David Amram Is Still Grooving to His Own Beat

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
April 22, 2014 10:38 p.m. ET

Composer David Amram savors spring outside the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which has acquired his papers.       Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

On my way over to meet David Amram, I contemplated what a wonderful thing it would be if you were accomplished enough that some library, but especially the New York Public Library, thought enough of your career to acquire your archives.

Mr. Amram is a composer, a conductor and a musician who is often called a pioneer of the Beat movement. And the library will be celebrating the acquisition of Mr. Amram’s lifework over the next few days, starting on Saturday with the screening of the documentary “David Amram: The First 80 Years.”

Later that afternoon, Mr. Amram will lead a free walking tour of some of the Manhattan locations that have played a role in his biography. And on Tuesday, the festivities conclude at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where his papers will reside, with a performance of Mr. Amram’s chamber music compositions.

Apart from the honor of being asked for your musical scores, written musings and doodles, there’s undoubtedly the sense of well-being—especially if you’re something of a hoarder as I am, and I suspect Mr. Amram is—in knowing that once you’re gone your files will be stored in climate-controlled perpetuity rather than being deposited directly into a dumpster.

So the first thing I wanted to know when I met Mr. Amram—he was dressed somewhat like a hippie college professor with multiple necklaces and trinkets hanging from his neck, including a deputy sheriff’s badge from Pitkin County, Colo., and another one that said “London England” (I neglected to ask whether the neckwear will ultimately be joining Mr. Amram’s papers)—is if it’s a load off his mind knowing a lifetime’s worth of work will be in safekeeping.

“For all of us,” Mr. Amram acknowledged, referring not just to himself but also to his three grown children. “They call me up and say, ‘Daddy, you should be on that show ‘The Hoarders.’”

Unfortunately, I’ll be out of town Saturday. So Mr. Amram gave me a thumbnail version of his walking tour. It lasted over an hour and we barely scratched the surface of his career. The official tour is scheduled for two hours but, due to Mr. Amram’s longevity, sociability, and most of all spryness at 83 years old, I suspect it will go well beyond that.

Just to offer a brief synopsis of his career: He has conducted more than 75 of the world’s orchestras, composed more than 100 chamber and orchestral works and two operas, been mentored by Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, written several books, film scores—including for “Splendor in the Grass” and “The Manchurian Candidate”—played jazz French horn among other instruments alongside Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie as well as with Willie Nelson, James Galway and Wynton Marsalis ; and counted among his friends and collaborators everybody from Jack Kerouac, with whom he presented the first jazz-poetry concerts in New York City in the ’50s, to Pete Seeger and Hunter S. Thompson.

An assortment of Mr. Amram’s many necklaces and trinkets      Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

The Pitkin County shield was a token of appreciation from Sheriff Bob Braudis after Mr. Amram played at Mr. Thompson’s 2005 funeral, with Johnny Depp on guitar.

Our tour began opposite La Guardia High School, conveniently located directly across the street from the Library for the Performing Arts, though shrouded in scaffolding. That is where Mr. Amram collaborated with the dancer and choreographer Jacques d’Amboise in the early ’90s.

“He’d get thousands of school kids and create a ballet they could do even if they didn’t dance,” Mr. Amram recalled. “I was the composer. He got Judy Collins and Phil Donahue and he’d put them into the ballet story.”

Judy Collins I could understand. But Phil Donahue?

“Phil Donahue was an excellent tap dancer,” Mr. Amram explained.

Our next stop was 243 W. 63rd St., where Thelonious Monk lived when Mr. Amram, all of 24 years old, was summoned in the fall of 1955.

“‘Monk wants to meet you. He digs your playing,’” Mr. Amram said he was told.

The musician went on: “I almost passed out. But he was so nice. He said, ‘Give me your number and I’ll call you.’ And sure enough he did.”

Our next stop was Avery Fisher Hall, where—in 1966—Leonard Bernstein selected Mr. Amram as the New York Philharmonic’s first composer in residence. In a biographical aside that should offer hope to anyone who feels his or her career is stalled, Mr. Amram said that just before landing that most prestigious of gigs, his finances were sufficiently precarious that he was considering another career, or at least moonlighting.

“I was about to go to bartending school,” he remembered, “and I got an announcement saying I’d been chosen as the first composer in residence for the New York Philharmonic. I was staggered.”

Mr. Amram’s children seem to be following in his footsteps, and now they have more time on their hands since they won’t be responsible by themselves for preserving his legacy.

“I thought they’d become stockbrokers,” he said. “They all have their own bands and their own genres of music. Sometimes I sit in with them.

“They’re loving what they do, and that’s my greatest pride,” he added. “And if they can put up with you, that’s huge.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Building a Better Scrap Trap

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR. 
April 21, 2014 9:28 p.m. ET

Jeanne D’Angelo puts food waste in an ORCA machine in the Waldorf Astoria kitchen.                                   Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

One of the more ill-advised purchases I’ve made in recent years was a composter. My understanding was that you dump your food scraps, wilted flowers, et cetera in the thing, which is shaped like a giant drum, and rotate it occasionally. Then wait a few months and—voilà!—the organic matter had magically turned into high-quality mulch that you could spread in your garden. Or something like that.

Things didn’t go according to plan. The drum, about the size of a dresser, was virtually impossible to turn. So we didn’t. After ignoring the object for several months, while things were apparently festering inside, my wife decided to throw in some scraps one day—and a swarm of insects flew out.

That was about two years ago, and the last time we risked approaching the device. My plan now is to mount the courage to do so one last time, transporting it to the bottom of our driveway in the back of the car, and attaching a “free” sign to it.

If only I’d known about the ORCA at the time we bought the drum. The ORCA, which stands for organic refuse conversion alternative, is a machine that takes only 24 hours to transform food waste into water that travels harmlessly down the drain, the same way tap water does. It uses microorganisms to accelerate the breakdown of everything—from hot dogs and hamburgers, to apples, onions, corn, pineapples, radishes, endive, even Cracker Jack, if you have it. Pretty much the only thing that gives an ORCA indigestion are avocado pits and lemon grass.

