Those who enjoy reading about travel can’t go wrong with Paul Theroux who takes us to some of the world’s most exotic places. Someone suggested recently that trying to describe a place is like trying to describe a piece of music. Not easily done, but Theroux does as well as anyone at keeping the reader by his side.

Besides being one of the best writers in the genre he is also a prolific novelist. His award-winning novel “Mosquito Coast” was made into a film starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren.

My first adventure with Theroux was on The Old Patagonian Express (1979), in which he traveled by train more than 5000 miles, from his hometown in Massachusetts to the southernmost tip of Argentina. Rare is the person who would attempt such a journey and rarer still the person who would finish it. I admire his pluck and found his adventures enlightening and amusing.

A recent choice was The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean, written in 1995, about his two-thousand-mile journey around the Mediterranean coast. He starts in Gibraltar – the first pillar – and continues, by train, bus and boat to every possible stop – except one or two where the risk of being murdered was too great – and finishes in Ceuta, Morocco, the second pillar, which is nine short miles by boat from Gibraltar, where his journey began.

Theroux might be considered a vagabond. He sets out on his journeys without hotel reservations. That lack of planning makes his adventures seem more exciting, like something I might like to have done in my younger days. But that would have been more easily said than done, especially for a woman.

Although my years of travel have taken me to more than forty countries, there are still plenty I haven’t seen but have always been curious about – Cyprus, Corsica, Sardinia, Malta, and the surpassingly strange and pathetic Albania. Theroux visits all of them as well as the coastal areas of Spain, Italy, France, Yugoslavia – before it was dismantled – Israel, Greece, and Turkey. And in each locale he “interviews” anyone he can persuade to sit down for a few minutes to talk about their country. Some are more forthcoming than others. In Spain he finds it nearly impossible to get anyone to render an opinion about their late dictator Francisco Franco, who, when he was on his deathbed and heard the grieving people outside shouting “Adios, great general!” asked, “Where are they going?”

The same reticence is true in Syria. No one wants to be overheard speaking about their late president, Hafez al Assad, father of the fellow who is now overseeing the slaughter of a majority of his citizens.

Theroux’s impressions of people and places can be uncharitable, and deservedly so. Some will be turned off by his assessments, but I appreciate his forthrightness and find many of his observations on target and frequently hilarious. He says what he thinks and is not in thrall to political correctness.

In the midst of his odyssey he gets to spend a couple of weeks, gratis, on the Seabourne Spirit, one of that luxury line’s small cruise ships. His wealthy fellow cruisers, who have paid $14,000 apiece for this two-week experience, are most interested in observing these places from the comfort of the ship while dining on caviar and Essence of Pigeon with Pistachio Dumplings. When they do venture off the ship they complain, “There’s too much walking on this tour.” Meanwhile, Theroux has exited the ship to encounter people who are so desperately poor that they hang onto him and reach into his pockets pleading, “Signor!” “Money!” “You geeve me!” “Meester!”

The fact that Theroux speaks eight languages enhances his travel enormously. He is fluent in Italian (mother, Italian-American), French (father, French-Canadian), German, Urdu, Swahili, Mandarin Chinese, and one that was new to me, Chichewa, a language of the Bantu family. He spent part of his youth in the Peace Corps and taught at a University in Uganda.

He is extremely well read and makes countless references to the writers and artists who have lived and worked in these places – Gertrude Stein, William Burroughs, Chopin and Georg Sand, Tennessee Williams and the composer/author Paul Bowles. As I read I made a reading list that should keep me busy for the rest of my life.

It is interesting to consider that The Pillars of Hercules, written twenty years ago, portends much of the strife taking place in the world now – ethnic and religious hostilities and ruthless dictators who think nothing of killing masses of their own people. The expression “Plus ça change plus c'est la même chose” remains true. The more things change the more they stay the same.

It’s true that nothing ever looks the way we picture it from reading about it. Reading cannot take the place of being there but it’s the next best thing, especially in the hands of Paul Theroux.


