Archive for 2007

Lost and Found New York

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

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From Lost and Found New York.

Ever since I began reading The New Yorker, I’ve been a big fan of James Stevenson. His lightly crazed lines have always seemed to conceal secrets: if I looked hard enough, I would understand everything. And, in a sense, I jave I’ve learned that the world is full of unforeseen cracks. That it falls apart, gently, when no one is looking. Even when Mr Stevenson was sketching suburban predicaments for the magazine, his drawings betrayed a fascination with ruin (rephrased as mild dilapidation). More recently, he has contributed a series of full-page narrative illustrations about Old New York to the New York Times. Floyd Bennett Field. The old Hudson River Day Liners. The Gowanus Canal – still with us. Whenever I came across one, I’d clip it and stash it with all the other (unread, stuffed-in-boxes) clippings.

The other day, I sorted through the clippings, throwing away most of them, and wondered, “When is Stevenson going to collect these drawings in a book?” Voilà. No sooner was the question asked than it was answered – even if it took me a day or two to find that out. On the lookout for something different to give to Miss G on her birthday, what do I see in the window of Crawford Doyle Booksellers but Lost and Found New York: Oddballs, Heroes, Heartbreakers, Scoundrels, Thugs, Mayors, and Mysteries, written and illustrated by – James Stevenson. I bought two copies.

It’s a big book, but not a thick one. The illustrations have been spread out a bit, and a number of the larger drawings have been reproduced at something like their original size. The text is every bit as evocative as the artwork. Here’s Mr Stevenson on the house at 933 East 222nd Street, from “Williamsbridge Wonders” (Williamsbridge is a neighborhood in the Bronx):

What 933 is actually made of is almost impossible to detect since most of the house is concealed behind a blaze of churning white wrought-iron. From its driveway gates, featuring white swans kissing floral arrangements, to its remarkable balcony, the house whispers of the tropics.

Makes you want to head uptown and check it out for yourself. Come finer weather…. And yet you’d have to make notes. Carrying the book itself on a tour would be thoroughly inconvenient. Doubtless some genius has managed to download the book onto his (or her!) iPhone.

The structures that Mr Stevenson describes, as well as the institutions that built them and the characters who strutted eccentrically through them (which he also describes), are rarely more than a hundred fifty years old. By European standards, they sprouted only the day before yesterday, and made it through a single night before suffering insidious neglect. Mr Stevenson, however, is able to invest them with all of the romantic charm of Tintern Abbey – with a seasoning of Big Wiseapple acidity. Fittingly, the book opens with a souvenir of the old Penn Station – forever lost, and never to be found.

In her Foreword, Kennedy Fraser captures an idea of the charm of Lost and Found New York:

I have known Stevenson for years, since we were colleagues at the old New Yorker magazine on West 43rd Street. Behind the successful artist and paterfamilias (whose own whiskers have turne dwhite by now) I have often seen what I see in Lost and Found New York, and in the pages of this book: the irrepressible ghost of a slender, boyish Jim, tugging at one’s sleeve. “Hey! I want to show you something really interesting! Take a look at this!”

Lost and Found New York is not the sort of book that hangs around in print for a long time (unless it’s a surprise best-seller, which I rather doubt will be the case here), so take my word for it and get yourself a copy pronto.

Now: what to do with those clippings?

What I’m Reading/In the Book Review

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

The book pile has undergone meiosis: there are two piles. This happens. It happens often. Eventually, some of the books in each of the current piles get swept back into other, attendant piles. That will not happen this time!

I’m trying hard to finish The Stillborn God (Mark Lilla on religion and politics) by the end of the week, because I want to be done with it before we head off to St Croix. It’s not an easy read by any means, especially because there’s a great deal about Kant, and I have a preliminary problem with Kant that makes reading about his thought very difficult: how can anybody not have figured out that Kant is (a) unwholesome and (b) ridiculous? Much more appealing are two recent books by Ramsay MacMullen that I ordered from a catalogue of Yale books, Voting About God in Early Church Councils and Christians and Pagans in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries. These plainspoken titles fail to suggest the vibrancy of Prof MacMullen’s scholarship. But I’m saving both books – they’re quite slim – for St Croix.