“No blades, no chopping, no grinding,” boasted Michael Forman, an account manager for the ORCA, as we stood in the kitchen of the Waldorf Astoria admiring the OG-25, the smallest model. It can handle 25 pounds of food waste an hour.

“We have an OG-50 and an OG-100,” Mr. Forman added. “Citi Field has the 100. The last day of the season they had 900 pounds of food waste going into the machine. It was a big challenge.”

But apparently one ably met.

“We just signed up the Cubs,” added Spiro Frangos, director of Strategic Accounts at Totally Green, ORCA’s manufacturer.

While a desire to help the environment motivated David Garcelon, the Waldorf’s director of culinary, to lease the machine—$900 to $1,800 a month, depending on the model, or $30,000 to $50,000 to buy outright—he also had more practical considerations. As of July 1, 2015, the city will require hotels with 100 or more sleeping rooms and businesses such as arenas, caterers and food wholesalers to dispose of food waste through composting, aerobic or anaerobic digestion (don’t ask me the difference), or some other approved method that diverts food waste from landfills.

North America sends 106 billion pounds of organic waste to landfills each year, according to Totally Green, which makes ORCA. That’s like 200,000 garbage trucks creating 37 billion pounds of greenhouse gases each. And that doesn’t even count the stench from the garbage—an aroma familiar to most New Yorkers, especially during the warm weather months—and the critters the odor invariably attracts, not all of them microbial.

“There will be days when we have to trim 1,000 pounds of asparagus spears,” Mr. Garcelon explained. “When you cut the ends off them you’ll have 300 to 400 pounds of trim.”

An ORCA machine.                       Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

Rather than depositing the detritus in garbage bins and having workers lug it up and down stairs, risking back injury, it’s easier and perhaps even safer just to dump it in the ORCA’s maw.

“The other motivation for us,” Mr. Garcelon said, “is that we spend in excess of $250,000 hauling garbage out of this building. I’d say 60% of that is food waste. We think eventually there will be some savings for us.”

The ORCA is used in the production kitchen, which services the Waldorf’s banquet business and restaurants. There’s a separate ORCA for the food waste from the Peacock Alley restaurant.

“We’re looking to put one in Oscar’s kitchen as well,” said Mr. Frangos, referring to Oscar’s Brasserie, where Eggs Benedict and Lobster Newburg were said to have been invented.

However, lobster shells might take a bit longer to decompose than tasty Hollandaise or ham. Bones are apparently a bit of a lift for the ORCA, which runs on a ½ horsepower electric motor. So is vinegar because of its acidity.

Room service is another problem, according to Mr. Garcelon, because room-service food tends to be mixed with other garbage such as newspapers, shopping bags and even swizzle sticks, making it more difficult to separate.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is persuading the Waldorf’s veteran staff, which has been dispatching garbage the old-fashioned way for decades, to think of the ORCA as the disposal of first resort. “At first I didn’t like it too much,” admitted Jeanne D’Angelo, chef saucier tournant. “I just thought it was weird. But it’s good for the Earth.”

However, Esther Azzopardi, banquet chef de partie, has become a devotee, embracing the ORCA without hesitation.

“All the food, you put it in there,” she explained as she proudly flipped open the hood of the device. The Waldorf’s pricey table scraps were being rotated and transformed into something the appearance and consistency of dirty oatmeal. “After an hour it’s long gone,” she said.

Ms. D’Angelo said her colleague has even been known to rescue food from the conventional garbage, just so she can watch the ORCA perform its magic.

“I get upset with my chefs,” Ms. Azzopardi admitted, “because they throw out the garbage.”

“When I’m making sauce,” Ms. D’Angelo said, “I’ll go to throw the beef scraps in the garbage and she’ll say, ‘No! No!’ She’ll run over and take over just so she can put it in the machine.”

“It needs water,” Ms. D’Angelo added, to keep the food moist and to facilitate the decomposition process, as Ms. Azzopardi applied a hose. “She waters it like flowers in her garden.”

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Filling the Hungry Souls

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL by Ralph Gardner Jr.

April 16, 2014 10:19 p.m. ET

The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen at lunch time; volunteers; and Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

New York City’s soup kitchens provide an indispensable service to those in need. But how does the food taste?

That was one of my questions when I was invited to lunch last week at the Church of the Holy Apostles.

On Ninth Avenue and 28th Street, the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen is one of the city’s busiest—serving from 800 to 1,200 meals every weekday, Monday through Friday.

“This was a temporary solution to a temporary problem,” the Rev. Glenn Chalmers told me as he surveyed hundreds seated in the church’s sanctuary, with cafeteria trays in front of them. “When we started in the 1980s we never thought we’d be here for 32 years.”

Feeding those in need became so central to Holy Apostles’s mission that when a fire ravaged the building in 1990, parishioners had the church rebuilt without fixed pews so that it could be turned into a giant dining room.

The sensation that greets you when you arrive these days isn’t of sadness or despair, but of grace and beauty. Calm reigns as midday sun pours through the stained glass windows.

“We have volunteers come in and play the piano,” Father Chalmers said, as he pointed to a stage near the church’s majestic organ. “On the Fourth of July we put flags in the ice cream. There’s a sense of dignity, too.”

Providing food—with the occasional musical accompaniment—is only part of Holy Apostles’s work.

Volunteers serve lunch in the soup kitchen. Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

The Episcopal parish also supplies identification cards to those without.

“People in the street will lose things,” explained Yvonne Cassidy, the soup kitchen’s director of development and an Irish novelist. “To get any ID you need ID. Sometimes that’s enough. It’s very popular.”

And there are yoga and meditation classes and a writing workshop created in 1995 by New Yorker writer Ian Frazier.

George Cousins, who was sitting on a bench in the back of the church after finishing lunch, attends the writing workshop every Thursday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. He also contributes to the workshop’s blog.

Mr. Cousins pulled out some of his work. One story was about a pedestrian who disdained him when he was working in lower Manhattan, handing out fliers for a company that sold suits.

A couple of years later, Mr. Cousins spotted the same person, who he learned had lost his job in some business scandal, in Grand Central Terminal—picking through a garbage can.

“At first, I thought he was searching for a newspaper,” Mr. Cousins wrote, “but no, he was going through discarded bags for food. Since then, a couple of times I have seen him on line at St. Francis and here at Holy Apostles, wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap.”

