Category Archives: Entertainment

Review: Over-the-Rhine Tour Guide

OTR Tour Guide

OTR Tour Guide

Dr. Don Heinrich Tolzmann, long associated with the University of Cincinnati and German-American studies, is someone who I am aware of but have never met. When I saw his book, Over-the-Rhine tour guide : Cincinnati’s historic German district, Over-the-Rhine, and environs, I had to buy it. I am more than aware of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. My paternal grandparents lived there for over 50 years. I lived there for a year in addition to all the time I spent at my grandparents. When I was completing my BA in history I wrote my capstone paper on the history of the neighborhoods economy. I have always been big fan of the neighborhood and would argue with anyone, everyone that has referred to it as “blighted”. It was just having some hard times.

That is not the case today. The city is investing in a new streetcar line, the neighborhood is gentrifying, business are opening, and homes are being remodeled and, thanks to the entire neighborhood being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, 943 buildings in all, it is like stepping into an old European town. It is again becoming what Jane Jacobs called a “livable city” and it is filled with history. Not all the history is good but it is all worth remembering. That is why I had high hopes for this guide.

Over the Rhine is defined by the route of the old Miami-Erie Canal, now Central Parkway, so I was a little concerned when he started the guide outside the neighborhood. Dayton Street, old mansions that belonged to the families that owned the breweries and old brewery buildings along Central Avenue (originality in naming streets is not a quality Cincinnati is known for) seemed to be a reasonable inclusion but i grew concerned when the tour entered the neighborhood on Elm Street and failed to even note the YMCA building on the north west corner of Elm and Central Parkway. It is an impressive example of early 20th century architecture and as the early home of both the Salmon P. Chase Law School and a program to train auto mechanics it has history that should be mentioned.

I did learn a lot from the book. Tolzmann was very good at giving the history of the impressive 19th century churches that I admired since my childhood but, until now, knew very little about. He describes several important residences in the neighborhood, stories I had never heard, from serial killers to Civil War generals and politicians.

Unfortunately the tour spends more time outside the neighborhood, I think the surrounding areas were given as much attention as the neighborhood itself was. Some of the points of interest were relevant to OTR, Mecklenburg Gardens, the resort at the top of the Elm Street Incline for one, but most were less interesting than overlooked locations inside the neighborhood. Some connections were overlooked, the Main Street incline was built to take people from OTR to the Zoo, why not mention it with the zoo or use it to introduce the zoo? The Freie Presse building, a German language newspaper that served the overwhelmingly German population of OTR and Cincinnati in general from 1874 until 1964 still stands just south of OTR at 905 Vine Street. Several other locations in the vicinity are covered that have less relevance to OTR. Why not the Freie Press?

The most disappointing feature of the book was the route of the tour itself. Often the path Tolzmann follows doubles back on itself making for needless confusion. The neighborhood vast majority of the buildings are on the seven north south running streets or the three major east west connectors, How difficult would it have been to simply work in a grid, up one street and down the next?

I have to confess that part of my disappointment with the book could be that it scooped me. Researching my capstone paper the thought of an online tour kept popping into my mind but, I studied history not programing. For the few people that will be interested in the topic this book is a good resource. I just wish it was a better one.

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Review: Striptease, the untold history of the girlie show

Book cover

Striptease the untold history of the girlie show

On an opera stage in France, sometime in the 1830s, a dancer showed her ankle and shocked the audience. One hundred and fifty years later Goldie Hawn was gyrating in a gilded birdcage wearing only a bikini, her act broadcast to every American living room and only few people objected. Rachel Shteir looks at the evolution of stripping, of undressing, as part of a performance, in her book “Striptease: the untold history of the girlie show”, which won the 2004 George Freedley Award for Excellence in Live Theater Writing.

Social and technological changes seem to be the principal driving force behind the evolution of theatrical “undressing”. For most of the 19th century the rules were stable. If a “dancer” moved on stage she must stay covered. If a dancer stood still bare skin was permissible. Flesh was only exposed, legally, in “living art”, a still life representation of well known paintings or sculpture. If the dancer moved the most that they could expose was a form fitting “union suit”. It was the female form, not female flesh, on display. During this time dance was not even the principle “undressing act”. Most often their was a simple, often unimaginative, skit that provided the rationale for the undressing, bathing, preparing for bed, or the ever popular game of strip poker. Eroticism was a product of making public the private act of undressing .

