Reading Note:
Rape Exchange
1 April 2019

He sat up, gazed at her intently for a second, and said, 

“How many times have you let yourself be raped in return for a little affection?”

She stared at him: his face was in shadow and he could not see his expression. He repeated: “How many times?” and she realized that she had whispered: “I don’t know.”

I’m tempted to say no more than that the novel from which this brief (if climactic) passage is extracted was published in 1965, when the shock wouldn’t have been the mention of rape but rather the admission that an educated woman could allow it to occur even though she very plainly didn’t want it. As I savored the interrogation for a few hours, I reconsidered the old story about how Victorian women were taught that they wouldn’t enjoy sex and so had just better lie back and think of England. If that story didn’t exactly curdle in the heat of what I had just read, it certainly underwent some sort of state change, and wasn’t, anymore, a joke about nineteenth-century benightedness. 

The novel is so apposite to the eye of our #MeToo climate that I’m going to have to identify the title and author — in a day or so. For now, I’ll let you try to guess.

March 2019

Medical Note:
Remicade No More*
29 March 2019

I went to see the rheumatologist today, and, as I expected, he declined to prescribe Remicade or anything else for what ails me, which he believes may well be “mechanical” — not attributable to any immune-system disorder. My alimentary canal appears to be working as well as ever without any outside help, and although my shoulders and upper back are painfully stiff, I’m fine everywhere else. It occurred to me after the appointment — too late to mention to the doctor — that the loss of fifty pounds in less than three months’ time might have had an adverse effect on sporadically stretched and strained upper-body muscles (unlike those in my legs, which, when not at rest, are simply carrying the same old me around). But this is armchair medicine, and I need a confab with the internist.

I ought to have gone down to the third floor, for the blood tests and the xrays that the doctor ordered. But I’ve had enough of hospitals and waiting rooms at the moment, so I’ll go back at some point during the next six weeks (at the end of which the rheumatologist wants to see me again).

Instead, I stopped off at the Infusion Therapy Unit, to say hello/goodbye to Sara, the only nurse who was already posted there fifteen years ago, when my infusion began. I shall think of her often. 

*For the time being.

Ordering Note:
Spring Song
28 March 2019

¶ Late afternoon in the bedroom, sorting tote bags. When it came up — when I decided that the bag of crushed totes could no longer be allowed to take up space in the storage closet, where they were of no use — I assigned this job to Kathleen, not because I wanted her to take care of it but because, in the middle of so much remuddling, I wanted to pretend that I’d offloaded something. When she made a move to go through them, I said, “You don’t have to do that now,” which we both took to mean, “You don’t have to do that at all.” I was only saving up the strength to do something brilliant — which now I was doing, in the bedroom, by dividing the totes into three groups. (A) historical: mostly rather dirty, much-used bags imprinted with the names of beloved but bygone emporia (Patisserie Dumas, for example), (B) monogrammed: all from LL Bean, in all sizes, and most bearing my initials, and (C) giveaways: cheap, unreliable totes, handed out at financial conferences, bearing dreary designs and even drearier proper nouns. We will treat the giveaways like the paper shopping bags of old, which we’ve stopped accumulating since we stopped accumulating what comes in them, and at some point they’ll all be gone. Each class of tote went into its own large tote bag, and I stowed all three beneath my grandmother’s tea table, where bits of them can be seen, but only if you’re looking.

On the little Klipsch iPod dock, Bach’s B-Minor Mass came to an end, sooner, as usual, than I expected it to do (the Agnus Dei is disproportionally short). And then, a bit of a programming masterstroke, Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air. Many listeners might find the juxtaposition jarring, but to me Riley’s piece is a primitive-sounding forebear of Bach’s toccatas, despite its having been composed centuries later. Although the music doesn’t seem to cohere in the same way as Bach’s, it is no less rich and intense, and over the years it has lost its originally pungent association with the Countercultural Sixties. But Rainbow did enhance the feeling that I already had, not only of dealing with the tote bags competently, but of being as young as this spring, which is about to whiz through. 