Mr. Cousins testified to the excellence of the food, which I had yet to taste, and the talent of Carlton Nesbit, Holy Apostles’s chef.

The only meals that get mixed reviews, Ms. Cassidy said, are the vegetarian ones.

“A lot of our guests were complaining,” she admitted. “We used to serve hot dogs.”

On the day of my visit, the menu included chicken fajitas, creamed corn, a bean-and-tomato salad, and a pear for dessert.

Indeed, Mr. Cousins had brought a container to take food to go. Guests are allowed to return for seconds but are asked to wait until after 12 p.m. so everybody has had a chance to be served.

“Chicken, chicken, chicken,” Mr. Cousins said, citing his favorite menu. “You always know what day they’re going to be serving chicken.”

Lexx Paredes, another guest, has been visiting Holy Apostles for four years. He used to be a bike messenger and a lot of his former colleagues stop by Holy Apostles.

“You can always tell by the backpacks,” Mr. Paredes said. “Some have a u-lock on their hips.”

The soup kitchen attracts a cross-section—from the chronically homeless, to families moving in and out of poverty, to a gentleman in a three-piece suit who’d been laid off, and a recent NYU grad.

“He was sleeping on a friend’s couch, looking for a job,” Father Chalmers reported. “It’s a real smattering of humanity.”

I asked Mr. Paredes to compare the food at Holy Apostles to the fare at other food kitchens.

“Some do cook different,” he stated diplomatically. “I’m not going to say worse.”

Yvonne Cassidy, the soup kitchen’s director of development. Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

I also met Daniel Dawidzionek, a trombone player, and wondered whether he’d ever serenaded his fellow guests over lunch.

“I’ve been asking for these opportunities,” he said; though, “a trombone solo is not going to work in that environment.”

How about with piano accompaniment?

Apparently, Mr. Dawidzionek had already thought of that.

“Pianists would prefer playing on their own,” he explained.

The time had come to try the food. It was excellent: the fajita delicious, the creamed corn and accompanying tomato salad filled with flavor. My only reservations involved the donated bottles of coconut water.

Much of the food comes from City Harvest, including giant loaves of artisanal bread from local bakeries. Canned fruits and vegetables are never used.

And on May 15, Holy Apostles is holding its annual “From Farm to Tray” fundraiser where city chefs will create meals focusing on locally grown ingredients. The soup kitchen costs $2.2 million year to run.

Mr. Paredes appreciates the soup kitchen and so many of the other things that Holy Apostles does—its food and clothing pantries.

“They counsel people with anything they need—child support, welfare,” he said. “They help you get back on your feet. I don’t know what New York City would do without this.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.

April 16, 2014 10:19 p.m. ET

The Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen at lunch time; volunteers       Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

New York City’s soup kitchens provide an indispensable service to those in need. But how does the food taste?

That was one of my questions when I was invited to lunch last week at the Church of the Holy Apostles.

On Ninth Avenue and 28th Street, the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen is one of the city’s busiest—serving from 800 to 1,200 meals every weekday, Monday through Friday.

“This was a temporary solution to a temporary problem,” the Rev. Glenn Chalmers told me as he surveyed hundreds seated in the church’s sanctuary, with cafeteria trays in front of them. “When we started in the 1980s we never thought we’d be here for 32 years.”

Feeding those in need became so central to Holy Apostles’s mission that when a fire ravaged the building in 1990, parishioners had the church rebuilt without fixed pews so that it could be turned into a giant dining room.

The sensation that greets you when you arrive these days isn’t of sadness or despair, but of grace and beauty. Calm reigns as midday sun pours through the stained glass windows.

“We have volunteers come in and play the piano,” Father Chalmers said, as he pointed to a stage near the church’s majestic organ. “On the Fourth of July we put flags in the ice cream. There’s a sense of dignity, too.”

Providing food—with the occasional musical accompaniment—is only part of Holy Apostles’s work.

Volunteers serve lunch in the soup kitchen.    Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

The Episcopal parish also supplies identification cards to those without.

“People in the street will lose things,” explained Yvonne Cassidy, the soup kitchen’s director of development and an Irish novelist. “To get any ID you need ID. Sometimes that’s enough. It’s very popular.”

And there are yoga and meditation classes and a writing workshop created in 1995 by New Yorker writer Ian Frazier.

George Cousins, who was sitting on a bench in the back of the church after finishing lunch, attends the writing workshop every Thursday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. He also contributes to the workshop’s blog.

Mr. Cousins pulled out some of his work. One story was about a pedestrian who disdained him when he was working in lower Manhattan, handing out fliers for a company that sold suits.

A couple of years later, Mr. Cousins spotted the same person, who he learned had lost his job in some business scandal, in Grand Central Terminal—picking through a garbage can.

“At first, I thought he was searching for a newspaper,” Mr. Cousins wrote, “but no, he was going through discarded bags for food. Since then, a couple of times I have seen him on line at St. Francis and here at Holy Apostles, wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap.”

Mr. Cousins testified to the excellence of the food, which I had yet to taste, and the talent of Carlton Nesbit, Holy Apostles’s chef.

The only meals that get mixed reviews, Ms. Cassidy said, are the vegetarian ones.

“A lot of our guests were complaining,” she admitted. “We used to serve hot dogs.”

On the day of my visit, the menu included chicken fajitas, creamed corn, a bean-and-tomato salad, and a pear for dessert.

Indeed, Mr. Cousins had brought a container to take food to go. Guests are allowed to return for seconds but are asked to wait until after 12 p.m. so everybody has had a chance to be served.

“Chicken, chicken, chicken,” Mr. Cousins said, citing his favorite menu. “You always know what day they’re going to be serving chicken.”

Lexx Paredes, another guest, has been visiting Holy Apostles for four years. He used to be a bike messenger and a lot of his former colleagues stop by Holy Apostles.

“You can always tell by the backpacks,” Mr. Paredes said. “Some have a u-lock on their hips.”

The soup kitchen attracts a cross-section—from the chronically homeless, to families moving in and out of poverty, to a gentleman in a three-piece suit who’d been laid off, and a recent NYU grad.

