August 30, 2011

Where I would rather be today: ROME

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I was entrapped into attending a destination wedding in Bath, England in the early spring of 2004. Vivian can be beguiling and when she is, I am an easy mark. Try getting to Bath from London, carrying two heavy suitcases and assorted goodies. Good luck.

Beguiled, we flew to Rome and after a few days on to London for a brief visit and then Bath. I enjoyed Bath and the wedding was interesting. The trip home was flights from London, to Dublin, to Boston, to Los Angeles and finally San Diego. That's the downside of flying using airline miles to obtain free tickets.

So here are some of my favorite Rome pictures. That's me in front of the Pantheon, just about my favorite historic building in the Eternal City. I had on my San Diego Padres cap and a guy wearing a San Diego Chargers jacket spotted me. It pays to wear sports gear if you enjoy chatting with strangers.

The same thing happened a few years before in Copenhagen. We needed a bathroom, and found one in a classy hotel in the middle of town. While waiting for Vivian, outside the ladies room, I spotted a man wearing a Chargers cap. It turns out he lived in the same part of San Diego as we and his wife and I recognized each other from a donut shop. The bonuses of travel just seem to pop up out of nowhere.

If I could be in any particular spot in Rome, as I write, it would be in the crowd on the Spanish Steps. It is so alive with people from all over the world, an instant happening.
Vivian and I had just climbed the Spanish steps on April 3, 1972 when we stopped for coffee at a cafe. We had just picked up a copy of the International Herald-Tribune. This was many years before the instant communication of the internet and all these new fangled accessories.

Paging through the Trib, Vivian gasped and started to cry. "You won't believe this," she weeped. My boyhood hero and one of her favorite Brooklyn Dodgers, Gil Hodges, had died of a heart attack two days shy of his 47th birthday. At the time he was the manager of the New York Mets. A heavy smoker, Gil was playing golf with his coaches in Florida and reportedly was gone before he hit the ground.

Gil's widow, still living some 40 years later, is the former Joan Lombardi from Brooklyn.

If you haven't been to Rome, put it on your bucket list. It defies the imagination. History is everywhere and the food is sensational.

Photos by Frank Barning

August 23, 2011

Where I would rather be today: TREVI FOUNTAIN IN ROME

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The 1954 hit song and movie "Three Coins in the Fountain" brought Rome's Trevi Fountain (Fontana Di Trevi) to the attention of Americans. The film tells the story of three American girls looking for romance in Rome while employed at the American Embassy. They drop coins in the fountain for good luck.

The song received an Academy Award that year and was a No. 1 hit by the Four Aces. Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, among others, recorded popular versions of the song.
We were disappointed to find out that Trevi Fountain is tightly surrounded by buildings so it is difficult to shoot a panorama photo. Close ups of the various statues work best.

The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. Each sea horse is guided by a Triton. One of the horses is calm and obedient, the other one restive. They symbolize the fluctuating moods of the sea.

On the left hand side of Neptune is a statue representing Abundance, while the statue on the right represents Salubrity (the quality of promoting good health). Above the sculptures are bas-reliefs, one of them shows Agrippa, the general who built the aqueduct that carries water to the fountain.

The water at the bottom of the fountain represents the sea. Legend has it you will return to Rome if you throw a coin into the water. You should toss it over your shoulder with your back to the fountain.

Vivian did this in 1966 while in college and again in 1971, so it must work. The photos are from our 2004 trip to Rome. It is estimated that 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day.

Photos by Frank Barning

August 19, 2011

Austin Street Memories: Growing up in Forest Hills, Queens, New York


For those of us who grew up in Forest Hills soon after World War II, Austin Street was an interesting place to spend time because of the variety of interesting shops. Most of our needs and those of our families could be satisfied between Ascan and Continental Avenues.

My family lived there until late 1954 when I was 12 years of age. Both my mother and father moved to Forest Hills in the mid-1920s, in their early teens. Three vintage postcards are shown above.

This was a time long before large shopping malls and huge Wal-Mart-type super stores. Mom and Pop businesses still reigned supreme. Sometimes you developed a friendly relationship with store owners and their employees. People called each other by their first names, unlike the often impersonal method of doing business in today’s world.