Reading Note:
Court Reporter
27 March 2019

Sybille Bedford’s wonderful writing falls into two categories. The more familiar is probably most simply labeled “autobiographical,” but only on the understanding that in Bedford’s hands the subject may range from an instant friendship with Martha Gellhorn to the harrowing descent of the author’s mother into morphine addiction. In this group, too, we ought to include the three novels and the “semiautobiographical memoir,” Jigsaw, the book that I would recommend to anyone unfamiliar with this extraordinarily humane woman’s compelling style. 

In the other group fall the reports of trials, most notably that of John Bodkin Adams, that were Bedford’s bread and butter. Adams was a doctor from Eastbourne who was charged, ludicrously as it turned out, with murder, in 1957. Bedford entitled her account of the doctor’s eventual acquittal, with justifiable civic pride, The Best We Can Do. The comprehensive reader of Bedford will learn that she developed a passion for attending trials as a teenager in London. Although formally untrained (so far as I know), she learned not only the nuts and bolts but also the underlying philosophy — not that anything so English could possibly be rational enough to warrant that term — of criminal procedure. She also became a connoisseur of the professional performances of judges and barristers. I wonder if The Best We Can Do has ever been adapted for the stage? 

I have just got my hands on the recent republication of an article that first appeared in Esquire in 1959-60, The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover: Regina v. Penguin Books Ltd. Daunt Books, the publisher, has plastered a telling quote from the trial, made by Mervyn Griffith-Jones, counsel for the prosecution, on the book’s cover, as if it were the title: “Would YOU let your WIFE read this BOOK?” The misguided tone of the prosecution is even more glaringly revealed by what counsel said next: “Or your servant?”

I have never read D H Lawrence’s notoriously explicit love story, although I recall giving it a try once. I haven’t read any Lawrence, really, probably because, as one of the many expert witnesses at the trial pointed out, Lawrence has absolutely no sense of humor. I seem to have picked that up from the novella that we had to read in school, “The Fox.” I’m not complaining that Lawrence doesn’t crack jokes. But his prose never twinkles with the irony that makes me smile, and thereby keeps me going. Had I sat on the jury, nothing in the experts’ testimony would have inspired me to give Lady Chatterley another chance — although I too would have voted for acquittal. 

Experts take up most of Bedford’s report, just as they did the trial itself. Penguin had printed 200,000 copies of the unexpurgated text but not offered them for sale; instead, a few copies were given to a policeman who called at the office. Thus carefully, Penguin violated the letter but not the spirit of the law. Only the firm was charged; no individual stood in the dock. The prosecution declined to call any witnesses, relying instead on counsel’s determination to keep his own feet firmly “planted on the ground,” and to call spades spades. His prurient, unimaginative reductionism — shared by the judge — was rejected by the jury, which apparently found a way to be adult about adult literature. The principle interest of Bedford’s book, in my view, is the picture of Griffith-Jones’s failure to see that his conception of decency is nothing more than an undigested and already outdated regard for the hypocrisies of respectability — not a lifesaver but a lump of lead. Bedford also makes the important point that an obscenity trial, insofar as it calls for mature judgment, is incompatible with the machinery of Anglophone criminal justice.

Now, if Lady Chatterley had been a Netflix series

Scullery Note:
Permission
26 March 2019

¶ When dinner is over, I say “Let’s go back to the bedroom.” Mutiny. Let the dishes take care of themselves for once. 

We took up living in the bedroom when my foot was on the fritz, and the comfy habit is hard to break. We were also watching Inspector MorseLewis, and finally Endeavour; although there’s a video setup in the living room, we don’t use it very often, preferring to watch things in bed or (for me) the comfort of my reading chair.

Kathleen returns to reading the Times, taking along the remains, if any, of her Arnold Palmer. 

I always plan to join her as soon as I’ve taken my apron off, and I do, except that my apron stays on for a while. There is almost always something, such as a bowl of grated Parmesan cheese, that needs to stored in the refrigerator right away. Usually, the next thing I know, I’ve rinsed everything and loaded the dishwasher, and, at that point, why not do the handwashing? (Steaknives, for example.) Presently, it’s all done, and when I take off the apron there is nothing left but to take the garbage down the hall to the chute. Then I join Kathleen, who is still working through the newspaper. 

It’s curiously relieving to give myself permission to let the dishes sit until later, even if I know that I’m probably not going to avail myself of it. 