Posted on Sunday, December 3, 2017 at 4:48PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment


Ugh, what a gruesome title. I wouldn’t blame you if you skip right past this one.

As I write this, my husband Charlie is 91 years old. Except for a hereditary muscular neuropathy of which his mother, sister and daughter have also been victims, he suffers from none of the usual conditions that beset the elderly other than high blood pressure, which affects one out of three Americans, including me, and is easily controlled. Of course things can change suddenly. But that’s the status of things on this day in 2017.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease is “a group of disorders in which the motor and/or sensory peripheral nerves are affected, resulting in muscle weakness and atrophy, as well as sensory loss. These manifestations occur first in the distal (lower) legs and later in the hands.”

Charlie long ago realized that in order to fight the ravages of Charcot he would have to keep his upper body strong so that his arms could compensate for some of the work his legs could no longer do. On symphony tours, because his arms are so strong, he admirably performed the task of pulling himself up into the tour buses and onto trains.

And at 91, he performs an exercise regimen, several days a week that includes weights, stretches, resistance and isometrics. I have little doubt that he has reached his nineties in good mental and physical health because of his conscientiousness. Who knows? Perhaps if Charcot were not the motivating factor, he would not have made it to this point.                             

A book by the eminent surgeon and author Dr. Sherwin Nuland, The Art of Aging, is a most interesting read as he describes the ways various individuals have dealt with the depredations of illness and aging. (One of them is actress Patricia Neal who suffered a near-fatal stroke at age thirty-nine, while pregnant. At the time she was married to the director Raold Dahl who was a prickly personality. That characteristic played a huge role in her recovery as he practically forced her to recover. She gave birth to a healthy baby, went on to resume her acting career, won an Academy Award, and lived to the age of 84.)

In a chapter titled “Drinking from the Fountain of Youth” Dr. Nuland describes some of the methods that humans attempt to forestall the inevitable – penile implants, toupees, plastic surgery, peculiar diets, and hormone injections all of which have limited and sometimes harmful effects.

But the one thing he believes could be more effective than any of the above is “the compression of morbidity,” a concept first introduced in 1980 by Dr. James Fries, a gerontologist at Stanford University. The compression of mobility is “an attempt to decrease the period during which any elderly person is disabled.” Fries hypothesized that measures could be taken to change the long, gradually drooping arc of aging with a pattern that more resembles a relatively horizontal line ending in a rapid drop-off shortly before death. If this were accomplished, he pointed out, then lifetime disability could be compressed into a shorter average period and cumulative lifetime disability could be reduced.

How is this accomplished? More than anything else, exercise, or as Ann Landers put it, “Use it or lose it.”

Dr. Nuland writes, “Lest any reader of these pages think I am one of those above-it-all types who dish out advice and don’t take it, I present here my own personal experience in using the new knowledge. But first I must point out that I did not go gently. For those unconvinced, reluctant, undecided, or indecisive readers I will simply say that I was once among your number. But I am now a convert and, like so many converts, I have become a zealot. Since the summer of 1998 I have been hauling my aged body off to the gym three times a week, there to sweat among the fit.”

As he reached the six week mark: “The first of my rewards came when my trainer’s calculations showed that I had taken off nine pounds of fat and added six pounds of muscle mass.” And he goes on to list other improvements that came about “without an iota’s change in my eating habits… And I found myself able to run around a tennis court as I had not since my thirties.”

Even I, who consider myself allergic to exercise, am convinced, and I have called the Jewish Community Center to sign up for some personal training sessions. My orthopedic doctor agreed that this could be beneficial as long as the trainer knows what he or she is doing. When I mentioned the JCC he agreed that their trainers are experienced in working with geriatric (me???) patients.

In recent months I have had sessions of physical therapy for my hip and neck, visited a chiropractor – pretty useless – for my lower back, and had cortisone shots in my left knee, shoulder and hip in order to ease the discomforts of osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. The therapists put me through my paces and sent me home with a series of exercises, a couple of elastic bands and two pages of illustrations. After a few days I stopped doing the exercises because it’s so much easier not to do them than to do them.