Other books that I’ll be taking with me include three Miss Marple mysteries, all of which I know inside and out from the Joan Hickson adaptations (I haven’t yet moved on to the somewhat shorter Geraldine McEwans). I shall leave whatever I read behind at the hotel. I’m also taking Tony Attwood’s The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome.

I thought I’d have read The Abstinence Teacher by now, but it looks like something that I’ll get to after the Thanksgiving break.

As for this week’s Book Review (which has so many bad reviews that I set up a new section just for them.)

The Colossus.

Out and About: Kodály and Beethoven at the Met

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

Last Friday night, I was alone in town and in possession of a single ticket. What could be simpler? I considered staying home, though. The weather was awful (and became awfuller), and I had already been downtown to the movies. Why not take it easy? I got online for a look at the program. That was that. No way was I going to miss Beethoven’s Quintet in C.

Nevertheless, I was tired, and feeling a little decrepit. I was ready for the recital to be over the minute I got there. In order to pay attention, I had to dump any idea of relaxing comfortably. I do hate that, when my body lets me down at a concert. It hasn’t done so for a while, so the reminder that it could was unpleasant. After the interval, though, I found myself in somewhat better shape.

Interestingly, although I did not enjoy sitting through the event, I remember it quite fondly.

Musicians from Marlboro, at Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium

Books on Monday: What’s For Dinner?

Monday, November 12th, 2007

NYRB – the reprint arm of the New York Review of Books – continues to crank out brilliant Twentieth-Century titles that have long since disappeared into the black hole of the Great American Mid List. With the passage of time, these books are ripe for reconsideration apart from the brouhaha amidst which they were born (whether it was about them or not). New York poet James Schuyler’s What’s For Dinner? is a perfect example of the surprising book that one encounters in this series. It is a satirical novel, in its way, but it is too deeply amoral to have anything to do with social criticism. In other words, its satire is profound, and very amusing. Never has anyone better captured the sheer heartlessness of post-coital badinage – or more accurately measured its cooling off.

What’s For Dinner?

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At My Kitchen Table: Braised Chicken

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

A friend insists that I will discover great clarity of mind if I will only give Zen meditation a try. But I’m still trying to deal with the great clarity of mind that discovered me when I gave martinis the slip.

Cooking, for one thing. I am getting clear about cooking. I like to cook, but there are conditions that must be met. There are too many conditions to go into here, but I find that I can keep track of them easily enough. The one that Kathleen is having the hardest time with is, “No cooking past ten o’clock.” After ten, we order in. It is very easy to deal with this condition at seven or eight o’clock. It is not so easy at nine forty-five, when pots are bubbling on the stove, the table is set – and a recalcitrant printer is holding up Kathleen at the office.  That is not a fun situation. It is no help at all to be clear.

— Kathleen, I want to say, you are too old and too senior to be dealing with recalcitrant printers. Sometimes I do say it. All right: I always say it. But I say it. I shout less and less.

The following dish is very forgiving under such circumstances. Simply wait to stir in the peas until your companion arrives, and dinner will be ready in ten. That gives her plenty of time to powder her nose &c. And you to get a grip on your tremendous clarity.

Braised Chicken.

Friday Movies: Lars and the Real Girl

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

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Le bouquiniste dans la rue Mercer.

What I couldn’t figure out was why a film starring Ryan Gosling, with Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson among others, about a guy who dates an inflatable doll was showing at the art houses. On the one hand, there was the weirdness factor – that made sense. On the other, there was the awful review in the Times (“100% pure calculation”). which made the movie sound untouchable by highbrow venues. Lars and the Real Girl was at least something of a puzzle going in, which nothing else showing at the moment was. So I got on the 6 and went down to see it at the Angelika.

Lars and the Real Girl.

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Afterwards, I had a teeny tiny adventure, which I turned into a shaggy dog story as soon as I got home. I have been feeling my inner Maeve Brennan lately – although I have a long way to go before I’m as eloquent as the Long-Winded Lady.

Left Behind.

Michael Tomasky on Paul Krugman

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Casting about for a Friday Front subject came to an end almost as soon as it began when I came across Michael Tomasky’s review of Paul Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal. I can see you yawning from here: you already know what Mr Krugman has to say, and what Mr Tomasky has to say about it.

