Archive for the ‘Yorkville High Street’ Category


Sunday, May 31st, 2009

At the end of a long chain of thinking — about Gay Pride, as it happens — occasioned by the wonderful Quebecois film C.R.A.Z.Y., I realized that my adoptive mother was a contemptible human being.

She was not at all a bad person, and most people found her attractive. I want to be clear about that. But she preferred the intelligence of the people around her to be as limited as her own. She hated “intellect,” which was the only thing that I had to offer. I’m not saying that I was very bright, but she hated my trying to be.

What I’ve just said describes most people, I’m afraid. I should never have objected to this characteristic of my mother’s if I had loved her. But my worrying about being a defective human being because I didn’t love her — and I didn’t, ever, although I wanted to — is another story. Nearly thirty years of life and love with Kathleen have made it possible for me to write this paragraph.

There we are, then: She was contemptible. 

This is the Gay Pride confession/acknowledgment/truth-telling that I want to make.

Dear Diary:
Au revoir

Thursday, May 21st, 2009


Tonight was Jean Ruaud’s last evening in Manhattan, this trip. We had booked tickets to see Blithe Spirit long  before we knew the dates of his visit, so arranging a farewell dinner was a bit tricky. Everybody closes at eleven these days! (And that’s not the recession.) Kathleen found a Web site that put the duration of the play at two hours and forty minutes, which would have made it impossible to get to the Brasserie (for example) before it stopped seating people. The last thing we wanted to do was to bother Jean with complications, so we decided to meet at PJ Clarke’s, a restaurant that Jean took a very good photograph of the other day, at about eleven.

And then the play got out at two hours and twenty minutes. “Let’s walk,” suggested Kathleen, enjoying the beautiful weather. We took a taxi, and got to the corner of 55th and Third about two minutes before Jean himself. I shudder to think what he would have had to put up with at the very noisy bar, on the eve of a holiday weekend and the commencement of Fleet Week, if we hadn’t been there even before he was.

Blithe Spirit was super, but both Kathleen and I remembered it differently. We both thought that Charles Condamine gets killed by his wives in the end. We kept waiting for Rupert Everett to die. When he didn’t, I was very relieved. Death would have conferred upon his character the most undeserved martyrdom. Jayne Atkinson and Christine Ebersole are nothing less than magnificent as Charles’s wives. But the show belongs to Angela Lansbury. I had wondered how she would differentiate Madame Arcati from Salome Otterbourne, her world-class ditz from Death on the Nile. In a word: Madame Arcati was on top of her booze. Kathleen and I will never forget her trance dance, which, if you ask me, had a lot of Nijinski going on. The homeless Nijinsky.

Since Jean decided to spend his last full day in the city on his own, and in Manhattan (not Brooklyn), I was able to devote myself to working hard at this and that at home. I completed a page about Lake Overturn and, within minutes, knew that the piece needed just one more paragraph, plus one more sentence at the end. Tomorrow is another day.

But, tomorrow and the next day, we will miss our friend from Paris.

Dear Diary:
Getting It Right

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009


You know what they say: if you want something done, ask a busy man. It’s true! I keep asking myself to do things, and I keep doing them.

But enough about me. Too much about me, really, even if this is my diary.

I was terribly fâché at the Museum today. No, this paragraph is not about me. It’s about the imprisonment of the Museum’s American paintings and sculpture, including the Sargents, apparently, until 2011! I’ll bet that they didn’t tell that to Michelle Obama before she spoke at the re-opening of the American wing. If you want to see a lot of pots and side chairs and period upholstery and the world’s most space-wasting diorama, then the American Wing is open. If you’re interested in art, it’s not.

Anyway, I led pour Jean Ruaud on a merry chase through the maze of furniture displays, thwarted wherever a door to the sought-for galleries ought to have been open. Signs announcing the “delay” were posted at several points, but I didn’t read them, or couldn’t accept them, until I’d given up.

We did see the Francis Bacon show, which, for all the gory grimness of the painter’s subject matter, is very beautiful. There is something awfully grand about the triptychs that are framed in serious gold mouldings. Stupidly, I had not realized what a systematic appropriator Bacon was. I’ll be back.

In what was left of the afternoon, I finished the Book Review review that I began in the morning, did all the usual daily stuff for the DB, tidied the place up a bit, and then got dressed and went out to dinner. We were the guests of old friends, a couple of smart lawyers who, in the past, have, quite inadvertently, sometimes made me feel that I’m an underemployed slacker. Well, not anymore! All the reading that I do for the Daily Office means that I am never at a loss for topics of interest to thoughtful people. Even better, I understand (and can follow) almost anything that the thoughtful people want to talk about. (Can you tell that I’ve been reading Lord Chesterfield?) Our friends may still think that I ought to get a real job, but I had a very good time.

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):

Sunday, May 17th, 2009


The gent in the photo is a newspaperman by the name of Arthur Brisbane. Kathleen and I are always struck by the resemblance that this particular likeness, standing on the edge of Central Park, bears to my father.

But enough about me. Jean Ruaud, of Mnémoglyphes, is in town, and he’s going to have to battle manfully to carve out some free time this week. Free time from me, that is. At dinner this evening, we planned trips to the must-see lunar craters that happen to be on loan to the city this month. Not to mention the ordinary stuff: the Staten Island Ferry, Prospect Park, the Isamu Noguchi thing in Queens “from which is gained [as Robert Benchley would have put it] an incomparable view of the Yorkville skyline.” Fort Tryon Park and the Brasserie have yet to be ruled out as beyond the strength of mere mortals. Happily for Jean, Kathleen and I have a long-planned dinner date with old friends on Wednesday night, and tickets to see Blithe Spirit for Thursday, so he’ll have some respite.

The wonderful thing about Jean is that Kathleen likes him as much as I do. It’s usual (and entirely natural, really) for me to like my friends just a little bit more than Kathleen does; but, in this case, I stand pre-empted.

