Archive for the ‘Weekend Update’ Category

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):
Room Service

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Our birthday present to Megan, a few days after the event, was brunch, served at her house but prepared at ours, using plates, forks, napkins, glasses, and even a frypan that we brought from home (and meant to bring back dirty). I packed everything in two giant Bean’s tote bags, and, if I do say so myself, it came off very nicely. The sausages were still warm when we got downtown; the fresh-baked sweet rolls slid out of their baking dish without any fuss; the pineapple corer not only handily provided Ryan with a bowl of a favorite fruit but made a nice present to leave behind; and the carafe of orange juice, squeezed minutes before leaving Yorkville, never came close to tipping over. It was really nothing but what I do every weekend at home; and, because I do it every weekend, it didn’t require much thought to make it readily portable. I scrambled the eggs on Megan’s stove — so much for cooking on arrival. As I went along, I deposted used utensils in plastic grocery store bags, and trash (eggshells!) in a Hefty bag that I’d brought along for the purpose. When the eggs were ready, Kathleen took over and served everyone. I’d meant to toss the dirty plates into shopping bags as well, but Ryan got to them first, while I was playing with Will. All I’d asked him to do was to make the coffee, which he did to perfection. Will liked the sausage, but not the pineapple. Will licked the eggs that weren’t served right away.

You’d think that breakfast would be the hardest meal to prepare and transport, but it turned out not to be, not at all. It was no big deal — because, I hasten to repeat, I do this every weekend.

Then again: beginner’s luck?

Kathleen and I took Will for a walk in the neighborhood, covering the usual route, with Dinosaur Hill, a toy shop on Ninth Street just east of Second Avenue, as our destination. Among many wonderful things, Dinosaur Hill sells real wooden blocks, and in different languages. Today, we bought Will a set of Chinese blocks. I must get another set for up here, so that I can have a good look at them. (We already have one in Nederlands.) Will has loved toppling towers of blocks for some time now, but he’s beginning to give some thought to his demolitions, instead of just reaching out to knock them down.

Walking back along Ninth Street, Will’s head pitched forward into my chest. He slept like a teenager, so dead to the world that I actually roused him for a moment just to make sure that he was still with us. He shifted heavily and fell right back to sleep. It’s the walking that tires him out — his, that is. As Megan says, we may have already seen his first steps. He took two solo strides between Kathleen and his mother. At another point, he stood for a few beats. There is no clear line, no aha! moment. The interesting thing is that he walks with his feet more flat to the ground when he’s receiving assistance on one arm only. It is very clear that he is looking forward to unassisted self-propulsion. As he is already keenly attracted to the prohibited, the coming months are likely to be frolicsome.

The sun was low in Tompkins Square Park, and it felt late in the day at two. We came home shortly after bringing Will back to his house, and took a nap ourselves. Sunday afternoons in winter are always a little bit triste. We’re looking forward. you can bet, to finding ourselves, next Sunday at two, on the patio outside our room at the Buccaneer, looking out over the Caribbean to St Thomas and St John on the horizon. We won’t mind the late sun so much then.

Weekend Update:
City Life

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Huzzah! Hooray! The fourth season of Mad Men is over! I loved it, but it’s over, and now I don’t have to watch television again until July!

This season — well, the novelty had worn off, of course. Mad Men was great, but the fact that it was, after all, a TV show began to obtrude. We had to be in our seats on time. We had to wait a week to find out what happened next. We had to sit through commercials for BMW and Hotels.com. I won’t miss any of that.

And Rubicon is over, too. Everything about the show was great, except for the writing, which was Grade X melodramatic garbage. A telenovela would be more surprising. People said the most inane things on tonight’s final episode, things like “It’ll be all right,” and “You can trust me, I promise.” The combination of great production values and dreckulacious dialogue convinced me that the Koch brothers are at the bottom of Atlas International. As if I didn’t know!

***

I took Will for a walk yesterday. It was our second Saturday walk. The second of many more, I hope. We walked all the way over to the St Mark Bookshop, on Third Avenue. I wanted to acquaint Will with Theory at an early, pre-impressionable age. A lovely young woman tried very hard not to show that the two of us (me and Will) struck her as a very cute couple, but she failed; I caught the last of an involuntary wistful smile. I hadn’t been to the store since before Megan and Ryan were married, I realized. I used to stop there on my way to have dinner with Megan at Jules. I used to think that it was a really cool bookstore. Then Ms NOLA introduced me to McNally Jackson.

(And nowI hear that McNally and Jackson are getting divorced. Another name-change party? I’m up for it!)

The contentment that I feel when I am carrying Will on my chest is the most complete pleasure that I have ever known. As a documented besotted grandfather, I need say no more on this subject. (If I do, Fossil Darling will have to pretend that he skimmed through it.) Will seems to have a good time, too. Mostly he looks out at the world from his perch. Every now and then he vocalizes, I never can figure out why. But for the most part he is quiet and almost grave. My attempts at cajoling him to look up at me are dismal failures. Every once in a while, he throws his head back, looking always to the side, and when I tickle his neck he smiles faintly, as if doling out a treat for the old man. But he enjoys the ride. If he didn’t, we’d all know.

If I had grown up with people who knew me as well as Will and his mother know me, and as well as their knowing me has helped me to know myself, there would have been a lot less ennui and indigestion in my early life.

***

Three and a half of last week’s allotment of five days were preoccupied by household matters. Largely home improvement, but also that dead modem thing. I’m cautiously optimistic that the coming week will be different, although already there’s a big conflict on the horizon. I intend to deal with it by resorting to a technique that is not really part of my toolkit: sleight of hand. Yes, I shall seem to be in two places at once. In one of them, though, Will will really be sitting on my chest.

Why does anyone who lives in this amazing city watch television?

Weekend Update:
“Work”

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Interesting times! (I wish.) My friend Migs, in Manila, writes to say that he may have one of those English editions of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom that published an earlier draft of the novel. Migs doesn’t want to read it if it’s not the author’s final cut (so to speak), and I couldn’t agree more. But I’d love to get my hands on the draft. What did Mr Franzen think that he ought to change? Almost forgot: I’ll send Migs the copy of Freedom that I bought two weeks ago, when I couldn’t find the copy that I’d read. The copy that I’d read did eventually turn up, but in a very strange place. That’s how it has been around here this year: things get stashed in very strange places. 

It occurred to me today that this urge to sweep out cluttered corners, getting rid of books that I’m probably never going to look at again and pitching bags of old papers as if I were unfamiliar with the very concept of “archives,” is the masculine correlative of what women of a certain age call “work.” The object is the same: I want to travel lighter and with fewer wrinkles. I want to get rid of the part of my past that is mere dead weight. The clincher to this metaphor is the fact that I find the process of streamlining my life to be the most important thing that’s going on in it — together with an awareness that it is no more interesting to anyone else, and only slightly less repulsive, than immediate effects of plastic surgery. The difference is that recently rejuvenated women have the sense to retreat to wings of private hospitals. Retiring in decorous silence doesn’t seem to be an option for me: in the Blogosphere, silence is, if not death, non-existence.