What I really need is a taskmaster who will stand over me with a whip a couple of times a week and force me to do things I would never do on my own.

Quite honestly, I had begun to accept the fact that I’m going downhill and might as well just make peace with the inevitable. But this compression of morbidity idea – that rather than going downhill I might be able to zip along in a straight line for a while, perhaps even gaining strength is appealing. To me it makes sense. It’s not really new information, it’s just a different way of looking at what we know is true.

Some time far in the distance – click! the lights will go out. That has to come sooner or later – but why not later? Why not push back against the inevitable?

Right now, even before meeting with the trainer, I am feeling optimistic that there might be more life left in these old bones than I realized.

Dr. Nuland writes: “The result of my years of sweating and straining has been increased mobility, coordination, strength, weight control, and a sense of pride that buoys me up each time I think about what has been accomplished by sticking to my resolve.  It has been doing wonders for my synapses and neurons, and there is statistical evidence that psychological depression is decreased in frequency and degree by vigorous exercise, and the likelihood of certain cancers is lessened.”

Even if I try and fail, it seems as if I owe it to myself to try. What have I got to lose?

Posted on Friday, December 1, 2017 at 8:09AM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments1 Comment | References1 Reference


Every once in a while a word that’s as old as the language itself pushes its way front and center, suddenly used so often, mostly by people in the media, that we wonder how they managed for so long to use it, rarely, if at all.

There must have been an unfulfilled need in our discourse for le mot juste, just the right word, to describe anything memorable or extraordinary or revered. That need has at last been satisfied by a word that is permeating the  atmosphere. The word is iconic, and I have to wonder how so many objects, people and situations have suddenly earned a place among the iconic, and what they were before they achieved, um, iconitude.

My husband and I enjoy watching a quiz show you’ve probably never heard of on the Game Show Network called “Cash Cab.” While riding in a New York City taxi, passengers answer a series of trivia questions, and it’s startling to me how often, in one half-hour show, the word iconic shows up in a question. The team that puts together the questions is enamored with iconic.

 “What iconic Massachusetts Democrat was elected to the United States Senate nine times?” Answer: Ted Kennedy. "What iconic piece of sporting equipment is called a prolate spheroid with pointed ends?” Answer: football.  “What instrument is being played by the iconic toy of the 1960’s, The Musical Jolly Chimp?” Answer: cymbals. Not only is the war memorial at Iwo Jima deemed iconic but the moment that represents it is described as iconic. In my opinion defining a moment as iconic is running iconic into the ground.

Also awarded iconic status are Silly Putty, the "Thriller" music video, along with the Taj Mahal and the Hollywood sign, although those last two have by now earned the right to be called iconic.

Evidently no word from a list of previously serviceable words such as beloved, celebrated, classic, designated, famous, great, historic, illustrious, immortal, legendary, memorable, notable, quintessential, remarkable, signal, symbolic, or venerable quite fills the bill the way iconic does. So it looks as if iconic is here for the duration. You say you haven’t noticed its frequent use? Maybe not, but I bet you will now.

While I’m at it, there are a couple of other words, which, while not as pervasive as iconic, have become annoying. One of them is curate. Suddenly all manner of things, no matter how mundane, have been curated. Doesn’t curate exude a whiff of erudition? It means to select and organize items as in an exhibition of art or artifacts. But it has been hijacked to mean a whole bunch of things that don’t merit curation.

An online ad screams for my attention: “Win 25 Mystery Books curated for you!” If I wanted curated mystery books, I doubt if I'd go to that source to get them. And don’t be surprised if the next time you buy a pizza at Papa Joes it has been curated for your gustatory delectation. 

Also to be added to the list are narrative and robust. I thought maybe I was the only one flinching at the frequent use of robust until I read the following in Senator Al Franken’s latest volume, Giant of the Senate:

“Not long after getting to Washington, I started noticing the overuse of certain clichés. One that drove me crazy was ‘robust’ as in ‘robust’ funding or a ‘robust’ response. So I issued a fatwa against it in my office. No ‘robust’ in speeches, no ‘robust’ in press releases. “But,” he goes on, “my colleague reviewed a letter I’d written and agreed to sign on with one condition: that I change the word ‘strong’ to ‘robust.’ That’s when I gave up the ghost.

