Archive for 2007

Haul

Monday, November 26th, 2007

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So I went shopping after all. The promise of twenty percent discounts on everything in the store was certainly attractive, but what really sent me to Rochester was curiosity. Could I fit into trousers with a size narrower waist?

(And, while I was at it, how about finding a tie for that shirt that Kathleen bought on sale last winter? It’s not a shirt that I should even have looked at, I don’t think – stripes of violet, sky, and Secaucus green on a black background that is really just more stripes, but black.. I soon saw her logic, however: preppy exuberance with a very downtown accent. Without a tie, however, the effect would be more Soprano Family Bat Mitzvah. The only men who would wear such vibrant apparel as a sport shirt (ie, “casual”) would have putti in the bathroom, peeing into their tooth glasses. With the neck open, and perhaps the tails hanging out, even I would look like Uncle Junior’s most disreputable uncle. So, find a tie, even if it meant lugging in the shirt, stuffed with tissues and inconveniently mounted on a hanger by Perry Process, the deluxe dry cleaner that had issues last year about putting my fancy shirts in boxes, and even though the very sight of an incoming Rochester bag – customer seeking refund or exchange in the middle of a clearance sale? – would give the staff gas, as indeed it did. I found a tie.)

The answer was a triumphant YES. And the trousers, while snug, weren’t even tight. What wouldn’t be snug, after pants that I could pull down over my hips without undoing the belt?

Having taken care of the basics, I looked around to see what else there was. Not much really. This wasn’t surprising. My shirt size is one of the most popular at the store, and the sale was in its final day. Pickings were slim. More than that, though, this season has been pretty drab. Downtown without the exuberance. The designers must be anticipating another Crash, because the most exciting color going is terra cotta. I found five shirts anyway, one of them a Ralph Lauren plaid for Christmas. I have always, always wanted one of these clichés in subdued red and green, which in my eyes turn any man into a Gibraltar. Now I have one.

A pair Oxfords, lots of socks, a banker’s dozen of handkerchiefs – I won’t bore you. Carrying all the bags, though, I was a double-wide proposition. Happily, I “discovered” (and high time I did) that you can get from 55th and Seventh to 52nd and Sixth without walking down either avenue. A series of glossy alleys – it would tempting, but incorrect, to call them “arcades” cuts through at mid-block. Early on a Sunday afternoon, these alleys were open but deserted. At 55th Street, the northern end of the passage, I set down my flotilla of shopping bags and took the following picture of the City Center, one of two buildings in the immediate vicinity that Lincoln Center was built to replace. Thank heaven they weren’t torn down as well. The other one is Carnegie Hall!

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City Center was the site of my introduction to the performing arts. Marcel Marceau, Kabuki theatre, Brigadoon, my first Mozart opera (Figaro – how juste!). I have rich memories of all my City Center experiences, except perhaps for Brigadoon, which was rather effaced by the atomic comedy of my sister’s coming out singing, “How Are Things In Guatemala?” All children ought to be exposed to Kabuki by the fifth grade at the latest. Sitting still through the perfectly incomprehensible is one of society’s most precious and needful skills.

Early next year, I’ll celebrate my sixtieth birthday with a matinee of Princess Ida – fittingly enough at City Center. 

Books on Monday: Chang and Eng

Monday, November 26th, 2007

There’s an interesting story behind my reading this book, but I’m not sure that I ought to tell it. I has something to do with my Book Review reviews, which in several cases have elicited emails from authors. Only once, so far, however, have I been contacted by a reviewer. Which is both a surprise and not a surprise. After all, I don’t go after books and their authors; I go after reviewers who don’t do their job. But in the end the authors have more reason to follow up than reviewers do. I might actually buy a book; I’ve already paid for the review.

In any case, I wish it happened more often.

Chang and Eng.

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Rentrée

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

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Rosy-fingered Dawn stubs her thumb on Thulean Gotham.