Tomorrow will be Jean’s day off, relatively speaking. We’ll have lunch at one, and then I’ll conduct a walking tour of the quartier that won’t last more than two hours. Jean thought that he was visiting the Land of the Free, but in fact he has stumbled into the Gulag of Gotham. “And right over here, we have this interesting sculpture that resembles my father.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):
Pleasure Before Business

Friday, May 15th, 2009


Although I cleared my day for rare productivity — I dreamt of writing a good deal while also taking care of lots of little things. But I blew it by going downtown for lunch with Fossil Darling and Quatorze. Quatorze got a break from my esoteric movie roster (you’ll see what I mean) by accompanying the Fossil to the first showing of Angels and Demons. Although I’ve never seen The Da Vinci code, I will probably sneak a look at Angels just to see Ewan McGregor. But certainly not in a theatre.

When I got back from lunch, I frittered away two hours on who-knows-what. Then, when I sat down to work, the RoadRunner connection died. It was out for fifteen minutes at the most — but what a fifteen minutes! I can’t wait for MiFi, which Verizon will be releasing in a few days.

Although I saw the official “Friday movie” last night, I went to the movies again this evening. Kathleen has been wanting to see The Soloist, and tonight we finally found the time and the energy to catch the last showing. As I expected, I had a bit of trouble with aspects of the picture, but tears were running every time that Jamie Foxx’s character put bow to cello string. And I couldn’t help but wish that the actor would assume his given name, Eric Bishop. Kathleen, I’m happy to report, loved The Soloist, even though she found much of it harrowing. As who wouldn’t.

What really ate up the clock today was Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn. Yes — I think that I’ll blame it all on that. It’s a mistake to give these wild Irish authors the time of day, because that’s exactly what they’ll cost. Taking the train down to Bleecker Street before lunch, I read the passage in which a priest assigns a penance of just one Hail Mary, and it was so kind and beautiful and humane (not to mention pre-William Donohue) that I felt myself on the verge of a sob. When I got home, I swallowed as fast as I could, staving off the direr symptoms of froth-in-mouth disease, the final section of the novel, which turned out to be one of the most astutely constructed cliffhangers in the history of literature. Would she or wouldn’t she?

I was so moved by the reading of Brooklyn that I thought that I had better start keeping a list of books that prompt swooning responses. Books that, as I read them, I cannot imagine having read, living without, moving on from. Like Eilis Lacey, however, I do finish them and move on to other books, which sometimes take their place in my heart so completely that I forget about them — hence the need for a list. I asked myself: what other books have made you feel this keenly? And I couldn’t answer it. I hope to be true to Brooklyn, but, as the novel itself teaches, I’ll need a little help from circumstances. We are where we are, not where we loved being.

Dear Diary:

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


This diary entry is being written at great personal cost: I could be reading the further adventures of Eilis in Brooklyn. Correction: Eilis in Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín’s magnificent new novel.

It was a disappointment to find that Sara O, the Irish nurse at the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Infusion Therapy Unit, where I get my (now quarterly) fix of Remicade, was off duty today, because I was hoping to talk about Brooklyn with her. I have no idea if she’s a reader, or interested in novels with Irish themes — God knows I used not to be — but I wanted nonetheless, almost desperately, to converse with someone about Ireland, especially the old Ireland of Mr Tóibín’s novel, which is set four years before his own birth. The Ireland that I suspect Sara fled.

Because it was my fourth day with out-of-the-house business, I very nearly canceled the infusion. Instead, I had the (much) better idea of seeing a movie this evening, thus leaving tomorrow entirely free for work. Glorious work — or at least the glory of getting things done.

I went to see Goodbye Solo. A good friend strongly recommended it to me at lunch the other day, and then repeated the recommendation on the telephone whilst thanking me for picking up the check. I had never heard  of the film, which is a bit strange given the weighage and considerage that goes into my Friday-movie choices. Little did I know what a critics’ darling it is, with a stratospheric Metacritic score of 88. I learned about that later, after scratching my head during the credits. Goodbye Solo is a very powerful film in its way, but it taught me how important production values are to this bourgeois soul of mine.

(The curious thing about the “production values” thing is that I’m just the opposite about opera. All I ask of an opera production is that the singers stand center stage, directly over the orchestra, and belt. I loathe complicated sets and crowds of extras. In fact I’ve come to prefer concert performances, simply because they avoid the production-values problem altogether. But if opera is about hearing, movies are about looking. If I don’t want visual clutter to interfere with the auditory pleasure of opera, I’m also unhappy with home-movie aesthetics that deprive my eyes of a feast.) 

(And who is Red West? A bit player who has been given an extraordinary break, that’s who. Vivat!)

Just for the record, I read Kathleen to sleep with the following passages from Brooklyn: the Bartocci “Famous Nylon Sale,” the visit to the law-book store on West Twenty-Third Street, and, at full length, the scene in which Eilis’ landlady pre-emptively awards her the best room in the house. “You are the only one of them with any manners.”

Blogging has taught me that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks. Arf! But it’s odd nonetheless to feel that I’m being made to feel proud, by these books of Colm Tóibín‘s, of being Irish.

Dear Diary:

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009


The Edith Wharton lecture at the Museum this morning was not disappointing, because I’d learned from last week’s lecture about Henry James what sort of thing to expect. David Garrard Lowe did lob a bombshell, though; perhaps you’ve heard that Edith Jones might not have been her mother’s daughter, but I hadn’t. It was impossible not to mull over this possibility for the duration of the lecture — it explained so much about the famously bad relations between the writer and the ghastly old beast who left her nothing when she died.

I hated being at the lecture. I was one of ten or twenty men in an auditorium crammed with women. For all of my life, I have viscerally disliked gatherings dominated by men or women. Left to themselves, men and women alike seem determined upon one object only: to validate all the stupider stereotypes entertained by the opposite sex. This weakness is above all things what men and women truly share, and it’s perversely why I believe that the differences between the sexes are essentially insignificant. La différence becomes interesting only when men and women try to make contact in spite of it. If you are comfortable in a room full of people of your own gender, then you and I shall never be friends, whether you’re a woman or a man. Ditto if you have to be the only person of the opposite gender — a charge that, I’m afraid, must be laid at Edith Wharton’s feet. Other women usually bored her. Consider her behavior toward Mary Berenson (this did not come up in the lecture, but Hermione Lee covers it well enough): indefensible! It was rudeness tout court.

