WordBowl Word-of-the-Day “duende” is considered by linguists one of the most difficult words to translate into other languages. English words associated with “duende” are: magic, genuine feeling, spirit, fiery, authenticity, magnetism, soul — along with something dark.

It was the subject of an infamous 1933 lecture by the poet & theatre director Frederico Garcia Lorca which you can read here (I am learning fascinating things from the words you send!). 

“duende” courtesy of Jody C. Salem: artist. champion. mother.


PawPaw was Algerine — not from exotic French Algeria but from Algiers, the oldest ward in New Orleans — born on the banks of the Mississippi, one of an interchangeable brood of brothers, cousins who played and fought along their bend of the river, dove after paddlewheel boats chugging up the Mississippi.

River Rats.

How my hardscrabble grandfather met, married my aristocratic grandmother a mystery, a romantic notion, for what other than wild passion could propel two people to cross the gaping chasm between their respective classes?

PawPaw & Me (photo of a photo)

PawPaw & Me (photo of a photo)

PawPaw — one-time Merchant Marine, Jack’s Brewery furnace stoker, for-cash bare-knuckle pugilist, father of two sons — survived a fire of murky origins. In recompense, he received complimentary passage courtesy of a global shipping line for the remainder of his life.

According to family legend, PawPaw strode into offices of company presidents — how he became acquainted with such men, again, a mystery ­— persuaded a loan of, say, $50,000, disappeared for a year or two, returned with double the amount in bundles of cash handed over with hearty thanks.

To me, PawPaw appeared as if conjured, visits heralded by middle-of-the-night calls from airports to announce his arrival, my parents scrambling, me waking with bleary anticipation of gifts. And then, there he was, larger than my father, larger than life, although I now know he was a slight man, compact, condensed, skin leathered from a life lived facing seas, sky.

PawPaw was happy to sleep on the sofa or the floor or the trundle bed in the tiny room I once shared with two brothers, which he declared luxurious in comparison to the cramped quarters he occupied during his recent voyage.

Spanish play on the G&T (tarragon, lemon) and Deviled Egg (friend oyster, caviar) at Carta

Spanish play on the G&T (tarragon, lemon) and Deviled Egg (fried oyster, caviar) at Carta

He arrived laden with spoils, a present day pirate: an elaborate embroidered Chinese jacket, a matador outfit when I was five, kimonos before that. I spent these young years defending my Halloween outfits to other kids, insisting my “costumes” were actually real.

PawPaw once took me to an ice cream parlor, smiled as I lapped up an obscene sundae, the fluted glass bowl nearly obscured my face — I was four, haughty in my refusal of a booster seat — asked if I would like more. I nodded, wild-eyed, as he shouted to our waiter to keep the ice cream treats coming until I told them I was done.

We engaged in detailed discussions regarding my dream dollhouse, which he planned to build, died during its construction.

There were hints of another PawPaw, whispers between my parents about the absentee father my father barely knew, at odds with the old man cackling with gleeful stories, fierce and generous in all the ways my father was not.

I learned to play chess with an ivory-and-ebony set he brought back from India, pick-picked my first short story on his immense manual Royal before I could type, embarked on a career requiring international travel.

And I contemplate the possibilities to live as he  — adventurer, entrepreneur, builder of things —lived, without fear and with great gusto, forever in the heart of the moment.

Third Rail Coffee, east village

Third Rail Coffee, east village

As I strive to write thematically, “duende”, was initially scribbled at Spanish tapas restaurant Cata (lower east side, nyc) and edited at Third Rail Coffee (east village, nyc) 

Would you like to participate in WordBowl? Send me a word using the handy form below. 


Today’s WordBowl word is our first non-English term, used as a noun, an intensifier, an insult. Cazzo appears in countless phrases flung at enemies loved ones alike.   

For the literal minded: It means D–k.  So it’s our first profanity WordBowl word. 

Cazzo is from Ariella Papa, who writes about Italians & the words they say in A SEMESTER ABROAD

Peck in Milan, Italy

Peck in Milan, Italy

I was raised in an America that referred to relatives of spaghetti as “noodles”, dumped cans of Chef Boyardee in a pot and called it dinner, crowned Ragu the king of tomato sauces. My knowledge of wine was confined to Blue Nun, a German white with which I celebrated my fifteenth birthday by getting drunk with a monk on our flight to Rome, so I have always associated it with Italy.

