Archive for 2018

Dream Note:
Cuisine bourgeoise
13 June 2018

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

It turns out that the Video Room doesn’t stock Anthony Bourdain’s documentary, Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent. If I want to see it, I’ll have to buy it. 

Who is Jeremiah Tower? I started hearing about him in the late Eighties, when Kathleen joined a law firm the head office of which was in San Francisco at the time. For several years, we went out to the Napa Valley for autumn retreats. Kathleen got to know a San Francisco partner who was Tower’s boyfriend, at least that’s how I remember it. We knew the name of Chez Panisse, but we never attempted to experience it. The restaurants in Napa were more than enough. 

Do admit: “Jeremiah Tower” is a power name. And it has been coming up in book after book. Well, two books. Maybe. Certainly in one: Andrea Barnet’s Visionary Women, where Tower has a big part to play in the Alice Waters story. Curious to hear him tell it, I ordered a copy of Start the Fire: How I Began a Food Revolution in America. Having read it, I find I’ve lost my appetite.

I can’t recall if Richard Olney mentions Tower in his strange memoir, Reflexions; Tower more than mentions Olney in his. (They were companions for a while.) Olney was austere, Tower appears to be gregarious, but both are far too excited by food for my taste. My own sensibility, I see, is retiringly bourgeois. The other day, I came across a very fine description of it in a story by Mavis Gallant. (“In Plain Sight,” collected in Paris Stories.) 

He pictured, with no effort, a plate of fresh mixed seafood with mayonnaise or just a bit of lemon and olive oil, saw an omelette folded on a warm plate, marinated herring and potato salad, a light ragout of lamb kidneys in wine. 

Not that these are favorite dishes of mine; I can’t imagine what the light ragout would taste like. But, like the writer who is imagining what it would be like to effect a rapprochement with his neighbor upstairs, the formidable Mme Parfaire, I am ravished by the prospect of peace and comfort inherent in these meals. The table-hopping, something-for-everybody cuisine of Tower’s San Francisco restaurant, Stars, sounds psychotic by comparison. Not to mention all that wealth and winery. 

I can’t say, either, that I’d object too strenuously if someone else took up the cooking. 

Reading Note:
Final Cut
12 June 2018

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

Reading Final Cut, by Steven Bach. It’s the book, first published in 1985, about United Artists and Heaven’s Gate, the Michael Cimino movie that “sank the studio.” What actually happened was that Transamerica sold UA to MGM. Pauline Kael’s blurb on the cover calls it “The best account of American moviemaking in the age of conglomerate control of the studios.” I can neither agree nor disagree. To me, Final Cut is about three executives attempting to prove themselves in the wake of a regime change at the studio. Again and again, Bach, who was one of those executives, forced himself to swallow misgivings about supporting Cimino’s eccentricities — pretty much the same thing as supporting Cimino himself. As a study in sunk-cost pathology, Final Cut can’t be beat. But Bach himself is so appealing, at least as a mind writing a book, that I was distressed to learn that he died some time ago. Not that I’d have ever gotten round to writing an appreciative note, something that I usually do anyway, if obliquely, here. 

Rep Note:
Milk Shake
11 June 2018

Monday, June 11th, 2018

In the middle of a lazy afternoon yesterday, Kathleen said, out of the blue, “What I’d really like for dinner is a chocolate milk shake.”

I often ask Kathleen what she would like for dinner. “Something easy,” she says, trying to be helpful, unaware that this reply is the least helpful of all. For her to volunteer a desire, without having been asked, was almost exciting.

So of course I went over to Fairway and bought the chocolate ice cream and the U-Bet syrup and even a quart of milk. I bought some ground chuck, a package of sliced shiitake mushrooms, two ears of corn, and a bag of Ore-Ida shoestring potatoes. When I got home, I prepped everything, and then sat down for a while.