We lived 73-20 Austin Street, in the Tilden Arms, a six-story apartment house named for the famed tennis star and child molester, Bill Tilden. Our building was on the southwest corner, adjacent to Ascan Avenue. Across the street was Sutton Hall Pharmacy, a famous hangout for many years. Hy the soda jerk was a local celebrity.

My childhood pal Bobby Taylor lived in the Tilden Arms and he has vivid recall of the shops. According to barrister Taylor, “Going out the front door from 73-20 Austin Street, turning left and proceeding west towards Continental Avenue, the first stores you passed included Jones' Candy Store, Budde French Cleaners Roth's Hardware, Henry's Superette (aka The Dirty Deli) and Lou Portong Millinery.”

Taylor also remembers Cushman's Bakery, Glindeman's Deli, Peter Reeves grocery store, Famous Fashion, Pinsky's Stationary, White Rose Market and Woolworth. Most of us referred to Woolworth as Woolworth’s.

The official name was F.W. Woolworth, named after its founder, Frank Winfield Woolworth. In 1910, Frank Woolworth commissioned the construction of the Woolworth Building in Manhattan. This building was entirely paid for in cash. It was completed in 1913 and was the tallest building in the world until 1930. But I digress.

Also on Austin Street were Ralmi’s, M. H. Lamston (a rival of Woolworth), Womrath’s and a few steps from Continental Avenue on the north side was Seven Master Barbers. I remember the big picture window and being able to see the white-uniformed men cutting hair. My barber was Tommy who gave me my first professional haircut.

Larry Bender, a P.S. 101 classmate of mine, has memories, too. “My favorite shoe store was Stride Rite which had a fluoroscope machine that produced an x-ray of your foot to make sure the shoe fit properly,” he mentioned. “It might have been called Walter's at one time. I think it was closer to Woolworth where you could get a bag of pretzels, potato chips and M & M's for a quarter.”

Woolworth was a great place to buy candy before going to the nearby Forest Hills and Midway theatres. “Those were the days,” said Bender who now lives in Southern California. The L-shaped Woolworth had entrances on both Austin Street and Continental Avenue.

Jeff “Cap” McGann has his western end of Austin Street mercantile remembrances. The Forest Hills Sports Center was his favorite. “They kept jockstraps under counter so as not to scandalize any debutante who might wander by and happen to see the box they came in,” he stated. The box was labeled “Athletic Supporters”. How shocking!

McGann, now living in Vero Beach, Fla., also remembers Beau Brummel Macleavy's Gym above Peter Reeves. “They had machines running up and down oversized butts.
Peter Reeves was good place to hock peas to use in peashooters.”

Another memory is of Walter the Our Lady Queen of Martyrs crossing guard/beat cop used to hit on the buxom counter girl. Charley Miller, the ringleader of the Neely gang, taunted “Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar” and she would chase him and his pals down the street. “Walter, Walter” was a song made famous by Gracie Fields, who also wrote the lyrics. The song is familiar to me because my mother used to paraphrase it with, “Frank, Frank, lead me to the bank.”

Also memorable after all these years is the shoe repair shop (While u Wait). It had booths with little swinging doors to sit in while shoes were repaired in the window for all to watch.

Other Austin Street venues included the Ray Lipschitz Candy Store, Paul’s Luncheonette with its delicious but greasy hamburgers, Hamburger Express, The Blue Candle, Ida's Millinery and Chapeaux, Louisa Brown, Wu's Chinese American Restaurant at 71-32 Austin Street, the Rexall chain’s Towne Drug and White Rose where grocers tallied purchases with black crayon on bags. Perhaps this was the forerunner of current scanning system.

Villmonte's Bakery was owned by a big Swiss/Austrian baker who bellowed to customers when they complained about high prices. “I don' mek hosssheet! You vant hosssheet? Go to Cooshman's.” Cushman’s indeed had inferior goods, but were much less expensive.

Thinking about those stores, probably all long gone, reminds me of some of the great fragrances I have ever experienced. The smell of the ice cream and candy at Ralmi’s was intoxicating, and so is the recollection. The odor of baseball gloves at the Forest Hills Sports Center brings back memories of Carl Furillo, Alvin “Blacky” Dark and Allie Reynolds, among other New York/Brooklyn area heroes of that era.