How I landed, fresh out of college, a catering sales job for a lauded Italian landmark in the tony Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, is a bit of a mystery. The greater mystery, to my parents, was why I chucked a mortgage banking offer for food service.

The writing cocktail-or-coffee conundrum resolved

The writing cocktail-or-coffee conundrum resolved

Modeled after Peck’s in Milan, the business was in part a no-reservations café — the lunch lines snaking through the retail store with its beguiling bottles of oils, vinegars, crook-necked wines, take-away fresh prepared foods — as well as a  thriving catering business run out of the offices downstairs.

It was an immersion in the language of food, seasonal produce, imported products. Morning Amaros to settle the stomach, afternoon wine tastings to create perfect pairings.

The waiters and retail counter personnel spoke in a customer-charming hybrid English-Italian, the kitchen staff a staccato English-Spanish-Cantonese-Italian, while my catering van driver shouted combative Italian at inconvenient stop signs, parallel parking spots a scant too short.

I learned shouting did not necessarily equate anger.

The bilingual chef-owner delighted in introducing us to puttanesca (“whore’s spaghetti”) and cosce di manaca (plums known as “nun’s thighs”), reveling in the history of these confluences of — in his mind — the sacred (food) and the profane (religion).

TOO SOON showcasing Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) at The Beagle

TOO SOON showcasing Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) at The Beagle

After my first year, a new Sous Chef roared in on his Italian crotch-rocket of a motorcycle, sporting a shaved head and multiple piercings, brandishing tribal tattoos. He snatched sizzling bites from pans bare-fingered, flexing sculpted, scar-seared forearms. He wore tight pants to rival British rock stars.

Dangerous, the proximity to flaming fire, unctuous oils, the exposed flesh of bulbous vegetables. Our overripe world.

During high seasons, we were often the first to arrive, him kneading dough, me reviewing spreadsheets and schedules, us, alone, him in the open kitchen firing ovens and tossing pans, me in the cramped unfinished “offices” that doubled as storage, reworking budgets on what was even then an ancient computer, downing espressos.

He buzzed my phone from the kitchen requesting my presence for a tasting  — whether to taste a dish or a taste of each other left tantalizingly ambiguous — I joined him in the early morning kitchen light, pots steaming, the room already teeming with scent, rosemary and garlic and sweating onions as he massaged whole chickens with olive oil, lifted tasting spoons, licked his lips.

He smelled of smoke and meat and sweat.

You can, I suspect, envision the rest, the dramas both personal and professional.

To this day, whenever I catch a whiff of smoked or roasted chicken, I experience a titillating fission of excitement I pass off to others as mere culinary anticipation.


cazzo! was handwritten with a Cynar (Italian artichoke bitters) cocktail at The Beagle (east village, nyc) and with a Negroni (and espresso) at Morandi (west village, nyc)




WordBowl Word of the Day “deracinate” — which I did not know essentially means “to uproot” until I Googled it — is courtesy of Cyndee Readdean. Filmmaker. Culture Creature. Twin. 

deracinateA few weeks after the birth of my baby brother — disappointing, as I specifically requested an OLDER brother, not this red-faced mewling thing taking up residence in my mother’s lap —I greeted the arrival of my road-weary father with suitcase in hand, assuming this Houston apartment was as temporary as the others, Phoenix for Spring Training, Tacoma in the off-season, San Francisco or San Mateo for games played in Candlestick Park, Evansville for dips down to Triple-A ball.

A travel savvy almost-five-year-old, I packed my own case, a miniature replica of my mother’s (hard-sided, top-stitched), with a few of my favorite outfits and matching socks (we dressed to the nines, my mother and I), a swimsuit (swimming pool hopes, often the case), paper and crayons (if we flew, stewardesses cooed and gave out coloring books, but I liked to be prepared for any travel situation), an assortment of books (of course) and my Giants jersey (adult-sized, doubling as security blanket). All set, ready to Hit the Road.

imgres-1We — Mom, Dad, me — may not have had a home, but our lives had a rhythm, bound to the tides of baseball fortunes, the ebbing minor leagues, the crests and swells of the majors. Shifts in destination and timing, the little dramas woven into the cycle of arrival, unpacking, practice, game, celebration or consolation, re-packing, waiting, departure, freeway or airport, motel or apartment, arrival.Vagabond days marked by gas station treats and airport gifts and occasional exotic meals cooked by one of the other ballplayer’s homesick wives.

