Rialto Note:
Travesties
26 April 2018

It was something of a surprise, yesterday, to come across Ben Brantley’s warm review of the revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, a production that has crossed the Atlantic and only just “opened.” It appears that Kathleen and I saw it in previews, which means that we bought tickets without regard for local opinion. Kathleen is a keen admirer of Stoppard, something that always surprises me a little, because she detests showing off. (Sometimes I think that Arcadia is all of Shakespeare to her.) She didn’t expect to like this earlier play; she thought that it would be a riot of people talking over one another, unintelligibly, as Jumpers can be. But she did like it, although I’m not sure that she liked it as much as I did, once I realized the brilliance of exploiting The Importance of Being Earnest as the foundation of an absurdist exhibition of early modern intellectuals. Of whom Wilde was, on balance, I think, decidedly not one. 

I kept thinking of Gilbert, as in Gilbert and Sullivan, and of how sweetly Wilde presses Gilbert’s topsy-turvy world toward indecorous entendres that Gilbert, whose humor, at heart, was that of an attorney — and what a rich source of fun the law can be I am here to insist — was too proper, too earnestly Victorian, to entertain. The indecorousness pertains not so much to sexual impropriety as to the rejection of gender stereotypes, something that would later degenerate into “camp.” To see what I mean, compare Princess Ida and her colleagues to Lady Bracknell and her girls; the later ladies have altogether thrown over the idea that, beneath the decoration, there is anything particularly attractive in being a woman. Did Gilbert ever see the show? (He died nearly two decades after it opened.) I imagine that it would have annoyed him. Plus, of course, what one knew about Wilde: that can’t have gone over well with the Grand Inquisitor of Savoy. 

It’s a fantastic production, literally, a ballet-circus of beautifully-declaimed English. Tom Hollander was even better than I thought he would be, and that’s saying something, although I can’t point to the particular movie role that he excelled in person. (The one in Hanna comes close.) He seemed born to play Henry Carr, the antique ingénu whose memory is a bombsite of misplaced shards. Seth Numrich was equally virtuoso as Tristan Tzara, the founder of Dada. And the girls — Sara Topham (Cecily) and Scarlett Strallen (Gwendolen) — were scrumptious, there’s no other word. What a rollick they made of their Gallagher/Sheen travesty! Everyone was great, from the director down to the usher, but these four were the people I wanted to run away with, at least while the lights were on. 

For when the show was over, Kathleen and I walked a few blocks — it was miserably cold; Stoppard would have found the Siberian climate redemptive — to Joe Allen, where, when you call to make an after-theatre reservation, you tell them what show you’re seeing, and they know when to expect you. It was Kathleen’s birthday, but we kept that to ourselves; no candles on cheesecake. 

I had thought to order a copy of Travesties and read it beforehand, but I didn’t; still, forty years later, I’m put off that kind of exercise by the awful experience of sitting through a performance, at Jones Hall in Houston, of the “Don Juan in Hell” scene of Man and Superman, with Myrna Loy, no less, as Ann, only two days after reading it. Wearisome does not begin to describe it. Had I read Travesties ahead of time — it turned out that I already had a copy, but of the original play, which Stoppard has subsequently revised a bit — I’d have been unpleasantly braced for the great chunks of Lenin speeches that, in the event, were cut from the show. The play to read before seeing Travesties is, of course, Wilde’s great comedy. 

Which I really wanted to read afterwards. I knew that, at one point, I had a book with all five of Wilde’s plays in it. Did I have it still? According to Evernote, yes, I did, in the middle rank of the books on the third shelf of the breakfront bookcase here in the book room. And there it was. The thing is, right underneath it (the books are stacked horizontally) was Gitta Sereny’s Into That Darkness. I had been thinking of looking for that, too, wondering if I still had it; I bought it several years ago, but didn’t read it. Now I wanted to, because it is mentioned in Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry (one of this year’s must-reads) as one of the indispensable books about the Holocaust. And here it was! So I read it. Good old Evernote. 