Home. D’you know, I’m not quite so sure that it’s as good to be here as I thought it would be. If my library could have been transported to St Croix… For I did miss my books. Not to mention the music! Here I thought I’d stocked the “classical” Nano with plenty of music. Piffle! We went through it in a day or two, Così and the Goldbergs included. A Nano loaded with nothing but piano pieces would have done very nicely. That’s the sort of thing that you can play over and over…

But here we are, and my biggest question is what to do about the Book Review. If we had gotten back an hour earlier last night – at 8:30, say – I’d have knocked at the neighbor’s door and retrieved the stack of last weeks’ papers. But it was too late last night, and it’s much too early this morning. Then there’s the sale at Rochester, my mens’ clothing store. They called, while we were away, to let me know about their big Thanksgiving sale. Should I run over to have a look, even though all the goodies will have been cleaned out? Or should I stay away, because what could be more bitter than shopping for long-anticipated narrower trousers — after a week of vacation-inspired dietary abandon?

Home fat home…

Leaving St Croix

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

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The sea and the sky are leaden at dawn, after heavy downpours. Then the sky begins to clear.

The weather can change very quickly here, just as it can in New York. Where, with all the good luck that one needs in this life, we will set our heads down to sleep tonight.

It will be much easier to leave this place when it is chilly and grey.

Tears Before Bedtime

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

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Remind me to sort out other pictures by Kathleen that I’ve used this week. Most are mine, though.

Trust me, this picture is sharp at full size. Kathleen took it with her EOS Digital Rebel.

You’d have thought that I’d be able to download this image onto Canon’s ZoomBrowser EX application, which has already been loaded onto the laptop in order to accommodate my much more modest PowerShot A95. On the other, older laptop, as well as on the desktop at home, the same program services both cameras.

But the computer at hand has other ideas. It wants a disc. It craves installation.

<Heated discussion about the elements of planning for vacation.>

So much for ZoomBrowser EX. End of story? No. As we were struggling out the door toward lunch, Kathleen pulled a small bundle out of her bag. It included a piano-shaped device with a USB plug at the narrow end and a cavity for a memory card at the keyboard end. The small CD that came with it first demanded that I download Chinese characters and then told me that its drivers work only with Windows 98!!! (Exclamation marks signify Asian happy faces.) So I plugged the piano into the laptop anyway, sans benefit of driver – and it worked. All 267 images, most of them taken here last year and none of them ever deleted (evidently). It took a few minutes to download this crate of bytes, but we ran an end run around finicky Canon software!!! (More Asian happy faces.)

Problem was….

The images in the default viewer, Adobe Photoshop Album Starterwere awful. Blurry and indistinct – in a word, flou. This would never dou. And it didn’t have to. The problem turned out to be confined, not unreasonably, to the Album Starter, which is not, after all, a program that requires fantastic resolution. Viewed in Photoshop Elements, Kathleen’s kayaks were gloriously crisp and saturated with colors otherwise found only in a bowl of Kix.

<Phews all round.>  

As the I Ching has it: “No Blame.”

Cliché

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

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The hotel calls this Grotto Beach, but at Google Maps it’s Beauregard Bay.

Our last day, and not a cloud in the sky.  Not directly overhead, anyway. There is a bank of dim clouds over St Thomas and St John, ghostly mountainous outlines on the horizon.  (You have to know where to look.) The air seems neither warm nor cool, windy nor still.

I awoke in the middle of the night to find moonlight flooding through an open window. (That’s “window” as in porte-fenêtre..) Good Lord, I thought – we’ll be murdered in our beds. How could Kathleen have neglected to close and lock it? As I closed and locked it, I was told by a voice that sounded a lot like Kathleen’s (but couldn’t possibly have been, because it was two-thirty in the morning and Kathleen doesn’t just wake up like that) that the door had been left open “so that kitty could get out.”