Enough tittle-tattle. I was going to write a word or two about spirituality (and why lacking it bothers me — but not enough to pretend that I don’t absolutely lack it). I was also thinking of saying something about a discovery that I made today, which is that we dislike people only (or mostly) when/because they make us feel bad about ourselves. Sometimes friendships must be ended for purely pragmatic reasons — a divorce, a fatal indiscretion, an unbridgeable political divide — but dislike doesn’t enter into it in those cases. My thoughts on this subject were triggered by the prospect of seeing some friends of Kathleen who have always made me feel like an aimless slacker. The fact that, until seven or eight years ago, I was an aimless slacker does not work in their favor. Turning the aperçu around, I remember how many times people have told me that I make them feel bad because they haven’t (for example) read Proust. Kathleen’s friends, I’m sure, haven’t wanted to make me feel bad, and I know that I haven’t wanted to make the a-Proustians feel bad. But that’s not how it works, is it? I’ve felt bad, and they’ve felt bad, and we’ve made up our minds that we’d rather spend time with people who don’t involve feeling bad. Once stated, the observation is ridiculously obvious.

And I think of an exchange at Crawford Doyle a few weeks ago. I went in with a purchase in mind — I usually do, these days; otherwise, my house would go Collyer — and I asked for it at the counter. While someone fetched the book of poems, I remarked to the other staff members that, even though I had come across the author’s name forty years ago or more, when I first read The Alexandria Quartet, I didn’t know how to pronounce “Cavafy.” That they didn’t, either, was only minutely disappointing. It would have been nice to find out, but I couldn’t fault anyone for ignorance on this point. (After all, I didn’t know!) But how much more intelligent it would have been of me to ask, simply, “Does anyone know how to pronounce this poet’s name?” That, sadly, never occurred to me.

It feels like a Midas touch: to the extent that I try to be friendly with people (as distinct from simply respectful and pleasant), I make them feel bad about themselves. But then, what else could “trying to be friendly” mean?

Dear Diary:
Nude With Violin

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009


As the afternoon wore on, I wore down. Not getting enough sleep (for who knows how long) began to tell in irritating ways. I was clumsy, for one thing, or clumsier than usual. I chipped the spot of an everyday teapot. What was new about that setback was my immediate decision to toss the ruin. I did not even think of filling it with soil and using it as a planter out on the balcony.

I had lunch with a good friend who was shockingly ill-informed about Astor-Marshall family history. To begin with aboriginal issues, she didn’t know how Brooke came to be “Astor” while her son Tony was “Marshall.” Heavens! Filling her in was a treat even tastier than my croque monsieur. (I must have looked exactly like a hairdresser of a certain age.) It occurs to me that what one really wants in these times is Ruth Draper’s summary of the trial. “So often, that’s how trouble starts!” I’m so glad that this intriguing family imbroglio wasn’t wasted on the Bush Administration. One’s attention would have been so divided. Now that we have a president who reads Netherland for fun, we don’t have to worry about Washington — not in that dreadful, Bush-era way.

For dinner, I roasted a chicken. Rather later than I ought to have done, I tossed halved baby Yukon potatoes into the roasting pan. At the last minute, I steamed a bunch of asparagus spears on the stove. I have been steaming a lot of asparagus lately. It is available year-round, but I’ve been trying to treat it as a seasonal vegetable. As with popcorn, I have stopped worshiping false cooking methods and returned to the laws of my youth — when, it is true, I didn’t know that asparagus naturally snap at the frontier of tenderness. For years, I followed Barbara Kafka’s microwave technique (no water!), which was problematic because I rarely cooked the pound for which the method was timed. Then I took to standing unsnapped asparagus in boiling water. I can’t think where that dismal idea came from. Now I steam asaparagus for something between six and seven minutes. It may be exhausting me to death, but working harder at The Daily Blague than I have worked on anything before, and doing so day after day, week after week, has cleared my brain. I can distinguish between a potentially preferable alternative and an utter waste of time at fifty paces.

In order to dine at a reasonable hour, Kathleen came home on the early side, planning to do a bit of work after dinner. Unfortunately, she got sidetracked by a number of technical problems (her cell phone seemed to be missing; her camera needed downloading, and the battery was drained — should the charger’s indicator light blink or not?). The combination of late hour and advanced age made all of this nettlesome. The pictures are beautiful, however, the phone can be dealt with tomorrow, and we’ll hope that the battery charger doesn’t explode.

Dear Diary:

Monday, May 11th, 2009


A friend from Paris will be visiting at the end of the week. Regular readers of both our sites know perfectly well whom I’m talking about, but I’m feeling a wave of discretion at the moment — there’s no need to name names. The great thing is that we’ll meet for dinner here at the flat on Sunday night. Just the three of us (Kathleen included!) — and my cooking. Our friend may wish that we’d met at a restaurant, because God knows what silliness will beset me as I prepare my first meal ever for a genuine French person!

Au beau milieu de l’hiver
Prenez l’âne et le cerf,
Et, tout en remuant,
Y jetez la bonne.
Qu’est-ce que ça donne?
Gracie et Lucy dans la cuisine!

(That rebus’s actual last line is, of course: “bonne—âne—hiver—cerf”: bon anniversaire, or Happy Birthday)

More interesting than dinner here, however, will be our treks through Parts Unknown — parts, that is, as yet unknown to me, such as Williamsburgh. I decided about fifteen years ago that I was already, even then, too old to discover Williamsburgh. I think that I had been at Pedro’s, the preppy bar that used to be next to the Post Office, the night before, and there, in a moment of inebriated epiphany, I had seen that nobody over the age of 35 ought to be caught dead in a preppy bar. You could get arrested for pedophilia! Williamsburgh, I hadn’t even been to, which made it all that much easier.

