Archive for 2018

November 2018

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Philosophical Note:
On Staying in Bed
16 November 2018

Friday, November 16th, 2018

¶ Re-reading Alexander Theroux’s The Strange Case of Edward Gorey — itself a rather strange book, a sort of Portrait of the Artist as a Friend Manqué — I’ve come across a line that Mark Dery also quotes in the biography that I mentioned the other day. 

I never could understand why people always feel they love to climb up Mount Everest when you know it’s quite dangerous getting out of bed.

It’s a mouthful for a motto, but that’s my philosophy for today. In bed I shall stay.

Reading Note:
Less
15 November 2018

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

In Morocco, Arthur Less, a writer circumnavigating the globe in order to avoid his boyfriend’s wedding to another man, meets a handsome, bold woman named Zohra. She is one of those people who gets to the point without having to wade through questionnaires. Zohra asks Less about his new novel, which it seems his publisher doesn’t like. Less has made it a rule never to discuss his books until they are printed, because “people are so careless with their responses.” But he trusts Zohra.

“It was about a middle-aged gay man walking around San Francisco. And, you know, his … his sorrows…” Her face has begun to fold inward in a dubious expression, and he finds himself trailing off. […]

Zohra asks, “Is this a white middle-aged man?”

“Yes.”

“A white middle-aged American man walking around San Francisco with his his white middle-aged American sorrows?”

“Jesus, I guess so.”

“Arthur. Sorry to tell you this. It’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that.”

“Even gay?”

“Even gay.”

As it happens, Less, Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is about a middle-aged gay white American who is going around the world with, you know, his sorrows. The protagonist will learn, a little later in the story, to salvage his latest novel by treating its hero pretty much as Greer has treated him. Nothing redeems self-indulgent sorrow — in a spectator’s eyes — like a banana peel. Less’s humiliations are not quite as obvious and crushing as the ones he proposes for his hero (named Swift), but they keep you smiling from page to page. (I especially like the Berlin scenes in which all the natives speak perfectly-rendered English but everything that Less says betrays the clunkiness of his German.) The mishaps are eventually eclipsed by good things that happen to Less, but that Less is too mired in self-pity to recognize as such, for example when he wins a literary prize in Italy and can only attribute it to misjudgment.

The reason why we can’t feel sorry for American white guys anymore is that we have all sat through so many master classes in focused on the relative lack of privileges and advantages enjoyed by everyone else. We have begun to suspect that white guys suffer existential crises because they don’t have to worry about material ones. Things could always be so, so much worse for the white American male — but they probably won’t be. The white American male will never have to worry about driving while black or having their turbans pulled off by Islamophobes. They will have scores of opportunities — in the unlikely event that they would need them — to avoid the grim calculations of an underpaid mother desperate to feed, clothe, and shelter her children. And so on. It is impossible to feel sorry for guys like them unless you imagine that they are the only people who count, and we can’t do that anymore. 

But you end up feeling sorry for Less anyway. What I mean by this is that, once Less puts his malaise behind him and abandons his surrender to self-doubt, you’re so happy for him that you must have been worried all along.

On a completely unrelated note, Less is a delicious parody of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love

Rep Note:
Meat Loaf
14 November 2018

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

¶ What weeknight dinner repertoire does not include meat loaf? Mine hasn’t, for a long time. For years, I followed my mother-in-law’s recipe, because Kathleen liked it. Then I wandered and experimented. When I would return to my mother-in-law’s recipe, it was always better than the experiments, but somehow always worse than it used to be, or disappointing. I also discovered, over the years, that I’m not crazy about leftover meat loaf. Meatloaf sandwiches? No thanks.

As I say, though, Kathleen likes meat loaf. So I bought one of those meatloaf-mix packages at Fairway the other day (equal parts veal, beef, and pork), with the idea of seeing what The Joy of Cooking has to say.

I knew I’d need an onion, too, so I picked a nice one. I decided not to follow Joy on the onion, though; instead of simply chopping it to bits, I sliced it thin with a mandoline and cooked it slowly with a little butter. Well, maybe too much better, and maybe over too high a flame at the start. The result gave the meat loaf  the flavor of caramelized onion, which was yummy, but not the texture. 

Joy calls for a lot of parsley — 2/3 cup, chopped. I balked at the quantity, and I can’t say that the meat loaf suffered. And I’m not unhappy that I stinted on the chili sauce, either. But I ought to have thrown a fourth slice of brioche into the food processor. 