Shteir points out that at least one change in fashion was necessary for the development of modern strip and tease, each started as a separate style of undressing act. The whalebone corset fell out of fashion, increasing the ease and speed for a woman to undress. With the coming of the first world war came the dawn of the Jazz Age, a result of moralists and the US military shutting down Storyville, New Orleans’ vice district, unemployed musicians spread the New Orleans sound up the Mississippi river to St. Louis and Chicago where it took root and spread across the nation and soon the world. In the roaring post war economy burlesque adopted jazz, a energetic boost to its Tin Pan Alley roots. A six piece band, a “strip band”, became the norm in the industry. The Midwest in the 1920s gave birth to both the “tease”, where the dancer performs a short song then ducks behind the curtain to remove an article of clothing before popping back on stage for another number repeating the sequence as far as local law enforcement will allow, and the “strip”, where the dancer slowly and deliberately undoes buttons and hooks while performing a song or to a song. Not all performers sang, often the theater would have someone singing just off stage, a job referred to as a “tit serenader”. By 1928 Billboard magazine had combined them into one word, striptease.

The Depression did not stop burlesque, top performers could earn $400 a week. Beginners and older dancers could still make $35 a week. Comedy played a bigger part in the performances, lifting the spirits of people enduring economic hard times. The comedy kept women in the audience of burlesque performances through the 1930s. Fannie Brice and Gypsy Rose Lee worked to put humor in their acts. It was also the age of burlesque queens, Sally Rand, Ann Corio, Gypsy Rose Lee and others who moved beyond the burlesque circuit into “legitimate theater” and the movies but maintained a relationship with striptease. With the bad economic times the moralists became more vocal, blaming the hard times on burlesque rather than on bad management by WASPs.* Moralists came out in force during the depression, doing their best to ruin business and slander performers. Ferdinand Pecora, a name I respected, the lawyer that investigated and prosecuted the big banks and oligarchs who brought on the Depression, prosecuted the Minsk’s for obscenity.

With the outbreak of World War II burlesque and striptease found some acceptance in the general population. Americans saw no need to deprive young soldiers going off to war a chance to have a good time. The war also exposed the world to what had been described as one of only two American art forms, striptease. Striptease caught on in France after WWII the same as jazz caught on after WWI. The late 1940s and 1950s were a highpoint for striptease but they also were the opening chapters in its fall from prosperity.

With television people had less reason to leave home. With changing fashions people had less need to pay to see the female form. Low revenue forced theaters to close, some reopening to show films featuring skin, movement, and no teasing. Fewer theaters meant fewer performers could find work and those that did tended to keep doing the acts that had worked in the past, originality suffered and even fewer paid admission. By 1969 Shteir says that striptease was economically obsolete. A few performers kept going into the 1980s performing in tents at county fairs to audiences that were now female by a 3 to 2 ratio. In her conclusion Shteir looks at the resurgence in interest in old fashioned striptease, neoburlesque where professional looking amateurs stage performances for their own reasons.

“Striptease” is a well written, well researched, and well organized book that was as fun to read as it was educational. Early in the book I was concerned that Shteir was using obscure words to sound more academic but it soon became evident that I just needed to be more familiar with parts of our language. The two words that I first tripped over, “chorine” is one chorus girl and “zaftig” is on the scale of “svelte” to “voluptuous” but I am still not sure where on the scale it falls, were uncommon but necessary to express the author’s ideas. Shteir also pointed out that in theater speak any action that shocks the audience, that grabs their attention is a “flash”, it is not just about breasts and behinds.

Although reviews on Amazon, which I read after reading the book, question some of the incidental facts in the book I only have to look at the list of resources Shteir researched and the detailed notes she includes to dismiss those objections as questionable at best. After all none of the reviews document their claims and anybody, even me, can post a review on the internet. Shteir’s basic premise, that striptease was an economic choice that some, but not all, performers made in spite of its hardships, is well defended and convincing. I have to recommend this book to any one interested in women’s history, economic history, and the theater.