There are good reasons for hoping that the work is almost complete, at least in its most disruptive phase. The domestic upheaval that began last month, when we had the entry to the apartment painted (what New Yorkers call the “foyer,” heaven knows why), may have ended yesterday morning, when Quatorze gave me a hand with schlepping eight shopping bags full of books to the storage unit. The books were displaced by CDs, which lost their shelving (Ms NOLA has it now) when I decided that the hallway leading to the blue room, painted the same deep green as the foyer, ought to be — but never mind; this is too boring to write about. It’s enough to say that my CD collection, which is very large for one that’s free of freebies, has, while remaining quite accessible, become invisible. I don’t really play CDs anymore. I still buy them by the bushel, but after they’ve been uploaded onto iTunes, they go back into their sleeves more or less permanently. I listen to MP3 playlists on my Nano collection, which is colossal for one that’s free of freebies. 

In the meantime, I acquired a new computer and a new table to put it on. I can say that for the first time in 25 years of computer use I am sitting comfortably. Working with a new text editor (KompoZer) is not so comfortable, but FrontPage is not compatible with Windows 7; at least one basic operation (inserting hyperlinks) crashes the app. Can’t have that. 

The TV season galloped toward its finale this evening. In three weeks, we’ll be back to having Sunday dinner at any old time, and the cable box will go dark for another three quarters. Rubicon wasn’t nearly as terrible as it usually is, even if we all knew that Will Travers would survive the assasination attempt in a more or less rinky-dink manner. I hope that I’ll get to the bottom, before the season ends, of my visceral dislike of Michael Cristofer, who may be doing such a good job of playing the bizarrely-named former Fisher’s Islander Truxton Spangler that I want to kill him. And, while I like the actor John Slatttery perfectly well, I hope that Roger Sterling will kill himself next week. I was ready for suicide to occur this evening, and rather disappointed when it didn’t.I think that Joan was, too. 

Speaking of Christina Hendricks, Life As We Know It, with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, opens on Friday, and I can’t wait. The scene in which Mr Duhamel’s character pushes a newly-walking toddler back down onto the floor so that the moment can be virginally re-enacted for his domestic collaborator is already the funniest thing that I have ever seen in a trailer.

Weekend Update:
Hiawatha

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

“Then read from the treasured volume the poem of thy choice.” Thanks to the miracle of Google — and it’s still a miracle, on this unseasonably warm evening in September of 2010 — I now know, sixty years on, that the line comes from Longfellow’s “The Day Is Done.” Although I have provided a link to the poem, I’ve never read it. I knew that Longfellow wrote it, because his name, together with his profile, was incised above it on each of a pair of bronze bookends that came down to me before I was really a reader. I don’t know when I got rid of them. They were unattractive in the way of a late Nineteenth Century beaux-arts monument’s unleavened ponderousness. For the longest time, I had no idea what the line meant. The syntax was clear enough, but the significance, wrenched from its source, remained profoundly obscure. Nobody in the 1950s would have been caught dead speaking of “treasured volumes,” reading Longfellow’s sort of poetry, using the archaic second person singular, or beginning a sentence with “then” except in exasperation. “If they don’t have pizza, then order po’ boys!”

Significant or not, the line burrowed deep into my brain, in a slightly truncated form — I lost “the poem” — and it sprang readily to mind this evening as I was looking at the bookcase that’s full of art books — massive catalogues entitled “Watteau,” “Vuillard,” “Piranesi,” “Hans Holbein,” “Versailles,” and so on. I was finishing up my spaghetti alla carbonara and thinking of hauling down a tome. And that’s what I probably would have done, if the laptop hadn’t been up and running. Leafing through Degas would be all very well, but I’m in such serious arrears on the writing front that I might be arrested for loitering with intent to malinger. Still, the possibility was sweet: “then look at the treasured volume of thy choice.” Now that I’ve glanced at a few lines of the Longfellow, I know that post-prandial art appreciation is not what the poet was thinking about. He had something more erotic in mind: the next line reads, “And lend to the rhyme of the poet/The beauty of thy voice.” In Longfellow’s day, that sort of remark was intensely sexy. You could get arrested for making such a suggestion to the wrong person.

Longfellow — will we ever? It’s difficult to imagine that Longfellow will ever be read again, not by scholars but as he was read (and beloved) over a hundred and fifty years ago, unless and until his prosody chimes in nicely with some as yet unimagined dialect of a now-sprouting language. Admirers in those future days will recall, rightly, Longfellow’s immense popularity. They will not mention how utterly uncongenial he has sounded to English-speaking ears for nearly a century.

Hiawatha. Evangeline. These epics are almost party stunts. We had to read a huge chunk of the beginning of “Evangeline” in middle school. There was a reference to the sweet breath of kine (cattle) that I found so unspeakably revolting — all right, uncool — that I was obliged to bluff my way through the rest of the assignment. Yes, here it is. “Sweet was her breath as the breath of kine that feed in the meadows.” Is that not the most disgusting thing that you have ever read? Can you imagine being asked to parse such filth at the age of eleven or twelve? When the only breath smell is that of “bad breath”?

The other day, my grandson exhaled a puff of breath in my face, and it was — not unpleasant. It was very not unpleasant. My grandson is a festival of lovely smells, but this is something that I don’t talk about, for reasons that ought to be obvious in this world of rampant perverts (or perverts rampant, to give them their due), and I wouldn’t have brought it up if I hadn’t been talking babies with Kathleen’s cousin Tim, who is the father of first-grade twins. (That’s to say that, while they’re indeed tops, they’re six.) Tim brought up the smells. Since Tim is a mensch of an accountant who lives in Indianapolis, I decided that it must not be as deranged as I thought to celebrate the smells that emanate from my grandson’s person. Breath of meadow-feeding kine should be so sweet.

I saw Will today at brunch. We picked up Kathleen’s father, who’s finally paying a visit to Our Fair City, and taxied down to Avenue B between 11th and 12th, where there’s a justly popular restaurant called “The Back 40.” If you added up all of Will’s moments of fussing from the two hours that we spent at the table, they wouldn’t amount to sixty seconds. My besottedness as a grandfather has ascended to a new plateau of foolishness: I want to run off with Will to an ashram in the Himalayas so that he can teach me the Secret of Life. That Will is in possession of this Secret I have no doubt. Or perhaps it is I who am in possession. The Secret of Life is: Grandchildren.

What will be the rhymes to which Will first adds the beauty of his voice? Probably not:

And in silence all the warriors
Broke the red stone of the quarry,
Smoothed and formed it into Peace-Pipes,
Broke the long reeds by the river,
Decked them with their brightest feathers,
And departed each one homeward,
While the Master of Life, ascending,
Through the opening of cloud-curtains,
Through the doorways of the heaven,
Vanished from before their faces,
In the smoke that rolled around him,
The Pukwana of the Peace-Pipe!

But certainly it will be sweet as the breath of kine.

Weekend Update:
Quarters

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

About a year ago, I suffered a tremendous nervous shock, something between a conversion experience and electrocution. I saw in a flash that the principles upon which I organized my domestic life were very broadly mistaken. I was running my home as though it were an information-age bomb shelter. I provided for every interest that I might conceivably have in the event of a connectivity blackout — or, in other words, the onset of what used to be called desert island conditions. What books and discs would I want to have on hand in case… but I never spelled out the ghastly eventuality that would throw me back upon the resources of my apartment. Part of last year’s shock — only part — was the realization that I am now quite at home in cyberspace. Without a connection to the Internet, the failure of my books and discs to amuse me would be total.