Sure enough, there was kitty, stretched out on the other bed. Kitty’s ears, anyway. Kitty (a/k/a “Silly Billy” – an endearment that I had never heard Kathleen use before) is one of the many more-or-less domesticated cats who are the real parties in possession of the Buccaneer. We’ve been told that they’re very well taken care of, and, indeed, Kitty, when he or she first mewed piteously at our window, seemed interested in company, not food. Although not overweight, the cat seemed comfortable and well-nourished. It declined the offer of a bit of pretzel. We sent it packing when we left for dinner, and it came back afterward, while I was about to fall asleep over Agatha Christie’s  At Bertram’s Hotel.

I climbed back into bed, but found that I could not think of sleep with the window open. Then I had a brain wave. The windows are fitted out with those long latches, much like chains in effect, that allow a door to be cracked open and no more. If I swung the latch over the knob, the window would be open wide enough for Kitty to get out. That was the theory. In fact, even Kitty couldn’t wedge itself through a gap less than two inches wide. At three-thirty, I was awaked by more mewing. I opened the window all the way and, after a moment, Kitty ran out into the brilliant night. I closed and locked &c.

Several readers have been kind enough to ask what on earth this “&c” means. Literally, it stands for et cetera. The British manage the ampersand better (I’m searching for an example): the body of the sign far more closely resembles the letter “e,” while the lower tail curls upward before it intersects with the upper, clearly suggesting the letter “t.” As I use “&c,” it stands in for the repeat of a line that I have already written. You might call it blah blah blah, but that wouldn’t be very nice.

When I get back to New York, I’m going to eat my hat about Agatha Christie. I can’t tell you how foolish I feel, finding her so magnificently readable. Of course she’s readable. Once upon a time, successful writers were.

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Needs no explanation.

Morning News

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

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Unidentified blossoms hanging from a pergola: pergolaniums?

Here at the Buccaneer, excerpts from the New York Times are stapled to the back of a daily calendar. The little items are always the keenest.

Every year at about this time there is a story about the crazy things that big law firms are doing in order to hold onto talented associates. Lynnley Browning’s report on the latest nonsense put Kathleen’s eyelids on the fritz. She looked amazingly stroke-like.

Even lawyers need a hug. When workdays stretch into worknights and the pressure to meet the quota for billable hours grows, lawyers and staff members at the firm of Perkins Coie can often expect a little bonus.

In Perkins Coie’s Chicago office, members of the firm’s “happiness committee” recently left candied apples on everyone’s desks. Last month, the happiness committee surprised lawyers, paralegals and assistants in the Washington office with milkshakes from a local Potbelly Sandwich Works, a favorite lunch spot.

Another story had me sighing over the simplicities of youth.

“We are pack rats who are evolving,” said Matthew Birnbaum, a 33-year-old chef who lives in the West Village, cocking an eyebrow at the acrylic desk organizers, storage containers and place mats he and his wife, Jennifer, 28, were carrying through the crowd at the Muji SoHo store on Friday.

“We’re reducing clutter and selling all our stuff on eBay,” Ms. Birnbaum added, explaining that they would continue selling their possessions until their apartment held nothing that wasn’t used daily.

If only it were that simple! Unfortunately, as I expect this bright young couple will discover (probably after a painful break-up), one must be living the life of a gerbil in a cage in order to do without the household impedimenta that aren’t “used daily.”

A better idea, which I have found to be very successful, is to gather up the contents of the kitchen drawers and lay them out on trays. Put the trays in a room other than the kitchen. As you take things from the trays in order to use them, put them back in the drawers. At the end of a week, or two weeks, or whatever period seems right to you, stash whatever’s left on the trays in a “special item” box. You can store this box out of the way, as long as you remember where it is. Over the next two years, transfer any “special items” that you actually use to some other place. Then get rid of what’s left. Admit that you’re never going to get serious about cake decoration. After all, isn’t that why you live in New York City? Where there are hundreds of people who decorate cakes full time?

Yes, I really did say “two years.” Patience!

Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

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Morning.

It is good to be here today, far from the dry roast turkeys and the crowded houses and the dodgy in-laws and the children who lose their interesting little selves for the day in riptides of egocentric neediness.