Joy says to mix by hand but not to overmix. I found this perplexing, probably because I didn’t seem to have a light hand. Every time I scooped my hands into the bowl of ingredients, I felt that I was manhandling it. But it turned out to be adequately blended in the end. 

I shaped a handsome free-form loaf on a baking tin, and, in a further uncalled-for step (familiar from many other recipes, though), I topped the loaf with two slices of bacon. In the event, they added nothing, and made slicing difficult. 

Dinner was served. Very satisfying.

I had taken the two slices from the center of the loaf, leaving a large end, which I wrapped in foil and froze, and a small end, which I wrapped in plastic and tossed into the fridge. I have an idea about what to do with the small end, but I’m going to keep it to myself until I give it a try.

Anxiety Note:
A Simple Request
13 November 2018

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

¶ Kathleen’s therapist told her recently that doctors in the city are reporting a lot of cases that look like a mild sort of PTSD.

I know that I am one of the afflicted. It involves, among other symptoms, a fundamental uneasiness that no amount of walking-around-on-a-sunny-day can assuage. It has little to do with the latest news, although the Times manages to jolt me with some kind of shock every morning. What I can’t tell is whether knowing a lot of history makes it more or less severe. What the man does doesn’t bother me so much as his personal appearance. He is obviously (why hadn’t I seen this before?) the reincarnation of Edward Gorey’s Beastly Baby. Obviously. 

The tumult about Brexit doesn’t help. Now, this is clearly a matter of my knowing too much history. If I were just an ordinary educated American, I would not have the sense that I do of a political class that has completely collapsed. There is simply nobody to take Theresa May’s place! Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is the worst world-historical bad joke that I’ve encountered in my lifetime. Can’t somebody please tie him up with Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, attach a heavy stone, and deposit the bundle in the Mariana Trench? I’ll feel so much better. 

Iconic Note:
Edward Gorey
12 November 2018

Monday, November 12th, 2018

¶ I’ll be the first to admit that what was so cool about Edward Gorey, way back when, was his obscurity. He was probably never nearly as “unknown” as young fans like me thought he was — he was the art director at Anchor Books for years before I came across his work, at the age of fourteen or so — but for a long time, there was no such word as “Goreyesque.” I was in law school when Dracula was a Broadway hit, with Frank Langella, in the title role, ever so slightly upstaged by Gorey’s sets and costumes, but when Mystery! began running on PBS, I knew that the jig was up: Everybody in my neighborhood (viz educated people) knew something about him, and maybe even owned a few of his little books. Everybody

Gorey’s obscurity was important because his books were so palpably obscure. On the surface, they were about nothing — nothing but the overpowering suggestion that they might be about something hidden beneath the surface. The detail of his small drawings was so intense that you could never be sure that you had noticed all of it. Perhaps, somewhere in that detail, was the key to the whole thing — which would be nothing less than the key to existence itself. The existence of Edward Gorey himself seemed contingent on this mystery. As Mark Dery writes at the beginning of his new biography, Born To Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, “most people” assumed that he was British, Victorian, and dead. I never thought he was dead (until he died, that is), but I was very surprised to learn that he was Chicago-born. For a long time, I could have done without that bit of information. 

By now, of course, there wasn’t much about Edward Gorey that I didn’t know, at least in broad outline. Which made Dery’s book by turns engrossing and exasperating. While it was very agreeable to have the biographical material laid out in order, Dery’s harping on Gorey’s sexuality became more than a little annoying. Analyzing the drawings for evidence of repressed desires is, it seems to me, the least interesting way of looking at them. (And, in any case, the desires seem fairly obvious, whatever Gorey made of them in his own life.) Sex is jut one of the perils that menace our existence, and by no means the worst of them. Terrible things are depicted in Gorey’s pictures, but it’s the text that mocks the very idea of safety. Concern about sexual orientation is almost trivial in the larger context of Gorey’s infernal machines. 

On more certain ground, Gorey emerges from Dery’s book as indisputably industrious. I feel that I have done nothing with my life in comparison.

Anxiety Note:
Panne d’Eau
9 November 2018

Friday, November 9th, 2018

¶ It’s unreasonable, I know, but I can’t seem to help it: every time the building announces a partial or complete water shutdown, I go into Chicken Little mode, overwhelmed by the fear that, once they turn the water off, they won’t be able to turn it back on. They’ll break something important in the course of maintenance, or the pipes will be discovered to be radioactive — something catastrophic. Usually, the shutdowns are partial, involving the hot water only, and most are scheduled to coincide with the working day. But the latest was a complete shutdown, beginning, ominously early, at nine in the evening, and running until six. This kind of thing ruins my whole day, and often the day before.