“So if you should happen to hear me giving a speech and I use that word, just know that I am deeply hating myself in that moment.”

Along with being robust, must everything now have a narrative? Is it no longer sufficient simply to have a story or an account or a description? An op-ed piece in a recent Sunday Post-Gazette used the word narrative four times. That may be okay, but I would think that another word could have gotten the same idea across in at least one of those instances.

Before I release my grip on this topic, another word has come along that is making me squirm: hack.  That’s what cybercrooks have been doing to get into the computer programs of individuals, companies and even countries, right? Remember the 2016 election?

But strangely, hack – what an unattractive word – has come to mean a way of making things easier, as in kitchen hacks. You have to look carefully, but among the thirty-plus definitions of hack isA trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity, efficiency or ease.” A quick Google search turns up “50 Time-Saving Kitchen Hacks The World Needs To Know!” Why would anyone find that notion appealing? Makes me think of Lizzie Borden offing her elders or Bill the Cat coughing up a hairball.

I bet there's a list of words that drive you crazy – no doubt including awesome and amazing – although my reaction to them might be, “Gee, that one doesn’t bother me at all!”

Maybe I should stop griping as our language evolves, as it becomes more textured and certain words take on expanded meanings. When we use words in new ways perhaps we become more precise. It’s just that when the words are overused, more than anything else they sound trite, hackneyed.

Something triggers our awareness of a particular word, and from then on it goes off in our heads like Pavlov’s bell. Yet, if we're not careful, before we know it – we're using it ourselves. So – here's wishing you an iconic day!

Now, I’d love to hear what’s on your list.

Posted on Thursday, August 24, 2017 at 8:01PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | Comments3 Comments | References1 Reference


Have you ever listened to a podcast, a quasi radio program that can be downloaded onto your smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth? If you haven’t you’re missing out on a wealth of information and entertainment. Podcasts are “the next big thing” in media.

I’m a devoted fan of podcasts, but when I mention them to friends they seem barely aware of this latest way of listening to audio where you decide what type of subject matter you want to hear and when you want to hear it.

A staggering number of podcasts is available on every topic you can imagine, and many you cannot or would just as soon not imagine. Besides the expected NPR programs, TED Talks and the New York Times “Daily” is an ever-expanding buffet of topics – comedy, theater, history, religion, cooking, and even language courses – nearly any area of interest you can think of. And there are plenty of podcasts for kids such as “Wow in the World” and “Storynory.”

A local note: In case you’ve lost track of Lynn Cullen, she’s still holding forth in her unique fashion, just as in her radio days, at “Lynn Cullen Live,” Monday through Friday, from 10 to 11 a.m. or any time thereafter, podcast on YouTube. Callers and emailers are encouraged, and even better, there aren’t any commercials.

The podcast that takes ups most of my listening time is the “The Bill Handel Show,” which emanates from KFI Los Angeles. Perhaps you’ve heard Handel’s syndicated show, “Handel on the Law,” on KDKA on Sunday afternoons. But his four hour news/talk show is heard during weekday morning drive time in Los Angeles, and is available in podcast form as “Handel on Demand” a few hours later, depending on your time zone. (In Pittsburgh it’s around 2 p.m.)

I appreciate the Handel podcast for many reasons not the least of which is that all commercials, all news updates, all sports, and all weather and traffic reports have been eliminated. Except for bumper music – snippets of topic-appropriate pop hits between segments – it’s just pure show. Four hours of ordinary broadcast time are condensed into less than two hours on the podcast.

Joining Bill for conversation are the news and sports readers, as well as the producer, who add spice to the proceedings, and there is a lineup of high-level field reporters and experts on everything from Wall Street to Military Monday – especially interesting at the moment because of the North Korea situation – to consumer guru Clark Howard with his “Deal of the Week.” This versatile cast provides a comprehensive menu of hard news and analysis, information, and humor. And with all of that, Handel manages to be non-partisan, which is a rarity in talk radio.