If anyone but a fellow New Yorker overhears you muttering that you “hate family,” you are immediately marked down as a cold misanthrope, a nasty ungrateful cur. No one stops to think that you might not be talking about individual people, but that what you probably have in mind is your family en masse. It’s the group that’s deadly, the gathering together of people whom nothing more inspired than DNA and youthful folly have thrown together.

Americans are criticized by advocates of other cultures as being “individualistic,” and I do believe that we are no longer any good at the old collective rituals – if we ever were. From the very beginning, this country has been all about leaving families behind. Where are the rituals that honor and acknowledge that? Are we ashamed of something?

This is just an unscientific hunch, but I suspect that while, in most cultures, your family really does know you best (whether it understands you or not), in this country it knows you least. I suspect further that ruthless examination would show that “family” is an illusion that we struggle to pull off at our holiday tables, an illusion that consoles us, during the brief moments when it’s convincing, for the anxiety of having effectively abandoned an institution of aboriginal human importance.

It’s good to be far from the pretense of “family,” if only for today.

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Evening.

Sinking In

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

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Our patio.

It’s surprising, really, but Kathleen and I are not difficult to please. More often than not, we love whatever accommodations we’ve been given. It’s true that we have usually asked for something specific (a view of the sea, a short walk to the dining room), but although we never ask for the room of our dreams, that is what we usually get. 

We’re so happy with this room that Kathleen wants to reserve it for next Thanksgiving – before we leave.

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The view from our patio.

Now that the weather has cleared up, and dried up, and cooled off, it’s quite pleasant to sit on the patio. Looking up from my book, I fall into something between a reverie and stupor. It occurs to me that we could be anywhere – anywhere with green hills overlooking the sea, that is. It really doesn’t matter how near or far, how well-traveled or exotic. What we want is this: this view of the sea from a hillside, looking over low shrubs.

And we want it to be a view that somebody else takes care of.

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Needs no explanation.

In the Book Review/What I’m Reading

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Packing for St Croix, I took along a few more books than I could ever read – but only a few. I see now that I might have made do with only three: Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book, which has at last captured my interest; Sailing From Byzantium, Colin Wells’s robust (not to say vulgar) account of the influence of the Eastern Empire upon the West, upon Islam, and upon the Slavic world; and Agatha Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage. Because I’m so familiar with the Joan Hickson adaptation of Christie’s chestnut that I don’t have to fret over clues, the book is quite a pleasure to read.

I did bring one of the MacMullen books mentioned last week, but I doubt that I’ll get to it. Ditto, I’m afraid, Tony Attwood’s Asperger’s book.

Woody Talks.

Theory of Vacation

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

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Figure (1). Lunch.

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Figure (2). Before Lunch.

Waitress: Doing your homework?
Kathleen: The difference between being at work and being on vacation is that vacation comes with palm trees.

I Study the Nano

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

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First gratuitous pretty picture

In a mad desire to re-experience the joys of first-year law school, I have spent a few hours this afternoon studying the Nano.

The Nano is a personal music device &c. Four controls are marked on its surface, one of them in English. That would be “Menu.” The other three are well-established audio symbols meaning “next chapter” (3 PM), “play/pause” (6 PM), and “last chapter” (9 PM). That doesn’t seem like a lot to work with, does it? But of course you can do a million things with these controls, or nearly, if you know how to work them. For that, though, you will have to study the Nano.

In other words, you have to buy a book. The “documentation” that accompanies the Nano is, if truth be known, less than minimal. It is a series of designs, printed on an accordion fold of shiny paper and unaccompanied by text. No messy translation problems! Even if you read the International Language of Gizmos, though, you’re sunk you buy the book, because the drawings on the fanfold are the visual equivalent of Only Four Controls. You may figure out, by dumb luck, that pressing the (unmarked) disc in the center of the Scroll Wheel turns the Nano on. How to turn it off, however, is no more intuitive than knowing that the round thing on which the four controls are marked is called the Scroll Wheel.

Last week, in preparation for this vacation, I bought two books. This afternoon’s quality time was spent with The iPod & iTunes Pocket Guide (Second Edition), by Christopher Breen (Peachpit Press, 2006 – and already mildly out of date).