So, I started gettting rid of stuff — a lot of stuff. This was no orgy of disencumbrance. Oh, no. I’ve had that inebriated pleasure a couple of times in my life, but never again will I impetuously dump my possessions for the sake of feeling light and free for a week or two — only to have to buy them all back at twice the price. The reason I’m still getting rid of stuff a year later is that it can take a lot of time to determine the point at which the marginal utility of something faces to zero. Sometimes, the heave-ho is obvious, and that’s a great feeling. But it’s unusual.

(I haven’t started giving you the idea yet, just in case you’re wondering.) A few months ago, I bought an Aeron desk chair. Aeron desk chairs are completely passé now and not remotely cool — they always looked funny but now they look funny — but it turns out that the Aeron chair is the right chair for a man of my size. The problem was, the Aeron chair made it clear that my desk was also defective, because its drawers and such kept the chair from pulling underneth the work surface and allowing me to get close to (ie “read”) my computer screens. (Also, they pinched my legs.) So I had to find a new desk. The problem was: I liked my old desk. It might be that I couldn’t use it to write blog entries anymore, but I wasn’t ready to part with it, and this reluctance wasn’t just sentimental.

The new writing table, which arrived in a box from Levenger yesterday, has not been set up yet, because the old desk can’t be moved to where it’s going to go until the dresser in the corner finally moves on to wherever it’s going next — and now, I hope, you’re getting the idea of why I haven’t been writing more. The dresser is going either to charity or to my grandson’s bedroom — it’s his mother’s call. It happens to be the dresser that I grew up with, and I hope that its next stop will be Will’s. But if it’s not, I’m ready to let it go. My old desk, which was never meant for computers anyway, will serve me well at the many jobs that (alas!) aren’t yet digital. (Such as sorting the mail.)

D’you know, this is all so boring that even I can’t figure out where I’m going with it. More accurately: I can’t see what comes next if I’m not going to share with you this morning’s rapture, when I stood in the room and saw — another, milder nervous shock — that if my old desk went there, then I’d need to get rid of a wing chair as well as the dresser, but so what; the old desk really ought to go there. If that, then a thousand other small outcomes, most of them too microscopic to be described in the English language. Let me just tell you, though, that the old desk is going outperform the dresser as a dresser. It’s going to do a much better job of holding my socks and handkerchiefs — I can scarcely believe how much better a job. Aren’t you happy for me?

Or do you want to shoot me? If so, there’s a line.

Weekend Update:
Disgusted

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

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It’s a lovely summer evening here in New York, with clear skies and cool and dry air. The heat wave that was supposed to be extinguished by thunderstorms seems to have spontaneously dissipated. I have rarely been more disgusted with the weather.

Kathleen, who is visiting her father and brother in North Carolina, was to fly home this afternoon, but given those predicted thunderstorms and the estimated delays, I urged her to rebook a flight for tomorrow, and to stay where she was. As she’s been having a very pleasant time, she was happy to humor me. So I’m the one who’s home alone.

Which wouldn’t be so bad, if I hadn’t had a completely inane day. The air-conditioning and the Vornado fans kept physical discomfort at bay, but there is no way to ease the psychological displacement of really humid weather. I was counting on some atmospheric violence to shock me out of my torpor. Curses foiled again!

There were all sorts of things to do, but not a volt of energy to get me off my duff. I read and read and read. Then I watched The Iron Giant, an animated adaptation of a kids’ book by Ted Hughes. Quatorze brought it over, about a hundred years ago, along with a number of other recommended titles that it has taken me a shameful length of time to get to. Truth to tell, I haven’t been watching many DVDs lately, not out of the kitchen anyway — and in the kitchen I play only movies that I know quite well. I’m ashamed to confess that I wept almost all the way through The Iron Giant. My eyes are still sore, and it’s difficult to read what I’m writing. What a sap I am.

What to do about dinner? What to do about dinner, that is, in the wake of my movie snack? Salami, Jarlsberg, Smartfood. I feel larded up enough for swimming the English Channel — well, I could be towed across, maybe; I can hardly get out of my chair and across the room.

Sixes and sevens isn’t the half of it!

Weekend Update:
En français

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

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Oh, dear. This picture isn’t going to do at all, not, at least, unless I come right out and confess how bogus it is. The glasses are a giveway — where are the glasses? I don’t need them, of course, because I’m not actually reading my iPad, the screen of which is dark. (Maybe that explains my frown: I can’t make any sense of a black screen. ) The picture is a pose, taken to illustrate this very entry. Gee, I’m good at looking natural! The picture makes even me feel a little uncertain. It’s as though I’m reading my latest report card, and finding it wanting.

What the picture was supposed to convey was the pleasure of reading things on an iPad — which, as I say, it’s no surprise this isn’t, since I’m not actually reading the iPad, only pretending. At first, I was just going to write a note to my friend Jean Ruaud, the author of one of the first Web logs that I began following back in 2004, before I had my own. Jean just celebrated nine years of  blogging, an anniversary that puts him well ahead of the pack. By the time I tuned in, Jean was on his second blog, Douze lunes. He doesn’t say just how long Mnémoglyphes has been going, and I’m the last person in the world to ask. But it has been going for “many years.” Even if you can’t read a word of French, you ought to have a look at the stunning photograph that illustrates his anniversary entry, “Neuf ans.”

I was going to write to Jean, but I decided to write to you as well; isn’t that what blogs are for? This afternoon, for the first time, I caught up on Mnémoglyphes in the comfort of my favorite reading chair. Instead of craning my neck at a computer screen, I held Jean’s texts in my hands exactly as I would have done had they’d been published in a magazine. When I wanted to check a word in the dictionary — Jean is far too gifted a writer for me to settle on getting the general drift of what he is talking about — I set down the iPad exactly as I should have set down a book. It was all quite pleasant and civilized, and — I know I’m repeating myself but this point cannot be trumpeted too loudly in these early days — I was in no hurry to get to the end of the piece. The act of reading HTML has been humanized, at long last, by Apple’s invention. The only people to complain will be people who aren’t very serious readers — by which I mean, of course, readers for pleasure.

As the photograph above so beautifully illustrates.

Weekend Update:
Sudden Death

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

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What happened to The Aesthete — the author of The Aesthete’s Lament? Out of the blue, she bid a grateful sayonara to her readers on Thursday — and then proceeded to take her site down, so that there’s nothing to link to now for those who weren’t following The Aesthete’s Lament‘s feeds. People get tired of blogging all the time, but they don’t, as a rule, dismantle their sites right away.

Was The Aesthete a man or a woman? The real question, of course, is why anybody cared. The importance of The Aesthete’s Lament is, at least at the moment, best captured by the difficulty of summarizing its mission. To say that it was devoted to “traditional” interior design would be awfully wrong-footed, because one of the things that the site’s series of white-on-white interiors demonstrated was a yearning for the modern, but on terms of comfort that Modernism disdained. The Aesthete had a view of household decor that was every bit as personally seasoned as those of the famous designers whose work she covered.

