A period of madness, &c.


I got in trouble with some Florida friends — two of them — when I did my journal from Marrakech. (That was last fall.) I said that, next to the orange juice of Marrakech, the orange juice of Florida tastes like . . . what, Kool-Aid? I promised to repent and sin no more: not to knock Florida orange juice again or even hint that it may not be No. 1.

Well, a lady in South Beach was selling orange juice, “fresh es-squeezed.” It was quite good. But that of Marrakech . . . what do they put in that stuff, some sort of narcotic?

I’ll tell you where Miami stands tall, really tall: Café Versailles in Little Havana is as good as its reputation, which is very high. The sandwich cubano; the plantains; the moros rice — talk about narcotics. Give me a glass of Marrakech orange juice to go with, and I might just . . . float off.

The day after I got back from Miami, I was walking in Central Park, and a group of young people, Latins, asked me where the John Lennon memorial was. I couldn’t quite tell them, but I told them I would walk them to it. They were warm, vibrant, fun — much like the people I had just left. They had flavorful Spanish, or Hispanic, accents. After some minutes, I said, “Where are you from?” I’m glad I didn’t say, “What country are you from?” Because they answered, “Miami.”

Care for a little language? Okay. I’m puzzled by the International Labour Organization (winner of the 1969 Nobel peace prize, by the way). (The U.S. withdrew from it in the 1970s. Maybe we should have stayed withdrawn?) I can understand all-British: International Labour Organisation. I can understand all-American: International Labor Organization. But why the mixture — “Labour” and “Organization”?

Care for a little music? For my “New York Chronicle” in the current New Criterion, go here. For a piece in City Arts, go here.

Yesterday, I had a little piece at the Corner, in honor of Martin Luther King — specifically, about his winning of the Nobel peace prize in 1964. Check it out, if you wish.

Finally, John Gross — the superlative English writer who passed away last week. You can read a great many articles about him, in publications both British and American. (In publications originating in other places too, I imagine.) I will say just a little about him.

I loved him. He was one of the most delightful friends I had, or anyone could have. He was learned, witty, humane — totally civilized. I’m not sure I ever knew a more civilized man. David Pryce-Jones, Tony Daniels — they are in the same league. But the league has very few players.

London, for me, was barely imaginable without him. We would meet for lunch or pastries, to catch up on the latest, to range over the world. When he was up to it, he’d give you a tour, of some London neighborhood. He would point out who had lived there and why the neighborhood was important. I doubt there was ever a better London tour guide, or a more devoted lover of London.

John knew everything — essentially everything — and it was said that he was “the best-read man in Britain.” But, as others have observed, he wore his learning lightly — very lightly. There were no airs about the man, at least that I could detect. He was humble and courteous, big-hearted and amusing. A lover of life, a drinker-in of life: of literature, of course, and art, and music, and theater, and politics, and history, and jokes, and everything. A couple of hours with him went by like a breeze.

On the very weekend I heard that John was in the hospital — “in hospital,” he would say, like all Brits — I was intending to e-mail him. The reason? Kind of an odd one. More than once, John told me that, when he read my “New York Chronicle” in The New Criterion, he was amazed that I would seldom use the word “performance,” “perform,” or “performer.” How could I do that? How could I write about performers and performances, while using those words so sparingly?

When I was writing this particular chronicle, two weekends ago, I kept saying “perform,” “performance,” etc. I was conscious of it. I wanted to tell him so!

His son Tom and I once had a discussion of him — how John was a little of everything: a great Englishman, a great Londoner, a great Jew (secular division, maybe), a great American (after a fashion — he spent a lot of time here), a great critic, a great anthologist — hell, a great man. I wish I had known him a little longer. But I’m glad I knew him at all. And he is unforgettable.