Handel’s style isn’t for everyone, but enough listeners appreciate him that he ranks No. 11 on Talkers magazine’s top 100 list of talk radio hosts and he has just been voted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

He is irreverent and proud of it, and he loves getting hate mail. But there’s a soft spot in his heart. Although it may be difficult to detect on a daily basis, it surfaces at holiday time when he devotes an entire show to raising money for a a worthy cause, a restaurant in L. A., the Anaheim White House, whose proprietor Bruno Serato feeds thousands of homeless kids every day of the year.*


On the web site where readers ask and answer questions on a wide variety of topics, the question was asked, “What are ten things that are really worth your time?” I was surprised to find among several respondents’ answers this suggestion for using extra time: “You’re cleaning the house, doing your laundry, walking to the train stop, and although it is important to stop and smell the roses, a lot of that time could be put to better use with the magic of podcasts.I agree.

So regardless of your taste, try dipping your toe into the podcast pool. You can simply Google “Podcasts.” Or start your search with “Apple Podcasts,” Slate’s “25 Best Podcasts Ever” or Time magazine’s “The 50 Best Podcasts Right Now.”  

In podcastland you will discover a new way of entertaining yourself at home, in rush hour traffic, on long drives when you finally admit that you’re not enjoying the audiobook you brought along, or during those sleepless hours in the middle of the night.


*In February 2017 fire destroyed the Anaheim White House restaurant. The disaster made national headlines and was featured in a segment of “Sunday Morning” on CBS.

Posted on Thursday, June 29, 2017 at 3:23PM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment


“No. I don’t know what they do, nor do I care. If I thought I was going to live another fifty years I might take the time to explore their arcane secrets.”

“Never. They’re a mystery to me.”

“No, I’m askeered to.”

“I haven’t a clue why they’re there. Can you enlighten me?”

“To be honest I’ve never even noticed they are there!”

 By now you are doubtless wondering, “What in the world was the question?”

The question was: “Do you know what the F keys on your computer are for and do you use them?”

I’ve been a computer owner since 1995. If I’ve acquired a new one every five years, which is about average, a conservative estimate says that I’ve had five personal keyboards under my fingertips. But I have never, not even once, used any of the F keys above the numbers row. I’ve paid for them but I have never had any idea what they do nor have I taken the time to find out.

You wouldn’t think it would take me this long to start wondering about them, but here I am, twenty-two years into computer ownership Googling “What is the purpose of those F keys?”

I conducted an email survey among some of my correspondents and the replies above demonstrate that, as I suspected, I have plenty of company.

I have always assumed that the F keys – function keys – perform shortcuts, and that is indeed what they do. But I feel as if I know all the shortcuts I need and that getting tangled up with the F keys at this point would only slow me down. Point and click is the shortest cut I need. Even if I were to discover that some of these shortcuts are nifty, I wouldn’t be able to remember most of them, some of which require using two hands to press three keys at once, a degree of dexterity I’d rather reserve for a Steinway.

And speaking of musical keyboards, deciding which F keys to use in combination with other keys reminds me of playing a pipe organ on which one must decide which stops, which pistons, and which combinations to use. Pistons, by the way, are those little buttons under the keyboards that allow the player to set combinations of stops so that he can control all the keyboards and the pedals with the flick of a single button. There are stops that I would never use, combinations that wouldn’t occur to me that have been set by some previous organist, which I can change to suit myself.

And that’s true with the F keys. The only friend who answered my survey who knows much about F keys – he’s been a programmer – wrote, “I’ve often made use of the F keys to the extent of customizing them to my own needs. This is called creating a ‘macro’ and can be useful.” I’m sure it can, but I can’t imagine twisting my brain around a macro any time soon.

Of the many F key functions that I’ve learned during my little study, there are only three that I plan to add to my repertoire, F2, F3 and F7.

Control + F2 – Shows the Print Preview and is absolutely easier than doing it with the mouse. Doing it twice opens and closes the Print Preview.

