The Finding of a Role-Model

The Fountainhead — First edition coverMy father was my anti-role-model. The person that I should not grow up to be. That only defined part of my identity and in negative terms.

I was fourteen. I keep on thinking I was twelve but I trust the memory of where we were living more. I was sprawled out on the floor wide awake at 1:00 AM. That night’s late night black and white had been The Fountainhead.

I went out and got the book the next day. Howard Roark became my role-model. The ideal man of independence and integrity.

I bought the rest of Ayn Rand’s fiction. The speeches in the books were enough for me. I only read her fiction.

Some of her ideas stuck. One of the bonuses of living in France is that I get plenty of occasions to say that socialism isn’t even a desirable ideal and to rant about second-handers but I am more of a Howard Roark fan than an Ayn Rand fan.

Integrity, dignity in hardship. The Fountainhead is the journey, with a meritocratic happy ending, of a hero made to be a role-model.

Fifty Years Later

Memorial to the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley

On October 1, 1964, former graduate student Jack Weinberg was sitting at the CORE table. He refused to show his identification to the campus police and was arrested. There was a spontaneous movement of students to surround the police car in which he was to be transported. Weinberg did not leave the police car, nor did the car move for 32 hours. At one point, there may have been 3,000 students around the car. The car was used as a speaker’s podium and a continuous public discussion was held which continued until the charges against Weinberg were dropped.” (

99% Invisible’s episode on the monument commemorating the 25th anniversary is a seven and a half-minute (transcript) ironic reminder why the 50th anniversary should be celebrated.  It’s worth a listen.

It puts’ me in the mood ask people if they are ready to let someone be obnoxious, obscene, or offensive?

Everyone wants their right to Free Speech to talk about their beliefs. Then there are those that think their right to Free Speech means you have to listen to them. And there are those that think anyone that has different beliefs is dangerous. Protecting the right of the idiot to spew garbage is not an obligation to listen. It’s defending your right to Free Speech.

That sounds like I joined the protest.

99% Invisible – Episode 22: The Invisible Monument to Free Speech

Or Get Off The Pot

Chamber PotShe said “He needs to sign now or he loses out on his share of the ten-million.”

Checking to see if it was some teenagers putting on a show, I saw it was a pair of twenty-somethings and that it was time for rich-kid bingo. If I correctly predicted three things they were going to talk about, I got the right spend the rest of the day with a grin.

He replied with something about getting in touch with him today. They were talking real estate.

Her phone buzzed. She started reading out an email in English. One down!

This led to a discussion about Airbnb and its effects on the lower rent properties. He started defending the right of people to make ends meet when she cut him off. She agreed with the criticism but you could see it wasn’t her problem. Box ticked for them wearily talking about the latest technologies to show how plugged in they are. One to go.

I had not seen them as founders of a technology startup but when they started talking funding rounds and valuations, I started to worry they might go Silicon Valley on me.

Just then, the phone came to the rescue. The conversation was now about meeting a friend in New York.

I finished my coffee. I got up. As I walked past them, I caught her eye just as my grin was forming. Carly Simon came to mind.

The Frying Dutchman

De Adriaan windmill in HaarlemWe moved in just before my twelfth birthday

It was a two story building with an empty lot on one side and neighbourhood stores on the other.

The restaurant’s windmill sign told all that they specialized in Dutch Pannekoek. I only tried them once.

My favourite treat from the restaurant were the onion rings. I think that’s why they remain my favourite side order to a hamburger.

Our front door was in the back. They had given the alley a street name so it was paved and the apartment had its own address. I wonder how many buildings have completely different addresses for each floor.

The coolest part was the balcony. The restaurant’s facade took up most of the front of the building and the balcony made it look like it had false front. We felt invisible looking across the street and spying on the queues for the latest blockbuster.

Sometime, during the year and a half we lived there, the empty lot was replaced by a bank and a liquor store. I don’t remember the construction but I know I was using the bank before we moved away and I still have the scar on my knee from playing street hockey in the lot.

The windmill was something I used to look for every time I went home. As one of last single screen cinemas, the theater is now the last landmark from that period still marking that part of the city.

Sweet Bread

RghaifAs the youngest of six, my father was allowed to hang out in the kitchen.

He grew up in Morocco and we would get treated with some mouth-watering dishes that you could not get anywhere else. The choice in ethnic food was limited in the late 60’s / early 70’s and not very authentic. It made eating really good dishes, that nobody knew existed, something special.

My favourite was his puffy sweet bread. Two or three times a year, on a Sunday afternoon, he’d make it.

As he was serving it, we would get the usual admonishments: “Don’t eat it too quickly! Eating hot bread is bad for your stomach! Drowning it in butter will make it worse!” Ten minutes later we would be searching for escaped slivers of puffed bread.

He only ever called it sweet bread.

I’ve tried making a few different varieties of Moroccan flat breads, but none are quiet the same. Today’s attempt didn’t puff.

I’m thinking this must have been a family recipe.