This was one of those diner dinners, when everything takes about three or four minutes and has to be cooked at the last minute. I did prep the milk shakes, adding more ice cream and more milk just before we sat down. (The Breville immersion blender worked like a charm.) There were no disasters. 

The potatoes, which I deep-fried in peanut oil, were not great, but they were better than most of the French fries on offer in this neighborhood, sad to say. The burgers were a tad overdone, but that never bothers Kathleen. I topped them with the sautéed mushrooms and slices of Cabot cheddar. I realized later that I forgot to put chili sauce on the table, but Kathleen didn’t mention it. 

“I can’t believe you did this,” she gushed instead. And when she got to the bottom of the milkshake, she made as much noise as her grandson. Maybe more. 

Soirée Note:
8 June 2018

Friday, June 8th, 2018

Our neighbor from upstairs came for dinner this evening, and we had a very nice time. She has been to her native Spain three times this year already, and on her most recent visit, she walked a stretch of the camino de Santiago, in the company of friends and family and a helpful automobile (for luggage transport and return trips &c). One of her brothers, a zealous walker, unable to keep the others’ dawdling pace, would march ahead out of sight for a while and then, eventually, turn round and march back to rejoin them. Helpful pilgrims would tell him that he was walking in the wrong direction. There’s a running gag for a movie there. 

We had met in the lobby on Monday evening and set up the date on the fly. We are always meaning to get together and never managing it — true New Yorkers, double-dyed in that we live in the same building. 

But I had no idea what to serve. The lack of inspiration was total, like a baffle. I went to Agata & Valentina with nothing more than hope for dumb luck. 

Agata & Valentina is a great food store in many, many ways, and its provision for shoppers in need of dumb luck is not the least of them. I realized almost as soon as I stepped up to the butcher’s counter that chicken cutlets were the thing for me. I couldn’t think why I hadn’t thought of them. 

I bought some mushroom tortelloni, which I boiled and then served in a sexed-up (mirepoix-based and then strained) A & V chicken broth. I made a salad of bitter greens with morels — a mistake. I ought to have chopped up some iceberg, especially as I’d decided on a honey-mustard dressing of my own devising. I am really off all other lettuces; I leave them to the ruminants. Iceberg is crunchy and sweet, and easy to spear with a fork. 

For dessert, angel food cake with raspberry coulis. I forgot to sieve the coulis and get rid of the raspberry seeds, but our neighbor said that she was glad that I had, because she could tell that I had used fresh (real) raspberries. 

She also said, ahem, that tortelloni are a New Year’s Even specialty in Bologna. But I still love her. 

Botanic Note:
Trop de gens
7 June 2018

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

At the florist’s across from Agata & Valentina, I bought a caladium, along with two more geraniums, for the balcony.

I had bought three geraniums nearly a month ago, but the cold weather and my low spirits  kept them in their little plastic pots, blowing over in the wind and nearly drying out. I’ll put all five plants in the urn that I ordered when we refurnished the balcony upstairs (hardly knowing how soon we’d have to leave it behind). For years, I  replanted it with the same White Flower Farm annuals — exotic coleus and begonia plants. They weren’t expensive, but, this year, I just wasn’t in the mood (and Kathleen dislikes coleus), so I decided to fill the urn with geraniums, or, as the guy in the department store in Born to Dance says, “perlargoniums to you.” (No, of course, that’s not what he says.) 

I have always liked caladiums, but I long ago learned not to truck with them. Now I’ve forgotten why — and I’ve bought one. I suppose I’ll find what the problem is soon enough, but I’m sure that it has nothing to do with what I just found out. Because the spell-check disapproved of my spelling, I had to look up caladiums on Google (I was right about the spelling), where I learned that they are better known, Heaven forgive us, as Heart of Jesus.

Words fail.

Grocery Note:
6 June 2018

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

¶ At Fairway this afternoon, I bought three packets of Driscoll raspberries. Too boring to eat, they make a nice purée, with a little sugar and lemon oil. Perfect for angel food cake.