“He was sleeping on a friend’s couch, looking for a job,” Father Chalmers reported. “It’s a real smattering of humanity.”

I asked Mr. Paredes to compare the food at Holy Apostles to the fare at other food kitchens.

“Some do cook different,” he stated diplomatically. “I’m not going to say worse.”

Yvonne Cassidy, the soup kitchen’s director of development.      Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

I also met Daniel Dawidzionek, a trombone player, and wondered whether he’d ever serenaded his fellow guests over lunch.

“I’ve been asking for these opportunities,” he said; though, “a trombone solo is not going to work in that environment.”

How about with piano accompaniment?

Apparently, Mr. Dawidzionek had already thought of that.

“Pianists would prefer playing on their own,” he explained.

The time had come to try the food. It was excellent: the fajita delicious, the creamed corn and accompanying tomato salad filled with flavor. My only reservations involved the donated bottles of coconut water.

Much of the food comes from City Harvest, including giant loaves of artisanal bread from local bakeries. Canned fruits and vegetables are never used.

And on May 15, Holy Apostles is holding its annual “From Farm to Tray” fundraiser where city chefs will create meals focusing on locally grown ingredients. The soup kitchen costs $2.2 million year to run.

Mr. Paredes appreciates the soup kitchen and so many of the other things that Holy Apostles does—its food and clothing pantries.

“They counsel people with anything they need—child support, welfare,” he said. “They help you get back on your feet. I don’t know what New York City would do without this.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

For the Love of Lemurs

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
April 15, 2014 9:59 p.m. ET

Dr. Patricia Wright considers the Central Park Zoo’s Tropic Zone a refuge for herself and other New Yorkers.                             Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Whatever its challenges, this column hasn’t required trekking through tropical rain forests. Until a few days ago. It wasn’t really a rain forest, but the Central Park Zoo’s Tropic Zone.

Nonetheless, it sufficed. And in a heavy coat, I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. Also, the humidity was so intense that droplets of water kept falling onto my reporter’s notebook, blurring my notes and making my handwriting even more illegible.

My companion—Dr. Patricia C. Wright, a primatologist and a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University—displayed none of my discomfort. Perhaps because she spends much of her time in Madagascar studying lemurs, and has since the 1980s.

I’m tempted to describe Dr. Wright as the star of a new 3-D IMAX film called “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar.” Except the lemurs earn top billing with several Oscar-worthy performances.

We visited the zoo because that’s the location closest to my office where lemurs can be found.

I neglected to ask Dr. Wright whether lemurs make good house pets. But I suspect not, unless your apartment includes a flourishing tree canopy.

“This is beautiful,” Dr. Wright said in a mellifluous, almost dreamy voice, as parrots and golden weavers watched us from overhead. “I think it’s a refuge for all of us who live in New York.”

Her demeanor may be the result of spending lots of time in the wilds of Madagascar with lemurs, the only place on Earth, except at zoos or primate study centers, where lemurs exist.

One of zoo’s black-and-white ruffed lemurs passes the time hanging out on a vine.                Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

By the way, the lemurs at the Central Park Zoo are black-and-white ruffed lemurs. They were mostly just hanging on vines and dining on blueberries.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” Dr. Wright intoned. “They look like panda bears.”

There are more than 100 species of lemurs, 90% of them threatened, endangered or critically endangered because the vast majority of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed.

Part of the film’s mission, besides selling tickets, is to draw attention to this peaceful animal’s plight before it’s too late.

“I first went in the early ’80s,” Dr. Wright remembered. “There were all kinds of lemurs I’d never seen before and most species had never been studied before. I was amazed at the variety.”

Indeed, in 1986, Dr. Wright discovered one unknown to science—the Golden Bamboo lemur—on a trip where she was searching for the Greater Bamboo lemur, which hadn’t been seen in 50 years.

“I got up really early in the morning and was looking for this other one,” she recalled, of the Greater Bamboo lemur, which she also spotted. “We were just walking along and this animal as big as a cat came this close to us. It was orange. In the sunlight it was gorgeous. It made this sound I hadn’t heard before—like a growl, almost a roar.”

I wondered what it felt like to discover a species. The hair on the back of my neck bristles when I spot a bird I haven’t seen before. And obviously this is way more impressive than that.

“I almost thought I was going to faint,” Dr. Wright said. “It took my breath away.

“It was on a stalk of bamboo,” she continued. “I knew it had to be a bamboo lemur, but it didn’t look like it was supposed to. I knew I’d never seen it before and it wasn’t in any of the books.”

Unsurprisingly, “Island of Lemurs,” narrated by Morgan Freeman, is visually stunning. But it almost has to be—a balloon-mounted camera took some of the footage—because many lemurs tend to live in inaccessible locations, such as the rock fortresses of Anja Community Reserve in southern Madagascar, where filmmakers Drew Fellman and David Douglas shot Ring-tailed lemurs.

One of the film’s more memorable scenes involves a family of the Ring-tailed lemurs—females are dominant in lemur society, by the way—sunbathing atop a cliff in the early morning sun.

“They are very Zen animals,” Dr. Wright noted. “They’re very peaceful.”

The Anja Community Reserve is also an example of the way people and lemurs can coexist, indeed how the local population can prosper through lemurtourism.

“We have to work with the poverty, helping with their health and assisting with their education and giving them jobs,” Dr. Wright explained. “I have 85 local people working on research. We teach them how to read and write. We teach them how to take data.”

The Sifakas may be my favorite lemurs, with mouse lemurs, the world’s smallest primate, coming a close second. Sifakas are arboreal, built for leaping between trees in an upright position. When they travel along the ground, and somewhat out of their element, they do so by jumping from side to side.

I thought the filmmakers were employing special effects to make them appear to be dancing—the vivid soundtrack, including Madagascar artist Hanitra Rasoanaivo putting her own spin on “I Will Survive,” only reinforces the impression—but Dr. Wright assured me that they move that way.

Not too long ago—within the last 500 years—there existed lemurs the size of gorillas. I proposed that given the remoteness of some of Madagascar’s landscape, perhaps there are still a few lurking and waiting to be discovered, or rather rediscovered.

Dr. Wright acknowledged such a discovery would be delightful. But it isn’t a priority.