But The Aesthete did not stop there. There were pictures of her home, of a dining room in progress, of prettily -laid tables in holiday candlelight. We thought that these entries, combined with The Aesthete’s anonymity, were a mistake. They excited a perhaps lamentable but utterly inevitable curiosity about the author’s gender. Word filtered down, from authoritative sources, that The Aesthete was a woman, but the intensity of interest in clarifying this matter was a itself sign of sensed instability. Certainly, The Aesthete’s references to her husband, and even those to her daughter, supported the leaked wisdom. On the other hand, there were confusing images, such as the following celebration of a birthday. It is possible that the child in the photograph is a girl, but it’s a possibility that demands a lot of explanation. It’s possible that The Aesthete was once upon a time the toddler on the floor alongside this little fellow (not shown). But the entry is a frigate of ambiguity.

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What difference it makes, whether The Aesthete is a man or woman, is a matter for discussion some other time; for the moment, we’ll content ourselves with stating what seems to be obvious, which is that, for better or worse, human beings want to know whether they’re listening to men or women: it does make a difference. More particularly, readers interested in interior design, a subject that most men dismiss (to their detriment) as womanly, but also one that few women write about, understand that the observations that men make are seasoned by a struggle that simply doesn’t present itself to women. What a woman has to say about a white-on-white drawing room is not, in the end, equivalent to a man’s judgment of the matter. Neither opinion is inherently superior — superiority is not the point — but both have been shaped by very different pains and struggles. And that gives what The Aesthete has to say about, exempla gratia, the wit and wisdom of Van Day Truex a gender-specific point that is baffled rather than muffled by anonymity.

It’s impossible to dissociate this identity murk from the hunch that the sudden shutdown (more than a mere abandonment) of the site was somehow related to a short-circuit in the expectations that The Aesthete had allowed anonymous blogging to mourish.

Weekend Update:
Bominitious

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

k0411

How do you refer, in notes and lists, to the person closest to you? What do you actually write down? A full name? That would be fine, but I’ve never done it. I write down Kathleen’s initials, because, for me, everyone’s service name is a monogram. This will surprise no one who has received an email from “rjk.”

I spent the day reading. At about five, I began to worry about Kathleen. It was getting on eleven where she was (Amsterdam), and I had a hard time not knowing that she was safe and sound. She called at twelve-ten her time, just back from a conference dinner. The worrying uncertainty always feels terribly corrosive, but the moment the phone rings Kathleen’s ring, my heart lifts up as light as can be.

What I read took a back seat to an ongoing meditation about the iPad. It’s not that I want one — and, even if I did, I’d wait for the preliminary bugs to be unkinked, and for the preliminary price to be reduced. But I knew by Wednesday morning (7 April 2010, for the record book) that my work here and at Portico is going to be read, sooner or later, on instruments such as the iPad, and not on what we now call computers. As someone who rails on against writers who never read, I’m especially bound to familiarize myself with the new environment, which seems, at my ignorant remove, to have succeeded in extracting everything humanistically useful about the PC and discarded the rest, a voluminous residuum.

Nevertheless: Russell Baker on Gerald Boyd (NYRB), Jonathan Lears on Ralph Nader (LRB) and David Samuels’s amazing piece about Balkan criminality in The New Yorker. Also Bernard Friedman on Cassidy and Lanchester.

Weekend Update:
Eleven

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

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On Friday afternoon, I played a game with my grandson. It was a very simple game, but it was our first, and the memory of Will’s chuckling delight — he can’t quite laugh yet — is never far from front-and-center. 

With both hands, I gripped his chest and held him over my lap; we both pretended that he was standing on it. This is a favorite posture of Will’s, these days, but what may also have increased his pleasure was the fact that he was looking down on me, slightly. His eyes were eager and wide, and his mouth wavered between a crooked smile and an expectant “O.” What would happen next? What happened next was his grandfather’s angling him forward, feet in place, until our foreheads touched, whereupon I said “boom!” in a silly voice. Then I eased him back to the original position. After a few seconds, he gurgled his approval. The gentle noggin knocking was repeated about a dozen times. Inevitably for Will (who takes after his mother in this regard), hiccups ensued, but the game was grand while it lasted.

Will’s development is riveting, of course, but I’m learning that the development to watch is mine. For one thing, I’ve become the most frightful bore. On Friday night, I suggested that we’d better watch an episode of Inspector Morse, if only to spare Kathleen the fifth or sixth re-telling of the afternoon’s doings in Alphabet City. Kathleen is probably not going to leave me on account of my inability to talk about anything but my grandson for three days after I’ve seen him, but I don’t expect my friends to be so tolerant.

Another problem that I’ve got to work on is anthropomorphism. True, Will is already a human being. But when he laughs, I’m ready to buy him a ticket for the revival of Lend Me a Tenor! — I’m sure that he’d love that! No? He likes to play with my big black wristwatch so much that surely he ought to have one of his own. Eleven weeks, Doodad, I tell myself. Patience!

Eleven weeks — is that all? But as spring burst out over New York this week, beginning on St Patrick’s Day, the holidays and winter dark quickly came to seem unimaginably distant. So, although Will has only just arrived, he has also been with us forever.

At one of the playgrounds in Tomkins Square Park, which Megan took to visiting on Thursday, we sat by an open space between two play structures, and as the children whizzed by in one direction or the other, crossing directly in front of us, I felt that I was watching a performance choreographed by Paul Taylor: the idea of children playing was perfectly realized by these children playing. Will may be on the brink of telling time well enough to show up for a Broadway curtain, but even I can tell that it will be a while before he scurries up a slide or climbs out on a low-hanging branch. There’s plenty of time to build up the stamina to keep up with him.

For the time being, though, I’m feeling an entirely new kind of tired.

Weekend Update:
New York Minute

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

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Last Sunday, Megan said to Ryan, “We need to move.”

On Monday, Ryan found some good listings

On Tuesday, Megan looked at apartments, including a place that she liked.

On Wednesday, papers were processed; certified checks were drawn.

On Thursday, a lease was signed.

On Friday, keys were handed over.

On Saturday, Ryan and an excellent friend schlepped bedding and basics through torrential spring rains to the new flat. Now Will has a new home.

A New York Minute can take an entire week, but, oh, my, the changes.

Weekend Update:
Pot au feu

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

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This afternoon, I made a beef stew, from a recipe that I made up as I went along. I don’t know whether I’ll like it, because that wasn’t part of the plan. Of course, I hope that I won’t hate it; but the idea was to cook a simple beef stew out of stuff on hand — to recreate, along purely imaginary lines, the French pot au feu, of which I have no experience whatsoever but which I envision as a pot on the fire, as the name indicates, full of long-cooked odds and ends. I read once that somewhere in the Garonne there is a pot au feu that has been simmering since the 1620s — a preposterously amusing thing to say. My own concoction will probably taste heavy and monochromatic, only slightly brightened by the handful of minced parsley that I’ll toss onto it at dinnertime. But that’s okay, as along as I can bear to eat it. If I can eat it while overlooking it, so much the better. When I’m alone, I read my way through meals.  

I’ll be alone at dinner. Kathleen is on a plane, flying from St Croix to Miami. She’ll stay at an airport hotel and fly into New York early tomorrow. I can’t quite believe how much more flying time this itinerary involves — almost two hours more than connecting at San Juan. But one forgets how far west Miami is — Atlanta lies almost directly below Chicago. It was only when I looked at the globe and imagined drawing a circle with a compass centered on Miami that I could accept that St Croix and New York are roughly equidistant.

