It is commonplace to observe that the history of war is written by its winners. This adage surely held true in Spain itself, where the Nationalists remade the educational system to fit their needs. But in the English-speaking world, the history of Spain’s Civil War has been told most prominently not just by the losers, but by sympathizers of the POUM: the losers of the losers.
Now, Betsy Lerner in The Bridge Ladies ups the ante, to mix my card metaphors. She writes not only of re-entry into the life of her then-83-year-old mother, Roz, but also of becoming a kind of auxiliary member of Roz's Bridge Club, which has been meeting in a suburb of New Haven, Conn. every Monday for over 50 years.
Because Lerner's focus is wider and because her mother, Roz, is still very much alive and "with it," this memoir is messier, more open-ended than its predecessors. The relationship between Lerner and her mother is still in process — just like those bridge games.
In fact, travelling as a vegetarian has offered a unique window into the places I have been to. I used to cringe every time I remembered the low opinion that Anthony Bourdain had of people like me: “Vegetarians … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food,” he declared in Kitchen Confidential. But a few years ago in Cambodia, after a series of increasingly befuddled questions and answers, the waiter gave up and invited me into the kitchen. Maybe he was being sarcastic? But I accepted with alacrity.
“Your Top 5 favorite sandwiches, in order, please. Go.” This is a game I play in the car with my children, as if we were characters in a Nick Hornby novel. It’s a diversion to make long travel more bearable. We play it all the time. The children rush to judgment, and as is true for most of us, their answers change along with their tastes. But of late: grilled cheese on white, with tomato soup; the B.L.T. from a store in Maine near their uncle’s house, on thick country bread; ham and Brie with mustard on baguette; a meatball sub from a local deli; and — does a hamburger count? (It does not.)
Dad’s turn. I count in reverse order: that B.L.T., yes, perhaps with avocado; turkey with Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing on a kaiser roll; peanut butter and gochujang (the Korean hot-pepper paste) on sesame toast; a Reuben, on rye of course, with pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut, more of that Russian. I know a guy who makes those as if he were building violins for Pinchas Zukerman. I pause before the No. 1 slot, as if reflecting; I enjoy giving this answer. My most favorite sandwich is fried eggplant, mozzarella and roast beef on an Italian hero, with hot peppers and a slash of mayonnaise.