End of Storage Note:
Madras
25 March 2019

¶ This is just to report that, as planned, Ray Soleil wheeled one of the clothesracks, loaded mostly with dresses that Kathleen had tried on, decided to donate, and then itemized on a tax form, up to Housing Works, four blocks away. He returned with the duly stamped tax forms. The people at Housing Works, he reported, were thrilled to be able to keep the clothesrack. Especially since it can be taken apart and folded up.

There’s a big difference between two clothesracks in the foyer and just one. Just the one doesn’t seem to take up half the room — half the room of two, much less half of the foyer. Which is just as well, because it will be a while before we can take apart this second clothesrack, which is full, if not bursting, with clothes that we have decided to keep, and fold it up. Kathleen has no idea, she says, where she is going to put what she decided to keep. There are also a few things of mine, plus a very bulky bedspread, to find places for. At some point, I shall probably roll the clothesrack into the bookroom, and use it to help going through my really rather small clothes closet, which is a mess, even if I don’t expect to find much to get rid of.

Then there’s the Madras jacket, the label on which reminds me that it was purchased, somewhat illicitly, at a wholesale showroom in the Garment District to which my mother had gained occasional access — the front door was rather like that of a speakeasy: “Can Max see us today?” — through contacts made by her father-in-law, the Customs Court judge. (Arrest me now.) In the mid-Sixties, this would have been, before the family relocated to Houston. No matter what happens, I shall never fit into this jacket again, which is an awful shame because, instead of the cream and drab olive that, together with blue, were the default colors for Madras jackets back then, this sportcoat’s plaid is patterned with red and yellow (and a bit of blue). It might not warrant a color photo in Take Ivy, because it’s so unrepresentative. Too much my kind of prep: vivid and jolly. 

I want my grandson to have it. Even though he’s very tall for his age (nine), however, he’s still only just over five feet, about Kathleen’s height. It will be four or five years at least before he’ll be big enough for it. And I’m not sure that his parents, who are anaphylactically allergic to loud colors, will allow him to leave the house wearing it — assuming that he would want to. Although he and I share many occult characteristics, I don’t see him rebelling against his parents’ way of life, perhaps because they haven’t oppressed him enough. If he ever wears the jacket, it will be because he likes it, not because they don’t. Holding onto the jacket is, therefore, a long shot. Maybe I’ll be able to talk him into saving it for his grandson.

Fairway Note:
Your Happy Place, My Eye
22 March 2019

¶ On last Monday’s weekly food shop, I forgot to buy ginger ale. I forget something — a few things, usually — every week, but I can’t seem to keep a list these days, and ginger ale is still a rather new addition to my shopping cart. I must say that it is a good deal more satisfying as a distinctive dinner drink than I thought possible. If there’s a secret, it is that Canada Dry lives up to its label, and is not too sweet. In fact, I don’t think of it as sweet at all, although I’m sure that I’d miss the sugar if I tried to get by with club soda.

So I had to go to Fairway today, just to buy a six-pack of Canada Dry in a can. (Unlike Coca-Cola, it does not come in small glass bottles.) I had already been to Schaller & Weber, and was carrying, in addition to a medium-loaded shopping bag from that errand, my own tote (indistinguishable, but for the lack of cosmetics, from a woman’s purse). There were no shopping carts, and I rejected taking a hand basket, out of hands. Carrying the six-pack from the basement up to express check-out line was a pain, but holding onto while on line was maddening. Attached by plastic webbing of increasingly dubious tenacity, the cans were heavy and awkward. I was sure that the plastic would give way, sending cans rolling on the floor in all directions — and me back downstairs for another six-pack.

I got through without incident, however, or at any rate nothing worse than feeling silly about using a credit card to pay the four dollars. Then, having accomplished everything that I’d set out to do, I went home and sat down. But only for a little while. There was still PriceWise to visit, for what I’ll euphemize as “paper products.” I wondered vaguely if any of those products would have been developed if not for the demand, which came out of nowhere five hundred years ago, for cheaper books. 