It seems evident rather than accidental that, when I was arranging the books on that shelf of the bookcase, Oscar Wilde’s theatre and the horrors of Treblinka stood at something like the same distance from my interest at the time. How interesting that they should advance to its center at the same time.   

Larder Note:
Spoiled
25 April 2018

¶ In my experience, a chicken is either spoiled or it isn’t, and a spoiled chicken stinks.

Well, that was my experience, until last night. 

I bought the chicken last Wednesday, and meant to cook it over the weekend at the latest. But, one thing and another. I did brine it on Sunday — no smell then. No smell last night, either, when I pulled it out for grilling; except, maybe, just a little whiff. But certainly not a stink. 

My first bite was a bit of thigh. I thought it was musty; I thought of cheese. Kathleen found it sweet. She had the one bite, I had two more. There was no gastroenterological sequel, I’m happy to report. But I’m sorry to have lost my hard and fast rule. 

Video Note:
Derailed
24 April 2018

¶ For some time, I’ve had an itch to see Derailed again. I bracket Mikael Håfström’s 2005 thriller with two other Chicago movies, The Lake House and Source Code, probably because they all utilize commuter trains. In Derailed, Jennifer Aniston is a villain, although you don’t know that until well into the picture, and she dies soon after. It’s actually a surprisingly small part for such a big star. The movie belongs to the men, Clive Owen and Vincent Cassel. I wouldn’t want to see a film in which Cassel was more violent than he is here. Clive Owen does a great job being the nice guy who makes a mistake and then gets tough. All right, he gets lucky. But he works it, and he’s not squeamish with the guns. 

Aside from its three stars, though, Derailed is rather too businesslike to be engrossing. You just want Owen’s character to extricate himself from a horrible mess so that you can send the DVD back to Video Room. I blame Chicago.

It did get me through a mountain of ironing. 

Balcony Note:
Racket
23 April 2018

¶ Last year, as I recall, we went straight from summer to winter, and it looks as though we’re going to do that again. Even so, there have been a few not-so-chilly days when a window or two and the balcony door might be opened. It’s nice to let in some fresh air. What’s not so nice is the noise made by traffic.

Actually, the noise is made by the steel plates covering up a pipe job along 87th Street. The plates are eight or ten feet long (I’d say), and they rumble rumble rumble whenever driven over. Aurally, even the lightest sedan is transformed into a heavy truck.

I see that they’re taking the plates away, one by one, and repaving the street. Goody.

In other balcony news, I’ve moved the croton plant outside. It’s five years old now — I’ve never had one for so long. It flourishes outside, quickly replacing all the leaves lost during the winter. It may be time to intervene with a bit of pruning, though, if that’s something that you can do with croton plants. Something to look into.

Labor Note:
Ice
20 April 2018

¶ I consume a great deal of ice. On no point am I more American than in my dislike of room-temperature beverages. 

For a long time, I had six ice trays lined up next to the oblong ice chest in the freezer. Then I discovered that Rubbermaid’s line of better ice-cube trays is a bit shallower, making smaller cubes but making room for more trays, so now I have eight. Actually, I have ten. On the other side of the freezer, there are two trays — the old, deeper kind. The ice in those trays is dedicated to stocking my water bottle, which takes a full tray of ice (sixteen cubes) every time I refill it, which is at least twice a day, once at bedtime.

The ice in the chest keeps my wine cool in the evening, as well as chilling glasses of iced tea or coffee at lunch. Now that the water bottle has its own supply, I don’t go through the ice in the ice chest nearly so fast, which is great, because it’s a nuisance to fill eight trays from the Brita water pitcher, which doesn’t hold enough water for the entire operation.  

It’s these little things.

Video Note:
Wonder Wheel
19 April 2018

Kathleen said that she had heard that Wonder Wheel is “depressing,” so I thought I’d check it out first. Indeed, it turns out to be a film that she would find distressing.