Unpacking the groceries, I found only one packet. Checking the receipt, I saw that I had been charged for three.

I long for another food market to open in the neighborhood. 


Cheering Note:
Celery Leaves
5 June 2018

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

¶ Making celery soup over the weekend, I set the leafy tips of the celery stalks aside, thinking that I might for once follow Paul Hollywood’s instructions, and chop them to use as a garnish. I put them in a small green Italian tumbler.

As usual, I decided to go with snipped chives when I served the soup that evening. The celery leaves are still in the glass, still firm and bright, and only beginning to pale.

The sight of them on the counter when I walk into the kitchen lifts my spirits, even on those rare occasions when my spirits don’t need lifting.

If I bought a small green plant — I can’t think of anything quite so light-green — it wouldn’t be the same, and I don’t really have room for decorations. 

Best to regard the celery leaves as extended servings of a meal. Something to look forward to, next time I make celery soup. Which I do, now, often.

Marital Note:
The Awful Truth
4 June 2018

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Kathleen’s family, friends, and clients will be happy to hear that she survived her safe return, yesterday, from attending a wedding in Chicago, and my friends &c will be glad to know that I won’t be paying a lawyer to defend my case of justifiable homicide. If you want to know what love is:

Yesterday morning, at about eleven my time, Kathleen told me that her flight back home took off at 2:30, and that she’d text me when she got to the airport, as per usual. At two o’clock her time, having heard nothing, I texted her to ask if she was at the airport. The text message was not delivered. A subsequent voice call went straight to voice mail.

Whereupon began a ninety-minute anguish. Having called her hotel — the wrong hotel, but we’ll come back to that — I knew that she had checked out. This left me with an unpleasant multiple choice test (never my favorite format, but I got pretty good at it studying for the Bar exam):

  • Kathleen left her phone and charger at the hotel, or otherwise lost it. Because everything was okay — her flight was on time (and it was) — she declined to ask a stranger to borrow a phone and so forth. I could understand this. But, although it was the most likely option, it was only an option. Statistics don’t predict particular outcomes. 

  • The taxi taking Kathleen to O’Hare had been in a collision damaging enough, at least, to disable the phone. Probably worse. Not so likely, but shall we say eloquent. 

In fact, it was neither of these. Not for a moment would I have believed that what did happen happened. Like Thomas, I had to stick my finger in it to believe it. Only I was the one bleeding. 

I my anguish, I tried to resign myself to the following scenario: Kathleen’s plane would land at 5:30. If she wasn’t home an hour later, I’d worry seriously. What this meant, I couldn’t say. Maybe I’d ask Fossil Darling to come over to sit a kind of anxiety shiva. I did call my daughter, not to whine but to distract myself by listening to what she could tell me about the road trip that she is planning. Before we got to that, though, I did want to tell her why I wasn’t feeling well, and I was in the middle of explaining Kathleen’s disappearance when the phone beeped. Kathleen was calling to tell me that she had just landed. At LaGuardia — where did I think she was? 

Here is what happened: 

On Thursday evening, the night before leaving for the wedding, Kathleen printed out her itinerary at the office, but she left the document in the printer. I forget when she realized this, but it was in any case Too Late. She remembered that she was staying at the Hilton in Evanston — the hotel booked for the wedding guests, from which a bus would convey them to the ceremony — and that her flight home took off at 2:30 on Sunday. 

The hotel part is not crucial to this story, but it sets a mood. In fact, Kathleen was not booked at the Hilton in Evanston, but at some other hotel, not far away, that perhaps was a Hilton property until last month. She told the taxi driver at O’Hare that she was going to the Hilton in Evanston, and that is where he took her (1818 Maple Avenue). They didn’t have reservation in her name. (Of course.) But they were able to give her a room, even though the hotel was fully booked. On Saturday afternoon, when no bus turned up (nor any crowd of wedding guests), Kathleen, suspecting that she was at the wrong hotel, booked a taxi. 