Megan and Ryan, my daughter and son-in-law, spent Sunday walking around Williamsburgh. Do you think I ought to ask them for tips? I’m inclined not to. Megan tells a wonderful story about an ill-advised visit to a Polish polka party in Williamsburgh. She knew that it was ill-advised (being my daughter and all), but her good friend, who was, at the time, the companion of a now-famous novelist, had boundary issues. Let’s just say that the girls never got to dance.

Red Hook has also been mentioned. Red Hook used to be terra incognita, but now Ikea has a store there, I think. Why does the mention of Red Hook fill my ears with the lorelei cry of City Island? (Which is not exactly next door.)

If nothing else, these great expectations are easing me over the body blow of bad news that I had today. Nothing material; nothing to worry about! My loved ones and I are all in place. The bad news was, so to speak, entirely optional: I could legitimately put it in a box and say that I didn’t care. But I do care, and I wish I understood. That’s probably all it is, when you get down to it: a knowledge worker’s need to know. If I knew why someone decided that I was not good friendship material, then I’d be fine — which may just be the someone’s point.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s soufflé (and don’t say that you didn’t see that coming)? Mushroom, corn, or tous les deux?

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Friday, May 8th, 2009


Just before we reached the Chinatown Brasserie on Lafayette Street, where we were going to have lunch after watching Tilda Swinton’s harrowing but really rather funny performance in Julia, Quatorze tapped my arm: someone famous was approaching. I looked up and saw Lauren Hutton. She looked at me and saw something as well. She gave me the strangest, most wonderfully complex look that I have ever received from someone I didn’t know. It said: “How sweet that you recognize me. Be the gent that I can tell that you are and don’t stare.” I dropped my eyes at once — to her interesting sneakers. Her look was equal parts smile and admonition. I’m sure that I remember her giving it to Richard Gere in American Gigolo.

It was no surprise that, even without makeup or dyed hair, Ms Hutton was a beautiful woman. What did surprise was her height, which IMDb gives as 5’6½”. “Shorter than me,” marveled Quatorze.

At lunch, I realized that I was going to be late for my appointment with JM, the computer wizard whom Kathleen, coming home early this afternoon, finally met, and thanked for “making it possible for me to live with my husband.” Quatorze and I didn’t dally, but the trains were against me, and the doormen, whom I called the moment I emerged from the subway, didn’t answer the phone. So there was JM in what passes for the lobby these days, as patient as a saint. I don’t think that I was as much as ten minutes late,  but I wasn’t best pleased with myself. He did venture that I might have called him. But no, I insisted, I have never made a record of his telephone number on the very rare occasions when we have communicated that way. I should have considered that a kind of theft. (JM has done everything imaginable to make my computing life easy. But he has never, ever said “Here’s my number; just give me a call.” He always responds to emailed SOSs with alacrity.) The thing was, if the machine that he had come uptown to configure — a netbook — had been operational, I’d have emailed him from the table at the restaurant. This thought had peppered my pleasure with a lunch of dim sum and cold sesame noodles — Chef Ng’s adaptation, by the way, is refreshingly underspiced. 

My resolution — what would Friday be without a resolution? — is to treat the Asus netbook as a toy for at least a month. I won’t expect it to work, in other words. I won’t count on it to connect me with the Internet when I’m running around town. I’ll just see what it does, and what it doesn’t do. “Getting to know all about you” — that sort of thing. On the seventeenth, Verizon will start selling MiFi wireless cellular routers, and we’re going to get one. That’s when the trial month will properly begin. It’s funny, but I haven’t been as excited by a new computer since my very first one, an IBM Peanut.

Eventually, of course, I will insist that the netbook work. That’s what computers are for — PCs, anyway. Apples are for play. It’s astonishing, how many Apple users think that play is better than work.

Dear Diary:

Thursday, May 7th, 2009


We went to a recital this evening, at Symphony Space. Jeremy Denk played the Goldberg Variations. It was extremely interesting — and wonderful to hear. But the “wonderful to hear” part was mine, and the “extremely interesting” part was ours.  

As I don’t mean to pre-empt a proper piece of music criticism, all I’ll say here is that Mr Denk’s performance took off — and it did take off — only after some initial uncertainties that, for my part, I found quite terrifying. How would I write about this event? It would have killed me to say that the evening was not a success. Happily, I don’t have to. But that’s just me. The applause had hardly died out when I learned that Kathleen Had Not Approved. On the contrary, she had channeled the force de frappe of at least three Reverend Mothers to compose her judgment.

(Tindley and Flather, I hope that you’re listening!)

Kathleen, who has never in her entire life lifted a cuticle to hear a recording of the Goldberg Variations, but who, like Cleopatra, has been involuntarily exposed to the best that there is in the world, à la Matthew Arnold, was stern when I remarked that Mr Denk had encountered “difficulties” in the first and the fifth variations. All Kathleen needed was a cigar to put on her best Churchill impersonation. “There were a lot of wrong notes at the beginning,” she intoned, not altogether froggily.

By Variation XIII, I was quite comfortable: Mr Denk was not just running through the score as best he could. He was giving us the Denk Version, and it was extraordinary. I was sure that Kathleen must be hearing this, too. Not, though. It was only when we got out of the taxi that I heard Kathleen’s Round II, which had to do with “emoting.”

Everyone who really knows Kathleen knows that she is supremely entertaining about music that she doesn’t like. Over the weekend, I am sure, I am going to be treated to schoolgirl imitations of Mr Denk’s “emoting,” even though I did my best to head this off at the pass. “That’s not ’emoting’,” I insisted. “It’s just the worry of trying to play the piece exactly right.” But Kathleen has locked on to the idea that Bach is “mathematical,” hence, “not emotional,” hence Mr Denk’s manner of playing is “hypocritical.” Total bosh, and I told her so. But before I convince her, we’ll be fooling around in a back hallway of the Brill Building.