In two hours, I learned

  • How to pause and re-start a song. Why did I need to learn how to use a clearly-marked control? Because I thought of this as the “Off” control, having been told that it was.
  • How to compose a playlist.
  • How to rate a song. This is handy, because simply by giving your favorite songs top (five star) ratings, you add them to a handy “Top Rated” playlist.
  • Why I have only one piece of cover art. (I bought a Blossom Dearie song that I already had on CD. It’s always good to start out by buying things that you already own, so that you won’t be disappointed in case the transaction fails.)
  • What “scrubbing” means.
  • What the “Hold” switch is for.
  • How to shuffle songs.

And much, much more. Once I’d learned how to shuffle songs, though, I called it a day. My brain, she were fried.

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Second gratuitous pretty picture

You may be wondering why we have not just one Nano all of a sudden, but two. Here’s what happened. I decided to get some sort of iPod so that I could download and listen to podcasts on one. Notably, my own. It seemed odd, producing dozens of podcasts without having a clue about how to download and listen &c. Having been told that the Nano was the device for me, I put in for one. At the very same time, Kathleen got one. Her law firm handed them out at a partner retreat, so to speak. In reality, if every partner got one, then every partner paid for one. So Kathleen bought herself a Nano, in effect.

Kathleen’s Nano has her firm’s name (or a portion thereof) etched into the shiny silver backing. Since both Nanos, like all 4 GB Nanos (I’m told), are brushed-silver grey, that’s how we tell the two Nanos apart. This is useful because Kathleen’s Nano has been stocked with songs, while mine plays things like Così fan tutte, the Goldberg Variations, and those Handel concerti grossi that I mentioned in an earlier entry.

Kathleen’s Nano came loaded with a firm playlist. That is, a playlist named after the law firm. Headquarters are in Chicago, so there are several songs with that title, including one by Sufjan Stevens. So, you learn something every day – that’s what Sufjan Stevens sounds like. And I didn’t spend a dime at iTunes!

PS: I wrote this yesterday, but I thought I’d better hold it for posting today, lest you realize that you were hoping that St Croix would distract me from the delights of everyday scribbling.

PPS: It was pouring with rain. There was nothing else to do. Once I’d clipped my nails, there was really nothing else to do.

PPPS: All right, cut it out back there.

Mauritius, at MTC’s Biltmore Theatre

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Although Broadway is wracked by a stagehands’ strike at the moment, not every theatre is dark. The subscription companies, such as Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout, are going on with their shows. Thanks to a very distracted summer, Kathleen and I hold no (0) tickets to upcoming Broadway shows at the moment, so we’re sitting pretty, especially given our MTC subscription, without which we wouldn’t be crossing Times Square in the blaze of nightlight anytime soon.

Mauritius, at MTC’s Biltmore Theatre.

Post Meridian

Monday, November 19th, 2007

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Sur la plage

After breakfast – they do a great buffet here, which I’m too old and, more recently, earnest about dieting, to pillage as it deserves – Kathleen and I strolled to the nearby shopping arcade, which is really too modest for that appellation even if there is an arcade of sorts. At the General Store, they sold all the usual stuff – gin, vermouth, scotch, and rum, rum, rum. I took it in with a stupor. The bottles answered a prayer that, although I’m no longer saying it, I used to pray so earnestly that it’s difficult to see the happy answer and yet have no reason to move. I chose a bottle of Chardonnay from the rather smaller choice of wines.

We stocked up on snacks, postcards, stamps, and lip balm, and then headed across the way to the dress shop. This is where I bought the hat shown below.

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This is what happens when you ask someone else to take a picture that you yourself would take, if you didn’t want it to be a picture of you. That’s the only way I have of explaining the unflattering uncertainty that takes the place, here, of an intended nonchalant gaze off toward the sea. Kathleen did in fact catch me gazing out to sea… with unflattering uncertainty. Perhaps I am squinting? Perhaps it’s the no-see-ums that swam into my eyes at about this time? Perhaps, as some would say, I’m just impossible to please.