The wedding was lovely, Kathleen was so happy she went, &c &c &c. 

At the end of the reception, some nice people with whom she’d been chatting, whom she’d heard about but never met during her nearly fifty-year friendship with her Smith roommate’s family — Kathleen was the bride’s godmother — offered to give her a lift to the hotel on their way home. Only after they dropped her off and drove away did Kathleen realize that it wasn’t her hotel. It was the right hotel. At the desk, they told her that her hotel was only two blocks away, “take a left and then another left.” It would take twenty minutes to summon a taxi, so Kathleen reluctantly hoofed it, despite the fact that it was now raining. She had to ask four different passers-by for course correction on this two-block odyssey, which incidentally was longer than two blocks.

She made it home in time to tell me that she’d had some excitement. In time, that is, before I worried that I hadn’t heard from her. I told her to take off her wet things, get comfortable, and to wait for my call in half an hour. Everything was fine — but I was not really very happy to hear that Kathleen had been lost on the streets of Evanston after dark, not knowing where she was going (as she always does in New York), asking for help finding her way. 

This contributed a sort of third option to the next day’s multiple choice test, what I’ll call the Donizetti option: 

  • Kathleen was wandering the streets of Evanston, the town in which she was, as it happens, born, like Mad Carlotta in Vertigo

The question was, who was likely to call first, the highway police or the laughing academy? 

So much for the hotel. Kathleen did check out, hail a taxi (or whatever) and get herself to O’Hare by 12:30 PM, “in plenty of time,” she thought. But she was told that her flight had just taken off: she’d been booked for a flight two hours earlier than her recollection. She was now rebooked for the 1:30 flight — on standby. Luckily, someone didn’t show, someone else got bumped into First Class, and Kathleen was able to board the flight, and to call me when it landed at LaGuardia two hours later. An hour before the earliest I imagined hearing from her. She had set her phone, dutifully, to airplane mode. That’s why I couldn’t connect with her. She had been in the air! 

Why didn’t I know anything about this change in plans? Kathleen certainly wondered. “I sent you all these texts.” Perhaps because I had watched The Awful Truth — finally out in Criterion Collection release — on Friday night, and then the supplementary shorts on Saturday night (when I did all that ironing) — I could hear the Irene Dunne in Kathleen’s voice. “I thought it was odd that you didn’t reply to any of them.” 

When she got home, after a very long hug, she brought out her phone. “See?” I saw a lot of texts all right, but they were in green balloons, not blue ones, meaning that they’d been sent to someone outside the AT&T/Apple system (I never know which it is), and to someone whose number, instead of my name, stood at the top of the screen. A little scrolling revealed that she had sent all her well-intentioned texts to the taxi outfit that provided her ride from the wrong hotel to Faith, Hope, and Charity in Winnetka. That was, after all, her most recent text contact. 

“You thought it was a little odd that I didn’t reply,” I said, reminding her that I always reply to her texts, even if only to say, “Thanks for the text!” (I have that on autofill: thxt.) “I could have been a little dead.” 

When she said — and she did so in really her most Irene-Dunne-like voice, clearly intending an effective self-defense — “Here I thought I was sending you all these helpful texts!” I replied, “It’s just as if you sent a bunch of confidential memos to the wrong client!” 

Even Kathleen agrees that she has never been wrong about a flight. I’ll leave it there. 

Video Note:
New Releases
1 June 2018

Friday, June 1st, 2018

¶ What a humid day! Just walking was taxing. I forced myself to go to the barbershop, but there was no way that I could make to Agata & Valentina afterward. Instead, I limped to the Video Room and rented two new DVDs. I had a pile of laundry to iron, and Kathleen was on her way to a wedding in Chicago. 

