A not so distant mirror

   For my background reading for our Italy trip, I'd stumbled across a couple of memoirs written by Americans coming to grips with their Italian heritage. I settled into My Two Italies by Joseph Luzzi. I was particularly intrigued by his recounting of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's years in power. Berlusconi headed the Italian government from 1994 until 2011, when he resigned to face charges of "bribery, Mafia collusion, false accounting, tax evasion, government corruption, and sexual solicitation."

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 Field of dreams

   It was my daughter, aged 14 at the time, who first pronounced Wrigley Field as unfit for human habitation. Never mind that the Friendly Confines is the second oldest in the majors, dating back to 1914 (Boston's Fenway Park opened in 1912).

   "It smells like urine," she sniffed, as she walked the concourse holding her nose.

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The boy of summer, Part 2

   As the home of the Milwaukee Brewers has a retractable roof, there was no chance of a rain delay. We did, however, pick the very night again the home team chose to honor its newest inductees into its Wall of Honor. Since the Brewers' former stars were always thorns in the side of the Cubs (or the White Sox when the Brew Crew was in the American League) I was not inclined to celebrate the likes of Ricky Weeks, J.J. Hardy or Trevor Hoffman.

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The boy of summer. Part 1

   One thing I've learned as a result of my quest to visit all 30 major league ballparks is how much less enjoyable a baseball game is compared to watching them one after another all day and night with the volume on mute, while reading, writing or just lying half-dazed on a couch.

   First, there's the presence of people -tens of thousands of them - milling aimlessly about looking for things to eat and drink, as dentists and gastroenterologists gaze smilingly at their soon-to-be-expanding revenue streams. My question is why is red and blue cotton candy not sold in grocery stores if it's such a seemingly popular snack food? Same goes for nachos and soft serve sold in batting helmets?

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Sabbatical: Guys and Dolls

    I consider taking one's granddaughters on a road trip to American Girl Place something akin to guerilla grandparenting. As a grandpa, you are most decidedly in an alien land of pink. Armed with only a credit card, you are surrounded by the enemy's many check out counters primed and ready for battle. Steeling yourself, you tell yourself you can get out of this with your bank account remaining in good standing, even as the dead dolls eyes of WellieWishers stare back at you with what you swear is a sneer of pure mockery.

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Sabbatical: The catch

   Playing baseball as a 12-year-old, I once made the All Star team. Coach told me it was because I could bunt. My tendency in all aspects of baseball was to let the ball play me, as if it were a living thing, and I the object of its pernicious pursuits. Playing infield, grounders chased me like wild rabbits. In the outfield, flyballs came at me as if it were a game of dodgeball.

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Sabbatical: The tackle

   I played center on a boys football team where the minimum weight to qualify for the team was 70 pounds. On weigh-in night, I weighed about 69 ½ pounds, and had to eat bananas and drink water to finally make weight. The maximum weight for the team was 90 pounds, and several of my teammates on the offensive line spent that evening throwing up in order to make weight.

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Never Again...until...well...now

   The Nazis at Auschwitz used the word Stücke or pieces to describe and completely dehumanize their captives. They didn't start out calling them that. Back in the 1930s in a Nazi propaganda film, immigrants in general were referred to as "parasites...bringing with them crime, corruption and chaos."

   Also, Auschwitz itself did not start out as a death camp. In the spring of 1940, the Nazi conquerors of Poland needed some place to house their Polish POWs. It chose an abandoned army barracks in the town of Osiewicz, near the Polish/Czech border. Only after iterations as a work camp for Polish political prisoners, then captured Russian soldiers and finally, when penning Europe's Jews in ghettos proved increasingly costly to maintain, did the Nazis hit upon the idea of "repurposing" Auschwitz for mass extermination. It took a full two years before Auschwitz went from POW camp to death camp. And even then, there was a period when the camp population still waged a daily "battle of starvation, disease and appalling physical abuse," according to a BBC documentary on the camp.

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The Sabbatical: Hurricanes 101

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, much of St. Bernard Parish and Chalmette were flooded to a depth of about five feet. These were the days before federal flood insurance and FEMA trailers. What was available was a loan from the Small Business Association, which my parents dutifully took out and repaid just in time for Hurricane Katrina.

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The Sabbatical: Bayou Blues

   My family's roots are submerged in the bayous of Louisiana. If you think Louisiana is the armpit of the country, then the bayous are the pit hairs.

   My grandparents raised eight kids on little more than what could be hooked, dragged, dredged, gigged or netted out of Bayou Des Allemands. My grandfather was a barber; my grandmother ran an ice cream parlor. Between my grandfather not charging the Depression-devastated inhabitants for their haircuts and my grandmother frightening the children who came in her shop at the wrong time for ice cream, my grandparents eventually lit out for greener pastures: the reclaimed malarial swamp known as Chalmette, where I grew up.

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The Sabbatical: School Daze

  With time on my hands now, I used part of it to noodle around my ambivalent attitude towards authority, resulting in a liberalism that believes in government as a force for good and resents its intrusiveness at the same time.

   As with everything else in life, it started with my parents. As nurturers, they expanded the "children should be seen and not heard" maxim to include not being seen either. In summer we were sent out from the house after breakfast into the stifling heat of New Orleans and told not to return until dinner. Left to forage for lunch, we learned to distinguish the hard way between poison mushrooms and berries and the good ones.

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