Vesper Martini at Raoul's: a classic at a classic

Vesper Martini at Raoul’s: a classic at a classic

Ballparks, with their enormity of noise, swells of sound, announcements crackling, great waves of people, anticipatory, asserting statistical knowledge. Cries for beer, hotdogs, yes, even peanuts, better seats. The players loping onto the field, scattered shouts from the fans, weak clapping gaining strength as the crowds turn from their dissertations on the team’s chances for the season and acknowledge the actual talent hitting the field. Lazy balls arcing through the air, belying the precision with which they are thrown, even during warm up, the nonchalant preening of players on display but not yet at work, playing. Me, near the dugout, in uniform, an indulged team mascot.

Are not all fathers applauded by thousands upon arrival at their office?

wayside coffee bar, east village

wayside coffee bar, east village

Now, Houston, this apartment without a swimming pool, was to be our home for the next few years as my father — retiring at 27 from the only job he had ever known — attended pharmacy school.

I did not share my parents’ enthusiasm for kindergarten, the opportunity to play with kids my own age. I enjoyed my solo status, my books and my crayons, the company of grown-up players — Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Mansori Murakami, Willie Mays — and their wives. In Houston, all the adults looked alike, the kids had known each other since birth, and everyone spoke with a singular syrup-drenched accent.

Adrift in this sea of sameness, I began plotting my escape.

Today’s WordBowl Word of the Day was handwritten at the SoHo institution Raoul’s and edited at the latest jewel in the East Village artisanal coffee crown, Wayside. 

calla lily.

WordBowl Word-of-the-Day “calla lily” suggested by J. Vitkus. Writer. Producer. And as of last week, Mom.


The living room resembles a funeral parlor, but she is not dead, merely maimed, stranded in a city without friends or family. She knows no one willing to drop their life to come care for her, or perhaps she does but rebuffs the overtures, too accustomed to handling things on her own.

Floral arrangements  — oversized displays from friends, tasteful ones from the company for which she relocated — perched on every available surface. Allergen-prone, she senses a sneeze swelling her nostrils, cheeks, pressing her eyes, but she is on so many opiates — Valium, Flexeril, Oxycodone — it seems not worth the effort, the sneeze, too many body parts involved.

Floral & fauna, Nomad-style

Floral & fauna, Nomad-style

And an affront to the gift-givers.

Family members sent shiny packages brimming with foods to which she is allergic; they await re-gifting to her staff in thanks for their heroic overtime efforts in her recovery-enforced absence.

Earlier, one of her colleagues brought fresh food  — a practical, thoughtful thought — along with contracts and marketing plans to review in her daily windows of clarity. Perhaps a bite to eat is in order. After. After the current, comforting episode of Law & Order, crimes neatly resolved within the hour.

Unlike her present circumstances.

She shuffles to the refrigerator, contemplates a drumstick, settles for an asparagus stalk. Delicious, this lack of want, desire. This pillow-y pill-topia. She recognizes the danger lurking, the slippery slope-slide into addiction, how one might want to continue this feeling-less feeling. So pleasant, this suspended animation, free of her cornucopia of usual cravings.

She alone but not lonely. Much.

ICL-beaglen the dead zone between waxing of one pill and waning of the next, questions float to the surface, the full-throttle career orientation, the wisdom of relocating to a place devoid of any personal allegiances for a Dream Job. But then the next wave washes over, the tide carries her to the couch, lulls her into some facsimile of rest, television programs bleeding harmlessly into one another.

A friend calls in the throes of another breakup — for real this time — and she slips, she cracks. She cries. Afterwards, sleeps the listless sleep of the induced. Wakes emotion-embarrassed, texts she is fine, fine, fine. No need for action. The outburst, anomaly.

He arrives, having hopped the earliest train. He thrusts a vase forward, a single sinewy flower, a spray of leaves snaking through its narrow neck.

They go out for brunch. He holds her good arm as they cross the street, cracks awful jokes, leans in and cuts her food into bite-pieces without her having to ask. They return to her place, she pills up, they watch a movie both have seen. He hugs a hug to comfort her for the duration, departs.