Kathleen was shortsighted enough to dismiss her own review as “That’s who I am [darling]!” I hastened to remind her that she used to hear Mozart rather differently — before a stropping education!

Dear Diary:
At the Museum

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009


What shall I say about David Garrard Lowe’s Henry James lecture at the Museum this morning? I’ll say that it was entertaining. The audience — mostly ladies of a certain age, not that I’m in any position to talk — responded with attentive laughter to Mr Lowe’s many little jokes, and when he encapsulated Turgenev’s affecting story about the serf who has to drown his little pooch, Grace Rainey Rogers was carpeted in a collective sigh of heartfelt pity. I did learn that James’s Paris address was in the Rue Cambon (right above Chanel!). Did Mr Lowe really say that The Ambassadors was worked in that flat on the deuxième étage? I’m even keener, now, to hear what he has to say about Edith Wharton next Wednesday.

After a quick lunch in the cafeteria, I looked around for the Pictures Generation show, but it found me first. The whole interest of this show for me is the chance to see actual Cindy Sherman prints, but I have bought the catalogue and was actually reading it this afternoon, one of the reasons for my being totally behind schedule, so I hope to be able to take other interests in The Cutting Edge Melody of 1977. Eventually.

Pictures Generation shares the exhibition space that I call “the big Tisch” with The Model as Muse, and it’s a neat juxtaposition. Pictures is all about young people being rebarbative. Model as Muse is all about young people being alluring and desirable. Young women, I should say. I liked the first part best, the part in which the young women — Dovima, Dorian Leigh, and Lisa Fonssagrives — didn’t look young at all. They didn’t look old, certainly. But they radiated a maturity that attested to their having all the right equipment, fully loaded. The minute Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy came on the scene, all I could think of was neoteny. I can’t imagine Dorian Leigh in high school, but I’ve never pictured Cindy Crawford anywhere else.

For dinner, I printed out a menu from the neat new site run by Kathleen’s cousin’s husband, Kurt Holm. I’ll be writing about NoTakeOut next week, in the Daily Office. For now, I’ll just say that Kurt’s lentil and smoked turkey salad, with a side of asparagus, was not only one of the easiest dishes that I have ever prepared but also delicious, all the moreso for being quite unlike the Francophile fare that one usually gets in this joint. Kathleen ate every bite, despite protests that there was too much on her plate.

I’d tell you what we’re doing tomorrow night, but you know how it is: plans announced at The Daily Blague never pan out. What I can tell you is that Ms NOLA had extremely good news today. You might say that she crossed the Equator.

Dear Diary:
Busting, Popping

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


At our very late dinner (we had the New Panorama to ourselves), I told Kathleen that I could have kept time sheets for the day. I could account for every half-hour segment of the day.

I got a lot done, all right, but it wasn’t what I would call a “productive” day. “Productive” means something else — there’s an element of surprise involved. Wow, look what I did! That was wholly lacking today. I had to make a list (mental time sheets) in order to remind myself of all that I’d accomplished.

It was the same thing yesterday. I don’t know myself anymore. I’ve become — gasp! — a steady worker!

I did make popcorn in the middle of the day. Well, it wasn’t the middle of the day really, but more like seven o’clock. I had just finished a long overdo book write-up, and I was about to pay bills. I made popcorn largely for the larder; I like to have it around for the occasional hunger pang, especially now that I’m making good popcorn again. I only ate a bit of it. Then I got back to work. Paying, as I say, the bills.

The bills were not fun to pay this month. Next month will be better! Even though I ordered an Asus netbook this morning.
What was it with the bad popcorn, anyway? I ask myself this a lot lately. One of the few specific things that my father taught me was how to make popcorn. To give you an idea of how exceptional this was, let me share with you his method for cooking bacon.

Three-Step Bacon

    (1) Put a pound of bacon in a skillet.
    (2) Over heat (turn on the stove).
    (3) Rely on the rest of the family or the fire department to prevent fatal smoke inhalation, as you snooze in your easy chair, having completely forgotten the first two steps.

Dad made popcorn in an electric popper that couldn’t be washed very conveniently, but that was the least important angle. Peanut oil was the indispensable ingredient. Why did I forget this? For years I used canola and safflower oil, always regretting the results. And we’ll draw a veil over the various microwave techniques, one of which required a small treated cardboard patch that had to be thrown away after three or four uses. I have no idea why I ever strayed from the tried and true laetificat juventutum meum, but it’s good to have my head screwed on again.

I not only knew a would-be popper guy who thought that corn syrup was a substitute for corn oil, but I saw the pot that he tried it out in. Not pretty!

Dear Diary:
Big Plans

Monday, May 4th, 2009


I’m in dire need of big plans. Perhaps I ought to rob a bank tomorrow — that would make for interesting reading, assuming I made it back to the apartment for long enough to write it up. As it, I am decently content, and there couldn’t be less to report. I threw away a lot of stuff today — shoe boxes full of stereo leads, for the most part. I got rid of three gigantic Sony CD carousels. I’d planned to take them to Housing Works, but they were just too bulky to contemplate schlepping. So I left them by the service elevator, with their remotes and a note that read “All in working order.” The last word, if I do say so myself, was illegible.

I reheated last week’s meat loaf for dinner, and whipped up some mashed potatoes. My record with mashed potatoes is not good. I think about it all too much. For a long time, I was convinced that priceless nutrients would be wasted if I poured off the boiling water, so I would simply cook the potatoes down into a sort of soup — quite revolting. Even worse was the session with the KitchenAid stand mixer. Glue resulted — as you know if you’ve tried it. I asked my good friend JKM how she makes mashed potatoes, and her counsel was sage. No — no sage! Just butter and cream. She reminded me to use a ricer. I have a dandy ricer, but I never think to use it when I’m trying to mash potatoes, which, given my history, is not often. Or I haven’t until now. Tonight’s mashed potatoes were, quite simply, perfect. Nice ricer.