Video Note:
Antonioni in Color
21 March 2019

¶ Michelangelo Antonioni’s Il Deserto rosso (Red Desert) was his last motion picture to be shot wholly in Italy. It was also his first to utilize color photography. His next feature, Blow-Up, would luxuriate in backgrounds of saturated greens and browns, but Deserto rosso is fastidious, often suggesting a monochrome manuscript that has been illuminated with occasional daubs of color. Reds and greens are vibrant, but blues and yellows are muted: yellow is usually the color of the poisonous emissions that drift from the chimneys that tower over a menacing industrial landscape. In this movie, that landscape signifies not the dreariness of working-class life but the oblique affluence of engineers whose hands, if they ever get dirty, don’t stay dirty for long. The most remarkable color is the pink of Richard Harris’s face, which seems lifted from a trecento fresco. Arranged in brilliant compositions captured by Carlo di Palma’s cinematography, colors compensate for the typically Sixties anemia of the art-house narrative.

It is difficult to watch Monica Vitti, whose starring role is supported by Harris and the others, without thinking of bipolar disorders and the medications that treat them. It is also difficult not to see in her almost violently ambivalent responses to Harris’s attentions a feminist critique of patriarchal good intentions, although Harris certainly contributes to this by shading his overt desire to help the distressed wife of a colleague with the impatient appetites of the hunt. At the time, of course — 1964 — we saw Vitti as an icon of the malaise that was supposed to disturb every right-thinking soul in those days. This existential discomfort was perhaps the final manifestation of modernism, which, made manifest in the essentially sensuous medium of film, could never appear to be anything but gratuitous — simply unnecessary. At the end of the following decade, Woody Allen would impersonate, in Stardust Memories, a filmmaker who wants to be as miserable as Vitti, but who can’t pull it off because his desire is actually a paradoxical bid for authenticity. Allen made the parody well worth watching by reviving Antonioni’s august and hypnotizing imagery. 

Considering how well — how beautifully — Il Deserto rosso has survived the aesthetic fashions that prevailed when it was made, and to which Antonioni certainly appears to have been attentive, we are reminded that great artists do best when they stop intending to do anything. 

Museum Note:
Distress
20 March 2019

I’ve just got back from my first visit to the Museum in about a year, and I’m almost wishing I hadn’t gone at all. On balance, the outing was a success: I was on my feet, either walking or shuffling in front of paintings, for nearly an hour. And then I came home. All well and good. But the Museum had suffered two changes that were more than a little shocking, making me wonder if I haven’t outlived the world I know. The first, and less serious, alteration was the elimination of the nice restaurant in the Petrie Court. Now, it’s just a “self-service cafeteria.” The Petrie Court was almost a destination luncheon spot, with its agreeable urban hum and a view, through that wall of windows, of the Park at its most forested. Now the space has the dismal air of a proletarian downgrade.

Much worse was the state of the Old Master galleries (as I call them) on the second floor. The Dutch paintings, it seems, have been remounted in a special show, somewhere else in the building, but that can’t account for the terrifying shrinkage of the collection, which now occupies about a third of the galleries. The unused galleries have been boarded up; perhaps they’re being renovated, but it’s hard to see what could have improved them. Those pictures that remain have been crowded together in what used to be the special exhibition suite at the south end of the space. The overall effect is one of unsettling improvisation, with a dash of disregard for the art of the ancien régime. Although still centrally placed in the Museum’s layout, the Old Masters are not, at least for the moment, the beating heart of the collection, the vital demonstration of why the past must be saved and care for.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is, at the moment, more of a barn than ever.

Library Note:
The Cake Shelf
19 March 2019

¶ A while back, I reorganized the top center shelf of the breakfront bookcase in the bookroom. I had moved my collection of bulky Dover opera scores somewhere else, which left me with considerable empty space. I decided to reserve that space — an empty row at the back of the shelf — for the works of Anthony Trollope, whenever the box containing them should materialize in transport from the uptown storage unit.

This materialization occurred a few days before Ray Soleil oversaw the transport of everything else. I opened the box as soon as it arrived and came to an immediate, somewhat surprising decision. I would save the Palliser and the Barsetshire novels, plus one or two others, and dispose of the rest. (Somewhere in the bookroom, I knew, there was an tiny, ancient Oxford edition of The Way We Live Now). I also found another, better place for the twelve-odd books that I would keep. This left the space at the top of the breakfront bookcase empty. 

