Crucial Warnings

For those of you unfortunates who are out shopping on this Black Friday, a reminder to pay careful attention to the warnings on the shopping cart seat. Kids can fall out of shopping carts, you know. If you’re shopping with a young child, be sure to buckle her in securely. Oh, and don’t leave the child alone in the cart while you trot off to pick up the latest blue light special.

I don’t remember there being such warnings on the shopping cart seat when Richard and Russell were little, but apparently retailers now think parents need to be reminded not to abandon toddlers who are sitting in shopping carts. I’m a bit surprised, therefore, that other similarly obvious warnings aren’t also imprinted on the seat. Like, “don’t engage in shopping cart demolition derby with other shoppers.” Or, “don’t let your child stand up and dance on the plastic seat while the cart is in motion.” Or, “don’t place that set of razor-sharp ginzu knives in the seat area within easy reach of your child.”

You’d think these warnings would be unnecessary, but perhaps for people who are willing to risk shopping on Black Friday with a youngster a little reminder about the basics can’t hurt.

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Is Christmas Music Bad For Your Health?

We’ve turned another page on the calendar.  It’s November already, and that means . . . get ready to hear Christmas music everywhere you go.  For all I know, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer is already playing on heavy rotation at the local mall.

567b6ea8160000b300eb98d9The British newspaper The Independent ran a story yesterday in which a clinical psychologist is quoted as saying that listening to too much Christmas music is bad for your health — your mental health, that is.  In the story, written by a reporter with the delightfully British name of Olivia Petter, psychologist Linda Blair states:  “People working in the shops at Christmas have to tune out Christmas music because if they don’t, it really does stop you from being able to focus on anything else.  You’re simply spending all of your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing.”

The psychologist doesn’t cite any studies or clinical tests to support her conclusions, but this is one time where confirming evidence doesn’t seem to be needed.  I happen to like Christmas music — with a handful of notable exceptions like the aforementioned Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and Do You Hear What I Hear? — but I can’t imagine what it would be like to work in a store where, starting about now, you’re required to listen to an endless loop of the same Christmas songs, over and over again.  Your first listen to the Bing Crosby and Andrews Sisters version of Jingle Bells might put a holiday spring in your step, but by the 139th hearing on December 3 you’re going to be ready to hurl that appallingly fragrant holiday candle display through the store window and tackle the nearest Salvation Army Santa.  No wonder Clark Griswold lost it in Christmas Vacation.

Christmas music isn’t immune to the general rule that too much of anything isn’t a good thing.  So when you’re doing your holiday shopping this season, don’t be surprised if that person behind the counter seems a little bit edgy — and be sure not to whistle Frosty The Snowman when you make your purchase.

 

Personal Service

I like to buy Kish perfume for Christmas.  It’s a good idea, but there is one problem:  I don’t know bupkis about perfume, or how to pick it out.  So, what to do?

There is only one answer — Nordstrom.

img_3266When I went shopping for Kish’s presents before Christmas, I went to Nordstrom because I knew that I would get plenty of desperately needed help from the friendly employees walking the floor of the perfume department.  And sure enough, when I showed up in the bustling department one afternoon, wandering aimlessly with scribbled notes in hand and a hapless, sheepish, and somewhat lost expression on my face, a nice young woman approached and asked me if she could help.  When I explained what I was looking for, she thought for a moment, then took me over to another part of the department, where she summarized my concepts for an older woman who apparently got her Ph.D in perfume.  A knowledgeable nod, a few careful selections from a shelf full of different perfumes, a few spritzes on a kind of paper stick, a few whiffs by yours truly, and I knew I’d made some good choices.  And they even threw in the gift wrapping, too.

Sure enough, when Christmas came and Kish opened the perfume, she loved it.

I don’t like shopping, and normally I’m one of those people who knows what they want and likes to dart in and get the heck out of the store as quickly as possible, without interacting with anyone.  These days, that’s increasingly easy to do so, because many stores have cut back on the number of floor employees.  Nordstrom isn’t one of them — fortunately for me.  Sometimes you want a little personal service, provided by pleasant people who aren’t high pressure and who act like they just want to help.