Oh, I prepare well enough. I make sure that drinking water and ice cubes are in topped-off supply, and I fill a ginormous watering can and a large mop bucket with tap water, in order to flush toilets, although that is rarely necessary. I set out a bowl of water in the sink for dipping my fingers in case they need a spot of cleaning. (A trick I learned from Babette’s Feast.) 

And the part of me that isn’t Chicken Little is pretty sure that the water is not going to be cut off at nine, that, in fact, it might still be flowing just past eleven, although at a low pressure. Service will certainly be restored (although with probably rather brown water) by six in the morning. To this worldly wisdom, accrued over decades of living in this building, Chicken Little replies, “There’s always a first time.”

So, last night, Kathleen came home somewhat early, and we ate Chinese, right out of the containers. I had already run the dishwasher, so I washed the chopsticks myself. Then I took my evening shower, and tried to relax.

Chicken Little’s warning turned out not to apply. The watering can and the mop bucket are still brimming, untouched. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that a building repairman snipped Verizon’s master cable a few years ago, and Verizon refused to repair it, putting an end to genuine landline service to all 690 apartments. And let’s not forget the idiot who cut into a gas pipe. Chicken Little is not entirely unreasonable.

Political Note:
Fake News
8 November 2018

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

¶ Truly the best thing about having the midterm elections behind us — all right, almost as good as the House victory of the only remaining political party on the American scene — is the abeyance, however temporary, of headlines announcing poll results.

Polls are important to political operatives, who know how to compose them and how to decode the answers. For the rest of us, though, they are Fake News.

Book Note:
Philip the Disappointing
7 November 2018

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

¶ Among the books that I planned to give away, when I culled the history bookcase, were Richard Vaughan’s books about the four Dukes of Burgundy, Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good, and Charles the Rash. I had found them disappointing, with too much scholarship and not enough narrative drive. That was ten or more years ago. One recent evening, desperate for something to read (why is this happening so often?), I picked up Philip the Good from the giveaway pile, and read the chapter,”The Duke and His Court.” 

I soon realized that what disappointed me about Philip, anyway, was Philip himself, and not Vaughan’s history of his nearly fifty-year rule over the complicated assortment of Low Country territories (together with the Duchy and the County of Burgundy, the former part of France and the latter part of the Empire) that might have become a sovereign nation if Charles the Rash hadn’t deserved his sobriquet. Charles’s father, Philip, presided over the Golden Age of Netherlandish art, as well as the earliest period of music that I can listen to with real pleasure, and I have always tried to think of well of him for that reason. Unlike his skinflint cousins, Charles VII and Louis XI of France, Philip conducted an extravagant court. His entertainments were preposterously lavish, and it is not hard to find jawdropping accounts of his Feast of the Pheasant, a banquet held at Lille in February 1454.

But Philip clearly was, as Vaughan maintains, an inadequate statesman. He never grasped that France’s Nº 1 foreign policy was the extermination of the “Burgundian” régime. Richer than many kings, he and son were unable to garner a crown from the Holy Roman Emperor. How naïve of them to imagine that they ever would.

Well, I’ve been re-reading the book from the start, and it has made me itch to have my copy of Aline Taylor’s book about Philip’s wife, and Charles’s mother, Isabel of Portugal. I seem to have let it go. Vaughan writes, “It would be nice to know more about this interesting woman.” Isabel represented her husband at many conferences, and frequently oversaw the payment of troops. It is difficult to get a handle on her, because, well-bred woman that she was, she left little in the way of personal remarks. And her exercises of power irritated male commentators precisely because they were so competent. Philip’s third wife, she married him in 1430 — Jan van Eyck was sent on the marriage embassy to Lisbon to paint her picture for the Duke’s approval — and she bore him his only legitimate child (Charles; there were scads of bastards). Then she left him! In 1457, she retired to her own court, frequently attended by her son. We don’t know why, really; it’s unlikely that an explanation couched in the language of the Fifteenth Century would tell us what we want to know. But I suspect that she lost her respect for the duke.

I guess there’s nothing for it but to buy the used but unread copy that someone’s selling through Amazon for five bucks. This is how I get rid of books!