At first, I found it distressing, too, but not because it was upsetting. Rather, the scene-setting dialogue between Juno Temple and Jim Belushi, playing estranged daughter and father, seemed implausible, anachronistic, and pasted together out of boilerplate. I gathered that this expository business didn’t interest Allen at all, although he may have had some very subtle purpose in mind. Kate Winslet’s  character, barking complaints like a frazzled dog turning in pointless circles, seemed an unfortunate misuse of great talent. And it took a while to decide that having Justin Timberlake play a callow young artist-type was interesting.

But the pyromaniac kid (Jack Gore) promised a magic show. Although I am not a fan of magic acts, I find it satisfying to treat Woody Allen’s movies as sleights of hand. Since he can put anything he wants to on the screen, that isn’t where the magic lies. The magic is in the narrative obliquity. Even when, as here, you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen, it’s interesting to watch the story get where it’s going. 

For example [spoiler alert!], you know that the wife is going to betray the stepdaughter. What you don’t foresee is that the betrayal will take the form of doing nothing

There is also the good old-fashioned movie magic of transforming Kate Winslet into Joan Crawford, even Gloria Swanson at moments. Wonder Wheel is a must-see for that alone. 

Periodical Note:
There Will Always Be a Brooklyn
18 April 2018

¶ When Ian Frazier’s writing first appeared in The New Yorker, a very long time ago, I thought that he was going to be one of the magazine’s funnymen. He has proven far more versatile than that, but there is usually a wrinkle or two in his pieces through which one glimpses, or at least senses, an alternative universe that, for everybody’s sake, Frazier has decided it best not to acknowledge, springing off instead on a light bounce of absurdity. There are several such wrinkles in his latest offering, which is ostensibly about the maraschino-cherry factory in Red Hook. The wrinkliest, of course, concerns the marijuana plantation in the factory’s basement. Yes, there was one. But its place in the nexus of criminal commerce appears to be unknown, except maybe to a few detectives. (Frazier isn’t asking.) But the Richard Luthmann tangent has really stuck in my mind. Luthmann, an attorney, represented a dead man’s daughters in a wrongful-death suit against the City. He discussed the case (which was thrown out by the judge) with Frazier. Then there’s this:

Though I never met Luthmann in person, I found him helpful on the phone. A follow-up story of December 16, 2017, made me wonder if I had been talking to the same guy. It said that Richard Luthmann—identified as a Staten Island attorney; yes, it was the same guy—and two other men had been arrested for wire fraud, kidnapping, extortion, brandishing a weapon, identity theft, and money laundering. There were eleven charges in all. The alleged scheme involved a scrap-metal-dealer co-conspirator; the sale to foreign customers of shipments of scrap metal that turned out to contain mostly concrete blocks; a blind client of Luthmann’s whose identity the conspirators used in order to set up bank accounts and launder almost half a million dollars obtained by this fraud; and the later kidnapping of the scrap-metal dealer for the purposes of extorting an extra ten thousand dollars from him at gunpoint.

Frazier notes that while Luthmann was tied up with this problem (as it were), the deadline for appealing the judge’s decision “lapsed.”

The most amusing tangent, though, was remembering the incident with which Frazier starts his story, the time when beekeepers in the Red Hook vicinity were disturbed by their harvests of red honey. And how they found out that it was maraschino-cherry juice. Did that really happen in 2010? Like so many things, it seems both closer and more distant in time.  K

***

More anon.

Rep Note:
Celery Soup
17 April 2018

¶ Paul Hollywood’s celery soup has become an item in the repertoire. I made a batch of it this afternoon. Cooking the vegetables (celery, potato, and leek) is a snap, and so is the puréeing, although as I get older I like the racket that the Cuisinart makes less and less, not to mention the cleanup. The hard work with the soup comes at the end, when the purée gets pushed through a fine sieve. It seemed to take longer today, but eventually, the little that remained in the strainer began to look — well, hairy. It’s the celery ribs, losing their cover. This is the sign that work will soon be done; another five minutes, and I’m down to a slightly enlarged ping-pong ball. I toss it! 