My choices raised eyebrows behind the counter: an odd pairing. The Commuter, a Liam Neeson vehicle, and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, starring Annette Bening. I think that Film Stars might have seemed a little less dreary if I hadn’t just watched an action flick. As for The Commuter, it doesn’t hold a candle to Vera Farmiga’s other train thriller, Source Code. It is exciting, and there’s no small satisfaction in watching the ex-cop’s former partner turn out to be the bad guy, but it has its longueurs. 

Maybe the real Peter Turner, upon whose memoir Film Stars is based, went about in 1980 with stubble on his chin, but on Jamie Bell, it simply looks anachronistic, and even somewhat disfiguring.  

I never did get out the ironing board.

May 2018

Friday, June 1st, 2018

Rep Note:
31 May 2018

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

¶ Last night, I served cheeseburgers for dinner, Kathleen’s, as usual, without a roll. I wish I could say that I like my cheeseburgers, but I can’t. I don’t. They’re boring.

I dream of the cheeseburgers that we used to consume by the dozen at this bar that we used to go to in law school. We called them “gutbombs.” Greasy and delicious! Or the burgers at Gleason’s, a would-be pub behind the Museum of Natural History, which, back in the early Eighties, was one of the first places to put burgers on English muffins. My favorite part was eating the bottom half of Kathleen’s muffin, which she left unscathed by knife and fork. I had to use a knife and fork to eat it, so saturated was it. 

I cannot reproduce these wonders, although I try everything. Sometimes, I worry that I have simply outgrown burgers. Now, that would be sad.

Book Note:
30 May 2018

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

¶ The great danger of visiting Crawford Doyle, the fine little bookshop on Madison Avenue that closed several years ago, was yielding to the temptation to buy one of the many sophisticated-seeming and smart-looking paperback books that were ranged throughout the room, not in piles but one next to the other, which of course made the books seem rare — buy them while you can! I don’t know how many times I fell, and I really can’t complain, but it is true that I acquired a number of titles that I later gave away unread. 

Among these, very nearly, was Andrew Miller’s Pure. Like all Europa editions, the book was dressed with clear and spare cover art. The eighteenth-century setting was announced by a gentleman’s lower third, in breeches, hose, and buckled shoes. A small mouse suggested impurity. I don’t remember buying Pure; I generally resist historical fiction. Not to mention that the story takes place in Paris but was written by an Englishman. I still haven’t recovered from the attempt, ten years ago, to reread A Tale of Two Cities

Pure is based on “true facts”: on the eve of the Revolution, the earthly remains of generations of Parisians were removed from the cemetery of Les Innocents, not far from today’s Centre Pompidou, to the catacombs of Paris, or some precursor thereof. The excavation was filled with fresh soil, and a market was established on the site. The market is gone now, too. It’s nothing but a corner of Paris.

The hero of the book is a young Norman engineer, from Bellême in La Perche. I found this small town on the map only after consulting the gazetteer. Nowhere near the English Channel or the Seine, it’s in the southern bulge of Eure-et-Loir — Maine, practically. The engineer has spent some time overseeing the coal mines at Valenciennes. The name of that town always sounds as though it ought to be in the South of France, instead of lurking near the Belgian border, and its associations with fine lace are hard to square with filthy collieries. 

The engineer falls in with an interesting bunch of bohemians, as they would later be called, but in 1785 proto-revolutionaries, I suppose. He is induced to buy an extremely stylish suit, in some sort of pistachio fabric, from the cutting-edge tailor, Charvet. A night on the town with his new pals, spent defacing walls near the Bastille with anti-royal graffiti, had me worrying for the rest of the novel that the nice young man would be carted off in chains. But no. Instead, he is battered with some sort of iron rod by the young daughter of the house in which he is boarding. Whether she is opposed to the emptying of the cemetery or confused about how to express her attraction to the young man, she is carted off to relatives in the country, which makes it possible for the engineer to install, upon his recovery, the girl of his dreams, a brilliant and beautiful sex worker who agrees to live with him if he will provide her with plenty of good, well-bound books. Meanwhile, a colleague from Valenciennes, whom the engineer has recruited to staff and assist in the cemetery project, rapes the lovely sexton’s daughter and then shoots himself. Later, there is a big explosion. 