Then five more boxes of books materialized. A lot of them, it seemed, were books like Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, in a colorless Bobbs-Merrill edition. Am I ever going to read anything by Immanuel Kant? Even if the answer is “yes,” it’s probably not — probably — going to be the Prolegomena, which, let’s face it, I’ve held onto because of that very peculiar word, which as I recall means something in between “foundation” and “introduction,” with a big splash of “prerequisite” thrown in. You must do me the justice of believing me when I say that I have never tried to use “prolegomena” in a sentence, written or spoken. But I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of the book. That’s what the rather inaccessible empty shelf at the back of the top of the breakfront bookcase is for: having my cake (keeping the book) and eating it, too (getting it out of the way). 

I thought that it would be easy to fill the shelf, presto,with books of this kind. After all, weren’t most of the books that I had sent to the storage unit fall under the rubric of cake? Sadly, no. Quite a few of them turned out to be books that I had actually missed. (I’d even bought another copy of one of them.) The supply of readily available cake titles ran out just the far side of the halfway mark. Ray had carefully removed the books from the first and second rows of the shelf (music and movies), and it seemed an awful shame to wall up the back when it was still half-empty. But Ray, dear friend though he be, was quite rightly working on a clock, from which a bill would be calculated. Realizing that it would take some time to choose a balance of books for immurement on the cake shelf, I asked Ray to put the books in the first and second rows back where they belonged. 

There are still plenty of books to put away. More than half of them are works of fiction, bound for a bookcase that is already quite full. The other books will languish on the book cart, until I cull enough cake to make re-opening the cake shelf worthwhile.

Drama Note:
Philistines
18 March 2019

¶ Kathleen and I are about to pass from Season 4 to Season 5 of Endeavour, neither of which we’ve seen before. We are struck by the distance into emotional complication that the corpus of all things Morse has traveled since the bright puzzles of Last Bus to Woodstock and The Wolvercote Tongue. The murder mysteries in each episode of Endeavour have become challenged for equal interest by the ongoing stories of the recurring characters — the coppers and the people attached to them. While the Inspector Morse series abounded in “personal” glimpses of the peculiar detective’s misfit character, Endeavour has made of Morse a satellite in the Thursday story.

Surely there was never anything in Morse or Lewis so poignant, if you know what’s behind it, as the scene between Joan Thursday and her father, Morse’s boss, Fred, when she finds him loitering outside her flat in Oxford. She says, not unreasonably, that we must all make our own mistakes, but it cannot be denied that Fred has had a much closer look at Joan’s mistakes than the ordinary father. (He has severely beaten Joan’s sugar daddy in Leaminigton, in a kind of intervention rarely seen above rather low socioeconomic levels.) For a moment, it is almost as embarrassing as if father and daughter were naked — and tragic to a degree far beyond the romantic disappointments that the maladroit Morse played by John Thaw so regularly experienced.

But while the emotional richness of the Thursday saga is deeply engrossing, it occasionally threatens to overtake the show, leaving Kathleen and me a bit disgruntled, feeling that we haven’t gotten what we paid for. 

End of Storage Note:
Stable
15 March 2019

¶ How nice it would be to say that we have digested all of the stuff that arrived from the last of our storage units on Monday, and that the apartment looked as though nothing happened! In fact, we haven’t found places for much of anything. But everything has found a temporary perch, one that we can live with for another week or two. Litter and disorder have been Dealt With. 

The two clothes racks remain in the foyer. Since they’re on wheels, they’re easy to move out of the way whenever we need access to the sideboard. That isn’t too often, and they’re not in the way of regular traffic. 

The books are piled on two tray tables in the living room (remember, there are not so many as I feared), and on a garden chair in the book room. The garden chair used to sit outside on the balcony, but I shuffled it indoors to make room for another piece, a much more comfortable metal rocking chair that I had kept in the storage unit to sit on during the purely imaginary visits that I planned to make, every so often, to what I liked to think of as a library annex. (No such call was ever paid.) Also displaced was my grandmother’s French chair — which may have been venerable in her day. A small piece, nicely carved but not actually dainty, it has returned to its original spot in the foyer, where it has been missed.

Kathleen has tried on most of the clothes. The ones that no longer fit are going to charity, as soon as she fills out the form for a tax deduction. Ray Soleil and I hope to move the clothes to the shop on the clothes rack, saving us a bundle of extra work and giving Second Avenue a breath of Seventh Avenue atmosphere — if the charity will allow it. (They’ll get to keep the rack.) 