When I last made the bacon-and-stilton rolls that Hollywood pairs with the celery soup, I froze half of the dough, in two pieces. I shaped four rolls from one of these blocks when it thawed, but was then surprised to find how long it took the rolls to rise. I’m a novice at working with frozen dough — my idea, not Hollywood’s — but after four hours I slid the pan into the oven. Now the rolls took their time browning, although they did blow up a bit. Even after half an hour — half again as much time as prescribed by the recipe — they were still a bit pale, and, in the eating, not completely baked. But they were still tasty. More to learn…

I thought about making a small house salad, but Kathleen’s tummy had been a bit off, so I didn’t. I doubt that we could have eaten very much. Even without the rolls the soup would be a filling meal. 

Book Note:
Flâneuse
16 April 2018

Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse (the lengthy subtitle will just have to wait) came highly recommended, and I don’t think that I’ll be sorry to have read it, but

It’s hard going. Here are three instances.

One. 

A figure of masculine privilege and leisure, with time and money and no immediate responsibilities to claim his attention, the flâneur understands the city as few of its inhabitants do, for he has memorised it with his feet. [Emphasis supplied] (3)

This is not only unlikely — for those with no money and plenty of cares who depend on the streets for their livelihood almost certainly know them better — but gross. Feet? Are we talking flip flops? Flâneurs wear shoes, the sturdy soles of which just may, I’ll concede, have learned a thing or two. But the feet of a flâneur never leave the bedroom. 

Two.

These were places where something could happen, or had happened, or both; a feeling I could never have had home in New York, where life is inflected with the future tense. (6)

This is one of the many silly stories that young people tell themselves about New York in order to justify the high price of excitement. The whole city is not only inflected by but a rubble heap of the past, with legions of perfectly unremarkable buildings that were built between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Second Word War. There are still plenty of these dull old things even in Midtown and Wall Street; more provincial neighborhoods such as my own Yorkville, are characterized by them — along with equally uninspiring white-brick apartment buildings, dating from the Fifties and Sixties, such as the one in which I’ve lived for more than half my life. It is a tremendous effort just to keep up with the now of New York City; no one wants to think about the future. 

Three. 

“It is crucial for the flâneur to be functionally invisible,” writes Luc Sante, defending his own gendering of the flâneur as male and not female. (13)

This afternoon, a checkout clerk at Fairway asked me if I was buying any lemons for making lemonade — picking up a conversation from last summer, since when I don’t recall having seen her. She may have been making  a droll comment on my attire; rashly, I had run my errand across the street in shorts, only to find the weather much more bitterly cold than it had seemed on the balcony. Definitely not lemonade weather! But she knew who I was, because I am never invisible. Perhaps this is something that has made me sympathetic to women without my knowing it. I am always noticed, whether or not I care to be, and this has been going on since I was thirteen. 

In short, my experience as a human being keeps running up against Elkin’s language. From these few early pages, I’ve learned that I can’t read Flâneuse at bedtime; it makes me too argumentative. 

Anxiety Note:
Jamaica
13 April 2018

After a very wearing day, Kathleen called to say that she was leaving the office. Some time later, she called, sounding very different, to tell me that she was in Jamaica. My blood ran cold.

“I took the wrong train,” she said. Oh, that Jamaica. Still, while Jamaica, Queens is a lot closer to home than the Caribbean island, Kathleen’s being there was hardly more explicable, especially once I realized that only about half an hour had passed since her previous call. Because she sounded upset, I did not ask if she was  sure that she was in Jamaica; I simply concurred when she told me that she was going to catch the next train back to the city. I did ask, “Are you all right?” She said she was, but she didn’t sound it. 

What to do? There was nothing to do but sit and wait. How had Kathleen gotten to Jamaica in thirty minutes? Had she boarded some freak express train? How else could she have gone all the way out to Jamaica — just north of JFK, practically at the city line — without realizing that she had taken the wrong train?

Because I knew that Kathleen had had a very hard day, though, I was not altogether surprised that she was in Jamaica.

You must understand that Kathleen has never sojourned in Queens. She has been to both airports many times, but always via taxi. When Kathleen is in a car, she pays no attention to the exterior world. I found this out a long time ago. Way back in law school, thinking that she might drive more often if she had some experience — that she had a license at all was surprising — I suggested that we drive to her house after classes one day. She got behind the wheel, adjusted everything, and even started the engine. Then she said, “How do we get there?”