Certainly not as appealing, but still a strong olfactory memory is the odor emitted from the shoe-repair shops. I vividly remember the smell of the leather and rubber in such stores in the days before synthetic materials began to be used. I can hear the tapping as shoe repairmen hammered new rubber heals and soles on shoes from which we wanted to get additional wear. Now we seem to throw everything away with repair shops being few and far between.

And few foods in my lifetime were as satisfying as freshly baked rye bread, heavy on the seeds, from a bakery. My mother, a Forest Hills girl, would send me to the store for a loaf, and by the time I returned home to the Tilden Arms, many slices would already have been consumed. It sure beat Wonder Bread.

It’s easy to remember all the good stuff from a childhood spent hanging out on Austin Street. The downside was the lack of air conditioning, the soot spewed by the apartment house furnaces that blackened our necks in the days when coal was still burned and trash still incinerated, and the occasional theft of a bicycle carelessly left unlocked.

One of the best things for me was that while strolling Austin Street, I constantly crossed paths with kids I knew. We weren’t home playing video games or surfing the internet. We were outside getting the sometimes fresh air, communicating, and unconsciously working on our physical fitness. There weren’t many fat young people back then, as least not around Forest Hills in those days soon after World War II.

This was originally written for the Forest Hills Club newsletter.

August 17, 2011

Where I would rather be today: TAHITI

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The exotic island of Tahiti is truly in the middle of nowhere. It is somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawaii. The Barnings have been there twice, both on cruise ship stops.

I love to visit outdoor markets around the world and the photos here well illustrate the appeal. Some of the food items being sold are totally foreign to our American experience. How many fish this color have you ever seen?

Speaking of exotic, nearby are the islands of Moorea and Bora Bora are famous for their resorts and water sports.

From the Tahiti's website you learn:

What Is Tahiti?
Tahiti is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that constitute what is officially known as French Polynesia. The island of Tahiti and the capital city of Papeete are located in the Society Islands, an archipelago that includes the high-rising islands of Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha'a, and Bora Bora. Other dramatic island groups are the Tuamotu Atolls with the slender coral wreaths of Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, and Fakarava and the Marquesas - with the massive mountains on the islands of Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.

Where Is Tahiti and How Long Does It Take to Get There?
The islands are located south of the equator, in the same time zone as Hawaii, and halfway between California and Australia. Papeete's Faa'a Airport (PPT) is under 8 hours by air from Los Angeles (LAX). From North America, nonstop flights depart LAX nearly every day on Air Tahiti Nui and Air France. Nonstop flights from Honolulu (HNL) to Papeete (PPT) are also available weekly on Hawaiian Airlines.

August 15, 2011

Veteran broadcasters Ralph Kiner and Jerry Coleman: politically incorrect moments

I watched the New York Mets' game with the San Diego Padres on August 11 on MLB Network which used a feed of the Mets' telecast.

In the booth with Keith Hernandez and another announcer was 88-year old Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner (pictured above). There was a discussion about players who hit a ball into the center field seats at the Polo Grounds and they mentioned, Joe Adcock, Lou Brock and Hank Aaron.

Kiner interjected that there was a fourth player to do it. He sort of stumbled in spitting out his recollection and then said, "That colored catcher." After a brief pause, probably in disbelief at Kiner's choice of words, Hernandez, or the guy working with him said, "Oh, Josh Gibson." Hall of Famer Gibson played in the Negro Leagues which had the occasional game in New York's Polo Grounds.

Approximately 15 years ago, I was listening to a Padres game. There was a discussion about the height of the pitchers' mound. I don't remember the figure about the elevation, but let's say that 10 inches was used. Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman blurted out something to the effect, "If that's 10-inches high, then I'm a Chinaman."

Someone must have whispered in Coleman's ear because he quickly apologized.

The above was sent to one of my favorite sports columnists who replied, "I think your suggestion might apply to all broadcasters. Anyone who is on the air for hours at a time without a script is bound to say something he or she will regret. Except Vin Scully."