As for books…

There’s a copy of Julia Child’s My Life in France, published in 2006. I’ve also got the galley proof, which a friend sent to me to read before the book came out. Why do I keep it? Because on page 56, there’s the following gem: 

Out of curiosity, and partly inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s character in Sabrina, I dropped by L’École du Cordon Bleu, Paris’s famous cooking school. 

I remember scratching my head when I read this the first time. Mrs Child is writing of things that happened in the late Forties. (1949 to be exact.) According to IMDb, Hepburn’s first real movie appeared in 1951, Sabrina not until 1954. Inspiration appears to have been strictly retrospective. Happily, the French Chef’s appealing but false recollection, which had probably hardened into concrete decades before My Life in France was dictated, does not appear in the published text: kudos to an attentive editor at Knopf. It would have been mortifying had the mistake not been caught, but as mistakes go, this one warms the cackler in my heart.

End of Storage Note:
Stacks
14 March 2019

My idea was to stack the contents of the five boxes of books according to the bookcases into which they would have to be fit, but in the event I instinctively categorized them: biography, criticism, and so on. This yielded a modest pile of fiction and a much smaller one of history, the two kinds of book that have their own dedicated bookcases. There are also two books about music — Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s memoir and a history of music histories — that might be wedged onto the shelf dominated by Mozart (about whom I seem to have more books than about all other composers combined); but that’s not counting the biography of Ravel by Roger Nichols that I had to put down because the portrait of its subject was so unattractive, and that I can keep as a biography but not as a music book. 

Books of biography, by the way, like books of criticism, are shelved in various places, in both the book room and the living room. The height of the book places a non-negligible role in the just-where. 

There is a too-tall pile of books that don’t immediately fit into any category.

But the boxes have all been emptied and thrown away. The books are stacked on tray tables in the living room. (The foyer is still dominated by the two racks of clothes.) Discouragingly, few books strike me as obvious candidates for the discard bags. On the contrary, I was delighted to see that I hadn’t got rid of Frances du Plessix Gray’s Them, the acidulous memoir of her mother and stepfather that breathes the true atmosphere of mid-century Gotham glamour — and presents the reader with the bill. 

Nevertheless, a great deal of progress has not been made. I take consolation in the temporarily warmer weather

Health Note:
Still Unsightly
13 March 2019

¶ We interrupt &c&c.

It’s official: I’ve lost a lot of weight.

On the internist’s unimpeachable scale, the same instrument that weighed me in at 312 pounds at last summer’s physical (late summer), I was found to be carrying 256 pounds. I was elated the point of discombobulation. The doctor was pretty jolted, too.

I don’t think that either of us would have predicted that a simple ban on drink and crisps, over less than three months, would have such a dramatic effect. The crisps — why not adopt the British usage? It’s not as though “crisps” means anything else in American, while fish and chips is becoming increasingly familiar on tavern menus — were a double whammy, quite fattening in themselves but also, by their saltiness, conducive to serious water retention.

Any benefits of this weight loss will be strictly medical. If I used to look like a water balloon, I now resemble a rifled sack of potatoes, with pipecleaner limbs and a withered apple for a head, with the cadaverous effect of newly visible bones.  

End of Storage Note:
Cranberry
12 March 2019

¶ It would be incorrect to say that we inherited the cranberry glassware, because the gift was not occasioned by death. Kathleen’s mother, to whose grandmother they had belonged, sent them along in the course of one of her downsizings. Stemware in three sizes — water, wine, and champagne coupes; the stems and feet are clear — it’s nineteenth-century American stuff. 

Although I can see why it’s not called “ruby,” I don’t know how anybody settled on “cranberry.” I suppose the name was meant to suggest a stylish homeliness worthy of Wallace Nutting. Its tint, one can’t help suspecting, was intended as a substitute for the colors of wine — which in fact it renders rather unappetizing. Even water looks wrong. But for decades, we went through the motions of treasuring the heirloom. Then we decided that it was somebody else’s turn. But none of Kathleen’s cousins, all of whom were not only younger but raised without my mother-in-law’s traditional rigor, wanted any part. So we boxed up the glasses and put them in storage. You can’t give away an heirloom. 