Kathleen had a wonderful time at the Buccaneer. Although she missed me, she wasn’t lonely, and she claims that she never talked to anyone but staff. This was the aftermath of fatigue, to be sure, but it also signaled Kathleen’s attention to take a rest from society. I had a bittersweet time listening to her daily accounts. Having been to the Buccaneer on three previous visits, I always knew what she was talking about, and I remembered what fun it wasv to walk this beach or to listen to that musician play after dinner. All week, I told myself that I really must get my affairs in order, so that by Thanksgiving-time I’ll have only the dreadfulness of flying and of being in airports to worry about.

I mustn’t fear, as I did quite viscerally ten days ago, that, if I left Manhattan Island, I would forget everything that I have learned about life in the past six months. I won’t elaborate; there’s no way that I could make sense of this anxiety in fewer than ten thousand words. The point is that, about six months ago, life began to make a lot of sense. Not life in general, but my life. I began to understand it, or feel that I understood it, for the first time. It has never been very important to me to understand my life — just one of the things about me that I didn’t really know until last fall — but now that I did, I found it very useful.

This week, while my friend Jean Ruaud piloted The Daily Blague, I thought seriously about taking a long break from blogging, so that I could devote myself exclusively to the pivotal project that I find myself in the middle of, the one that I jokingly call “I Am My Own Executor.” As I had no reason to believe that increased attention would actually speed things up — I’m very conscious of the way that insights have, these days, of falling down on me, like fruit that hasn’t been rushed to ripeness —I abandoned the idea of abandoning The Daily Blague. There’s no reason to doubt, in fact, that it was last year’s intensification of blogging effort (most notable in the Daily Office) that triggered the growth of this understanding that I’ve been talking about. There’s no question that the effort of reading thousands of Google Reader feeds a week, for months on end and with no prospect of ceasing, didn’t alter the quality of my life, at least for the first time since I stopped practicing law, over twenty years ago.

I just had a taste of the stew, and I think that it’s exactly what I had in mind.

Weekend Update:
The Koestler Problem

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

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Back in callow college days, when I was assigned The Watershed, the book about Johannes Kepler that Arthur Koestler excerpted from The Sleepwalkers, I knew Koestler’s name, and I knew (from the jacket copy on The Watershed) that Koestler was the author a familiar title, Darkness at Noon, although I knew nothing about this latter book. I didn’t know much of anything about the Spanish Civil War, beyond Picasso’s Guernica, and it would have surprised me, in those days, to learn that the same man could face death in one of Franco’s prisons and, later on, write up Kepler’s search for the music of the spheres. But I’d have adjusted right away, because I somehow knew enough to place Koestler under the same rubric as Norman Mailer.

Arthur Koestler, in other words, wasn’t someone that I had to get to know right away, because he was one of those culturally immanent presences that float overhead from year to year, so constant that we don’t notice that they’ve been fading until something obliges us to look at them closely. That something, in Koestler’s case, was his suicide in 1983; which would have been unremarkable if he hadn’t been joined in the act by his younger, perfectly healthy wife. When I heard about that, I realized that I hadn’t heard Koestler’s name in quite a while, and that in fact I had never really known why he was famous.

Increasingly, fame feels like a kind of style; it is bestowed upon those who for one reason or another are in tune with the intellectual fashion of the moment. And it is withdrawn to the extent that its beneficiaries have committed themselves to looks and feels that have dated and staled. Koestler’s case is more encompassing. As Anne Applebaum notes in her review of a new biography of Koestler, the most urgent topic of Koestler’s prime has vanished from everyday discourse.

The most important change, however, is political. To put it bluntly, the deadly struggle between communism and anticommunism—the central moral issue of Koestler’s lifetime—not only no longer exists, it no longer evokes much interest. Thanks to the opening of archives, quite a few Western historians are, it is true, still investigating the history of the Soviet Union and of the international Communist movement. But outside of a few university comparative literature departments, Soviet-style Marxism itself is not a living political idea anywhere in the West. In the wake of the Lehman Brothers crash in the autumn of 2008, there were calls for a government bailout of the auto industry. No one—no major newspaper columnists, no leading politicians, no popular intellectual magazines—called upon the vanguard of the proletariat to rise up and overthrow the bourgeois capitalist exploiters. In the Europe of 1948, somebody would have done so.

What that means, though, is that the entire political context in which Koestler, Sartre, and Camus functioned—and in which Koestler’s most important works were written—is now gone.

Ms Applebaum goes on to suggest that, if Koestler is to regain anything like the fame that he enjoyed sixty years ago, it won’t be because he wrote about important things, but rather the reverse: he’ll be read, if at all, because he convinces readers that, beneath the political dramas that he addressed in his work, there is a timeless struggle between forces that bear more universal names than “communism” and “democracy” — a struggle that he understands with compelling clarity. Ms Applebaum doesn’t appear to find this eventuality very likely.

This has always been much on my mind, this “Koestler problem.” It’s one thing to be forgotten because you didn’t really grasp the issues that interested you. That’s a risk that we take knowingly when we publish an essay. What you can’t really grasp is the possibility that the issues that you address so well will fall away, and concern nobody. You can’t grasp it because you can’t see where things are going. You can guess, but you can’t see.

If you’re a journalist, you probably don’t care.

Weekend Open Thread:
A Single Day

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

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The secret of the day was that I never yielded to the voice that said, “Take it easy. Take the day off. Take the rest of the day off. Rest.” It’s the hardest thing in life — when life isn’t actually hard, that is — to decide when to listen to this voice and when to ignore it. Sometimes, perseverance is foolishness, and it only makes things worse. Yesterday, though, I was in touch with myself, or so it seemed; I could count on what I felt. I had a long list of things to get through, and I got through it.

This is not to say that the voice wasn’t insistent. The day began with dithering. I’d made a date to see A Single Man with Quatorze at eleven. He wouldn’t mind very much if I canceled, but I didn’t like to do it. And that is really the only reason why I went to the movies yesterday. I’d really rather have stayed home.

For once, I left the house in plenty of time. I usually leave in just-enough time, but this means that Quatorze is already there (wherever “there” is) when I show up, and thus I’m at least late for him. I was lucky with the trains. A downtown 6 was pulling out of the station when I got through the turnstiles, but an express came along soon enough for us to pass it at Grand Central — it came in as we left. We passed another train just before 33rd Street. When the express reached Union Square, a local train’s doors were closed just as ours were opened, a virtual insult of sorts. I made my way to the forward tip of the platform. (To minimize travel time to the Angelika from uptown, you want to be in the first car of a 6 Train when it pulls into Bleecker Street. This puts you directly under Houston Street, two blocks east of the theatre. Subway configuration allows you to cover one of these two blocks underground.) Who should appear, just as that train from 33rd Street arrived, but Quatorze himself. It was too cold for walking! 

To say that I was glad to see Tom Ford’s movie would be wrong, but I might as well say at the outset that, by the end of the day, I was very glad that I had seen it. When the movie was over, I realized that I’d picked up a great deal of very misleading buzz about the film. The combination of waiting for things that weren’t in fact going to happen while acclimating the filmmaker’s extremely dry style was a bit wilting. If someone had straightforwardly assured me that A Single Man is about the loss of a beloved companion, period, then I’d have enjoyed sitting through it a great deal more than I did. I hope that whatever I write about this picture (in the next couple of days, as usual) spares at least one viewer the unnecessary awkwardness of my experience.