She recovers, week by week, a new normal emerges. She tosses the dead flowers, the molding foliage. Returns to work.

His hand-blown vase remains, the single stem sprouts new leaves, having somehow taken root without soil, sustained by water and air.

WordBowl Word-of-the-Day “calla lily” handwritten at Nomad (Crowned “Best Hotel Bar” at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail) and The Beagle (Yes, again. When a place has good writing vibes and great people, you go with it).

WordBowl word suggestions welcome! Drop a word:


WordBowl Word-of-the-Day “etouffée” courtesy of Louisiana Kitchen & Culture Founder & Publisher Susan Ford

Crawfish Etouffee Photo: Louisiana Kitchen & Culture

Crawfish Etouffee Photo: Louisiana Kitchen & Culture

I dream of po’ boys, flash-fried oysters mashed between toothsome crisp-crusted French Bread, an un-replicable unctuous bite. Muffulettas oozing oil and olives. Beignets smothered in powdered sugar snowdrifts.

"Double Buzz" at Amor y Amargo — weekend-only coffee+cocktail alchemy

“Double Buzz” at Amor y Amargo — weekend-only coffee+cocktail alchemy

The luscious, lyrical meals of my childhood — flour-roux gumbos, Jambalayas, fried soft shell crabs, Black Bottom Pie —forbidden foods as an adult with wheat allergies.

New Orleans and the surrounding areas, my father’s ancestral home, redolent of seafood seawater and slow-simmered spices, where supper plans were hatched over breakfast. Our family visits, after Grandmother Marie passed, centered around meals with my father’s brother Uncle Johnny, Aunt Susie, our five much older cousins.

My father’s eight-years-older brother, Uncle Johnny, was once signed to Detroit, injured in his first pre-season Spring Training, returned to New Orleans without having played a professional ballgame, became a car salesman, dealership owner, Chrysler company man. Everyone in the family drove a Chrysler — except for Great Aunt Dinky, proud owner of successive Mercedes sedans — my parents on the receiving end of Uncle Johnny’s showroom castoffs.

A talker, Uncle Johnny, as verbose as my father was quiet, sucking and jabbing his omnipresent cigarette to punctuate his point, of which he had a few, his wife alone possessed the power to quell his harangues. Aunt Susie, New Orleans native, grew up just blocks from Uncle Johnny and my father, but across the Maginot Line of another Parish, a Parish of the newly arrived, like her family, from Mexico.

imagesWhich explains how amidst the parade of crawfish, red beans and rice, shrimp remolade, hatbox-sized tins of Charles’ potato chips, there was, on any extended New Orleans visit, Taco Night.

Taco Night, Aunt Susie’s sisters joined us, simmering onions and tomatoes, frying soft corn tortillas until puffed crisp and shimmering with oil, peeling paper-skinned things resembling green tomatoes, what I later understood to be tomatillos, but not from my aunts or whatever you would call them, Aunts-in-Law — who spoke rapid-fire Spanish-Cajun-English, a cascade of words flowing fluid from one language to another — as an adult, I learned about “tomatillos” from a chef in San Francisco who specialized in nouvelle interpretations of regional cuisines.

MoonPie-1Aunt Susie and the Aunts-in-Law arranged heaping platters on the long low table with seating for twelve, extra chairs brought in from the garage or the formal dining room, family squeezed so tight elbows bumped, until a rhythm of raise-taco-lower taco-refill-taco-raise-taco was established with our immediate neighbors.  For my siblings and I, the presence of so much food, our portions unsupervised, was dizzying, we ate well past the point of full, and munched on chocolate and lemon Moon Pies afterwards, avoiding our packaged dessert-abstaining father’s silent stares.

Aunt Susie, Uncle Johnny and our cousins moved to Nashville (some Chrysler-opportunity), the end of such gatherings. Despite scattered siblings and cousins drifting back or towards our familial homeland, New Orleans meals henceforth held in hotels or restaurants, the merits of which are debated against the meals of our memories.

“etouffée” hand-scribbled during Amor y Amargo‘s weekends-only “Double Buzz” hand-crafted coffee & cocktail pairing event. My Great Aunt Dinky (who actually might be a great cousin, several times removed, but she’s always been an “aunt” to me) would approve. 