This is all too thrilling. I can’t even think about robbing a bank.

Maybe what I’ll do is run out to Los Angeles and rob my friend George Snyder. He never said anything about his “extensive collection of Made-In-Occupied-Japan figurines” until just the other day, and although I had never known that such things existed (oh, I’d known, all right; I just hadn’t known known), I’ve conceived a retrospective passion for them that we needn’t delve into here. How big, though, is “extensive”?

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009


Early this afternoon, Kathleen turned on her computer, planning to slog through a somewhat tedious work-related project while surrounded by the comforts of home. Bad weather seemed to compensate for the the inconvenience of drafting with just one monitor.

She ended up going to the office after all. Although her laptop instantly connected with the apartment’s wireless network, her browsers and whatnot remained strangely out of touch. We still don’t know why, but the damage was very gooey. A system-restore was eventually effected, remotely, by the local divinity to whom we turn in times of such distress, and that seemed to clear up the problem. Did some long-dormant and undetectable virus spring to life over the weekend? Possibly.

For the most part, I sat by the laptop, trying to read the Times but finding my attention sorely distracted by the wizardry of a darting cursor and the illusion of spontaneously-opening panes. Occasionally, I had to transmit a password — from another computer, of course.

So I didn’t have the day that I’d planned, either. Here’s what I did not do:

  • Read The Economist.  
  • Plant the geraniums and pansies that have been in flats for ten days now.
  • Remove the three CD carousels from beneth the long sofa in the living room and replace them with bins full of letters and Christmas cards. If you just re-read the foregoing because you thought that you must have misread it, or I miswritten it, then you’ll have some idea of my enthusiasm for this project. It will, however, be a step forward.
  • Bake madeleines.

When I sat down to compose tomorrow’s Daily Office, my head was just about as gooey as Kathleen’s Windows files. Trolling through the shoals of RSS feeds turned up a lot of same-old same-old news. I’d say that it is taking the mainstream media a long time to get with the Obama program: we’re in for a long, hard season of boring but elementary appraisals and fixes that won’t make for catchy copy. The president, it turns out, is no more  interested in being newsworthy than his predecessor was; but, unlike Mr Bush, he does not do crazy things and then wonder why the dogs of the press are nipping at his heels.

The current administration is so boringly sane that Frank Rich was reduced, in his column today, to comparing last week’s “photo-shoot” fiasco (the one involving Air Force OneN) to FDR’s second-term exercises in hubris (attempting to pack the Supreme Court, for one). Mr Rich writes excitingly about the collapse of the Republican Party —

Not long before The Wall Street Journal informed its readers that 81 percent of Americans liked Obama, Karl Rove wrote in its pages that “no president in the past 40 years has done more to polarize America so much, so quickly.”

— but the lack of passed gas emanating from the White Houses leaves him gasping.

Which is exactly why the mainstream media may never get used to the new regime. They can’t afford to. They’re fighting, as Mr Rich himself points out, for their lives. On Friday, Jason Kottke responded to a Morning News poll with the names of three publications that he reads in print. (The New Yorker, The New York Times on weekends, and, once in a while, Wired.)

If that’s the future, then I’m very much the past: the Times every day; The New Yorker, The Nation, L’Express International, and The Economist weekly, The Atlantic and Harper’s monthly, and now, the Columbia Journalism Review — I don’t know how often that comes out. Not to mention a list of literary magazines (books, really) running from Granta on down. And of course the three literary “tabloids”: The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the eccentrically-published Bookforum. (I also pay an extra twenty bucks a year for the digital edition of NYRB, largely so that I can quote it here, something that “I ought to do more often” — the motto of this entire litany.)

Periodicals that I no longer take: Foreign Affairs (grand, but semi-professional; information is one thing, and smoke-signals are another); TLS (all smoke-signals); and The New Republic (because I disagree apoplectically with its editorial staff’s position on Palestine). A magazine that I wouldn’t dream of having in the house: New York. I considered the alternative and stuck with it. The Observer evokes the most frightful memories of high school.

Oh! I forgot Vanity Fair and France-Amérique. Shame on me. Time was, I wouldn’t have Vanity Fair in the house, either. Now I consider it to be The New Yorker’s drolly wayward first cousin — Eloise to Harriet the Spy.

Of all these publications, it’s the Times that seems the most to be in trouble, not only financially but purposively. What, exactly, is it for? The Times appears to have nothing like the clarity about its readership that the Daily News (“left”) and the Post (reactionary) enjoy. Its friends carp almost as loudly as its foes. Right now, I’d say that the Times is engaged in a no-win joust. I don’t know what the Gray Lady is up against, exactly, but the horse that she’s riding is called Institutional Nostalgia.  

Would I trade my daily Times, delivered to the door, for unassailable Internet access — meaning a guarantee against ever having to spend an afternoon tethered to a computer damaged by malware? You bet I would.

Nano Note:
Rapture Unforeseen

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009


So it took until now to upload some Gilbert & Sullivan onto the computer, and thither onto a Nano. Which is another way of saying that I haven’t listened to anything Savoyard in over eighteen months. There’s nothing abnormal in that; until recently, I was a creature of musical enthusiasms. Feverish passions would make it impossible to listen to anything but The Sleeping Beauty for a few weeks. When the fever passed, it would be a long time before I tuned in again. Just like pop music, really, except that I always would tune in again, eventually. Something inevitably sparks a renewal of interest. In the case of Gilbert & Sullivan, it was Eric Patton’s mentioning that he’d seen this year’s Blue Hill Troupe production of The Sorcerer.

Because my mother was the choreographer for a light opera repertory company in north-central Ohio when I was a child […] I have seen every single Gilbert & Sullivan light opera with the exception of their first, Thespis, but all the music from that light opera was lost except for one song, “Climbing Over Rocky Mountain”, which was inserted into a later light opera, The Pirates of Penzance. Consequently, Thespis is never performed.

I rarely have the chance to impress anyone with my exhaustive knowledge of Gilbert & Sullivan.