The dress shop, as we knew, carries hats for gents as well as other many supplies, but the feature that undoubtedly attracts most male visitors is the nuisance corner, a small padded bench with its own stack of magazines. I’d have taken a picture, but it would not have been a pretty picture, and, besides, how odd. To take a picture &c. Kathleen found a good-looking suit jacket, on sale for the usual reason – but then that’s why Kathleen hardly ever pays attentions to size labels.

Having left Kathleen behind to try on clothes, I returned to the room just in time to hear the phone ringing. Who could this be? Not the office, surely. Indeed not – although it was a lawyer at the other end of the line. A very pleasant woman whom we’d shared a taxi with on our ride in from the airport. I will save her story for tomorrow, though, because – and this is why she was calling – we’ll be having dinner with her and her husband tomorrow night! I’m sure there are many people for whom such an invitation, after such an encounter, would not be at all remarkable, but Kathleen and I have a tendency to clam up when we’re on a trip. I can remember what I did differently yesterday (and it was I who made the gesture): I remarked that this was our second Thanksgiving in St Croix. Well, that was that!

Meanwhile, regular readers will be relieved – nothing less, I’m sure – to know that I have almost finished with this week’s Book Review. What’s new on that front is that I’ve taken to annotating the Review as I read it. Yes – writing on the pages with a pen! What a concept! Someday, I’ll tell you why I stopped marking up printed matter of any kind long before I went to law school – but not now. The good news is that I won’t have to think when I begin writing up my reviews. The thinking part has been done.

Guess I Needed It

Monday, November 19th, 2007

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Color coordination is hard to avoid in this lovely place.

We returned from dinner at nine-thirty. By ten, I was out – so I’m told. The next thing I knew, I was in a strange room, brightly lighted by a bedside lamp. It was three in the morning. I hoped that the utterly inert lump by my side was Kathleen.

I stroked the lump gently. It was Kathleen.

After taking care of what woke me up, I went right back to sleep. The next thing I knew, it was eight-fifteen. Yikes!

Books on Monday: The Culture Code

Monday, November 19th, 2007

Here’s a book that, I guarantee, will make you sit up. Here is a book that will reveal the secrets of your innermost psyche. All right, maybe not yours, but at least that of most Americans. On occasion, most of the French. Even a bit of the English and the Germans. What does everybody really feel about stuff? What do you look for in a car? In a cheeseburger? In a caravanserial interlocutor*?

This quick read will tell you.

The Culture Code.

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Clotaire Rapaille writes about “culture codes” with an enthusiasm that is almost always tempered by diplomacy: in the world of marketing, it does not pay to treat anyone with disrespect. There is one heartfelt lapse, however, a cri de coeur that will not endear the author to his (former) countrymen.

I was born in France, but like everyone else in the world, I had no choice of homeland. From the time I was very young, I knew that parts of the French culture failed to fit me properly. The French are extremely critical, they are pessimistic, they are jealous of what others have, and they put little value on personal success. When I told people there that I wanted to build a large business based on new ideas, they sneered and called me a megalomaniac.

The American culture seemed to offer so many of the things I wanted from life, especially in building a career. When I decided to emigrate, François Mitterand was president of France and he’d frozen the assets of any French citizen leaving the country. Therefore, when i went to New York, I had no money. I also had no place to live and my English was very poor. I’d come to America to do work on archetypes, and few people had any idea what I was even talking about.

I knew a few French immigrants in New York and I went to see them as soon as I arrived. They welcomed me, offering me a place to stay, some money, and the use of a car. When I told them about what I planned to do for a living, they encouraged me and told me they were sure I would succeed. As happy as I was to hear these words, the first thought that came to mind was “Are you sure you’re French?” These people, who’d been living in America for a few years, were utterly different from the French I knew in France. They were optimistic, helpful, generous, and enthusiastic about new opportunities. In other words, they were American. Yes, they’d embraced the American culture, but in addition, like me, they had many of these traits already and came here because they knew they would be surrounded by like-minded people. The French who were lazy and lacked imagination stayed in Europe. The ones with guts and determination came here. These people found “home” by moving elsewhere. Their homeland was an accident of birth; they found a permanent place to live when they left it to come to America.