But, no: you don’t. I chose Mr Tomasky’s review because it was, against all likelihood, a surprise. I’m used to being on the same wavelength as Mr Krugman, but I didn’t know that the wavelength was quite so far-reaching.

Michael Tomasky on Paul Krugman, in the New York Review of Books.

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I hope that you’ll listen, because this PodCast inaugurates the embellishment of what in broadcasting are called an “intro” and an “outro.” Over the sound of Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Idylle” you’ll hear the clear and beautiful voice of this site’s principal booster, my dear Kathleen.

Pedestrian

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Yesterday afternoon – after a most agreeable lunch with Édouard (who not only came all the way uptown to Planet Yorkville but also treated!) – I went for a walk in the early twilight. It is taking me a while to adjust to the time change. I really ought to have taken my walk this morning, which I spent goofing off (not true; but certainly I could have spared the hour that the walk would have taken). I don’t mind walking in the dark per se, but I don’t like taking my constitutional in the dark. It seems wrong, somehow – badly planned.  Is it because I’m old and at least technically infirm that I prefer to walk in a park that isn’t nearly empty? Or is it the melancholy of winter evenings, which make one think, as at no other time, of families tucked into their warm and bright houses? Walking beneath the suddenly-bare trees, one feels almost neglected, on the verge, perhaps, of homelessness. This is no time to be getting exercise outdoors.

Or so it feels.

On Sunday, I had to reckon with the Marathon for the first time. I’ve watched it out the window (desultorily) for decades, but always stayed at home until it was over. Again, I ought to have taken my walk earlier in the morning, before the barricades and the yellow “Caution” tapes went up along First Avenue – a boulevard that lies between my house and the riverside park in which I like to walk. Fearing that I might be able to cross First going to the park but not coming home, I decided on heading in the other direction, toward Central Park. I would walk the circuit of the Great Lawn.

A good plan in every way save that of avoiding the Marathon. I’d never paid attention to the runners’ route through Central Park, but if I’d thought about it for a moment I’d have foreseen that it follows the East Drive just in from Fifth Avenue. To get to the Great Lawn – to do any sort of walking in Central Park at all – I’d have to cross the East Drive.

The bits of First Avenue and the East Drive that intersected my walking plans may have been only a few blocks apart, but they’re about five miles from each other on the Marathon route, the final stretch of which runs up First Avenue into the Bronx (passing beneath my windows) and then down Fifth Avenue into the Park and onto the East Drive, whence to the finish. This would give me time, I thought, to walk around the Great Lawn. And it did. The problem was that I didn’t believe my own reasoning. I was sure that, when I got back to the East Drive, heading east myself this time, I’d be waved away by the police who already stood guard along the way. (“Marathon: A Fiesta of NYPD Overtime.”) Instead of pursuing intriguing, if fugitive, thoughts on a leisurely stroll in a strong autumn sun, I feverishly planned alternate escapes. Would it be better to cross the Park to the West Side, and there to catch a crosstown bus back to the East Side (the buses take the transverse roads, which pass beneath the Park’s Drives)? Or to scramble down through the brush to the transverse road? I had a hard time seeing the latter option in any but a ridiculous light, but I worried at it nevertheless, as if it were a chipped tooth.

Here’s what I did not do: I did not have a fit. I did not puff myself up like a Leghorn rooster in preparation for delivering a tirade against any and all interruptions of ordinary civic routine, blah blah blah. I did not, even inwardly, “dare” any official persons to block my path. I did not contemplate making a scene.  I thought only of taking as much of a walk as possible and getting on with my day.

The next day, I blew up at an AT&T Mobility representative who, it turned out, was quite within his rights; it was I who had forgotten to do something, I who was in the wrong. So I haven’t turned into a completely new person overnight. But I did feel wretched about the wrongful blow-up afterward, and I had to restrain myself from complicating things further by calling up to apologize – to some other agent who would undoubtedly take me for a crackpot, and rightly so.

Tomorrow, I’ll definitely take my walk in the morning. But I won’t jinx things by telling you why – not yet. Suffice it to say that I plan to spend the later afternoon recording several PodCasts, with superior results. If I don’t, I’ll have a fit.