Once the false, anticipated Single Man was replaced the actual, viewed oad been replaced by the actual, viewed one, I began to steep in it. As the narrative makes fairly plain near the beginning, George Falconer, the hero of A Single Man, intends this day to be his last. This brings an intensity and zest to his routine experiences that are said to come if you life each day as though it were going to be your last. Many, many worthwhile things would never be undertaken if we all lived as though the day were going to be our last — there would certainly be no literature, not even shopping lists — and I did not go about pretending any such thing. But I let myself get caught up in the draft of the film, increasingly as the day wore on.

There was no time for the long lunch in which Quatorze and I usually indulge after the movies. We boarded a 6 Train at Bleecker Street and rode up to 68th, where we came to ground two blocks south of Neil’s Coffee Shop, mentioned in gossip columnist Liz Smith’s list of eateries that she would miss hanging out in when she retired, and the only one where you would not expect to find a white tablecloth. We sat in the back of the back. Quatorze asked me how the burgers are there, and I ought to have said that I didn’t know. If I had known, I would have told him that they’re like the monsters at Jackson Hole, great mounds of barely bound ground meat that must be eaten with knife and fork. Quatorze offered it up graciously. We did not dally, but paid the bill and walked the two blocks over to Gracious Home. 

We’ll be here all day if I get talking about Gracious Home. I love Gracious Home, of course, but I’ve come to prefer the quieter (and less exiguous) aisles at the big Feldman’s on Carnegie Hill. I couldn’t be sure, however, that Feldman’s would carry one of the three “musts” on my shopping list (the others being candles and cocktail napkins): a three-way fluorescent light bulb. Three way incandescent bulbs aren’t easy to find, and I’ve never spotted a three-way fluorescent anywhere but at Gracious Home. So Quatorze and I plunged in. Needless to say, we came out with a lot more than those three items. (We even found a nostalgic wall clock for Fossil Darling’s kitchen, which Quatorze has been all-but-renovating.) We were, indeed, carrying too much to carry back to my place on foot.

I made a pot of tea and resolved that Quatorze and I would chat in a civilized manner for an hour, and for an hour only; at four o’clock, I’d change into work clothes and start tidying the bedroom. Quatorze would be perfectly welcome to stay and talk, but I would get to work. I tidy the bedroom on Friday afternoons now so that Kathleen can sleep in on Saturday, or spend the whole day there if she feels it, without holding up domestic routines. (To the extent that they are flexible, domestic routines are onerous.) I calculated that, if I worked briskly, I could get through the bedroom in time to shower and dress and get myself to Crawford Doyle before closing time at six, in order to pick up some books that I’d ordered. Then I would return a DVD to the Video Room, before heading to the Museum for a chamber concert at seven.

Shortly after four o’clock, the teapot was empty, and I got up to refill it. Quatorze decided that it was time for him to head across town to Fossil’s, so I had to decide what to listen to while I dusted and vacuumed. (I had changed the sheets on Thursday night. Pretty soon, I’ll be doing some bit of housework every day, and the pace of life will be more even than it is now. I’m looking forward to that.) In the day’s spirit of just getting on with things, I listened to the large rump of Don Giovanni that I hadn’t heard during last weekend’s housework. I threw on some shorts and went through the bedroom like a white tornado.

Not stopping long enough to think, I dressed and went out and caught a taxi and, no thanks to heavy traffic on 86th Street, got to Crawford Doyle at 5:50, in time to collect my books. Then I walked three blocks in the wrong direction (from the Museum) and returned Four Christmases, which Kathleen and I had watched for the first time the night before; in exchange, I picked up Cheri, which I also hadn’t seen. It was at this point that thinking functions kicked in, and I realized that I had never blown out the scented votive candle in the bedroom that I light whenever I’m cleaning the room. What could happen? But I was wracked by the disapproval that both Kathleen and Quatorze would voice if they knew. So I had to go back home, which I did on foot. I blew out the candle, bundled up the laundry, took an ancient chicken pot pie from Eli’s out of the freezer, and popped it into the oven (200º — what could happen?). I took the laundry down to the valet and went out to hail another cab. This time, there was no traffic, so I had time to troll the Museum bookstore. I’d have been happier to miss this part of the day. On the sale tables, I saw only books that I have already bought but not opened. It was disgusting.

The chamber recital will also be written up elsewhere, but, if you don’t mind, I’ll anticipate. Perhaps because of A Single Man, I sensed a valedictory note throughout the evening, as if this were the final appearance of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert. For the first time in my experience, Edward Arron, the cellist who serves as the group’s artistic coordinator, made no preliminary or explanatory remarks; he didn’t say anything at all. The first half of the program jiggered between the interesting and the extraordinary (more anon); I had dithered about going to the concert just as I’d dithered about the movie, and once again I had decided that I owed it other people (in this case the musicians) to show up. If I had taken the trouble to preview the program, though, I might well have stayed home. The program lacked shelf appeal for me. Happily, I didn’t take the trouble, so there I was in my seat, after the interval, for a magnificent performance of music that I don’t really know, the first of Fauré’s two piano quartets. Was it just the hangover of Tom Ford’s movie that made this genially exquisite masterpiece sound like exactly the right choice for a final presentation? I’d have been in tears, if the day hadn’t become an object lesson in pleasure and good fortune. While the concert lasted, I enjoyed it. I’d worry about future events later.

As I left the Museum in the floodlighted, frigid air, I left my gloves in my pocket while I called Kathleen and arranged to meet her at the New Panorama for dinner. It did not seem that life could get any better than this, and yet I knew that it was as good as it was precisely because there had been earlier moments that pointed in the same direction. We enjoy and love life because we have enjoyed and loved it. If you live long enough, the love that you have lost teaches you how to love what you have.

Weekend Update:
The Servant Problem

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

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The most astonishing thing happened this morning. I not only remembered that I had had an idea just before going to bed last night, but I remembered what it was. I hardly know which is more remarkable! I remember pulling back the bedspread reprovingly: write this down, I said to myself. But I was tired and comfortable. Short of a brass band’s marching through the bedroom, nothing could have put my happy sleepiness more at risk than pen and paper. So I hoped for the best. What do you know!

***

Because I spent last week in funseeking-missile mode, there was an awful lot of housekeeping to see to today. Ordinarily, I go about my weekend chores with a determined resignation that is always disappointed. Permit me to unpack that clause. I’m resigned to doing the housework. I’m determined to do more interesting things when the work has been done. But I’m almost always disappointed, because three or four hours of dusting and vacuuming, while hardly arduous, drudges the brain.  You can imagine what it would be like to sit down and write deathless prose, but you can’t actually do it.

The servant problem is still very much with us. Oh, there are no servants — don’t misunderstand. That is, there are no people who are just servants. The result is that we are all servants, all obliged to see after ourselves. I don’t regret this — nobody’s life ought to be centered on the care and feeding of another adult — but I hope that the coming years will offer more in the way of on-the-job training. When I was young, I thought that the computer would pick up some of the slack. I draw a veil over my conclusions about why it hasn’t done so. May it in future.