In short, a Gothic novel in Louis XVI drag. Or a deceptively simple tale stuffed with code to be interpreted by Theorists and Occupiers. When the engineer goes Versailles to submit his final report, he discovers, after a long wait in the antechamber, that the grand minister who paid for the mass exhumation out of his own pocket is not in his office, and may not have been for some time. I think that’s supposed to mean something.   

Shopping Note:
Birthday Present
29 May 2018

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

¶ A few years ago, I was looking for a new dentist. Don’t ask. Ray Soleil said, why not try his, so I did. Ray’s dentist has a nice office on 60th Street, between Lexington and Park. I used to take the Lex, coming up from the subway right at the corner.

When the Q line was extended up Second Avenue, I took that train instead. Not only is it much more pleasant, but instead of walking two long uphill blocks to the dirty old IRT, I walk three short level blocks from the 63rd Street Q station to the dentist’s office. 

The first time I took the new route, early last year, I made a point of looking for the Oriental Lamp Shade Company, unaware that it had closed its Lexington Avenue branch. (I wound up replacing a disgracefully tattered pair of lampshades in the living room with an online purchase.) What did I find instead but Gale Grant Jewelry! It used to be on Madison Avenue, near the rear of St Patrick’s. I didn’t know that it had moved. I don’t think that Kathleen knew it, either.

Kathleen would want to know, you see, because that is where she has always bought the costume-jewelry earrings that she wears every day. Every once in a while, finding myself walking by the shop, I would stop in and pick up a pair of earrings that I hoped Kathleen would like. She is very hard to shop for. These visits were not very frequent, either, because I was not often in that part of town. I had to look long and hard before daring to make a choice. 

But now, here it was, Gale Grant, right on my way to the dentist. The dentist whom I have been visiting regularly for several years. Not like clockwork, exactly, but often enough. What could be simpler than stopping in on my way home from the dentist? I know exactly which tray to examine. Years of picking up Kathleen’s earrings wherever she happens to leave them after taking them off when she comes home in the evening have given me something approaching expertise in her taste.

Yesterday’s visit, after a cleaning that seemed to take a lot less time than used to be the case (thanks to regular visits), was equally brief. The owner joked about what a tough sale I was. 

When I got home, I tucked the pink paper bag under the pillows, by Kathleen’s pajamas, where she found them at bedtime. An instant hit: “Unlike anything that I have” — which would mean, in most cases, but not this one, “unlike anything that I would wear.” 

It never crossed Kathleen’s mind to mind that her birthday was over a month ago. 

Rep Note:
Coins & Cream (?)
28 May 2018

Monday, May 28th, 2018

¶ Ever since it came out, in 1993, my go-to source for pasta recipes has been Giuliano Hazan’s Dorling-Kindersley The Classic Pasta Cookbook.  It has been years since I tried anybody else’s Bolognese sauce. And Hazan’s is the book that I open when I want to indulge Kathleen with puttanesca sauce. Every now and then, I try something new, but, aside from the forementioned dishes and spaghetti alla carbonara, nothing has stuck, until, starting about a year ago, something called Conchiglie alla salsiccia e panna. Shells with sausage and cream. I’ve made it several times, but only this evening did I get it right. By which I mean: made it mine.

My principle difficulty with Hazan’s method was with the sausage. Following his recipe, I would boil a sausage for a few minutes, let it cool, and slice it into thin rounds, or coins. Except that the sausage wouldn’t cooperate. The still-uncooked sausage meat spilled out every whichway. Browning this mess was very difficult.

The trouble might have been that I was starting with frozen sausage. I buy three or four at a time when I shop at Agata & Valentina — I like the fennel sausage especially — and, when I get home, I wrap each sausage individually and stick it in the freezer.