Taking Stock: 8 November 2007.

La Di Da

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Kathleen was flying home from Washington, and, when she landed, we were going to order a tasty but unwholesome dinner from Jackson Hole. Dawdling at the computer, I conceived a desire to watch Six Degrees of Separation while we munched. In 1990, we were too busy with our still-new country house to catch John Guare’s play at Lincoln Center, so we missed a chance to see Stockard Channing on stage (we did see her, though, in revivals of The Lion in Winter and The Little Foxes). She is very much the star of the movie as well.

What I missed in Fred Schepisi’s film adaption, which I’ve seen at least eight or nine times – and I’m being very conservative here – is a location shot early in the film. Actually, it’s an intermittent series of many shots, taken from different angles. The film opens in the Fifth Avenue apartment of an art dealer, but long before that scene has been completely played out, the two principals, Ouisa and Flan, are seen summarizing it in narrative parallel to a huddle of guests at a wedding reception. We see a lot of this crowd and this setting, but only in short takes. That may be why I didn’t recognize the location until this evening. Although – why this evening?

What caught my eye first were the octagonal pillars. Pillars with eight sides instead of the usual flutes are not the most common architectural feature in the world, and these octagonal pillars were very familiar octagonal pillars. Come to think of it, so were the demilune-topped French doors on a far wall, overlooking what I already knew to be a golf course. For this scene was shot in front of the fireplace (not shown) in the ballroom of Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville. I’d say that I grew up at Siwanoy, but that might lead you to think that I can play golf, and I can’t play golf. Playing golf is my idea of Dante’s Inferno, albeit an idea with no supporting experience. Although I do remember sitting just about where Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing were seated, watching, all by myself, and God knows why, a special black-and-white program (this was long before videotapes) about South Africa’s Gary Player. I was bored to death, but I was giving Maturity a chance.

When I go out for a special evening, I put on the watch that the Club presented to my father when he finished his year-long term as president, in 1966. Kathleen has had Tiffany clean it, and replace the leather strap, so all I have to do is set it and wind it.

When my grandfather was president, during the War – this was my mother’s father, not the Judge – they tell me that he introduced Brunch. I have never submitted this tale to the slightest attempt at verification. I’m saving a few things for my real old age.

What I’m Reading/In the Book Review

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

How did that happen? A few new titles hopped into the pile on the bedside table. Three are recommendations from friends. The problem with recommendations from friends is that, if the titles are at all plausible, I feel compelled (and not by the friends) to buy the book right away – lest I forget, I suppose. These new books are: This is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel J Levitin (Nom de Plume), Sailing From Byzantium, by Colin Wells (George), and Tomorrow They Will Kiss, by Eduardo Santiago (1904). Also new is the novel that I’m suddenly in the middle of, Edmund White’s “New York novel,” Hotel de Dream. I haven’t read one of Mr White’s novels since – well, almost since he started writing them (I prefer his memoirs). So far, Hotel de Dream is an entertainment for the erudite – Henry James and Joseph Conrad have made decidedly distinctive appearances; we shall see if there is more to this novel about the dying Stephen Crane and his disinterested recollections of New York’s “painted boys” than that.

During daylight hours, I’m conscientiously enjoying (no oxymoron!) Tim Blanning’s The Pursuit of Glory. About the countless ambiguities of his subject (Europe 1648-1815, or, in other words, the ancien régime), Prof Blaning is wonderfully unambiguous.

As for this week’s Book Review:

Tour de France.

In the Same Sentence

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

In her Huffington Post piece this morning, Nora Ephron complains that it is hard to be a Democrat these days. I agree with her, and I share her reasons for being a Democrat. But at the top of the list of “what’s wrong with Democrats today” I would put, not Hillary or Barack or John or anybody in Congress but – Democrats like Nora Ephron.

It’s hard to a Democrat these days because Democrats like Nora Ephron make me carry on as if I were David Brooks, and I hate that about me.