Ordinarily, housekeeping and writing run on parallel tracks: whichever thing you’re doing, you can see the other thing, but you can’t do it. The sterling exception to this rule is library work. Every once in a while, it becomes imperative to re-shelve books that, over the past six or twelve or eighteen months, have stacked themselves in no very rational order. You find that you can no longer live with the Chaos Decimate system, which absolutely precludes finding any book that you’re searching for. So you set your jaw and have at it.  

Nothing looks more like “housekeeping” than library work. There are stacks of books on every plane surface — and on most of the upholstered ones as well. Five minutes into the project, and your rooms are a wreck; you have no choice but to stumble on blindly, as through a Siberian blizzard, in the hope that some degree of order will have been imposed by the time that you run out of steam and start throwing books back onto the shelves just to tidy the mess.

Unlike all other housework, however, organizing books is a Feast of Tantalus. For the most part, it’s true, you say of the books that you lug from pile to pile, “I wish that I could be done with these clods of printed matter.” You don’t really mean it, but you’re relating to the books as an Upper Parlormaid, not as Sir Leslie Stephen. For the most part only, however! Sooner or later, you will encounter a book that you’ve forgotten all about. Perhaps it’s a book that you have really and truly meant to read, honest; perhaps it’s a book that spontaneously kindles a desire for greater intimacy. Either way, you want to sit right down (if only there were an empty chair) and fire up peruse mode. But can you?

Of course you can. You may, even. But as the overseer of a very disorderly project — most of your books seem to be in places where no books belong dare you indulge yourself?

And that, my friends, is the servant problem.

***

The idea that I wanted to remember was this: even in a democracy, we don’t chose our leaders. Rather, we ratify choices made by the small coterie of gate-keepers and power-brokers who get to examine the political horseflesh up close and personal. I don’t take any credit whatsoever for this perception; it was written into the United States Constitution, whereby (originally) senators were elected by legislatures (not voters) and the President was elected by — the Electoral College, all by itself and not in spite of some popular vote.

If the direct voting that we favor in principle actually worked, then the gate-keepers and power-brokers would be free to choose men and women likely to prove to be excellent leaders. But it doesn’t. They have to choose candidates who will appeal to us directly — as if they weren’t there to do the job!

Monday Scramble:
Backwash

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

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Last night, we gave a small dinner party, partly in order to introduce a young artist to some old friends. The young artist came down with something in the afteroon and wasn’t able to make it, but his mother, whom I hadn’t seen in almost forty years, and who happens to be in town at the moment, was, and so the mini-reunion part of my plans met with success.

The only problem (aside from the lees of red wine) is that I am tossing, today, in a backwash of recollections that, for the moment, only grows more turbulent. To meet with an intelligent friend whom you haven’t seen in forty years is to take a very quick measure of the ground that you have covered in that time. There is also the perplexity of looking at an old snapshot of yourself that you have not seen before. These personal sensations are enveloped in a dim but vast awareness that it really is not, repeat not, all about you.

It is not unlikely that these roiling impressions are inspired by recollections of the great friend whom the young artist’s mother and I had in common, Michael Patrick O’Connor. As I was making the bed this morning, it struck me, with all the force of Rilke’s famous last line, that Michael Patrick was our Archaic Torso. To spend time with him was to know that you must change your life.

Wealth and ease invite us, we forget.
Renouncing talents that you do not need
in moonlit snaps of tourist Attica
discover sleep as an exercise
for the whole body and five eyes
Ignore the rain that has not filled the skies.
                                            (From “Coming Out”)

“Running late” barely attains the level of understatement.

Weekend Update:
Huge Fight

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

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Kathleen and I just had a huge fight. She believes — if “belief” can be attached to a reed so slender that reason cannot support it — that The Angels’ hit tune, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” from August, 1963 —  is sung by an innocent childess who has been pestered all summer by a teenage molester in whom she takes no interest. How can Kathleen possibly not see that the singer is a minx who has had her fun with some shortsighted twerp whom she is now dumping à la royale? How is it possible that Kathleen thinks that the singer is innocent, when she is obviously the worst sort of demimondaine?

Kathleen said that I ought to take a poll at The Daily Blague, so here it is — not that anyone’s going to mind. Whose side are you on, when you hear “My Boyfriend’s Back?”

(Electrolysists needn’t reply.)

It’s dreary work, being married to twerps.

Next up: a song as to the sublimity of which Kathleen and I  are in complete accord: “Easier Said Than Done.” 

Weekend Update :
Flowers on the Floor

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

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Although no one has asked, I know that you’re all dying for a look at the new rug. That’s the sort of intuition to which may brain has been reduced by this month of low-key, low-budget (but not, in the aggregate, inexpensive!) domestic upgrade.

As I wrote (in gratitude) to Quatorze last night, every time I walk into the bedroom, I want to drop to my knees and say a decade of the Rosary.

***

We began shortly after eleven, and finished at about two-fifteen. By the time Quatorze arrived, I had emptied the room of most small things — the desk chair, the hamper, the old tea table — leaving only the nightstands and the bed to contend with. I had warned Quatorze that we might have to empty the tall bookcase in which Kathleen keeps her collection of old children’s books and her accumulation of books on knitting, needlepoint, and beading; and I was glad that I did, because it would have been an unpleasant surprise indeed to find that this was so. In the event, foresight made the task bearable. By then, we had lifted the massive mattress off to one side, stood the box spring alongside it, and carefully tilted the bed frame — long ago bolted together — so as not to put too much torque on the two supporting legs. We had then rolled out the padding and then the rug (bear in mind, please, that Quatorze was a good 80% of “we”) and replaced the bed.

So now we had only to remove the books from the shelf (carefully, so that they’d be easy to re-shelve), carry the bookcase around the bed, finish rolling out the padding and the carpet, and replace the bookcase and finally the books. A lot of vacuuming and dusting was done along the way; we really ought to have been wearing surgical masks. Once the desk was back in place — it’s much heavier than it looks to be — I decided that we ought to break for lunch.

Afterward, Quatorze came back to the flat and re-hung some pictures in the living room. The paintings over the newly re-upholstered love seat, which has a somewhat higher back than the sofa that it replaced, were “driving me crazy,” he said. At about five o’clock, declaring that he would be burning his clothes, Quatorze left for home, and I went back to the bedroom for a few hours of Putting Things Back. When everything else was tidy, I made the bed.

And that was that! It was deliberate and methodical, if I may indulge in surplusage. “Deliberate and methodical” is Quatorze’s normal setting, but it isn’t mine; what came to my aid was an extended fatigue that has crushed my habitual impatience. I had neither the energy nor the snap to get cute. I plodded along tortugously. Eventually, it was all done. 

Weekend Update (Late Edition):
Spent

Monday, October 26th, 2009

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My candle, burning at both ends, has consumed itself at last. If I’m running on fumes at the moment, I wasn’t running at all about five hours ago. If I weren’t so tired, I might try to spin an engaging account of how I spent the day — and how I spent last night. Narrative aside, last night was a great wallowing in the thing that is right and truly better than sex: talk. I talked all night long. I listened a bit, and I remember most of what I heard. But I had a magnificent time of it talking. Angels of loquacity, if not of eloquence, perched on my shoulders, pouring words into my brain that I had no idea of until I heard myself saying them. This morning, I felt utterly used up.