As it turned out, of course, Kathleen was never in or even near Jamaica. She was in Long Island City, the first stop across the river from Manhattan and, just like the Lexington Avenue station at 63rd Street, the second stop from her office at Rockefeller Center. Getting off the train at the second stop as she was supposed to do, but not recognizing it, she fastened on a sign that pointed one way to Jamaica and the other to Manhattan. Disconcerted, she took “Jamaica” to mean that she was there.

She took a Manhattan-bound E train and got off at the next stop, also called Lexington Avenue but a different line altogether, although both stations are far below ground. Most of the escalators were not working. Having had enough subway fun, Kathleen  decided to take a taxi, and she called me as soon as she got into it.

Wow Back from Jamaica in even less than half an hour!

After dinner (we ordered Chinese, which was about the only thing Kathleen wanted to eat after her tough day, and the only thing I wanted to serve, so to speak, after my own anxiety attack), I got out a Hagstrom map of the city to give her an idea of the distance between Jamaica and Long Island City (albeit both in Queens) — an idea, in other words, of why I was so relieved to see her, barely an hour after she left work. 

Rep Note:
Welsh Rarebit
12 April 2018

For a  long time, I made Welsh rarebit following an old Gourmet recipe that got reprinted in one of the magazine’s invaluable collections of recipes for two. It called for grating some cheese, stirring in some Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and wine (or beer), spooning it atop a slice of ham or (cooked) Canadian bacon and a toasted English muffin half, topping it with minced green onion, and running it under the broiler. It was easy to do, but never altogether satisfying. That’s why I was ready to try something new when I came across a different approach in Judith Jones’s The Pleasure of Cooking for One

A more orthodox preparation, Jones’s rarebit is made in a double boiler over simmering water. Into a tablespoon of melted butter, an egg yolk and a mixture of Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and wine (or beer) are poured and thickened; then the grated cheese is stirred in, a bit at a time. When all the cheese has melted, and the sauce is nice and thick, it is poured over toast. I’ve made it several times now, and, probably because of the egg, I don’t miss the meat at all. The recipe is easily doubled.

I really can never bring myself to call it “rabbit.”   

Madeleine Note:
Grape Nuts
11 April 2018

¶ I bought a box of Grape Nuts when I went shopping on Monday. It has been a while since I’ve stocked it. Ever since Fairway opened its branch across the street (six years ago? more?), I’ve been buying organic versions of raisin bran and Cheerios. Recently, I thought I’d try some “multi-grain” chex, but I found that they got mushy in milk almost immediately. Grape Nuts will take their place. 

I’ve never been able to figure out if I’m crazy about Grape Nuts, or if I’m crazy about remembering breakfasts with my aunt and uncle in New Hampshire. Breakfasts were very simple, with Grape Nuts more or less the main course.

Most Proustian associates fade with overexposure, but not this one. Forty years later, I’m still deeply warmed by the familiar crunch. Perhaps the secret is that I never had Grape Nuts as a child, didn’t even know what they were.

Stew Note:
French Chef
10 April 2018

¶ I made blanquette de veau again, following Mme St Ange’s recipe for the third time. Actually, I was following my own recipe; I had written out an adaptation in Evernote, so that it was available on my iPhone. I’m still a little frightened of the method, which is so foreign to everything that I’ve ever done with meat. For example, boiling it. Well, not boiling it, exactly, but simmering. No frying!

The first half hour of the preparation involves standing over a pot of veal cubes in hot water set on a medium-low flame. After about five minutes, the water begins to get cloudy, which is very discouraging, but then the cloud precipitates into tiny white flecks, like miniature snow, and as these flecks agglutinate into scum, the water clears up. Every time you skim off the scum, Mme St Ange instructs, you add a bit of cold water as a way, she says, of keeping the production of scum going. At long last, there isn’t any more, and if anything the water is even clearer than at the start. 