“We’re not going out there to discover the extinct ones,” she explained. “But to find out how many are left of the living ones.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Pass the Butter, Please

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
Updated April 14, 2014 10:37 p.m. ET

Tasters at the New York International Olive Oil Competition, are served samples in blue glasses—so their judgment isn’t colored.         Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Something strange, disappointing and, most of all, pretentious happened on the culinary scene about a decade ago. Or maybe it was two. Restaurants started serving olive oil with bread instead of butter.

I like olive oil. As a salad dressing. In a pinch—say, I can’t get out of the driveway and to the supermarket because of a golf ball-sized hailstorm—I’ll reluctantly dip my bread in the stuff.

But does anybody honestly believe that olive oil, or any other condiment or spread, tastes better on bread than butter? Like Astaire and Rogers, Lennon and McCartney, or Fig and Newton, it’s an unimprovable combination.

If you go to Italy, you don’t find olive oil on restaurant tables—at least not to dip bread. Then again, Europeans don’t serve butter with bread either. What’s that about? I suspect it’s a conspiracy to make Americans look foolish and pay extra when they ask for butter. But that’s never stopped me.

“Olive oil on the table: It’s a very American thing,” acknowledged Paul Vossen, an olive and olive oil expert with the University of California’s cooperative extension in Sonoma County.

Mr. Vossen happened to be in town last week as a judge at the second annual New York International Olive Oil Competition, the NYIOOC. The competition attracted 650 entries from 23 countries.

He and Steve Jenkins, who is vice president, master cheesemonger and olive oil specialist at Fairway MarketFWM -2.94% one of the event’s sponsors, tried to pinpoint when olive oil first found its way onto restaurant tables in place of butter.

“In the aughts,” Mr. Jenkins estimated.

The steady hand of expert Dan Flynn pours the liquid gold.      Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

My skepticism regarding olive oil as a bread accouterment aside, I joined the attendees at the International Culinary Center on lower Broadway last Wednesday, the competition’s first day, to blind test some of the olive oils in contention. My goal was to determine whether all the fuss surrounding olive oil is overblown, or whether it’s justified and I’m just a bad person.

We tried three kinds: one delicate, the second medium, the third robust. The samples arrived in small, dark blue glasses meant to disguise the color so that the judges wouldn’t jump to conclusions based on appearance. There was also sparkling water, apple slices and Greek yogurt to cleanse the palate between entries.

We tried the first sample.

“Grassy,” was the instant consensus.

“It’s not just fresh cut…” Mr. Vossen said, as he swilled the liquid around his glass and then slurped it over his tongue.

“Celery,” Mr. Jenkins proposed.

“Celery is a good one,” Mr. Vossen agreed.

Apparently, slurping is integral to the olive oil judging process. You’re supposed to simultaneously taste and suck in air through your mouth so that the aroma travels through your throat and into your nostrils. At least, I believe that was the purpose, even if it wasn’t especially appetizing.

Then again, neither was the olive oil. I agreed it smelled grassy. And as part of a salad that included, say, fresh arugula and endive; ripe heirloom tomatoes; avocado; garlic; pepper and onions (both red); a golden, free-range, hard-boiled egg; and tuna—the whole thing drizzled with croutons or walnuts, and, of course, a dependable balsamic vinegar—I’m sure it would have tasted great.

Dan Flynn slurps olive oil.                  Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

But when imbibing olive oil all by itself, the dominant association isn’t with freshly mowed grass, apples or green banana peel (two other flavor notes it sparked in Mr. Vossen’s imagination.) Or with even dinner, for that matter. But with oil. As in 10-40 motor oil. As in Valvoline.

“Olfactory Sensations,” where the grassy associations were registered, was but one category on the score sheet. Another was something called “Gustatory-Retronasal Sensations.”

I assume that’s what all the slurping was about. And then there were “Final Olfactory-Gustatory Sensations,” which addressed complexity and persistence.

I struggled to describe the supermarket olive oils I try to avoid and why, describing them as “metallic.” I wasn’t a fast learner. I was reading from a list of possible “defects” on the score sheet. Others included “fusty,” “musty,” “winey,” “muddy” and “rancid.”

Mr. Vossen thought rancid might be what I was aiming at.

“They’ve been there a long time,” he proposed of some of the common supermarket brands.

Mr. Jenkins agreed.

“It’s not like living and breathing any more,” he said. “It’s dead.”

As Fairway’s olive oil buyer, Mr. Jenkins is as responsible as anybody for my olive oil buying habits. It’s possible to get a perfectly unobjectionable bottle of the stuff there for under $14. The gentlemen agreed that from about $13 a liter to double that sounded the right price for olive oil. Certainly no more.

Most people base their purchase on the label, which can be totally misleading, the experts lamented.

“I’ve seen people that put a gold medal they’ve made up on a label,” Mr. Vossen said.

At Fairway, I typically buy the “Trevi-Umbria” unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. But that’s mostly because I have pleasant associations with Umbria.

While Italy takes top honors for marketing its olive oil, Mr. Vossen said, excellent olive oil also comes from Spain, Greece, France, California, Chile and Australia.

“I haven’t had a bad bottle of olive oil from Australia,” he reported.Despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding olive oil, according to Mr. Jenkins the average American consumer’s palate remains largely ignorant.

I asked what distinguishes virgin olive oil from extra virgin.

“The bottom line is that it has no defects and has a little fruitiness to it,” Mr. Vossen explained.

“I thought extra virgin meant it looked greener,” I said.

“See what I’m saying,” Mr. Jenkins said with a sigh. “They don’t know anything about olive oil.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

The Wisdom of Salomon

WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
April 13, 2014 10:29 p.m. ET

Centenarian William ‘Billy’ Salomon, whose father and uncles founded Salomon Brothers investment bank, remembers a more civil Wall Street.       Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

New York City teenagers have been finding ways to break the rules since long before the current crop. Even though parents today might think the challenges of child rearing have never been quite so steep.

“We grew up at the end of the speakeasy era,” recalled William “Billy” Salomon, reminiscing the other day about his after-school activities during the early ’30s.

Mr. Salomon was referring to himself and Virginia Foster, his high school girlfriend and future wife.