Citizenship Note:
I’ll be Damned
6 November 2018

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

¶ We went to vote today. Kathleen came home from an early-morning doctor’s appointment and picked me up — a euphemism for making sure that I got up, got dressed, and went to vote. Here’s why it was an issue.

Six months or so ago, I received a letter from the Board of Elections. It all but accused me of trying to retain my voter’s registration despite having moved to Timbuktu. In fact, of course, I had moved, but only from one apartment to another in the same building, without, presumably, leaving my voting district, which I can never remember. 68 76? Is that it? Or 68 75. It makes no sense, and it never has, but I’ve lived here for nearly forty years. I responded to the Board’s letter in the appropriate manner, and hoped that that would be an end to it. 

Then I had to renew my driver’s license — which I decided not to do. That is, I transformed my driver’s license into an ID without driving priviliges. I haven’t driven in over fifteen years, and even then I felt unfit, what with my completely calcified backbone. In the process (a minor nightmare), I managed somehow to resubmit the old apartment number to the Board of Elections in an update. I begged the DMV people to do something about this, but they said that apartment numbers didn’t matter to them. So my official ID still lists me as living in the apartment that we left four years ago. 

I repeat: we have been living at the same street address for nearly forty years. 

How many hours of tossing and turning about just this single thing have I endured since May? Many many many. Should I call the Board of Elections to make sure that my status was in order? I didn’t have the energy for that kind of speculation. So I decided that I just wouldn’t vote. I would retire as a voter, just as I have retired from concert audiences and other former pleasures. I knew that my votes wouldn’t make a difference, except to the extent that I voted for the Working Party Family slate instead of for the Democrats, even though the candidates were all the same. I will do anything in my power, short of voting for Mitch McConnell and his Satanic ilk, to destroy the Democratic Party, which to my mind has outlived its usefulness and needs to die, like an obliging mama octopus, so that new life can grow in its place. Was this burning passion of mine sufficient to break through all my morning problems, of which getting out of bed is the least? No. But when I remarked to Kathleen that I was thinking of just not voting — or rather, of avoiding the humiliation of showing up to vote only to find that I couldn’t, because the Board of Elections had removed me from the rolls — I received dim but unmistakable seismic signals warning me that this course of inaction would be a mistake. I would feel ashamed in Kathleen’s eyes, and, over time, even more ashamed in my own.

So, by the time Kathleen came back from the doctor’s to pick me up, I was putting on my socks. Step two, after showering and donning fresh Jockeys. Pretty soon, I was dressed. I felt terrible, but I had taken an anti-diarrheal pill (essential for deviation from regular plumbing processes). We left the apartment.

Just outside the front door, Kathleen said, “You stay here while I hail a cab.” Talk about role reversal — but I was much too deeply relieved to protest. I forgot to mention that it was raining, somewhere between drizzling and pouring — annoying. The rain was annoying. Kathleen nabbed a taxi right away, and in minutes we were at the latest voting place, further up Second between 91st and 92nd. Where our votes for Hillary didn’t work.

We went to the table associated with our voting district. I went first, and, to my amazement, the volunteer found my entry and the place for me to sign before I’d even had a chance to scan the page in despair. There it was. My name, anyway. The signature wasn’t mine, was it? Kathleen didn’t think so. But my writing has deteriorated greatly in the past five years, and I was in pretty bad shape, apparently, last election round. Eventually, I made out the “K” of “Keefe” and even the initial “R” of “Robert.” In any case, I signed again and was handed my ballot. Wow! No problem!

Now the whammy came: Kathleen wasn’t in the book! 

I felt so hideously guilty that I wanted to vanish in a cloud of ash. All my pointless anxiety of the past six months had had the vile side effect of erasing Kathleen from the rolls. Notwithstanding my tedious agonizing, got to vote. Blameless Kathleen was disenfranchised. 

What neither of us knew — and why should we have known — was that there is a procedure for these situations, involving an affidavit that the unlisted voter seals with his or her ballot. The packet is is carried to headquarters and dealt with. I’ll bet that Kathleen’s vote will count, but of course she’ll have to contact the Board of Elections — the very thing that I wouldn’t wouldn’t and wouldn’t do — in order to fix her status for 2020. I know it’s all my fault.

But I voted, and it feels good. Maybe not so much the voting, but rather the loving my wife.  