Sure, it would be nice to get an unequivocal denunciation of torture from the prospective attorney general – although I’m not sure that it would be entirely grown-up. “Unequivocal” and “lawyer,” see, are not words that belong in the same sentence, and it’s childish (and nothing but childish) to refuse to see that lawyers, including the Attorney General, are supposed to be equivocators. Michael Mukasey says that he doesn’t like waterboarding, but he refuses to tie his hands regarding agreements and contracts that he won’t be able to read until he’s actually Attorney General. Congressional Democrats who happen to be lawyers, just like lawyers across the board in the United States, have recognized the acceptability – the decency, even – of Mr Mukasey’s position. As Ms Ephron quotes Senator Charles Schumer as saying, Mr Mukasey is probably the best candidate that the Bush Administration is going to present to Congress. This is not a meaningless observation. In Alberto Gonzales, we saw the worst. There is a difference.

Except there isn’t, not to the Nora Ephrons. To moralistic Democrats, there is only one tiny shining issue, and it must be resolved before we can sleep at night. You would think it was 1968 – especially if, like me, you were there in 1968.

If I have stayed out of the Mukasey debate so far, though, it’s because I am offended – claiming even higher moral ground – that there are Democrats who put torture, which may be gravely immoral but which affects only a handful of people in uncertain situations, ahead of the economy, which affects everybody, especially including every child in the United States. The Bush Administration has done what it could to screw up the economy, but it has had a lot of help from Congress, from Wall Street, from the think tanks and the media – in short, from everyone who has stood up for unfettered free-market capitalism. The result is a looming financial meltdown – a seizing-up of the engines of market liquidity – accompanied by the collapse of two major investment banks, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. This is what we should be paying attention to right now – this and the blood-curdling fall of the dollar – not the scholasticisms of “torture.”

Once upon a time, during the New Deal that Ms Ephron claims to venerate, there was a piece of legislation that made it impossible to put “Citigroup” and “Merrill Lynch” in the same sentence. Citigroup was a commercial bank, while Merrill Lynch was a broker-dealer, and the Glass-Stegall Act of 1933 made sure, for sound hygienic reasons, that the twain did not meet. Before it was even repealed, Glass-Stegall was dismissed by the arrogance of Sanford Weill, the man who put Citigroup together in defiance of then-current law. My bet is that the saner heads at both embattled institutions – unlike Enron, Citigroup and Merrill are companies of enormous vitality and substance, and we can’t really afford to do without them – wish that they could scurry back behind what were essentially the protective prohibitions of the 1933 act.

Let’s talk about the New Deal, then. Let’s get off the high horses of Right and Wrong – leaving Jacobinism to the Republican rump – and roll up our sleeves about the economy. Can we manage to control it again, before it goes into the tailspin against which New Deal legislation provided such effective safeguards?

I wish that it were easier to put “Democrat” and “common sense” in the same sentence.

The Itzhak Perlman Music Program, at the Met

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

My favorite New York luxury is really an Upper East Side luxury, although there are luxuries like it all over town. If you can walk to wherever you’re going for the evening, have your night out, and then walk home again, weather permitting, you’re enjoying a pleasure that is denied to most Americans – certainly to nearly all affluent ones. I consider myself lucky to live only a few subway stops from Midtown Manhattan, but not to have to board a bus or a train or slip into a taxi at all is my idea of dandy. That’s why I peruse the Metropolitan Museum’s music calendars long before I look at Carnegie Hall’s.*

The season got under way a weekend or so ago with the first of three recitals by the Itzhak Perlman Music Program, featuring the eminent violinist himself but not to the complete eclipse of brilliant young talent. You can whine about the decline of classical music all you like, but to my ear musicians have never sounded as good as they do today. I came away with the name of violist Wei-Yang Andy Lin hardwired onto my antennae: I certainly hope that he happens to like New York.

The Itzhak Perlman Music Program, at the Met

* For ease of access, Lincoln Center might as well be in New Jersey.

Books on Monday: Bliss Broyard’s One Drop

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Bliss Broyard’s One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life – A Story of Race and Family Secrets, is a very easy read – deceptively easy. While you read it, wheels at the base of your brain will be turning, momentously. If you believe that the differences in character between “white” people and “black” people is as intellectually shallow and infertile as the differences posited by traditionalists between men and women, you will emerge from the reading, I expect, tremendously refreshed. If not, then perhaps you’ll have the feeling of “scales falling from the eyes.” Either way, One Drop is pure revelation. 