Although I’m not lazy and don’t lack determination, I’m willing to give the French way a try, if it gets me a nice flat in the Seizième.

* Someone you pick up at a bar.

Slope, with Caribbean Obbligato

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

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Here we are on St Croix, and in a particularly lovely corner of St Croix, too. After a somewhat rocky night, we got ourselves to JFK on time for the 6:30 plane (we were there before five, actually). The flights, to San Juan and then to Frederiksted, were gloriously uneventful, with only patches of turbulence. For once, I actually slept on a plane – passed out, would be more like it. Kathleen stayed awake, and is napping now.

We installed ourselves at the Buccaneer almost entirely without fuss.* Wireless access to the Internet presented itself without a burp of recalcitrance. The Nano – my Nano, the one that’s stocked with classical music – is tootling away at Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Op 6, by ancient tradition our weekend wakeup music. (Kathleen always says, “There’s something different about this performance,” even though it was years before I had two complete recordings and almost as many more before I had three.) The camera is working. Well, aside from the music, you can see all of that for yourself.

I’m going to get back to Colin Wells’s rather swashbuckling but unquestionably informative history world impact of Byzantine culture, Sailing From Byzantium. And there is the Book Review to finish. Did I say “finish”? I meant to say, “start.”

We’re down for dinner in the main dining room – a covered, open-air terrace – at 7:30. If you hear me snorning between now and then, don’t giggle and wake me up.

* In fact, if there was any fuss, I don’t recall what it was about.

At My Kitchen Table: Pound Cake

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

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Rump of pound cake, baked in a brioche mold.

Right after this pound cake came out of the pan, I took what I thought were a couple of nice pictures. But someone had fiddled with the camera (I wonder who), and although the camera flashed it didn’t capture any visible images. By the time I figured all that out, I was left with this (still tasty) rump, which I’ve gobbled down in preparation for our departure this morning for Thanksgiving break.

Having a pound cake on hand, especially during the cooler months, is a great virtue. Just looking at the thing will fill you with a sense of well-being. But don’t look too long: cut yourself a slice and enjoy it with a nice cup of tea. Stare out the window and refrain from multitasking.

Although no one will admit it, pound cake and madeleines are extremely similar.

Pound Cake.

Friday Movies: Margot at the Wedding

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

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The old seawall at the base of East 81st Street.

There were two choices yesterday morning, and both began at the stroke of eleven – in theory (in practice, the Angelika can be pretty ramshackle). There was Love in the Time of Cholera, with the beautiful Giovanna Mezzogiorno, and I’d have seen that if it hadn’t been so much longer than Margot at the Wedding, which got a much better review in the Times than it did in The New Yorker.

For the first time this year, the air was crisp with winter, and all I could think of, as I waited for the light at Broadway and Houston, was Christmas presents. Christmas presents of the past, that is – of childhood. (Kathleen and I have renounced such pagan rituals as the exchange of stuff at Yuletide.) But what a conundrum: I wouldn’t even want the toys that so excited my lust (and that I never received) when I was eight, nine, and ten that I still think of them when a chill in the air suggests that it just might snow.

Margot at the Wedding.

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Friday Fronts: Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama

Friday, November 16th, 2007

On the cover of the current issue of The Atlantic, there’s one of those great big portraits that’s composed of many much smaller images – except it isn’t; it just looks like one. In fact, it is an image of Barack Obama superimposed on a scrim of many much smaller images. Don’t ask me what they were thinking at the magaine, but the result suggests that they couldn’t be bothered to do it. And the headline – “Why Obama Matters – is even more wearisome. “Oh, that Atlantic,” I muttered to myself as I brought up the mail.

But although Andrew Sullivan can be shocking and even offensive, he is still a long way from boring or predictable. And his idea about Mr Obama is well worth mulling over.

Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama, in The Atlantic.

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