Waking up spent would have been delicious, if only I hadn’t had to shepherd our old dining table up to Hamilton Heights. Quatorze surprassed all expectations of helpfulness. Quite aside from the heavy lifting (not really so heavy this time), he ran conversational interference for me at several key intersections; I wish that discretion allowed me to be more specific.

When our adventure became a success, and we returned to the apartment for a cup of tea, I had one of the happiest hours that I have ever known. Kathleen woke up from a nap and joined us while I showed Quatorze the catalogue of the American Stories show, and pulled down the Americans in Paris catalogue to appraise the overlap. So many pictures appeared in both exhibitions! Having begun the day in a used-up state, I was now approaching the absolute zero of personal depletion, but because everything was so handsome in the noon light, I was happy rather than cranky. I would become cranky when it got dark, at least for an hour or two.

Before that, however, I realized that life must go on: lunch. Stumbling around the kitchen, half-conscious, I threw together what turned out to be the most baldly scrumptious chicken salad that I have ever eaten, and it was simplicity itself. (Yes, of course: it was delicious to the extent that I was exhausted.) A simple dressing of mayonnaise, curry powder, and lemon juice; cubes of leftover chicken from Friday night’s roast, a cut-up avocado at its very peak, and thin slices of seeded tomato. A tablespoon of minced celery. Tossed in a silver bowl that I fished out of box for which I no longer have a place, the salad was accompanied by cranberries, a camembert, and crackers.

Plus a bottle of Schramsberg. It was heaven to drink champagne — even though I suspected that it would make me cranky later. Later, it would be dark. While it was light — while it was afternoon — life was transcendent. Over the past couple of weeks, several heavy objects have been taken out of the apartment, but only two have been brought in. I will never lead a truly simple life; I would find it parching. But I’m beginning to believe that I may be able to keep track of its contradictions.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):
Aztecs

Friday, October 16th, 2009

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When I looked at the program, my short hairs stood on end. They were playing K 563, and I almost didn’t go.

If I were a Renaissance pope, but in a world of music, not Christianity, I would found churches everywhere in honor of my favorite saint, Mozart’s Trio in E-flat for Vioilin, Viola and Violoncello. In that alternative world, I might hear my desert-island music more often. Mozart called it a “divertimento,” and yet it’s very difficult to play. That puts it at the North Pole of the Mozart-Liszt axis. Mozart wrote difficult music that sounds very straightforward and easy. It’s no wonder that more virtuoso reputations have been made playing Liszt, who wrote relatively straightforward music that sounds fiendishly difficult. It’s all very nice to have aficionados in the audience who know the score, but they’re never going to be numerous enough to fill Carnegie Hall. Or even Grace Rainey Rogers.

I did go, though. I was there, I mean. I was there, and the MMA Artists were going to play Köchel Werke Verzeichnis 563. I couldn’t believe that all I had to do was hang around until after intermission. I expected an interfering inconvenience  of some kind; when you’re my age, you just do. But I was fine. Considering that I was alone — Kathleen is in North Carolina this weekend, counting the silver (to make sure that her mother didn’t take any of it with her) — I was about as happy as it’s possible to be, in an unexcited, no-big-deal sort of way. I went a bit early, because it dawned on me that, on a Friday night, when the Museum stays open late, there are things to do, or at least to look at, if you arrive in plenty of time. I walked in and immediately felt that I owned the place. In a way, I did. Nobody, as we lawyers say of easements, had a better right to be there than I did.

I went and had a good look at The Milkmaid. I felt that I’m beginning really to like this picture, even though I have a thing about glamorizing servants. (It’s a sin against them, really.) It was very clear to me that I’d take The Milkmaid any day over the later and “more accomplished” Young Woman With a Water Pitchera painting that got a very notable second-best boost from Girl With the Pearl Earring. The Young Woman is mine — ours — the Museum’s, but that doesn’t influence my judgment. Good heavens, no; I’m actually praing that the Museum will sell the painting that is undoubtedly Vermeeer’s worst (what was he thinking?): the Allegory of Faith. (Even though I’m very fond of the tapestry curtain in the foreground.) My favorite Met Vermeer, more and more, is Woman With a Lute.

I almost bought Walter Liedtke’s plush monograph on Vermeer. I want it, certainly. But we’ve been spending money like water here lately, buying all the little things that will “pull the apartment together.” I doubt that Liedtke on Vermeer (as the book would have been called in more learned times) is going to go out of print anytime soon. I bought some postcards, and that was that.

Liedtke, by the way, speculates that the Woman With a Lute is waiting for a man to join her — a man with whom the spectator might identify. This seems truly peculiar to me. I see a woman who’s having a good time playing music in cloudy weather. I don’t see myself in the picture at all. Happily, I can’t possibly interrupt the music.

I had a choice of routes back to the Great Hall, which I would have to cross, in order to get to Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, where Edward Arron and his colleagues would be playing chamber music. (That was all that I knew; I hadn’t bothered to check out the program ahead of time. I’d bought the tickets months ago. That’s why I almost didn’t go. In a perfect world, there would be no need to buy anything ahead of time; you could just wait to be in the mood.) I could go through the Medieval Hall or through the Greek and Roman Galleries. I was in the mood for Greek and Roman, but, in the event, I never paused to look at anything there, because, in order to reach Greek and Roman, I had to pass through the multi-purposed wing that, for the moment, I’ll call “Aztec.” This is a part of the Museum that I don’t know at all, and am indeed unpardonably sniffy about. But I was feeling expansive. Someone I knew might want to see something in these galleries, and I ought to know where they were (call me Teddy Wharton). I was feeling so comfortable and pleasant and mentally enlarged that I decided to do the Aztecs a favor, and have a look at them. Horrible to put it that way, but, in the end, that’s what living with art comes down to, and don’t let ‘em tell you otherwise.

Because it’s way past my bedtime, I am not going to chatter about the Aztecs. The gold items were luminous and intriguing, but they were also impossible to look at without thinking of Indiana Jones… The silver items, however, were very fresh. There are two vases — not intended as such, perhaps, but that’s what we’d treat them as — that really ought to be copied by Tiffany; I’m sure they’d sell like hotcakes. Very simple, very Thirties — only, better than Thirties. You have to see them. Of course, I do live under a rock. It’s entirely possible that Renny Reynolds and Robert Isabel cloned them decades ago, and that, even as we speek, Palm Beach hostesses are trying to persuade their housemaids to accept them as bonuses. As you can see, though, my visit to the Aztecs was not without interest.

I’d thought that I’d have dinner somewhere afterward; I’d even brought reading matter to sustain me at a table for one. I ended up coming home, though, and making spaghetti alla carbonara. What I really wanted was the roast chicken at Demarchelier, but, when I passed by, the restaurant seemed not only packed but attitudinal. What can I say? I’m always comfortable at La Grenouille, one of the grandest restaurants in the world, but Demarchelier persistently reminds me that I live on the wrong side of Lexington Avenue. And Third Avenue. And Second Avenue! Turn the glass over, and I live on the wrong side of East End Avenue as well. Demarchelier is an Upper East Side restaurant. I live (four blocks away) in Yorkville. Maybe the Aztecs had exhausted my cultural imperialism.

But I’m just like you in this respect, I had as good a right as anybody to check out the Aztecs.