“Race” and the Broyard Muddle.

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The Holy Grail

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

A useful little book that you ought to try to borrow from a friend – you can hardly do your friends a bigger favor than by making them feel guilty for not owning the interesting books that you want to read – is Giles’s Morgan’s The Holy Grail. It’s an introductory handbook to the legend that Dan Brown and Peter Jackson have done so much to put back in the public eye, but unlike their entertainments, The Holy Grail is a summary catalogue of the stories, books and artifacts that Grail lore has inspired over the centuries. And it is very clear about one thing: the tale of Jesus’s chalice has grown in directions quite contrary to the religion institutionalized in his name.

The Holy Grail.

Friday Movies: Dan in Real Life

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

My choices yesterday – since I wanted to stay in the neighborhood, so that I could have lunch at the museum afterward and take a look at some of the new shows that have opened this Fall – were American Gangster and Dan in Real Life. I chose the latter, because American Gangster was berated by everyone save (predictably) the Wall Street Journal for its faulty moral compass. Well, the same might be said of Dan in Real Life, although I’m probably going to be the only one to say it. Dan in Real Life is obviously about a family of professional-class people, but all explicit references to such a background have been effaced, presumably in the interest of making more proletarian audiences feel at home with the comedy.  The class neutrality of Dan in Real Life amounts to the outright denial of intelligence as a virtue, and I found it both irritating and offensive.  

Dan in Real Life.

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A Little List

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Catching up with what’s going on over at kottke.org (and wondering just who Joel Turnipseed is), I came across a little list of the “50 essential classical music CDs.” Ted Libbey, whose NPR work I’ve discussed before, is still at it, hyping his bird’s nest of manly masterpieces (he begins with Beethoven’s Fifth), accessibilia (West Side Story), and tough nuts (the Goldberg Variations). Only the most sophisticated music lover could possibly be comfortable with this particular mix of music, and that’s possibly what Mr Libbey has in mind. In the nature of things, however, his prescription is far more likely to be taken for a shopping list by folks who don’t know much about serious music and are looking for a little direction. I expect that many of them will not make it past Entry Nº 3: Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, not because there’s anything wrong with the music per se, but because it does not belong in the third slot on a beginner’s list.

Outrageously – but not at all surprisingly – Mozart doesn’t appear until Nº 20, with The Magic Flute, of all things. And then not again until 44 (piano concertos) and 50 (symphonies). Although there are plenty of solo piano recordings (and a Dowland CD for the lute), the chamber music is for strings only: Schubert’s Quintet (15) and Beethoven’s Quartets (24) – all of ’em! Speaking of Schubert, Mr Libbey has included Winterreise (46). That’s very noble, but wouldn’t Die schöne Mülllerin been a sounder choice? And why, come to think of it, doesn’t Dvorak’s beloved “New World” Symphony figure at Nº 3, instead of at Nº 40?

I’d say, “Don’t get me started,” but it’s too late for that. I’ll be back for more.

Friday Fronts: Jim Holt and Matthew Scully on the Press – Indirectly

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Catching up with magazines this week, I came across two pieces that, while no longer strictly current, seem worthwhile to look at together. One is Jim Holt’s essay, “It’s the Oil, Stupid,” in the next-most-recent – current on this side of the Atlantic – issue of the London Review of Books. The other, which appears in September’s issue of The Atlantic (I can’t find October’s anywhere, but I’ve got the big fat sesquicentennial issue*), is Matthew Scully’s outing of his fellow Bush-regime speechwriter, Michael Gerson, as a credit hog (“Present at the Creation“).

Jim Holt and Matthew Scully on the American Press – Indirectly, in the London Review of Books and The Atlantic.

* Am I crazy to think that the only people who are truly comfortable with the word “sesquicentennial” were childhood philatelists?

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Christmas?

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

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A serene view of the loony bin, don’t you think?

Kathleen will be away every weekend this month. To be sure, I’ll be away with her for two of them, around Thanksgiving. But that’s even worse: that means that I’ll have to travel, too. So I begin the month with the solemn wish that I could give it a pass, and wake up in December. (Although Kathleen will be away the first weekend in December, too.)