And boiling mushrooms! I’ve never done that. But when the quartered mushroom caps are cooked (in about five minutes), I remove them with a slotted spoon to the bowl with the meat, which has by now been cooked in the oven with aromatic vegetables. Into the mushroom liquid I dump all the stems and peelings, and when the mushroom broth has absorbed their flavors, I add it to the broth, which has by now been poured onto a light roux. There is a lot of liquid, and reduction to sauce thickness takes nearly an hour and a half. When the sauce is nearly done, I thicken it a bit with an egg yolk and cream. 

The mushroom broth, I find, gives the sauce a bit of color. And of course the great mushroom umami

The first time I made the blanquette, I served it on top of tagliatelle. Not great. The second time, rice. Better. This time, I forgot to cook the rice and at the last minute simply toasted some good bread. Best of all. 

Gotham Note:
Habit
9 April 2018

¶ The first thing I do every day, after I’ve refilled my water bottle and seen to other business of that kind, is to read the New York Times, which is delivered to the door. 

Lately, we’ve been having a problem with weekend deliveries. I call the toll-free number when the paper doesn’t show up. The nice voice at the other end tells me that I can expect the paper by — and then, nothing. Once, I think, we actually had to buy the paper at the tabac across the street.

This weekend was the first Sunday problem. When I called the toll-free number, I was told that there was an “expired credit-card” issue. So I held on and was transferred to a human being. The message turned out to be erroneous, and I was told that my account would be credited for the paper. 

Meanwhile, though, what to do? How to start the day without the fix of worldly gossip? Not to mention the increasingly interesting obituaries. It’s no longer at all uncommon for someone younger than I am to have died. Somebody notable, that is. Obituaries are more and more like mini reminders of my own life and times. Then there’s Brexit: I read everything about that. It’s comforting to see the British wallowing in a commensurate bog. Mostly, though, I just skim the headlines. 

We stayed in on Sunday. It wasn’t until after dinner that I opened the door — I was taking out the garbage — and saw the paper lying there.

I thought about saving it for the next morning, but I couldn’t wait.

Burger Note:
Patty Melt
6 April 2018

¶ To make the classic patty melt, you cook a burger until almost done, plant it between slices of rye bread, along with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions, and then grill the sandwich in the pan.  The result would be delicious, but, at least for us, there’s too much bread. (Indeed, when it comes to cheeseburgers, Kathleen prefers no bread or bun at all.)

How to create an open-faced patty melt? With a toaster oven, obviously, but I don’t have a toaster oven. What serious cook has a toaster oven?

When our building’s cooking gas was interrupted two years ago, I bought a Kitchen Aid countertop oven that has lots of fancy settings. Despite which, it failed, again and again, to reproduce the powers of the stove. When the gas came back on, I put the electric burner and the electric frypan away, but I kept the Kitchen Aid unit on the counter, thinking that it might come in handy. It has taken two years make use of it — for the most part, as a toaster oven.

While the burger is cooking, toast a slice of bread — I prefer the Peasant bread that Bread Alone markets — until it’s nearly done. (This is a matter of timing, not optics. Toast begins to color only toward the end, and then, as we all know, it proceeds rapidly toward the burning point.) Take it out of the oven. Sprinkle it with the caramelized onion, and cover that with slices of Swiss cheese. Using some sort of pan to catch any dripping cheese, return the bread to the oven until the cheese melts, which won’t be long.

Put the bread on a plate, and top with a burger. Now is the time for ketchup or chili sauce.

Plaza Note:
Souvenir
5 April 2018

¶ We went to four performances by Paul Taylor American Modern Dance last month. That means: we bought eight tickets. I seem to recall a season in which we showed up for five, but I may be mistaken. We’ve certainly been to four before. I ought also to note that I didn’t add any charitable contributions to my purchases. Nevertheless, I got a very nice postcard, thanking me for supporting the 2018 Lincoln Center Season. Maybe everybody got one.