* White Anglo Saxon Protestants for anyone younger than I am.

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Review: To Have and Have Another

book cover To Have and Have Another

Philip Greene’s To Have and Have Another

Philip Greene has an interesting biography. He is a descendant of the New Orleans pharmacist that developed Peychaud Bitters. He helped found the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans and works as legal counsel for the Marine Corps. His book, “To have and have another : a Hemingway cocktail companion” is something of a cross between a Mr. Boston’s cocktail guide and a someone’s doctoral dissertation on Hemingway’s writing. Greene’s writing is much better than that last sentence would suggest. There is none of the dry stuffiness of academia or any salesman’s hype on any of the drinks or ingredients.

With each of the 56 drinks that Green found mentioned in Hemingway’s fiction and personal papers Greene giver the recipe, with occasional variations, and offers details about where Hemingway used them in his fiction or drank them in life. Key West and Cuban bars are well represented here. As is the real and the fictional Harry’s Bar which is also the name of the bar my grandfather and I frequented back when I looking forward to becoming a teenager. I am a little annoyed that there is no one left to ask if Hemingway was the inspiration for that establishment’s name.

I confess that I am not a huge fan of Hemingway’s but reading this has caused me to consider giving his fiction another try. I know that the next time I have friends over for a party we will be sampling a few of these drinks and remembering Hemingway.

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Review: How to Manage a Sucessful Bar

book cover How to Manage a Successful Bar

How to Manage a Successful Bar

If you are as big a bookworm as I am you have been wondering in a used book store and had a title jump out and grab your interest. That is what happened to me with Christopher Egerton-Thomas’ book “How to manage a Successful Bar”. Now I have never wanted to work in a bar, lot less manage one, but I kept coming back to that book. I was shopping with “free” money, I had sold books and magazines to the store and was using that money, so I grabbed it. I am glad I did, it was one of the most fun books I have read this year.

First I did a lot of patting my own back. Dad owned a bar for a few years way back when I was turning into a teenager and I spent many hours in the basement sorting beer bottles and stocking the bar before opening. I remembered a few things. I learned a few hints and shortcuts. For instance if you are going to be making Pina Coladas mix your cream of coconut with pineapple juice ahead of time, it really does save time and simplify making the drink.* All of his cocktail related information seemed to make sense but I felt he was a little rough on beer, although my memories of sorting dead soldiers in the basement of Murphy’s Pub are not all good and cleaning the pipes for the draft beer was not part of my responsibilities beer seemed simple to sell. I can’t judge his comments on wine. The only wine I bought for myself was a bottle of port for mulling.

The real fun of the book had to do with its age. Published in 1994 it is now old enough to drink and I found it fascinating how things have changed in such a short time.** Listed as necessary items for a bar are phone books and ashtrays. One ashtray for every two bar stools. Today it is illegal to smoke in a bar. Phone books? I would guess it has been a decade since I saw one. I have to say the same about TV Guide. When I read credit card slips I had to stop and think for a second. I started a retail business in 1993 and the bank did not want to allow me to use the old fashioned paper slips for credit card sales. They were very instant that I get a phone line and use an electronic card machine even though my “store” was a truck and I drove from customer to customer. How were bars getting by with the old paper slips? The only thing that made sense to me is that possibly the book sat around a few years before being published.

After reading his advice on dealing with personal problems, coworkers and bosses I had to accept that there was good reasons someone would hesitate to publish this as a legitimate “how to”. Christopher Egerton-Thomas is no Dale Carnegie, you won’t learn how to make friends or influence people here.

Still, I think it was worth reading. Not for the business advice but for the advice on bartending, sure, why not. While writing this I started reading a book about alcohol and Ernest Hemingway, in life and in his fiction. I have to say that Egerton-Thomas helped me understand how Hemingway lived as long as he did while drinking like he did. His bartenders had to be watching over him and, after a point, watering his drinks down.

* Now I know not to premix an entire bottle for a gathering of six responsible adults. My wife and I will be drinking Pina Coladas for the rest of the week.