Rep Note:
Macaroni and Cheese
5 November 2018

Monday, November 5th, 2018

¶ It has certainly been six months since the last time I made macaroni and cheese — I think it must be more like a year. I made it for dinner this evening and found out why.

The recipe that I use is celebrated everywhere, and I loved the results for years. I got it from John Thorne’s Simple Cooking, in which Thorne attributes it to Eartha Kitt, I think. From the start, I made a significant deviation: I didn’t put the finished dish in the oven. And now I’m thinking that, possibly, that’s an important, if not necessary, step in its cooking. I was afraid that the oven would dry the dish out, as most baked macaroni and cheese is. Of course, most macaroni and cheese is really Macaroni Mornay — macaroni in a béchamel to which cheddar or gruyère cheese has been added. The Kitt/Thorne recipe is rather a custard, the sauce thickened with egg rather than flour. How to put it? Less heavy but richer? It tastes great, but you can’t eat a lot of it. Nothing like the yield, even the yield of half the recipe, which is what I’ve always used. 

Maybe the oven would do something about this richness. It’s hard to think what. But I ought to give it a try. If I can find the Kitt/Thorne recipe. I’ve been making macaroni and cheese off the top of my head for twenty-five years.

My cousin, in his Columbia grad student days, used to say — dropping his voice to his low, dramatic voice of doom — “RJ, this is not macaroni and cheese.” He would eat every scrap. 

Music Note:
Beautiful Brahms
2 November 2018

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

¶ Now that I have the Liebeslieder scores, all I want to do is to listen to the music with the book in hand. Published by Peters, it’s a beautiful book — big, clearly printed, and so handsome that it’s almost musical itself. The rather heavy, old-fashioned type on the cover is offset by background of mint greens that couldn’t be nicer to look at. 

Although I know the music by heart, I know it as a flat panel of sound. Although I hear inner voices, I don’t always know where they’re coming from (or where they’re going), and I don’t recognize patterns as quickly with my ear as I do with my eye. (Which may be why audiobooks are not for me.) For example, take the first two lines of Nº 4 of the first set — the song I was craziest about when first heard this music, fifty years ago.

Wie des Abends schöne röte
Möcht ich, arme Dirne, glühn.

There is a pattern here that I didn’t grasp until had the score in front of me. There are five words of two syllables in these lines, and the first syllable of  each of these words is slurred over two notes, the second a tone below the first. The second syllables of the three words in the first line are also set to that second note — a perfect lilting waltz, (Abends and schöne are set to the same three notes, A’s followed by two G’s.) The two two-syllable words in the second line are treated in the same general way as to the first syllable, but the drops are half-tones. The third notes do not repeat the second, but link the words in a minor-mode melodic chain that not only continues the lilt but expresses the sadness of the “poor girl” who, as the third and fourth lines tell us, only wants to find a man to please. The variation on the pattern subtly but unmistakably marks the difference between the serenely setting sun and the unfulfilled damsel. I was aware of all this musically, but it was locked into my musical awareness; I couldn’t have spoken of it. But I saw it right away. 

That’s why I read scores.

Muddle Note:
Where’s the Package?
1 November 2018

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

¶ The score of Brahms’s Liebeslieder and Neue Liebeslieder Walzer arrived today, or at least it was put into my hands. There had been a muddle. When I read online that it had been delivered by the Post Office the previous Saturday, I made the wrong decision. I called the vendor, who obliged me by offering to send another copy. I ought to have gone to the package room to ask about it there. I never received a notification from them, which is why I didn’t ask. Their system of notifications works pretty well, and if you don’t get one, the people in the package room aren’t going to know anything about it. But there was a slip this time: they did know, but they forgot to tell me. The envelope turned up along with some other packages about which I’d been duly notified. Now I shall have to contact the vendor when the replacement arrives, to see what to do. 

The score may have been delivered by the Post Office, but it wouldn’t have fit in my mailbox.

October 2018

Thursday, November 1st, 2018

Reading Note:
Even the Trains
31 October 2018

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Finally, finally, I have come to the end of RJB Bosworth’s Mussolini’s Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945. If it hadn’t been so well-written, I’d have hated it. There was too much information for a first-time reader, too many new names, even for someone who had just read Jasper Ridley’s brisk but by no means summary biography of Il Duce himself. The subtitle ought to have been Life Around the Fascist Dictator, for the topic under discussion almost always concerned jockeying for favor. And a great deal of dispersed information could have been boiled down a bit and collected in a single chapter, “No, He Didn’t Make the Trains Run on Time. Even.” 