August 14, 2011

Where I would rather be today: BRUGES, BELGIUM

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According to Wikipedia:

Bruges /ˈbruːʒ/ in English; Dutch: Brugge, [ˈbrʏʝə]) is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country.

The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. It is oval-shaped. The city's total population is 117,073 (as of January 2008), of which around 20,000 live in the historic centre. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 616 square kilometers and has a total of 255,844 inhabitants as of January 2008.

Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdam, it is sometimes referred to as "The Venice of the North". Bruges has a significant economic importance thanks to its port. At one time, it was the "chief commercial city" of the world.

The photos were snapped by Frank Barning in 2003 on our second trip to Bruges. Most well-traveled American tourists haven't visited it because it is out of the way. But those of us who have had the good fortune to go there are taken with the neat little medieval city with its magnificent canals. Yes, I would truly rather be there today. It is a gem.

August 12, 2011

Where I would rather be today: The Peterhof in St. Petersburg, Russia - - Part 2

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Vivian and I visited the Peterhof in 2003 and it remains one of the greatest, and most unexpected, man-made places we have visited in our extensive travels. Like Versailles, it is overwhelming to the eye.

From Wikipedia

The Peterhof Palace (Russian: Петерго́ф, Petergof, originally named Peterhof, Dutch or German for "Peter's Court") is actually a series of palaces and gardens located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, laid out on the orders of Peter the Great. These Palaces and gardens are sometimes referred as the "Russian Versailles". The palace-ensemble along with the city centre is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Peterhof -- the Samson Fountain and Sea Channel:
The dominant natural feature of Peterhof is a sixteen-metre-high bluff lying less than a hundred meters from the shore. The so-called Lower Gardens (Nizhny Sad), at 1.02 km comprising the better part of Peterhof's land area, are confined between this bluff and the shore, stretching east and west for roughly 200 metres. The majority of Peterhof's fountains are contained here, as are several small palaces and outbuildings. East of the Lower Gardens lies the Alexandria Park with 19th-century Gothic Revival structures such as the Kapella.

Atop the bluff, near the middle of the Lower Gardens, stands the Grand Palace (Bolshoi Dvorets). Behind (south) of it are the comparatively small Upper Gardens (Verhnyy Sad). Upon the bluff's face below the Palace is the Grand Cascade (Bolshoi Kaskad). This and the Grand Palace are the centrepiece of the entire complex. At its foot begins the Sea Channel (Morskoi Kanal), one of the most extensive waterworks of the Baroque period, which bisects the Lower Gardens.

For more information, Google "Peterhof".

Pictures taken in 2003 by Frank Barning.

August 6, 2011

A letter from Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson to our son, Randy Barning

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When our eight-year old son Randy made an unassisted triple play in a T-ball game in May 1981, I was able to get his photo and a write up on the remarkable play in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" segment. At that point, Brooks had never heard of the Barnings (see August 3 post in this blog). We know that he had seen the item on Randy in SI because he sent him a note of congratulations. We were overwhelmed and a few years later Vivian and I thanked the Hall of Famer in person.

Baseball fans will remember that third-baseman Robinson was a right-handed thrower. All third basemen are. Few would know that he wrote with his left hand, which we saw him do while signing at card shows.

In the Faces in the Crowd section included here, note that along with Randy, among the others featured was a high school athlete from Alabama, Vincent Jackson. You may know of Vincent as Bo Jackson.

August 4, 2011

About Russia and the Russians

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This just arrived from an old school friend who loves to travel. It is being posted unedited. I have been to St. Petersburg, so I understand.

St. Petersburg is a surprisingly nice city. When it was called Leningrad the Germans bombed the piss out of it so there are only a few real old buildings.
It's very clean and somewhat efficient for a city with 5 million people. I can't get used to the electric busses with the wires overhead but it's a lot better than sucking in the fumes from busses we have in our cities. They have no blacks at all so they have no one to blame for crime but themselves.

Now...The Russians...Fuck these people.

They don't smile or talk nice. Largely because their food sucks so bad there is nothing to look forward to during the day but the vodka. The women are pretty good looking but they have an attitude that they will mess you up if you even think about burying the bishop. Basically they are a cold bunch of miserable bastards who trust no one. There is no fire in their blood. Plus they threw my friends the Jews out because one of them shot an asshole Czar dead. A good Pastrami sandwich is out of the question never mind a good Chinese Restaurant. When the Jews were thrown out the Chinese fled because they had no one to cook for...especially on Sunday nights.

