most of the years after his retirement as a painter. Our family owns two of his works, and I'm the one who has them on display. The older of the two is an oil painting of Waterloo bridge. One of the spectacular sunsets that London used to get before the clean air laws did their job illuminates the sky. Every time he saw it, he asked us to burn it. He was ashamed of the riot of color he'd used during his earliest period. Ours is the only piece from that era that he wasn't able to destroy. The other is a watercolor of the Cenotaph. It's beautiful and timeless. He did so few watercolors. I feel blessed to have this one.

nota bene:
For anyone who's interested in seeing World War II through other eyes, let me recommend two books by H.V. Morton. Both Atlantic Meeting and I Saw Two Englands were written during the war. It's important to remember that he didn't know how it would end.

Atlantic Meeting is about the secret trip Churchill made to meet Roosevelt to negotiate Lend-Lease. Roosevelt presented every man aboard the British ship with a small package that included an orange and a banana. It had been nearly a year since any of them had seen fresh fruit.

I Saw Two Englands has vivid descriptions of a peacetime nation getting ready for war.

RIP -- Roy Kraty


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