It’s a disaster story in slow motion. Mussolini, a man of the people whose father was a blacksmith (and an insurrectionist; he named his son after Juarez), did well in school and became, by all accounts, a first-class newspaperman. There you go. He certainly knew how to talk — his speeches, far from run-on rants, were usually concise, at least until the last, desperate years. But politics? Nobody in Italy really understood politics, at least the kind of politics that you can discuss with your mother. Italy itself was too new, unified only in theory. As usual in a nineteenth-century polity that didn’t speak English, Italian leaders made a complete hash of liberalism, and were hardly more democratic than their Fascist successors. Nor did anyone grasp the rudiments of relations between modern government and modern industry. (I’m sometimes afraid that, in this country, they have been forgotten.)

For me, the killer tragic fact was that, on the eve of the War, the Italians were producing about 1600 planes per year, substantially fewer than the United States produced in a week. Such radical inadequacy in matériel across the board rendered Italy totally unfit for any European war.

In short, the temptation to feel sorry for Mussolini and his gang is at times very strong, especially when comparisons are made to their Axis pals to the north. But if, to be bad, you have to be Hitler or Himmler, then we’re all in a lot of trouble. The Fascists were thugs, or, to be nicer, they were confused and displaced veterans of Italy’s shambolic campaign in the First World War, who knew how to have fun with a gun. They used the Party to feather their nests, and of course became semi-respectable in the process, careful to ensure that their sons didn’t take after them. They grew pathetically middle-aged, but although they gave up shooting in the streets, they never really grew up.

Indeed, it’s a picture of jowly squadristi, on their way to some PNF festa in Rome, that opens Iris Origo’s A Chill in the Air, which together with her War in Val d’Orcia sparked my desire to know more, much more, about Italy between the wars. I’m glancing through these incredibly apt diaries a second time. Nothing puts me on the ground faster, or at least creates the illusion of doing so. My next biography is going to be about her. 

Connection Note:
Calling It In
30 October 2018

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

¶ As a favor to Kathleen, I went down to Duane Reade to fetch a clutch of refills for her. While I was there, I switched her phone number, so that now she’ll receive texts on her smartphone. She has been connecting with Duane Reade via the landline, which not only isn’t a landline anymore but doesn’t do texting. Also, I had to call in all her refill requests.

Kathleen has a beautiful, clear, and low-pitched voice, but she has trouble making herself understood to the drugstore’s robots, especially when reading in long prescription numbers. Part of the problem, if you ask me, is that she sounds somewhat fearful and annoyed, as who wouldn’t, in the face of constant rejection (“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”). Several months ago, I offered to take over, and things have been going smoothly. I would put on my peppy, radio-trained, “You have just won a prize!” voice, and the lady robot at the other end always understood me. But even though I had silly fun overdoing the confidence of my inputs, Kathleen minded having to ask me.

So we’ll see how the texting goes.

Dinner Note:
Pork Roast
29 October 2018

Monday, October 29th, 2018

It has never happened before. On two successive weekends, two law-school classmates showed up in town. Unfortunately, they missed one another — they were both housemates of Kathleen’s.

Once again, we gathered for dinner with Fossil Darling and Ray Soleil. This weekend’s guest has long nursed a crush, against crushing odds, on Fossil, and she wanted to have a look at Ray, whom she had never met, to see what he, despite the obvious, had that she didn’t. Also in the party was our friend’s daughter, who is hoping to get into one of the city’s eminent universities at some point during the next six weeks.

This time, we had dinner here, and not at a restaurant. I knew from the start that I was going to serve a big bowl of spaghetti; in the event, I sauced it with my ragù bolognese (which I’ve copied from Giuliano Hazan’s pasta book). I was thinking of grilled chicken with a salad for secondi, but when I was at Fairway I spotted a nice-looked boned and rolled loin of pork. It occurred to me that I could treat this as I do ham, lining the roasting pan with fresh pineapple rings. I would marinate the meat in a blend of ingredients that would probably include maple syrup. Indeed, I found just the right recipe in Classic Home Cooking. Since I had already done my shopping and had no intention of going out again, I substituted a cup of wine for a cup of pineapple juice. It was all pretty simple. Kathleen and our friend vetoed the salad when they saw that I had fresh corn kernels to sauté. Kathleen bought some pastries at Maison Keyser. 