Did I just say December? Christmas? During the summer, I thought that I just might be ready for Christmas when it came round, but, now that November is here, I’m not so sure. I haven’t done anything about Christmas cards – that’s always Step One. And Kathleen and I haven’t decided whether to re-launch the Christmas Day at-home that we hosted earlier in the decade. And will we have a tree?

It’s a familiar split. Half of me believes that, if I take a deep breath and think as clearly as I can, I’ll be able to devise a satisfying but not arduous plan for Christmas. And half of me wants to run away.

(I’m struck by how willing I am to settle for “satisfying” these days. “Satisfying” is good. For one thing, it is often about as good as things get. It makes a far more realistic objective than “wonderful” or “unbelievable.” Beyond that, though, it’s about all I can take. Anything that’s better than “satisfying” is really too much!)

And, mind you – we don’t do Christmas presents anymore! It’s not as though we had that to worry about!

Having broken my neck in September, of course, I have a perfect excuse not to do anything at Christmas. Seeing that my life has not so much returned to normal as re-launched in New and Improved form, it’s a totally bogus excuse, but it still sounds good, and nobody would dare argue with it.*  Kathleen least of all. If you think that I’m skittish about Christmas – !

And, if we have a tree, can we put up the nice ornaments? When Kathleen’s father retired, and her parents downsized, Kathleen came into a small treasure of beautiful old glass ornaments. They might be worth a great deal, but probably not to us. (It’s the difference between “used,” as they are in our hands, and “antique,” in a dealer’s.) If Kathleen has no intention of peddling them at eBay, though, she’s also disinclined to hang them on spindly spruce branches from which they might be knocked by clumsy visitors, or tumbled by a faulty tree stand.

When did we last have a tree? The old Daily Blague doesn’t cast much light on the matter. It has seen three Christmases come and go without leaving a record. Certainly there have been no snapshots. I wonder if Kathleen will remember… and if she’ll let me use at least a few of the good ornaments this year.

If, that is, we have a tree.

* People would be far more likely to think that I’m deluded about the “New and Improved” part.

What I’m Reading/In the Book Review

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

What I’m reading now: in addition to Blanning on Europe and Doidge on the Brain, and Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book, I find a few new titles in my bedside pile. There are two books that Miss G brought to me on the eve of my surgery (actually, she brought me the Doidge as well) that happened to be published or authored by a friend, Marissa Walsh. Then there is another brain book, Daniel J Levitan’s This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, a book about which a friend of mine has waxed extremely enthusiastic; a short book about God and the West, Mark Lilla’s The Stillborn God; and the new Tom Perrotta, The Abstinence Teacher. I wish I didn’t know which one I’ll finish first.

Also in the pile is Ian Bradley’s indispensable Oxford Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan. That’s not its official title, which is why I haven’t italicized it; rather, it’s close to what I call the book: “the Oxford G and S.” I’ve had this out because Kathleen and I have been listening to The Mikado a lot. Just now, this feast of absurdity has seemed to make a lot of sense to us. Although I cannot hear Katisha wail, “May not a cheated maiden die?” without actually sympathizing with her romantic disappointment. How ridiculous is that? Why do we need Bradley, you ask, when the insides of our eyelids are less familiar than The Mikado? Because neither of us can ever remember that what sounds like “all of her” is actually “all aver,” as in Pish-Tush’s

She’ll toddle off, as all aver,
With the Lord High Executioner.

It’s not one of Gilbert’s strongest lines. As for this week’s Book Review:

Century’s Playlist.

Old Friends

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

[Midday in Manhattan; Telephone call between Yorkville and Tribeca*] 

Me: You’ve never seen Infamous?

Fossil Darling: I’ve never seen Infamous. Do you have it?

Me: Of course.

FD: Then I’ll borrow it from you.

Me: Sorry; I don’t lend books or DVDs anymore.

FD: You lend them to me.

Me: You can come over here and watch it. We’ll have popcorn.

FD: I don’t want to spend that much time with you.

Me: You admit it!

[Mutual ROTFLOL – as adapted for gents in their sixties]

* Fossil Darling works in Tribeca.