The postcard shows seventeen of the eighteen members of the company. (The new girl, Kristin Draucker, is missing.) Instead of Paul Taylor himself, the company’s executive director, John Tomlinson, stands at the center. The ten dancers who introduced Concertiana this season are in costume; the others are in black outfits. It’s a very nice souvenir, although it would be nicer if the founder were in it. I’ve propped it up on the bookdesk. If there were no type, and if dancers weren’t standing on a white stage that looks like snow (the Concertiana people are barefoot), I might prop it up on the mantel. 

Reading Note:
Tangerine
4 April 2018

On the strength of Laura Miller’s curious review, in The New Yorker, I bought and read Christine Mangan’s Tangerine. Actually, it was Miller’s oblique comparison of the novel to Now, Voyager that did it. 

Reading it reminded me of an evening a few years ago when I talked a friend into watching the 1942 Bette Davis vehicle “Now, Voyager.” I’d looked forward to sharing it with her, but her response was bemused. What, she asked, could I possibly see in a film so preposterous and stylized, so retrograde? I was stumped, unable to explain the delight I take in the movie’s glossy nonsense, in Davis’s makeover from a meek frump bullied by her mother into a slim, chic siren, gazing out at a sparkling sea with Paul Henreid from the deck of an ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro. What could be more idiosyncratic than my fondness for the very aspects of the film that someone else could legitimately complain about: its naked, conventional wish fulfillment, its fetishization of self-sacrifice, and Davis’s fiercely mannered performance?

Let me try again: It’s the fierceness itself, the gusto with which banal human problems—an awful mother or a philandering husband, adulterous longings or a schoolgirl crush—are heightened into glamour and tragedy, that is the soul of melodrama. 

Having just watched Now, Voyager again, for the umpteenth time, I have to say that it’s a lot more fierce than Tangerine, which I found a bit soggy. There is a great deal of cleverness in the book, but, as Miller concedes, it is not particularly well-written — “no Rebecca.” (I’ve recently re-read Rebecca, too.) Nevertheless, I was appetized. 

It couldn’t have helped that I’d just put down Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry

Tech Note:
On Edge
3 April 2018

¶ On Saturday, my principal computer lost connection with the Internet three times. Then again on Sunday, once. I rebooted devices and regained service, but it was a nuisance, and of course there was always the danger of losing unsaved work on the Web sites. (I find it very distracting to glance down at the connection icon in the middle of writing anything but the simplest email.) It became clear that the problem was within the computer itself. The real problem is within me myself. It is upsetting not to be connected. To be cut off

My genial tech supporter made some changes, remotely, and then made some more on Monday night, after a further loss of connection. So far, so good. I haven’t asked him what the trouble was, because I’m not entirely sure that was is the word. 

I do have alternatives — the MiFi cards that connect the laptop (which I rarely use) and the Surface (which I’m using more, but not for heavy jobs) from their stations at the dining table. But I’m most comfortable sitting here in the bookroom, with my three screens in front of the partially-opened Venetian blinds, and my capacious Aeron chair. 

Menu Note:
House Salad
2 April 2018

¶ I found that house salad recipe over the weekend, and made it on Saturday night. It was, indeed, very good. Having glanced at it when I came across it in the Magazine at the beginning of March, I remembered that there is a trick to it, and the trick, as Sam Sifton says, is time. Basically, you combine everything except the lettuce in a small bowl —

  • wedges of ping-pong ball-sized tomatoes
  • thin slices of red onion
  • chopped celery
  • pinched olives

— and bathe it in plenty of olive oil and a dash of vinegar, with seasoning to taste. Then you stash it in the fridge for a while, say for about an hour. How great is that! Instead of dithering with these odds and ends in the run-up to serving, you get them out of the way ahead of time. (You can prep the lettuce, too, and bag it.)

When you’re ready to eat, you tear iceberg leaves into a large bowl, and then you dump the marinated fixings on top of them. Despite Mark Iacono’s dire warnings, I tossed away. Also, I didn’t see the need for any more dressing. 

The result, even without lemon pepper (I didn’t know they still made it), was an ideal salad-on-the-side. The lettuce was sweet and crisp, while the taste of everything else was heightened by the marination. In summer, I may substitute fresh corn for the olives, and I’m certainly going to experiment with herbs. 

March 2018