This evening, I decided to remove the sausage skin — I scored the frozen sausage with a small knife and, under hot water, peeled the skin right off, in one piece — and then to cut it into coins. I’m still strong enough to do this, and I find frozen meat much easier to cut into thin slices. Now I put the coins in a skillet, with a bit of water. The water gently poached (and thawed) the sausage, and as it evaporated I added the butter that Hazan calls for. Using tongs, I turned over the coins until they were all nicely browned.

Then I added some wine. Hazan doesn’t call for it, but when did wine ever hurt? Besides, I like to make this sauce with cherry tomatoes, not canned Romas, so I need extra liquid. I tossed in the tomatoes, which I’d also cut into coins — easy to do, if you can find the long, dirigible-shaped variety — along with the seasonings, rosemary, salt, and pepper. When all of this was more less cooked, I added some more wine, and when the wine evaporated I poured in the cream. By the time the cream was the color of rust, the sausage had seasoned the entire sauce. 

“Sausage and cream” is probably a better name for this simple, everyday dish.

Wardrobe Note:
Memorial Day
25 May 2018

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

¶ Remember the scene in Serial Mom in which Kathleen Turner’s character murders another woman, a reporter I think, because she’s wearing white shoes even though it’s not summer? I always think of that when Kathleen empties her closets onto folding coat-racks, something she does twice a year. 

Because she wasn’t feeling well for much of the winter, Kathleen lost a bit of weight.

Although she’s pleased to be able to fit into things again, she’s feeling better now, and she wants a Klondike bar for dessert. 

Book Note:
Buruma in Tokyo
24 May 2018

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

¶ After yesterday’s amusements, I was good for nothing but reading. Happily, a copy of Ian Buruma’s A Tokyo Romance arrived. 

I have read several books by Buruma, including Voltaire’s Coconuts, his short history of modern Japan, and his book about the assassination of Theo van Gogh, and I still have all three. Now, of course, he is the editor of The New York Review of Books, and as Bah a Pooh as it is possible to be. 

The reviews of A Tokyo Romance were difficult to parse. I am not much interested in the things that interested Buruma in the mid-Seventies — although he went to Tokyo to study Japanese film, he got involved with alternative theatre, which I find annoying at best — but I wanted to see how he handled the memoir form.

So far as his personal life goes, he is quite discreet, which I don’t mind. But he has nothing to say about his intellectual development. All he does is point to the people and things that caught his attention — not the same thing at all. I can’t fault him for not writing a book that he apparently had no intention of writing, but I’m disappointed all the same, because I was hoping for some inspiration. Instead, I got high-level reporting.

Journalism has saved literature — that much is clear. But the price is very high. Reporters are professionally tongue-tied when it comes to explaining their own trains of thought.

Gotham Note:
At the DMV
23 May 2018

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

¶ It was awful while it lasted.

  • My driver’s license expired on my birthday, in January. In New York, a license can be renewed within sixth months of expiry.
  • Leaving the neighborhood in the winter weather was unthinkable. 
  • Plus, I didn’t want to renew my license. I don’t drive anymore. Because of my fixed neck, I cannot turn in my seat to see angled intersections. It has been about twelve years since I was behind the wheel, and on that occasion I drove only on the highway.
  • So I would get an ID. Do you really want to give up your driver’s license, friends cautioned. Yes, I did. 
  • Increasing the perplexity of the situation, there are now three flavors of ID (and of driver’s license, too): standard, real, and enhanced. The real ID is special within New York State; the enhanced ID is a federally-approved badge. To get anything more than a standard ID, applicants must produce a passport, proof of residence (two household bills, usually), and proof of Social Security Number. This last can be a 1099 tax form, or of course it can be the Social Security card that you get when you’re born, or at least that’s how it seemed when I was a kid. I haven’t had a Social Security card in fifty years. Never needed one! Everybody took my word for it. But we live in different times. As for the 1099, who knows where that is. 
  • I found out that an embarrassing letter from the IRS, even though it states my Social Security Number, is not a substitute for the 1099 or the card.
  • So: no enhanced. But by the time I found all of this out, I was perfectly happy with standard. Anything to get out of the DMV.
  • Because, you see, something had gone wrong with the numbered tickets that they hand you when you come in. I never found out what it was. 
  • Nor did Ray Soleil, who accompanied me on this expedition, without whom I’d have been taken either to jail or the emergency room. After two hours of waiting for my number to be called, Ray solicited the aid of a security agent, who, on taking a look at me and acknowledging my resemblance to Santa Claus, decided to help me out. 
  • Although I was bumped to the head of the line, the computers were not happy about this, and for five minutes it seemed that the rescue might fail. 
  • I will apply for a Social Security, and, maybe, go back. 
  • In another life. 