You can break it, though, and so, instead of having twelve of everything, we have four waters, six wines, and seven champagnes. Suffice it to say that the cranberry glasses were not meant for the dishwasher. It’s not that they’re delicate; they just don’t quite fit anywhere.

Now that we are done with storage, the box has been unpacked and the glasses washed. I made space for them on a cabinet shelf that used to hold miscellaneous glassware, including my largish collection of shot glasses. Marie Kondo, I feel sure, would advise treating the cranberry glasses just like the other items currently on the dining table — wrapping them back up in newspaper and sending them to charity. But it seems more honorable to go on breaking them.

End of Storage Note:
Evacuation
11 March 2019

Today, we marked an epoch by closing our outstanding account with Manhattan Mini Storage, and taking possession of the items that we had parked in a small room at their uptown-most facility. I gather that this facility was not the success that MMS’s other, more convenient locations have been, because Edison, the corporate owner, decided to convert the space to use as offices. Last fall, I was notified that my stuff, if I did not make other arrangements prior to a certain date, would be moved to “another location” — presumably at another (higher) rent. Then my foot went on the fritz, and I gave the matter no thought until a few weeks ago, when I was advised that the certain date had been postponed. By now, I was feeling well enough to confer with Ray Soleil, who, as usual, did all the work. He arranged for Man with a Van to pick our things up this morning. Forbidden by company policy to ride with the van, Ray managed to get to the apartment right behind it. While I made my way downstairs, Ray saw to it that the van was promptly emptied and driven away. He had his reasons.

The doorman was not going to allow us to cart my belongings through the lobby; we would have to go round to the service entrance on 87th Street. This very bad news, for which I had made no preparations, was not altogether a surprise, but I had hoped that eight boxes (five of books), a patio chair, two garment racks of clothes, and four paintings might squeak by the prohibition of moving furniture into the building via the front door. (People take furniture out that way all the time, although just a piece or two at a time.) I wailed, nicely, that I had been living in the building for nearly forty years, for most of which time such regulations had enforced rather lightly. And so on. Suddenly, my fairy godmother — a lovely woman from the management office who had been very helpful with our bed-delivery problems last fall — appeared and announced that there was no problem. Now the doorman affably held open the door while Ray rolled things in. I don’t know how the lady from the management office got wind of the situation, but I knew better than to ask.

Until Ray reported back from an exploratory mission last week, I thought that there would be at least twice as many boxes of books. That there were only five was very happy news. Well, six, but this sixth box was full of novels by Anthony Trollope, including a number of titles, such as The Vicar of Bullhampton, that I had never read. (There was also the endless Marion Fay, which may well have been the book that stifled my interest in Trollope, even if it was an aborted re-reading of John Caldigate that soured my taste for Trollope.) I thought that I had a plan for the Trollopes, but when confronted with the actual books, I came to a very different decision, quickly finding shelf space for the clothbound Barsetshire and Palliser novels, setting aside five or six other books to keep, and bagging all the rest for charity.

The disposition of the Last of Storage will take more than a week, but I hope to deal with everything but the clothes in the next couple of days, and that’s what I’ll be writing about this week.

More anon.

Rep Note:
Obvious?
8 March 2019

¶ It seems so obvious in retrospect that I’m somewhat embarrassed by writing it down. Remembering how much thought I gave to it ahead of time, I wonder if the simplicity isn’t a mirage.

I’m talking about today’s lunch — and simple lunch at that. Evidently, though, I had to clear away a lot of lumber to see what I wanted. My weakness for bacon was one of the more unwieldy items.

Should I go back in time, and tell you about a weekend treat that my mother used to make? She called it “cheese dreams.” It was a grilled open-faced sandwich, with bacon, cheese, and tomato on a slice of bread. That’s the idea. But it’s not enough to go on for a re-creation. For one thing, I can’t remember how these ingredients were layered. For another, the bacon, which wasn’t cooked separately, was always almost grossly underdone. 

What I did today — having, as I say, worked out the details in advance — was to take a medium length of baguette, slice it in half horizontally, and spread the pieces with butter and mustard. I topped them with thin slices of Prague ham and with heaping spoonfuls of grated gruyère. Then I broiled them in a very hot oven, for about a minute and a half. The result was something between a croque monsieur and a cocktail hors d’oeuvre. Altogether scrumptious. 