“We went to speakeasies every now and then. There was a place near here—at 60th between Park and Lex—called the Gallant Fox. They were willing to serve drinks to minors. We’d go there every Friday afternoon.”

The Gallant Fox, though, wasn’t their only watering hole.

“There was a beautiful Central Park Casino, where Peter Duchin’s father was the orchestra leader,” remembered Mr. Salomon, who celebrated his 100th birthday this month, a son of one of the three brothers who founded Salomon Brothers.

“Where the playground is up on the hill. A beautiful old house. I think they tore it down because Mayor Jimmy Walker took his mistresses there all the time.”

I was able to ascertain that the Casino stood on what became the Rumsey playground, where I played as a child and where SummerStage concerts have been held in more recent years. The playground didn’t make sense to me until Mr. Salomon enlightened me about its history. It was a large, windswept expanse with a few swings that I associate with blustery autumn days and gray skies. The city must have turned it into a playground less for the delight of children than to pave over the memories of the bawdier playground that once occupied the spot.

It’s a privilege to spend time with someone who has lived an entire century, especially when his mind seems as sharp as it was in his 20s, and he’s a repository not only of his memories but also of the city’s.

Mr. Salomon, who would go on to become Salomon Brothers’ senior managing partner from 1963 to 1978, spent his early years at 101 Central Park.

“The seventh floor,” he remembered. “We had a duplex.”

His family moved to the East Side when he was 7 or 8. The address: 35 East 84th St., he said.

Mr. Salomon attended the Columbia Grammar School and Horace Mann. I assumed Harvard, Princeton or Yale would be next on his list of academic institutions.

“I didn’t go to college,” he explained. “I went to work. I wanted to get married. My father said, ‘You’re not getting married unless you have a job.’”

“It was a childhood romance,” he said of his 71-year union to Virginia, who died in 2008. “I took her out from the time she was 16. She was married at 20. I was 23. Our families knew each other. She went to Dalton. She was great looking. We had a wonderful marriage.”

In the couple’s Park Avenue apartment, there’s a black-and-white photograph of Mrs. Salomon, shown in profile, by Lord Snowdon.

“It’s awful,” Mr. Salomon said of her passing. “We were inseparable. We went on vacation with each other. Once we went with another couple. Never again. ‘Meet for cocktails at 8 o’clock.’ The other couple arrives at 8:30. It didn’t work out.”

Mr. Salomon sounded more than a bit wistful for the Wall Street of an earlier era.

“When I started out, I started peddling bonds,” he remembered. “I’d go to the Irving Trust, the New York Trust, Morgan Guaranty. I’d go there at a certain time and you’d see the head man.

“It’s no longer a game of handshakes and gentlemen meeting at their clubs and negotiating a deal,” he went on. “It’s dog-eat-dog and they’re doing it very well to each other.”

Among his hires at Salomon Brothers was a young Harvard Business School graduate named Michael Bloomberg.

“I supported him and still do,” Mr. Solomon said. “He was very smart. He came up with the greatest money-making scheme developed in centuries—all those boxes.”

I assume he was referring to the Bloomberg Terminal.

Mr. Bloomberg was laid off from Salomon Brothers in 1981 after it merged with the Philbro Corp., a commodities trading company. By that time, Mr. Salomon had retired from the company.

“He wouldn’t have been fired if I was there,” Mr. Salomon said of Mr. Bloomberg.

The banker celebrated his birthday at the Council on Foreign Relations, the former mayor among the guests.

Mr. Salomon still goes to the park, in his wheelchair, “at every opportunity,” he said. His son and daughter live in Tucson, Ariz., and Los Angeles, respectively, but visit frequently: “I go in at 61st Street, go wandering around; now I’m pushed around.”

His favorite spot is along the benches that line the path that leads to the entrance of the Central Park Zoo. “I donated a bench on 62nd Street to my wife and myself,” he explained. “Most of the time, it’s occupied.”

“Old age isn’t for sissies,” he said, paraphrasing Bette Davis. “But New York City is a wonderful place.”

Mr. Salomon shares with many centenarians an inveterate optimism and a talent for finding the sunshine among the clouds.

“I think over a period of years in the U.S. you’ve been better off being optimistic,” he said. “I used to tell people in the office when the market was going south, ‘Don’t sell America short.’”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Where the Matzo’s Made in New York

WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
April 9, 2014 10:51 p.m. ET

Sheets of matzo as they emerge from the oven at Streit’s Matzos on Rivington Street.     Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

I think we can agree that Passover matzo isn’t the most flavorful of baked goods. It’s not supposed to be. It’s meant to commemorate the exodus from Egypt and to symbolize what life was like in servitude.

Nonetheless, I have pleasant associations with it. It reminds me of a lifetime of family Seders, and also the cash envelopes the children received after we’d stolen the afikoman and successfully negotiated its return with my uncle Simon so that the service could conclude.

But I’ve always been impressed—no matter how hungry I am by the moment in the Seder that we finally get to enjoy a piece of matzo—by how much it looks and tastes like parchment, and how little like food.

None of this explains why, for the first time last week, I picked up a box of Streit’s dark chocolate-covered matzo at D’Agostino’s. I suspect it was a case of morbid curiosity. To my mind, chocolate can improve the taste of anything. But might it have met its match in matzo?

Michael Stern stocks boxes of packaged matzo.     Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

I was cautiously optimistic about the combination. I think one of the great breakthroughs in baking of recent decades was the decision to coat pretzels in chocolate. It now seems like a no-brainer. But at the time—whenever that was—it must have felt totally counterintuitive. Like Newtonian physics or the Copernican solar system.

One was sweet, the other salty. Who would have thought chocolate and pretzels go together so well? I’d go so far as to say that Hershey’s Take 5 bar—pretzel, caramel, peanut and peanut butter coated in milk chocolate—is the only worthwhile advance in candy bar technology since my youth.

So, how does chocolate-covered matzo taste? When I pressed a piece upon my wife last night, she described the experience as that of eating chocolate-coated paper. I think that’s slightly unfair. It’s a bit more refined than that. It makes you feel virtuous because you can tell yourself it’s a dessert treat, while simultaneously avoiding the guilt that comes with having, say, a chocolate-covered cherry, swimming in sweet liquid fondant, explode in your mouth.