"Double Buzz" coffee + cocktail alchemy at Amor y Amargo

“Double Buzz” coffee + cocktail alchemy at Amor y Amargo

Do you have a favorite word? Send it along. I look forward to writing something for you!


WordBowl Word of the Day LAWLESSNESS courtesy of Hogan Gorman

Actor. Activist. Author.


Kicking off this "lawlessness" adventure with BATHROOM LAUGHTER at Mother's Ruin

Kicking off this “lawlessness” adventure with BATHROOM LAUGHTER at Mother’s Ruin

New Orleans, point of origin, cross-country road trip, three Southern chicks, U-Haul jammed: inherited furniture, dashed familial expectations, historical baggage. Westward Ho! Adventuring to, or escaping from. Early twenties, confident in the uniqueness of our private pains.

Night before, toasting, one of us toppled off a barstool, broken wrist. Lost a day: hospital, sympathy cocktails, final family fights, farewells.

First days, road-thrill, sloping scenery, states slipping past. Speeding ticket, hilarious, stopped by a cop, did not recognize us or our last names. Revel in anonymity, assume — still— our parents would fix it with the presiding judge, as was custom. Roadside motels, novelty, tacit understanding one of us lacked unlimited funds.

Vistas flattened, air staled, radio stations dissolved to static. Truck cab squeezed by thoughts not voiced and road trip accoutrements acquired. An ex-but-still-friends stop, local concert, return to a vehicle too tight to accommodate our accompanying hangovers and lingering resentment, petty grievances.

Hauled through Colorado, up to Aspen without benefit of snow gear, it was summer where we started. Missed connection, misplaced address. Costume change in the back of U-Haul, taking turns, naked among reminders of what we chose to leave. Drinks, to facilitate the Figuring Out of What to Do. New friends, the kind who Day Drink their way into the night. Our kind of folk. We stand on barstools, buy rounds of shots for the natives, to prove we come in peace.

Mezcal-based TERRIBLE LOVE at Death & Co.

Mezcal-based TERRIBLE LOVE at Death & Co.

Party swells, fast friends commandeering pool tables, cigarettes, recreational party favors on our behalf. The friends-of-friends, Southern trust fund ski bums who agreed to accommodate us for the night, finally found, join the fray.

Night speeds, accelerates, swerves. Flirtations ignited, flamed out. Cards and cash tossed like cocktail napkins. Cotton shoved up a nose, no more hospitals this trip, soldier on. Hunter S. Thompson jokes, comparisons, we wore our Fear and Loathing with pride. We did not know we had gone too far until we arrived, wild-eyed, to the point of no return.

Morning, murderous, miraculous. Rode road, veered towards Utah, roadside emergency pee, another car, soldier returning from a war we watched on television, sly smoke offer, turns taking puffs. Drove through Moab, gaped at red rocks, slack-jawed, cotton-mouthed, questing for beer in a dry county. Squeaked through Nevada City, hit hotel slots, won twenty bucks.

COCKPIT OF PEACE at The Beagle (originally found in the classic 1947 tome "Barflies & Cocktails"

COCKPIT OF PEACE at The Beagle (originally found in the classic 1947 tome “Barflies & Cocktails”

Conversation deserted. Desperate for fresh clothes, fresh audiences, we high-tailed, two of us taking turns at the wheel, the cramped middle, not glaring at the one relieved of responsibility, sleeping against window, blond hair fanning her cast.

Abandoned U-Haul illegal, clinging to a hill, tickets tossed, we did not yet possess California licenses. Furniture and luggage left to languish as we danced, dove, drank. Tow-threatened, truck emptied at last, possessions scrambled, never rectified.

Told tales of this trip to strangers, never with each other.

We scattered. One scrabbled the globe, self-discovery, marriage, children. Another catapulted to career heights. Only one of us hit jail, momentary, before settling. All returned to respectability.

But underneath, lurking, reckless possibility.

As you might surmise, the writing of “lawlessness” required a cocktail road trip of sorts:

 BATHROOM LAUGHTER at Mother’s Ruin (nolita, nyc)

TERRIBLE LOVE at Death & Co. (east village, nyc)

THE COCKPIT OF PEACE at The Beagle (east village, nyc)

Do you have a favorite word? Send it along!