Talking about food...we had lunch in this well known restaurant with a stage where two potato headed mulaka's played an accordion and a mandolin looking thing. Their music resembled the sound of a cat running around Wong's Kitchen trying not to be in the WON TON mix. Every few minutes the accordion guy would let out a whistle. I think the noice came from his ass but i cant be sure. They sucked.

The salad was anemic with white vinegar dressing that resembled piss. No olive oil. Here again they are not lubricated so they probably don't shit well ergo no smiling. Incidentally the men have heads like Neanderthal Man. That coupled with advanced fetal alcohol syndrome make them look like fucking Martians.

Oh...I forgot...they first served a soup that was a belly wash. Twenty minutes after I ate I had projectile diarrhea in a public restroom with some crazed fat woman wanting to collect 20 rubles to sit or stand. I gave her a U.S. Dollar...she looked around both her shoulders and said...DIS FOR ME....and stuffed it into her bra where it looked like two 8 month old babies had nested. The stink in the WC made the elephant house at the Bronx Zoo smell like The Channel factory in Paris.

Now the ENTRE...yellow mashed potatoes with about six tiny chunks of what they called chicken. Likely dog or monkey meat in a sauce that resembled the puss from a pimple...absolutely gross.

This epicurean nightmare was finished with a plump cream covered with a chocolate top. My grandma Rose made the best cream puffs in the world and I wasn't expecting that kind of quality. I wasn't surprised. The chocolate top tasted like what farts smell like and the puff had undesolved sugar that made me think a filling came lose in my mouth. I refused the coffee or tea and went out on the streets to see the snarling fuckers walk by with their heads down. I looked in to one baby carriage out of curiosity to see if it was a boy or girl. The kid was snarling at his toy ducky while chewing the head of a rabbit. Not a toy rabbit...a real fucking rabbit. The kid was hideous. He looked like a cross between Leonid Breshnev, Anthony Quinn and Nancy Pelosi. Brutal.


Photo by Frank Barning. It is of the Grand Cascade at the Peterhof.

August 3, 2011



During my 25 or so years in the baseball card hobby, I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of players, including a substantial number Hall of Famers. This photo of the Baltimore Orioles' Brooks Robinson and me was taken in 1990.

Vivian and I travelled the country while we covered the industry as owners of Baseball Hobby News from 1979-93. She remembers that "We were standing with Brooks once at a baseball card show. A young man came by with an infant and introduced Brooks to his namesake. After he left, Brooks told us, 'That's not the first time a complete stranger has told me of a child named after me. It always amazes me.'"

Many players were wonderful guests at card shows, and she and I agree that B. Robby and Duke Snider were the most gracious. So who were the least gracious? That's a story for another day.

August 2, 2011


1. What does the average Univ. of Florida player get on his SATs?

2. What do you get when you put 32 West Virginia cheerleaders in one room?
……..A full set of teeth.

3. How do you get a Nebraska cheerleader into your dorm room?
……..Grease her hips and push.

4. How do you get an Ohio State graduate off your porch?
………Pay him for the pizza.

5. How do you know if an Alabama football player has a girlfriend?
……..There is tobacco spit on both sides of his pickup.

6. Why is the Kentucky football team like a possum?
……..Because they play dead at home and get killed on the road.

7. What are the longest three years of a Texas Longhorn football player’s life?
……..His freshman year.

8. How many Oklahoma freshmen does it take to change a light bulb?
……..None. That’s a sophomore course.

9. Where was O. J. Headed in the white Bronco?
……..Durham , North Carolina. He knew that the police would never look at Duke for a Heisman Trophy winner.

10. How do you keep an FSU football player out of your front yard?
……..Erect a goal post!

11. Why did Tennessee choose orange as their team color?
……..You can wear it to the game on Saturday, hunting on Sunday, and picking up trash along the highways the rest of the week.

This was received via email from my high school friend Larry Bory. I have no idea who wrote it but wanted to share it.