In fact, I was satisfied enough with the experience that I decided to pay a visit to Streit’s on Tuesday afternoon—in their final hours of making Passover matzo, as it turned out. I was coming to offer my compliments and also hoping to learn something about the process of making matzo in general, and chocolate-covered matzo in particular.

One might assume that journeying to its factory would require boarding a plane or at least taking a bus to a distant industrial suburb. But Streit’s is on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side—where it’s been since Aron Streit opened his first matzo bakery in 1925. These days, it’s run by the family’s fifth generation, among them my guide, Aaron Gross, who handles the company’s sales and marketing.

Chocolate-covered matzo. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Gross seemed less interested in discussing chocolate-coated matzo than in his family’s history and the different forms Streit’s matzo takes in addition to matzo sheets: farfel, which can be used to make stuffing; matzo meal, whose uses include breading chicken or making matzo balls; and cake meal, essentially matzo flour.

“We ship our matzo to a place that enrobes it for us and ships it back,” Mr. Gross said of the chocolate matzo, which comes in both dark and milk.

But first a word about the plain-matzo-making operation, which is still slightly magical. After the matzo leaves the oven, it’s placed in metal baskets and sent to a separate floor for packing. It’s part of Streit’s old-time process, which relies on baking and packaging equipment, much of it dating back to the 1930s.

Thus, there’s matzo traveling on conveyor belts all over the building, almost as if on wings. Mr. Gross explained that the journey serves a double purpose: It gets the matzo where it needs to go to be boxed (25,000 boxes in a 12-hour shift), and the trip, which takes approximately 20 minutes, allows it to cool in the meantime.

“In a modern factory, it would be shot into a cooling tunnel,” he observed. “We let it meander around. It’s like ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ but with matzo.”

Another nice touch is that Streit’s has a store on the premises that includes a window where customers can watch large sheets of matzo being cracked by hand. (By the way, where are candy fruit slices mentioned in the Bible, and when did they become a Passover tradition?) “We have people come to the store and we give them a brown paper bag, and they take it right home for their Seder,” Mr. Gross explained.

I invited him to compare his matzo to that of Manishewitz, one of his competitors. I’d meant it as a joke question, my suspicion being that all Passover matzo tastes pretty much the same. There are only so many liberties you can take with flour and water.

But Mr. Gross claimed there’s a big difference—actually three of them: New York City water; an antique sheeter that layers the dough multiple times, creating air pockets and making it less dense; and convection ovens from the ’30s that make Streit’s matzo browner than the competition’s.

I haven’t had time to perform a taste comparison. But apparently there’s no rush. According to Mr. Gross, matzo stays just as fresh and edible for two years in your kitchen cupboard as it did during the Exodus.

“If you keep it dry, it will last for a long time,” he said. “If you throw it in the oven, you can make it new again.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Another New York Bookstore Reaches Final Chapter

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
April 8, 2014 10:19 p.m. ET

A view of Rizzoli from above Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

An email arrived a couple of days ago from Rizzoli, the handsome, oak-shelved bookstore at 31 W. 57th St., announcing that it will close its doors this Friday. Rizzoli is optimistic about finding a replacement location. In the meantime, it encouraged me to take advantage of the 40% discount on the books, including the splendid coffee-table books, that are its hallmark.

About a week earlier, my brother sent me a couple of slides he found while cleaning out his house. The two events are related. The slides, taken in June 1984, show “Young, Gifted & Rich,” a book of profiles I wrote about entrepreneurs in their 20s such as Steve Jobs, sharing pride of place at Doubleday Book Shop among such business best sellers of the day as “In Search of Excellence” and “Iacocca.” The store, which closed in 1997, stood not far from Rizzoli, on the west side of Fifth Avenue at 56th Street.

My suspicion is that prior to taking the photo, my brother transported my book from the bowels of the store and placed it up front among the best sellers. But Doubleday had treated me well. It displayed copies of “Young, Gifted & Rich” at its checkout counter and invited me to autograph them—hence happily making them unreturnable.

A sign pointing to the bookstore’s imminent closure Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

Such an experience would have been a thrill for any first-time author. But it had special meaning because it occurred at that particular bookstore. Doubleday was my local bookstore, so to speak. My father’s office was just up the block and one of my rituals, come late June, was to stock up on summer reading at Doubleday. Indeed, a visit to the store seemed the spark that set in motion the excitement of wherever the family happened to be going on vacation.

I observe that ritual—of stocking up on books prior to an extended trip—to this day, now with my own family. Unfortunately, Doubleday, as I said, is no longer around. And shortly Rizzoli won’t be either. (I’d like to share its optimism about relocation efforts: “…we very much plan—and expect to remain—a vital part of the city’s cultural fabric for many years to come,” its email read.)

I’ve since taken my business to Crawford Doyle, a small, lovely bookshop on Madison Avenue in the 80s, and the less jewel-like Barnes & Noble at 86th and Lex. I remember, not that many years ago, when B&N was considered the local ogre, threatening the independents. But from what I read, it’s not in the greatest financial shape these days either, being under relentless competitive pressure from the likes of Amazon. Perhaps in not too many years I’ll be recalling Barnes & Noble wistfully, too.

If you’ve lived in New York City for a certain time, Rizzoli’s closing has special resonance. That part of Manhattan used to be book country. Rizzoli had been at 712 Fifth Ave., within feet of Doubleday, before it moved to 57th Street in 1985. And there was a second Doubleday location at 53rd and Fifth. Most majestic of all, perhaps even a bit too much so for my taste, was Scribner’s, that Beaux Arts cathedral of book selling at 48th and Fifth (and now a Sephora). And across the street from that was Brentano’s.

Some of the remaining books on the shelves Keith Bedford for The Wall Street Journal

I’m not going to suggest that entering Abercrombie or Hollister, the sort of establishments that have replaced the bookstores of old on Fifth Avenue, isn’t a transporting experience—especially if you’re a tourist with euros to burn. And the spacious avenue hasn’t squandered all its charm.