It was pretty simple, but I was on my feet all afternoon. Then I sat down with everyone for an hour, even though I knew that it would be terrifically hard to get back up and into the kitchen. Nevertheless, it all came out well. I made a loaf of garlic toast, using a baguette from Keyser; I really must study the subject of garlic toast, because mine never comes out right, and I conclude that I need of some real recipes.

The pineapple juice would probably have made for a nicer jus than the wine. 

Our friend confessed that she is living vicariously through her pretty daughter’s love life, which isn’t active enough for Mom. I told her (Mom) that, for a goy, she was doing a very good sitcom Jewish mother. I sympathized with her daughter at every turn. That’s what old friends are for; just ask Fossil Darling.

Gotham Note:
Storm Warning
26 October 2018

Friday, October 26th, 2018

¶ Why, I wondered, was Fairway so crowded on a late Friday afternoon? The girl at checkout suggested that people were “paranoid” about the storm — the Nor’easter promised for tomorrow. Such silliness! When does a Nor’easter really affect Manhattan? A lot of wind, maybe, and some drizzly rain (never a downpour). Does no one recall the story of the three pigs? The buildings here begin with bricks and get more formidable from there.

This one was forecast for snow. Does Trump write this stuff?

What it is, of course, is that people worry about supplies, and whether workers, who don’t live here, will be able to get to work. Not altogether unreasonable. And I suppose that a lot of people simply decided to do their weekend shopping a day early. The real problem is that there is only one food market in this neighborhood (Whole Foods doesn’t count). There used to be two, neither of which is doing business is anymore. And a third before that. 

Anyway, it was chaos at Fairway. Midway through the checkout line, I realized that, because I was concentrating on a dinner party tomorrow night, I had forgotten to buy sugar. What with all the lemonade for Kathleen’s Arnold Palmers, we go through plenty. I figured I had enough in the sugar bowls for another batch of simple syrup. But I’ll have to go back on Monday, and buy some more lemons as well. 

Souvenir Note:
Kondo No-No
25 October 2018

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

¶ There are still a few items on the dining table still haven’t found a place since I removed them from the linen closet. Two that I did manage to clear off were plastic containers of the kind that I hate, because with their snap lids &c they take up much more room than their contents merit.

One of these containers is the size of a shoebox. Inside was a smaller box, with no lid, containing a collection of shoe-polishing equipment. We don’t polish our shoes anymore. But you never know. So I took out the smaller box and returned it to the linen closet, where it didn’t take up much room.

The other container, somewhere between the size of a pencil case and a shoebox, contained fragments that any sane person would throw away. A piece or two of inlay from a folding screen that Ray Soleil took years to talk me out of having restored. (He carted it off to charity.) A couple of green glass leaves and rose glass petals that fell off an extravagant piece of decorola that my mother picked up somewhere, an Italian bouquet of something, about a cubic foot in size — Kathleen put up with it for years before we agreed that it was unsalvageably duty — and a pair of miniature Japanese clogs that belong to a geisha bunny doll that sits among pillows on a sofa in the living room.

I found a nice place for all of these bits, a lidded wicker basket for which my grandson makes a beeline whenever he visits, because it contains a whirly flashing light thing that I can’t even describe.

Reading Note:
Territorial Rights
24 October 2018

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

The latest book that I’ve re-read is Muriel Spark’s Territorial Rights, which I bought and read for the first time when it came out, in 1979. I bought it because (a) I hadn’t read any Muriel Spark yet, and thought I ought to, (b) the dust jacket featured a haunting watercolor by John Alcorn, and (3) I was looking for something like Daphne DuMaurier’s Don’t Look Now, or, rather, like Nicholas Roeg’s film adaptation of that novella. In this last, I was disappointed, because Territorial Rights, while mysterious in its way, isn’t at all spooky. And I was still too dense to discern Spark’s understated connections. But, because of the watercolor, I didn’t get rid of it. 

Nevertheless, we were parted for some time. I recaptured the book about ten years later, in a barn in Texas, where it had been sheltered since the breakup of my father’s household in Houston. I clutched it and carried it off to New York, where it sat undisturbed on various shelves for nearly a quarter of a century, until I pulled it down the other day. 

I much enjoyed reading it again. Territorial Rights is a very dry, very mordant ensemble comedy from a mistress of dry mordant comedies. The humor is almost entirely fixed in the language.

Amazon offers a couple of editions of the novel, but none with the Alcorn dust jacket.