** Ok, I am old or at least getting there but to me 1994 seems like yesterday.

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Review: The Curious Bartender

book cover The Curious Bartender

The Curious Bartender

I was leary of this book, The curious bartender : the artistry and alchemy of creating the perfect cocktail, when I first picked it up. The cover is elaborate, it is printed on heavy, marbled paper, I would almost call it cardstock. Every page has a full color illustration, very often a full page photograph. Overproduced was what I thought and I expected it to be more flash than bang, pretty but shallow. Then I started reading the introduction and the author, Tristan Stephenson, was talking about molecular gastronomy, rotary evaporators, “sous vide”, and other terms that were Greek to me. My expectations plummeted. When I crack open a bottle of spirits I want to find grain or fruit, yeast, heat, oak essence, and centuries of experience. When I mix a cocktail I want simplicity and tradition, fresh fruit juice, spirits, maybe a liqueur or a flavored syrup. I don’t want to have anything to do with a chemistry set. If not for the pictures of delicious looking drinks I might have not bothered to read the book but it was a gift and those pictures did look good. Then he explained that an emulsion is nothing more exotic than meringue on a pie or the foam on top of a Ramos Gin Fizz. So I carried on.
The first section covers techniques needed to make traditional and new age drinks. Stephenson writes well and does a good job explaining the techniques. The only problem is that I have no interest in using smoke or dry ice, or dehydrating something to make my guests a drink. Still the parts I was interested in, even something as simple as using ice, the difference between shaking and stirring a drink is explained so clearly that I was surprised at how much I did not know.
The second section recipes, it is divided according to type of spirit, gin, vodka, brandy, whiskey, rum, and tequila. He focuses on popular drinks that have been around the block a few times. I appreciated this, I see a book or app full of drink recipes and I have know idea which are popular and which are filler. Stephenson’s years experience behind a bar shows in his selection of drinks. He lists two recipes for each drink, the traditional way and his new age, molecular, distilled, aged, frozen alchemy. How many frozen alcoholic lollipops or daiquiri sherberts do we really need? I was skeptical and I suspect that my lip was curling up in disgust at a few of the renovated drinks.
Then we got to the rum drinks and I started to soften. He pointed out, as I have suspected, that the first Cuba Libras had a bit of cocaine in them courtesy of the coke in Coca-Cola. He gives a great “traditional” recipe then uses his wizardry to recreate the original drink. He recreates the original Coke, even concocting a basil-clove infusion to mimic the mouth numbing effects of the cocaine Coke. Then he moves on the the Flip, a century old hot rum drink that originally was made by plunging a red hot poker into the drink to heat it. He explains the evolution away from the hot poker to using an egg for the texture but then he writes, “but there’s no substitution for a hot poker in life” and proceeds to explain how and why to make it the old way.
By the time I got to the appendices, a very useful glossary, index and list of suppliers for the standard and exocit tools and ingredeants in the book, my opinion had softened. I still think the book paid too much attention to production but there is good solid information for even an unambitious home bartender like me. The modern techniques are not my style but, I have to confess that I would not turn down a chance to try some of them.

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2014 Reading List

Father Time

Father Time marches on.

I only managed to read 22 books this year. Even considering that several of them were well over 400 pages long I am a little disappointed. I did manage to review all but the last on, which I am working on right now and should be ready to post next week.

The worst was Peter Bronson’s “Behind the Lines” where he tries to explain away the 2001 manslaughter of Timothy Thomas by an inexperienced police officer unfamiliar with the area who, against instructions, chased Thomas down a dark, narrow walkway and shot him dead as he reached for his phone. It turned out to be a story that kept repeating through the year. Just like today the reaction against the unjust killing was blamed on the victims of police violence.

On a personal level Christine Sismondo’s “America Walks into a Bar” might be the most important. That is the book that made me want to try a Lime Rickey and got me started on the path to a home bar. In the larger world Martin J. Blaser’s book “Missing Microbes” could turn out to be the book of the year. His argument that we and our bacteria evolved together, that we could have a myriad of symbiotic relationships with the bacteria that lives in and on us and that indiscriminately eliminating them can be, has been, detrimental to our health opens up vast field of investigation for medical researchers.

Here is the complete list.