Visiting Bergdorf’s, Tiffany or Cartier can be refined experiences, even if you can only afford to window shop. But there’s something special about books. They’re interactive in a way that clothes and jewelry aren’t (though I realize I should speak only for myself). I don’t just mean the reading experience, the relationship between author and reader. Visiting a bookstore fills you with a peculiar kind of anticipation. It’s not dissimilar from stepping through the doors of the Louvre or the Met.

There’s a nobility about bookstores. They embody what’s best about ourselves. You can almost hear the books’ authors calling for our attention from the shelves and tables, like the crackle and pop of organisms on a corral reef.

There’s no way Amazon, despite its algorithms, delivery drones and fulfillment centers, will ever replace that.

It was heartening to watch my children devouring books over spring break, and not on a Kindle, Nook or iPad, either. And I suspect the experience of reading, in whatever form, will never go extinct. But book browsing and buying is an experience distinct from reading. It triggers some synapse in the neurological neighborhood of avarice, but avarice of the most harmless and sociable kind. That’s why bookstores are irreplaceable and why the death of one seems the death of us all.

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Becoming Shakespearean

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
By RALPH GARDNER JR.
April 7, 2014 10:27 p.m. ET

Rhona Silverbush teaches Shakespeare at her New York City home. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

You can’t say you’ve lived—certainly in New York City—unless you’ve taken evening classes at a place such as the New School, the Alliance Francaise or the Institute of Culinary Education. Signing up for one serves as testimony to the typical New Yorker’s relentless ambition and quest for self-improvement. Or as a commentary on the tedium of their day jobs and the desire to change the score of their lives. Or maybe they’re just looking for romance, and a class on making sauces is far more civilized than prowling pick-up bars.

My own experience with continuing education—I was probably searching for all of the above at one point or another—has been checkered. I took a screenwriting class many years ago and am still waiting to break into the motion picture industry. I also studied Italian for several semesters, but my command of the language is no better than it was before. And I never dated anyone I met in any of my classes.

I don’t blame the results on my teachers, who seemed professional and enthusiastic. I think it was more an issue of my body clock. Come 6 p.m., my brain is telling me to party rather than hit the books.

That uninspired history made me reluctant to accept the Shakespeare Society’s invitation to audit actor and Shakespeare expert Rhona Silverbush’s introductory five-week course, where students learn to better understand the bard’s work and also to speak it with “confidence and pleasure.”

That last part is from the course description. And if there’s anything more aspirational and optimistic, more brimming with purpose and promise, than an adult-education course catalogue, I haven’t found it.

Yet there would be something to be said for becoming comfortable with Shakespeare. You wouldn’t feel obligated, even after graduating from Ms. Silverbush’s intermediate or advanced courses, to rent a hall and mount a one-man show. But it might tempt you to stay tuned, rather than switch to sports, throughout Masterpiece Theater the next time Kenneth Branagh appears in “Hamlet” or “King Lear.”

Come to think of it, wouldn’t night school be more fun if there was alcohol involved? Whatever might be lost in mental acuity or to slurred speech—admittedly, a liability if you were assigned the St. Crispin’s Day speech from “Henry V”—would be more than compensated for by the temporary sense of well-being, melting inhibitions and false confidence that is liquor’s calling card.

Absent those enhancements, Ms. Silverbush did as well as anyone could at making me and the four other students who showed up at her art-filled Flatiron District loft (three others were absent that evening) feel welcome and at ease. She was assisted by Juno, her labradoodle, who, after greeting each guest individually, settled down among us with a chew toy.

“I normally take her to run with the wolves,” Ms. Silverbush explained, apologizing for Juno’s sociability, and adding something about a cough. “The vet said I’m not allowed to take her out for two weeks.”

Earlier classes had addressed context and meaning in Shakespeare’s work. “You’d be amazed how many people don’t know what they’re saying,” she stated cheerfully.

No, I wouldn’t.

The session I attended was to explore, through meter and sounds, several Shakespeare monologues the students had taken home to study and brought back to speak. Ms. Silverbush is a human-rights lawyer, and she studied theater at Brandeis University and performed with regional theater and Shakespeare companies.

She’s also the co-author, with Sami Plotkin, of “Speak the Speech! Shakespeare’s Monologues Illuminated.” It’s an extremely useful and fun book, taking more than 150 of the poet’s speeches, annotating them, providing commentary and exploring how meter, sounds, word choice and even pauses reveal character and guide performance.

In her affectionate hands, Shakespeare becomes more accessible, less intimidating and even more awesome. “He’s tucked into every line,” she said.

“I miss acting,” she admitted. “But it’s even more exciting when people have ‘Ah-ha!’ moments.”

Alan Harris reads Polonius’s ‘Hamlet is mad’ speech in the course. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

The class included Corrina Bain, a performance poet and social worker; Felicia Castaldo, a Hunter College student; David Murray, a Jersey City fireman; and Alan Harris, a software company sales manager. (However, Mr. Harris’s spirited reading of Polonius’s speech from “Hamlet”—the one where he shares with the king and queen his misgivings about Hamlet as a suitable mate for his daughter Ophelia—suggested he must also have acting in his blood.)

Ms. Silverbush said some take her course to get over their fear of Shakespeare; others to develop a richer appreciation for his work; and a few because they’re actors honing their craft, or just because they like to read out loud. “The next week they want to read something else,” the instructor explained.

She argued that through Shakespeare’s word choice (such as perpend; and gather and surmise), Polonius brands himself a long-winded, self-important prig.

“How did that feel for you?” Ms. Silverbush asked gently.

“Better, less nerves every time,” Mr. Harris said.

“I loved you getting upset at the white bosom. You’re finding all the things to play with.”

The teacher was referring to a line—”in her excellent white bosom”—in a love letter, recited by Polonius, from Hamlet to Ophelia. Although the bosom in question apparently referred not to the maiden’s alabaster breast, though perhaps to that, too, but, according to Ms. Silverbush’s book, to a practical pocket sewn into Elizabethan women’s clothing at the bosom to store handkerchiefs, letters, purses, etc.

Ms. Silverbush announced she’d be addressing Shakespeare’s imagery in the next class, and the clues it offered to character and state of mind. I was sort of sorry I’d miss it. But there’s always next semester.

Corrina Bain reads Constance’s ‘I am not mad’ speech. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com