And very, how you say, obvious. You’ve probably been enjoying this for years. 

Meta Note:
Unread Books
7 March 2019

¶ In a nutshell, Pierre Bayard’s idea is that all books are unread. Nobody has read anything. 

In connection with work on the writing project (so different already from what it was the first time round), I wanted to put my hands on Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read, which I read when it came out, a dozen years or so ago. I wasn’t sure that I still had it; I could easily imagine feeding it to the cull. But I found it without much of a search, and I’ve been re-reading it.

How to Talk is one of those clever productions, sometimes French but more often by Oscar Wilde, in which the world that you know is convincingly turned upside-down and inside-out. Let’s just say that Bayard makes the most of the claim, which I don’t dispute, that those of us without the gift of photographic memories retain very little of the actual contents of any book that we read. Indeed, I find that I tend to rewrite passages that I mean to quote even before I’ve finished the book itself. This was the aspect of Bayard’s book that I fastened upon the first time — no surprise that I found it pretty funny. I also came to suspect that Bayard has actually read most of the books that he discusses. 

This time, the book seems darker, and for a reason that is illuminated by the Balzac chapter toward the end, in which Bayard offers the following insight about Lost Illusions: 

Lousteau and Blondet’s attitude in encouraging Lucien to write contradictory articles would be shocking if the two articles were about exactly the same book. What Balzac is suggesting is that it is not exactly the same in the two cases. To be sure, the physical book remains identical to itself, but no longer represents the same knot of relationships once Nathan’s position in society evolves. Similarly, once Lucien has attained a certain social position, his Marguerites becomes a rather different collection of poems.  (146)

Bayard’s book has changed for me because, like the book that Lucien reviews twice, its context has changed. Perhaps the greatest question posed by the writing project — a question that I must answer in order to write it — is why I have never made a paying career, any kind of career, out of writing. The best answer that I have is still not very clear: I have always feared that doing so would degrade my interest in reading and writing, and hence my ability to do either. It is not that I have a problem with filthy lucre. Oh, no. But I would have a terrible time “writing to the market.”

A cliché that Bayard recycles (on p 98) is that readers never understand exactly what writers were trying to say — much to the dismay of writers who have to hear what readers have to say about their books. When I read this the first time, I agreed that it was sadly true. But since then, as the result of much hard work at The Daily Blague /reader (a site that I’ve had to retire while working on the writing project), I have acquired a slim folder of letters from authors who, coming upon my commentary via Google or somehow, have heatedly thanked me for being, finally, the one person who really got their books. There are not many such letters, six or seven perhaps, but they sound this theme in emphatic unison. So I know that it is possible to read a book well. Why doesn’t it happen more often? 

Bayard’s tone throughout How to Talk answers the question. He is writing to people who read and write for a living (and for students, who seek other, equally well-defined rewards). It is the recurring lot of such people to find themselves obliged to read books that don’t really appeal to them, or to read too many books in too short a time, or — most trying of all, it seems — to read books written by friends and colleagues. The magic of reading and writing, and the very liveliness of thinking, have been compromised by obligation. Pleasure pales into consumption. And I do pause to note that the publishers of book reviews are not particularly interested in wowing authors. Why should they?  

You may dismiss me as “idealistic.” But I know that husbands and wives would no longer live together if marriage entailed this degree of obligation. The institution wouldn’t be worth the trouble. Then again, nobody makes a living by being married.

 

Texting Note:
Apology
6 March 2019

¶ This morning, I received an intriguing text from an unknown source — “not in your contacts,” the iPhone warned.  

Here’s the message:

I have gone through memory lane and read some of the letters I’d written to you. I was so pretentious! I am so sorry for being the person that I was when I wrote to you.

The only person I could think of who might have had reason to write such a letter was — me. Me, myself, and I.

It could have been addressed to almost anyone with whom I’ve ever had a correspondence.  

But what at first looked like a bizarre attempt at phishing turned out to have been sent by someone I did know, someone with whom I had fallen out of touch and for whom I had not created a contact. So! Even if I should not have phrased my apology quite like that, I could certainly see how we had gotten to be friendly.