So thanks, Nordstrom, and thanks especially to the nice folks in the perfume department at the Easton store who helped a baffled, perfume-challenged husband give his lovely wife a merry Christmas.

The Chintz Room

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Some Columbus restaurants from days gone by have achieved legendary status. The Kahiki, with its dry ice drinks and over-the-top Polynesian decor. The Jai Lai, with its big photo of Woody Hayes and its “In all the world there’s only one” slogan.

The Chintz Room, located high in the Lazarus department store downtown, is one of the legends. Countless central Ohio kids of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s got dressed up and trooped into the Chintz Room with their grandmothers for a lunch break during a downtown shopping trip. There they self-consciously ate chicken salad in the company of prim, hat-wearing ladies, ever-mindful of the need to keep their elbows off the table.

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Now the Chintz Room is back. It’s still in the old Lazarus building, but now it’s moved to the ground floor with a street level entrance. It’s decorated with mannequins, ladies’ hats, photos, and other memorabilia that recall its glory days at the center of the Columbus department store shopping world. And it still serves chicken salad, apparently made from the original recipe.

I don’t like chicken salad, so it’s fortunate for me that the Chintz Room serves other, more modern options. On my trip there yesterday with the Damages Dude — who did go for the chicken salad — I got the Tuscan pizza. It was excellent, with a crunchy crust, figs, prosciutto, three cheeses, and extra virgin olive oil, and large enough to satisfy a lunch-time appetite without being overwhelming. At $11.50, it’s price tag wouldn’t cause your grandma’s hat to go spinning off her head, either.

I’m glad the Chintz Room, with its echoes of Columbus’ past, is back and available for the downtown lunch rotation.

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At Stables Market In Camden Town

024On New Year’s Day, most of the London attractions are closed. Kish had done some research and thought it might be fun to head over to Camden Town, a London neighborhood that has become well known for its markets. Two of them — Stables Market and Camden Lock Market — were open on a rainy, blustery day.

We visited Stables Market first. It’s located in and around an enormous, sprawling brick building that formerly was a horse stable. The signs of its former stable status are everywhere — in the cobblestones and horse troughs, in the curved bays and stalls, and in the many horse-related bits of decoration found just about anywhere you look.

010There are countless shops located in this elaborate brick maze. Ethnic food of every variety is available from stalls where the proprietors call out what they have to offer, and people ate standing up or sitting down, trying to grab whatever shelter they could from the downpour. Other shoppers dodged the raindrops going from stall to stall, some of which are pumping out music or drenching patrons in a heavy dose of incense.

The non-food shops offered lots and lots of clothing, most of which seemed to be black and made for people who wear size 0 or smaller. There also were handbags and hats, bongs and hookahs, t-shirts and umbrellas, carpets and wall coverings, buttons and make-up cases, and a chance to have your photo taken wearing Tudor garb — and that’s just scratching the surface. The shoppers tended to be young and looked like they were having fun.

After we left the Stables Market we visited the Camden Lock Market, which runs along a canal lock underneath a bridge. Its shops offered more of the same. We left without buying anything, but enjoying the dip into a different part of London and a better sense of what the young Brits are doing with their spare time.009

At A Paris Grocery

As usual, we are staying in an apartment during our trip to Paris.  It’s the apartment of the vivacious Josette, where Richard and I stayed several years ago.  It’s a great location, right next to the Luxembourg Gardens, in a neat residential neighborhood.

001One of the true advantages of the apartment rental experience in a place like Paris is the chance to get away from the commercial areas and get out with the Parisians.  Because we’re in an apartment, we need items like orange juice, coffee, milk, wine, and beer.  (Of course, you would never dream of buying bread in a grocery store; you’ve got to go to the bakery for that.)

There are a huge array of other items to try along the tight aisleways, and you can always find bins of fresh fruits and vegetables under the striped green outer awnings.  There are some language challenges — my de minimus French skills can’t distinguish ground coffee from whole bean, for example — but you typically can make do with some careful looking (and, in the case of packaged coffee, giving it a squeeze to see whether it feels ground.)  The proprietors of these neighborhood groceries are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, too.

Shopping at a local grocer in a foreign land is one of the things that makes travel fun.