Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Saying Good-bye to Norah Ephron - Part 1 What, you may ask, relates Norah Ephron to Character Education for Kids? Start with good manners and cooking!

One of the most delicious dishes in the world is hot pasta with fresh cold tomatoes, cold pressed virgin olive oil and Parmesan cheese.  It may sound strange, but it is exquisitely wonderful.  Here is Nora Ephron’s recipe:
Linguine alla cecca   (check-uh)
“It’s a hot pasta with a cold tomato basil sauce, and it’s so light and delicate that it’s almost like eating a salad.  It has to be made in the summer, when tomatoes are fresh.  Drop 5 large tomatoes into boiling water for one full minute.  Peel and seed and chop.  Put into a large bowl with ½ cup olive oil, a garlic clove sliced in two, 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, salt and hot red pepper flakes.
Let it sit for a couple of hours, then remove the garlic.  Boil one pound of linguine, drain and toss with the cold tomato mixture.  Serve immediately.”
I hadn’t actually referred to this recipe since I first made it in 1983, and I have to admit it’s even more  simple to make the way I do it now.  Trust me, it is heaven.  Page 100 of Heartburn.
That recipe is one of the wonderful things about Nora’s book Heartburn which was made into a movie with, guess who, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  On page 77 of Heartburn, she writes:
“The next man I was involved with lived in Boston.  He taught me to cook mushrooms.  He taught me that if you heat the butter very hot and put just a very few mushrooms into the frying pan, they come out nice and brown and crispy, whereas if the butter is only moderately hot and you crowd the mushrooms, they get all mushy and wet.  Every time I make mushrooms I think of him.”
But I get ahead of myself.
Choosing one’s topic for one’s annual ’81 Club paper is serious business.  Over the years, we have studied the challenge of which topic to choose with almost the same zeal as we study the challenge of writing about that topic.  I’m proud of my papers, as are we all, and looking back I see that they are usually about women…usually high profile women such as Mme Marie Curie or Mme Chiang Kai-shek…and nearly always have some references to movies. 
But as I was worrying about selecting a topic worthy of presenting to ’81, I was  distracted by some reading from a long time favorite author, Nora Ephron.
 And that is how this paper today came to write itself.
Now Nora has been with us in the popular media for quite a while…about 55 years to be exact.  Each of us has her favorite “Nora” work…such as Sleepless in Seattle or You’ve Got Mail  or more recently, Julie & Julia , all of which bear watching as movies again and again.
 And most of us know that Nora died unexpectedly June 26, 2012 at age 71 in New York City.
  Unexpectedly, that is, to us, her fans.
NOT unexpectedly to Nora. (folder with clippings)
 Reading the fine print in Frank Rich’s article called “Nora’s Secret” in New York Magazine, August 27, 2012 issue, we learn that Nora had been struggling with a terminal illness for six and a half years, and had been in a hospital deathbed the last five weeks of her life.  For nearly all of that time, only a half dozen or so immediate family knew that she was ill…and those people did not know much detail.
But we can do the math.  We can figure out that some of her most telling and eloquent books were written while she was ill…such as I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, in which she wrote:
“My friend, Henry Grunwald, died a few months ago.  He was what we refer to as one of the lucky ones.  He died at eighty-two, having lived a full, rich, and successful life.  He had coped brilliantly with macular degeneration – for almost two years, most of his friends had no idea he couldn’t see – and then he wrote a book about going blind that will probably outlast all the rest of his accomplishments, which were considerable.
He died of heart failure, peacefully, in his sleep with his adoring family around him.  The day before his death, he asked to be brought a large brown accordion folder which he kept in his office.  In it were love letters he had received when he was younger.  He sent them back to the women who’d written them, wrote them all lovely notes, and destroyed the rest.  What’s more, he left complete detailed instructions for his funeral, including the music he wanted – all this was laid out explicitly in a file he had labeled  “EXIT”
I so admire Henry and the way he handled his death. It’s inspirational.” (end quote)
INSPIRATIONAL?  Inspirational indeed.   Remember Nora wrote this about Henry Grunwald in 2006 when she had already been diagnosed with her own terminal illness.
Now that part about the EXIT file is indeed interesting, but even more compelling are the pearls of wisdom at the end.

Stay tuned for "pearls of wisdom"

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