Culinary Note:
22 May 2018

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Kathleen and I seem to have lost our appetites. Like children, all we want for dinner is spaghetti, spaghetti, and more spaghetti. For a change, we have sandwiches, very simple and basic ones. Peanut butter and jelly for Kathleen, peanut butter and bacon for me. I have to make myself finish mine, so that I won’t be hungry anytime soon. 

I’m thinking that this mild anorexia is a sign of convalescence, not sickness. 

Listening Note:
Mahler’s Third
21 May 2018

Monday, May 21st, 2018

At lunch today, as I read a nice appreciation of the whoppingly extensive and expensive Deutsche Gramophon set — hundreds of CDs, oodles of DVDs, all for about $1100 — of performances conducted by Herbert von Karajan, I realized, somewhat inconsequently, that I had not sat down with Mahler’s Third in a very long time. (Karajan did not record it.) It took a while to find my Universal Edition score of the Mahler, but I did find it, and then I pulled out the discs of Neeme Jarvi’s recording of the symphony and took a seat in the living room. The first movement was harrowing. I’ve read too much about the Holocaust lately for it not to sound like a sound track, although of course very few of the core Nazis would have had anything like the culture to appreciate Mahler, even if he hadn’t been a Jew. Or perhaps his being a Jew is what nails the agonizing passages to images of freight trains unloading bewildered passengers. The music is so German! (Actually, it’s Austrian, which ultra-German.) On at least two occasions, I lost my place in the score, but with the assistance of the pause button I was able to catch up. I haven’t followed a difficult score in a very long time, and I was pleasantly surprised that I got lost as infrequently as I did.

I did not follow the second movement, but I picked up the score again for the third; I learned long ago that you can hear the posthorn solo better if you can see that the instrument is playing. Then, after a break, the two vocal movements sped by. O Mensch. Tief ist ihr Weh’. Bimm, bamm. The finale, I saw, took very few pages, only about thirty. It’s extremely elemental; the opening bars, which come from Beethoven’s last quartet, read like Palestrina. (The symphony’s opening, of course, recasts in a brutal mode the great tune at the end of Brahms’s First, which is itself more than an echo of the Ode to Joy.) Although I know  the music as well as I know anything, the score made me a bit surprised that the finale isn’t longer. that the crisis to which it builds doesn’t give way to some sort of recapitulation. Instead, the orchestra quiets down and has another go at the ending, this time soaring into affirmation. I could not read the last pages; my eyes were ablur.

Several times during the listening, I asked myself, Why are you doing this to yourself?

Fauna Note:
18 May 2018

Friday, May 18th, 2018

¶ It seems to me that there are more songbirds in Yorkville than there used to be.

They’re very nice to hear, but I try not to think about the birds themselves. When I was little, I thought that birds were something like angels — except for blue jays, which not only made an ugly cawing noise but which, according to my mother, were mean and nasty. I’m afraid that I’ve grown up to believe that all birds are mean and nasty, little dinosaurs, really, insatiable predators.

Birds’ stock would go way up with me if one of them would tug away the ten-foot roll of bubble wrap that’s still dangling, caught in three places, from the branches of the honey locust tree across the street. We don’t have magpies, do we.