1. Edsel, Robert M., and Bret Witter. The monuments men : allied heroes, Nazi thieves and the greatest treasure hunt in history. New York: Center Street / Hachette Book Group, 2010

2. Deetz, James. In small things forgotten : an archaeology of early American life. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

3. Sismondo, Christine. America walks into a bar : a spirited history of taverns and saloons, speakeasies, and grog shops. New York, N.Y: Oxford University Press, 2011.

4. Stiglitz, Joseph E. The price of inequality. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.

5. Larson, Edward J. Summer for the gods : the Scopes trial and America’s continuing debate over science and religion. New York: BasicBooks, 2006.

6. Blaser, Martin J. Missing microbes : how the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

7. Purdum, Todd S. An idea whose time has come : two presidents, two parties, and the battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New York: Henry Holt and Co, 2014.

8. Murtagh, William J. Keeping time : the history and theory of preservation in America. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley, 2006.

9. Bronson, Peter. Behind the lines : behind the lines of action, between the lines of truth, the untold stories of the Cincinnati riots. Milford. OH: Chilidog Press, 2006.

10. Shriver, Maria, and Olivia Morgan. The Shriver report : a woman’s nation pushes back from the brink : a study. New York, N.Y: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

11. Connell, Robert L. Fierce patriot : the tangled lives of William Tecumseh Sherman. New York: Random House, 2014.

12. Cronkite, Walter, Maurice Isserman, and Walter Cronkite. Cronkite’s war : his World War II letters home. Washington, D.C: National Geographic Society, 2013.

13. Johnson, Jacqueline. Western College for Women. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

14. Purdum, Todd S. An idea whose time has come : two presidents, two parties, and the battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. New York, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

15. King, Quentin S. Henry Clay and the War of 1812. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

16. Bradley, David. The historic murder trial of George Crawford : Charles H. Houston, the NAACP and the case that put all-white southern juries on trial. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2014.

17. Potter, Maximillian, and Donald Corren. Shadows in the vineyard : the true story of a plot to poison the world’s greatest wine. Solon, Ohio: Findaway World, LLC, 2014.

18. Bailey, Mark, and Edward Hemingway. Of all the gin joints : stumbling through Hollywood history. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.

19. Krist, Gary. Empire of sin : a story of sex, jazz, murder, and the battle for modern New Orleans. New York: Crown, 2014.

20. Trudeau, Noah A. Southern storm : Sherman’s march to the sea. New York: Harper, 2008.

21. Henry, David, and Joe Henry. Furious cool : Richard Pryor and the world that made him. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013.

22. Levin, Phyllis L. The remarkable education of John Quincy Adams. London New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

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Book Review: Rogue Male

Book Cover

Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male

Back in the 1990s I started reading a lot of crime fiction and suspense. Inside a collection edited by Alfred Hitchcock I came across this short novel, “Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household, that Hitchcock described in the introduction as the best suspense story ever written. That intrigued me, after all, who knows suspense better than Alfred Hitchcock? If he said it said it, must be so. Hitchcock was right. I read crime and suspense for another ten years and never found anything that came close to producing the claustrophobic fear of this book.

The book starts with the unnamed protagonist caught in a compromising position, he is looking at an unnamed European leader through the scope of a high powered rifle. I was sure I knew who but, after the second or third read and a few history classes, I have more than one possible target in mind. His captors believe he is an assassin and decide to dispose of him. Our protagonist manages to escape but finds himself chased by a determined team of assassins. The majority of the book is his frantic scramble to escape the team hunting him. The writing carries you along, from one chilling encounter to the next. I hate reviews that use cliches like that, but yes, I remember a cold chill running down my back again and again as the protagonist evades the men hunting him. Soon we are living like hunted animals in the English country side. I do mean “we”, the writing is so clear and compelling that you can feel the dirt rolling down the back of your shirt just as the protagonist does.

There is misdirection in the form of an unreliable narrator that caused me to doubt I knew the target. Soon I doubted everything the protagonist / narrator said. I won’t try to claim that the book is high literature but it does deserve a close reading. Unlike most 75 year old novels you won’t have trouble finding a copy of this one if you want one. It is still in print, available new from Amazon and there are many prior printings available in the used book market.

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