I warned Eric and Asaph that Gilbert & Sullivan light operas were not very relevant to our lives today, and that the entire plot is generally resolved in the last song, usually by finding out that characters had been switched at birth.

So that’s why I’ve never seen Thespis.

The problem with listening to Gilbert & Sullivan at my age is that it makes me bawl. A phrase rends my heart; all at once, my lips are pressed together and my eyes sprung wide open (this discourages tears) — but then I burst out in sobs like someone remembering a lost child. What rends my heart is not, needless to say, what Eric calls “the light operas.” Gilbert and Sullivan were Victorian collaborators who, despite a stout fund of mutual loathing, remained on the same artistic page long enough to produce a baker’s dozen of satires (musical and dramatic à la fois). Two or three of them are masterpieces by any standard. What tears me up is the fragile knowingness of what I’ve just said. I, too, rarely have occasion to impress anyone with my exhaustive knowledge of Gilbert & Sullivan.

If you asked me which collaborator I preferred, I’d be paralyzed, because I regard each of them as supreme, and in the same way. Both are players, tweakers of the familiar. For Gilbert, obviously, the raw material was English verse, the grand pretensions of which he carefully replaced with a finer gas, so that there was never any deflation. (It’s crazy, I know, but I rank Gilbert near Shakespeare for his sheer command of English wordplay.) Sullivan did much the same thing, only his raw material was Italian opera. I’m not suggesting that Sullivan made fun of Verdi. Certainly not! He learned, rather, how Verdi made fun of Italian opera. (It is my fond hope that Sullivan’s music will eventually teach us what a tremendous scamp Verdi was. How anyone can hear “Questa o quella” without laughing is beyond me.)

Listening to Iolanthe this afternoon, I marveled (as if for the first time, it felt) at Sullivan’s dexterity at juxtaposing good old English roast beef (“When Britain really ruled the waves”) with rollicking French naughtiness (“If you go in, you’re sure to win”) — all seasoned with trademark silliness (“In vain to us you plead”). Another thing that made me cry was the scoring of the famous nightmare song, “When you’re lying awake.” Beneath the verbal humor, the nightmare is given a rather terrifying musical reality by touches that seem learned from Tchaikovsky. Taught to?

Young people today can scarcely be expected to imagine that “breach of promise of marriage” was once upon a time a tort — an actionable civil wrong. But they would certainly understand the defendant’s argument, in Trial by Jury (the first surviving collaboration), in favor of minimal damages: 

Defendant (repelling her furiously).

I smoke like a furnace — I’m always in liquor,
  A ruffian — a bully — a sot;
I’m sure I should thrash her; perhaps I should kick her,
  I am such a very bad lot!
I’m not prepossessing, as you may be guessing,
  She couldn’t endure me a day;
Recall my professing, when you are assessing
  The damages Edwin must pay!


Yes, he must pay!

Where’s the Kleenex?

Weekend Update (Friday Edition):

Friday, May 1st, 2009


I spent most of a soggy afternoon in Brooklyn — without leaving the blue room of my apartment. After the movie (The Limits of Control) and lunch (with Ms NOLA, at the Knickerbocker), Quatorze and I headed uptown to Yorkville. Q was nice enough to hang a couple of pictures, something that it has become very difficult for me to do, given my rigid neck. Even when my neck was as supple as anybody’s, though, I never hung pictures as quickly and neatly as Quatorze.

When the work was done and much admired, I ought to have thanked my friend and sent him on his way, because I had this page to write, among other sitely tasks, not to mention a concert to attend. But it was much more interesting to sink into my chair with a cup of tea and listen to Quatorze’s stories of boyhood in Sunset Park — in the parish of St Catherine of Alexandria, at any rate. One or two of the stories I had heard before, but from other angles, as it were, and other connections. It occurred to me that Quatorze really ought to be writing his stories down. They’re very funny, but they’re also very local. The Brooklyn that he remembers is long gone, and I hope that he’ll take steps to assure that it doesn’t vanish altogether.

When the conversation fell to details about the periphery of Prospect Park, there was only one thing to do: refer to Google Maps. I didn’t know that Quatorze had never spent any time with Google Maps — that he didn’t even know it existed. Hours later, he left the apartment somewhere between fandom and addiction.

Given the weather, and Kathleen’s exhaustion, I made the decision, at about seven, to skip tonight’s chamber recital at the Museum. I regret having to do so, I did have to do so. I might have gone by myself, but the work that hadn’t been done while Quatorze and I searched for the Palais de la Lanterne would have distracted me from the music.

Does anyone know of a blog that follows the Marshall Trial? Times coverage (by John Eligon and James Barron) has been pretty exciting. The opening arguments were spicy: the prosecution all but fingered Charlene Marshall, the defendant’s younger wife (and I am convinced that this case is all about cherchez la Charlene), while the defense proposed that the late Mrs Astor was niggardly about donating her own money to charity — not a tack that I’d have recommended taking. Now, novelist and attorney Louis Auchincloss, a good-enough friend of the late doyenne, takes the stand to make the following flabbergasting but correct assertion:

Mr. Auchincloss said Mrs. Astor could not have been capable of understanding details of a will “if she did not know me.”

The Week at Portico: Those few paragraphs about Waiting for Godot that I mentioned last night may be read here. And of course there’s the Book Review review.

Dear Diary:

Thursday, April 30th, 2009


At about three minutes past the hour, I had a bright idea: why not fill the electric kettle, too? But it was three minutes past the hour, and, this time, the super’s memo meant what it said: the water in the building would be shut off from eleven tonight until seven tomorrow morning, ut cleanso tankus.

The prospect of interrupted water bothered me all day. There is no real inconvenience. I wouldn’t, ordinarily, be turning on the taps much at this hour. I clean up in the morning and at the beginning of the evening, and tonight I was careful to make dinner in plenty of time for the dishwasher to run its cycle before the shut-off. I filled two three-gallon watering  cans, for toilet emergencies that are unlikely to occur. I filled two litre carafes for drinking water, along with my own nightly water bottle. I filled a large casserole to the brim, for dipping fingers that probably won’t get dirty. You could say that I wasted a lot of water. I’m set. And yet.