Shift + F3 – Too often I look at the screen to find that I have inadvertently pressed the Shift key resulting in AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH OF CAPITAL LETTERS! But by highlighting those caps and pressing Shift + F3 – poof! – the caps are changed to lower case. Press those keys again, the first letter of each word becomes capitalized; press them again you get all lower case. What a boon!

Shift + F7 – Third, and quite handy, this one gets you quickly to the Thesaurus. Highlight a word, say pusillanimous, press Shift + F7 and the Thesaurus opens, bingo! There you will find every synonym for pusillanimous from “timid” and “nervous” to “faint-hearted” and “lily-livered.”

Except for Control+Alt+Delete, which opens the Task Manager and is useful when all else fails, when the computer is acting up and you need to close programs that might be gumming up the works, I doubt if I will otherwise be using three keys at a time when I could just as easily point and click.

One other shortcut that you might find useful is Control + z that undoes your last move. That easy one is a timesaver if you’ve hit something by accident or done something stupid.

And now, if you haven’t yet nodded into your soup, there is a list below of F key functions that you might want to fiddle around with. I’ve included only those for PCs. I have no idea if they perform the same functions on a Mac or if the Mac even has F keys.

Also, I’ve deleted a few that sound a little too abstruse to consider even investigating such as the following, which describes what F12 will do: “Accesses the list of bootable devices on computer at startup, allowing you to select a different device to boot from (hard drive, CD or DVD drive, floppy drive, USB drive, and network.”) Hunh?


                                FUNCTIONS OF THE F- KEYS


• Almost always used as the help key, almost every program opens a help screen when this key is pressed.

• Windows Key + F1 would open the Microsoft Windows help and support center.

• Open the Task Pane.


• In Windows renames a highlighted icon, file, or folder in all versions of Windows.

• Alt + Ctrl + F2 opens document window in Microsoft Word.

• Ctrl + F2 displays the print preview window in Microsoft Word.

• Quickly rename a selected file or folder.


• Often opens a search feature for many programs including Microsoft Windows when at the Windows     Desktop.

• Shift + F3 will change the text in Microsoft Word from upper to lower case or a capital letter at the   beginning of every word.

• Windows Key + F3 opens the Advanced find window in Microsoft Outlook.


• Open find window in Windows 95 to XP.

• Open the address bar in Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.

• Repeat the last action performed (Word 2000+).

• Alt + F4 closes the program window currently active in Microsoft Windows.

• Ctrl + F4 closes the open window within the current active window in Microsoft Windows.


• In all modern Internet browsers, pressing F5 will refresh or reload the page or document window.

• Ctrl + F5 forces a complete refresh of the web page, clearing the cache and downloading all contents of the page again

• Refresh the list of contents in a folder.

• Open the find, replace, and go to window in Microsoft Word.


• Move the cursor to the address bar in Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and most other Internet browsers.

• Ctrl + Shift + F6 opens to another open Microsoft Word document.


• Commonly used to spell check and grammar check a document in Microsoft programs such as Microsoft Word, Outlook, etc.

• Shift + F7 runs a Thesaurus check on the word highlighted.


• Function key used to enter the Windows startup menu, commonly used to access Windows Safe Mode.


• Refresh document in Microsoft Word.

• Send and receive e-mail in Microsoft Outlook.


• In Microsoft Windows activates the menu bar of an open application.

• Shift + F10 is the same as right-clicking on a highlighted icon, file, or Internet link.


Enter and exit fullscreen mode in all modern Internet browsers.


Open the Save as window in Microsoft Word.

Ctrl + F12 opens a document In Word.

Shift + F12 saves the Microsoft Word document (like Ctrl + S).

Ctrl + Shift + F12 prints a document in Microsoft Word.

Access the list of bootable devices on a computer at startup, allowing you to select a different device to boot from (hard drive, CD or DVD drive, floppy drive, USB drive, and network).


Source: Computer Hope

Posted on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 7:47AM by Registered CommenterPatricia P. Jennings | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References
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