Because the cloud of theoretical deprivation hung over the afternoon, I did not try to do anything involving words, aside from venturing a few paragraphs about Waiting for Godot. Instead, I marshalled shopping bags lying here and there in the apartment. Stop right there! you cry, and stop I shall. Progress was made, to really a rather surprising degree. Still, the foyer looks worse than ever. I thought I said “Stop!” The intermediate phases of progress (think of open-heart surgery!) are often unattractive.

We are planning a quiet weekend. We may have a meal with an old friend, but then again we may not. Tomorrow night, we’ve got a chamber recital at the Museum. In the morning, I’m going to meet Quatorze for the first showing of The Limits of Control, the new Jim Jarmusch movie. That’s about the best thing going at the moment, except for The Soloist, which I’ve promised to see with Kathleen. If it’s dismal on Sunday morning, and we haven’t already been, I’m going to insist on seeing The Soloist early, while I’m still alert. We saw Duplicity at a late showing two weeks ago, and if I haven’t written it up, that’s because it was too complex for the hour. All those time frames!

All of a sudden, it’s May! We’re deep into the second quarter of the year, which will soon be half over. I’m gathering rosebuds — don’t worry! — while I may. Actually, I’ve been gathering peony petals, fallen drifts of which made for the kind of poetic living-room disarray that does not photograph well. Kathleen ordered eight peonies blooms from an Internet outlet last week. They arrived as tight little balls of pink on beautiful stems — peony stems are the most handsome in nature, I think — and within days they opened up to be humongous blossoms, as trans-rosaceously blowsy as you please, paling by the hour until you wouldn’t have known that they’d been pink at all if you hadn’t seen the peonies when they arrived. You’ll pardon my saying so, but the gonads were gorgeous. Is that the word? The repro parts. Totally Jeff Koons. Another shipment is supposed to arrive tomorrow, and that will be it for the Yorkville Peony Festival of 2009.  

I can’t resist.

Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
or on the wealth of globèd peonies…

I wonder what Keats thought of peonies that had popped. Truth to tell, I wonder what he knew about peonies at all, Cockney chemist that he was.

(Quoting poems that you memorized forty years ago is much less stressful when there’s the Internet to check afterward. I had “the morning rose” and “a wealth.” I tell you this pour encourager les autres.)

My hand is ever at the tap — but not tonight.

Dear Diary:

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009


The net-net of my planned day of radical housekeeping was, in fact, radical: I decided to throw away the Times every day. No more holding on to yesterday’s paper in case somebody tips me off to an interesting story.

With no small irony, it has dawned on me that I spend a great deal of time in these latter days trying to unlearn patterns carefully developed long ago, under different conditions and with very different objectives. It has been months since I last clipped an article from the Times. If anyone tipped me off to an interesting story, I’d head straight for the newspaper’s digital edition. I was holding on to the print edition out of unthinking habit. Unlearning an unthinking habit ought to be easier than it is.

I did get a lot of stuff done, but nowhere near as much as I’d breezily imagined. No blame! — as the I Ching counsels. Life at the intersection of two opposed curves requires a habit of resignation. On the one hand, I’m getting older, and everything just takes longer. (Quite aside from the mortal fact of physical deterioration, there is the brute fact that “everything,” for someone sixtyish, is vast in comparison to a twentysomething’s universe. There’s simply so much more stuff!)

On the other hand — the opposing curve — I’ve never  been nearly as engaged with the world as I am now. However ragged the Daily Office offerings might be, assembling them requires a discipline that’s altogether new to me, and the side effects are almost as jarring as those of adolescence. They may be intellectual rather than carnal, but they leave me with the same sublime smirk that ripples across Michael Berg’s face when, seated with his family at dinner, he can’t believe that his body isn’t broadcasting news of his erotic afternoon with Hanna Schmitz. (The Reader.) My brain believes that it’s eighteen, and acing all the AP tests.

About time, you might say.

Dear Diary:
Bookishly Unproductive

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009


It was the sort of unproductive day that makes me crazy — usually. Not today, though. There were mitigating circumstances.

For one thing, Vestal McIntyre’s reading at McNally Jackson. I’ve talked enough, perhaps, about Vestal’s new book, and I’ll be writing it up soon. So I’ll just say that I attended in happy spirits. The usual crowd — usual in that it consisted of friends of the author who might never, or only rarely, have set foot in McNally Jackson before — chatted away with itself, but I did not, for a change, feel left out. Okay, forget the gross libel about “the usual crowd.” But it didn’t matter. If the audience at the reading consisted of two groups — (a) cool young literary folk and elders lucky enough to know them and (b) me — that was okay.

And here’s why: I’d had a call, shortly before I left for NoLIta, from a John Doyle, the book dealer whom I mentioned the other day. He offered me a very reasonable figure for the first edition (more or less) of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time (12 vols) that an old friend, who already had her own set, had just inherited from her brother — and that she gave to me about a month ago. Gave to me! Such astounding generosity! Mr Doyle’s check will be made out in her name.

It’s the second-set aspect of the thing that emboldened me to investigate liquidation. If there were only one set, it would have to be kept. If my friend didn’t want to keep it, then I should have to do so. But there were two! Two virtually identical sets. It turned out that the only really valuable volume was the third, The Acceptance World. Here’s why: the Heinemann print runs for the first three volumes was rather small. Kindling interest in Powell’s project took both faith and time. My friend and her brother missed out on the first two volumes, buying later printings (they look just the same as the originals) of the first two but catching on by The Acceptance World. When At Lady Molly’s was ready for publication, Heinemann printed a bigger run, and none of the latter nine volumes of Dance is as rare as any of the first three. (To see the pretty covers, scroll down.)

I’m so tickled, I could dance the polka — said Mr Wag like a bear.