Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It hasn't all been storm clouds! Saturday, we took advantage of the unseasonable warmth to take a drive, with our friend Jim, to Staten Island, where I had every intention of listening to nothing but Wu-Tang Clan, finding a 20's-vintage beach village of charming bungalows that an old bohemian had just been waiting to sell for $100 to the right young people, and eat at Killmeyer's Old Bavaria Inn and Beer Garden. Of these, we did exactly one. Unfortunately, Staten Island seems to be a bit short on 20's beach villages nowadays; my biography of Dorothy Day was somewhat misleading on this point.

We didn't get as early a start as I'd hoped, and, as Slim told Jim on the phone, "Sadie's in a vintage girl scout uniform and raring to go!" We did have a picnic at Fort Wadsworth, which is truly lovely, listen to a lot of "Grime" rap, which Jim is very into right now, and try to find this abandoned monastery which I'd read was haunted but which apparently got torn down last year. This search brought us to the campus of a small Catholic college, where we kind of stood out, due to my uniform, Slim's wife-beater and work boots, and Jim's tee shirt, on which he'd tie-dyed the sweat stains. I also did a dramatic reading of The Man Who Was Thursday.

Killmeyer's did not disappoint, however, in age (150 years), ambiance (dirndls and an oom-pa band called "The Happy Tunes") or food. In fact, I ate so much wurst, mashed potato, red cabbage, spaetzl, German potato salad, schnitzel and pretzel, to say nothing of whatever Spring beer we were quaffing, that I felt really sick afterwards, fell asleep in the car, was too ill to go out to a party, groaned all night long, and had one of the worst food hangovers ever the next morning. I highly recommend it. And the food kinda reminded me of the late, lamented Berghoff's, which is reason enough for some of us.

On My Shelf

I just finished Tamasin Day-Lewis' Where Shall We Go For Dinner? A Food Romance which I had to get specially from Murray's Cheese because it's not actually out in the States and which I'm afraid I can't loan you as it's saturated with olive oil from an errant lid on a picnic tuppeware of mixed olives.

I liked it.

But, with some serious reservations. It was a typical foodie romp in which T and her beau, the proprietor of Murray's Cheese (appropriately enough) seem to spend half their time traipsing around gorgeous landscapes during white truffle season and stumbling upon undiscovered geniuses toiling in regional obscurity who ply them with local delicacies the like of which we mere mortals will never know. And some of the prose were so boozily purple I nearly blushed! Take this:
I am reminded of the mid-September sun over the hills last autumn, high above Santo Stefano Belbo in the Langhe, and of how Rob and I came to be sitting at the tiny cafe table at La Christina in Valdivilla, the village at the top of the hill...We have come for the cinghiale, the wild boar, for it is that time of year, and Mario has promised he will cook it for us tonight, but he has implores us to try some of his fresh porcini first, crisped in egg and breadcrumbs. We'll start with a glass of Moscato d'Asti to get the gustatory juices flowing and, if we can get that far, we'll finish with a late-ripening peach from a bough a few paces away from where we are sitting on the tiny Strada del Moscato d'Asti that runs through the Asti vineyards. They'll serve it the local way, in slices in a wine glass with a libation of beaded Asti bubbles winking at the brim.

I presume you get the idea? As a rule, though, I liked the gusto with which she describes her picturesque diet, and the greedy, unfettered enthusiasm she and other British writers like Nigel Slater and Simon Hopkinson and Nigella (another stunning anglo-Jewish Oxbridge grad from the wealthy and distinguished clan!) talk about food. It's genuinely inspiring, as is the passion for produce, for seasonal rhythm, for simplicity. I found myself moved to go out and buy a huge sack of sorrel and green garlic and lord knows what I'll do with it all.

I loved, too, the descriptions of her grandparents' sumptuous, old-fashioned household, filled with traditional and rich English puddings, as well as her parents' intellectual milieu, the Kingsley Amis household, and, later, the circle of fashionable bohemians with whom she lives as a teenager. Everyone is beautiful and rich and generous and seem to have an endless supply of immense copper pots and le Creuset vessels and vegetable gardens and orchards enough to feed whatever army of hungry famous people descend at a moment's notice. Her brother is, of course, Daniel D-L, which is neither here nor there. Quite unnecessary, though, were the vignettes in which she eats with Julia Roberts, which were manifold. They may well be good friends, but "Julia" gets rather more screen-time than her other cronies.

The main problem, for me, was the "romance" bit. You see, while the author herself is warm and likable, Rob, "the American," never comes to life. While she talks about his lust for life and food - and lord knows he runs a great store - he comes across as grouchy, charmless, obsessed with health and aging, and preoccupied with every American fear of germs and dirt. What's meant, I guess, to come across as the lovable kvetching of a New York Jew just translates as sour and didactic. The fact that she, or her eds, translate half of his dialogue into a British idiom that, for one reading his American voice in one's head comes off as pretty jarring, doesn't help. Sometimes I think a person's charm is so obvious to their loved ones that they don't realize that their quirks aren't automatically charming to others who don't know what's behind them.

The recipes are all metric, so I'll have to break out the calculator (actually, the only kind of math I enjoy) as I really do trust her taste and love all the prepared dishes she's designed for the Murray's store.
Sometimes I get embarrassed when I look back a bit later and see how unhappy my posting was; not because it isn't true but because it's wrong, not to mention boring, to burden other people with mental struggles. I hope if anyone should stumble upon it who's experienced anything similar, they'll derive some comfort...even if these things are, ultimately, pretty solitary. I guess I don't want to talk about this stuff to my family, or even most of my friends - who get scared - so this becomes an outlet.

It's funny: there are times when responses to my work have been critical enough (which isn't even saying much; the stuff I write's pretty uncontroversial, conflict-averse as I am) that I really do feel like I'm pretty worthless, and it really is enough, in a low mood, to put me over the edge. But! There have quite literally been moments when I've been contemplating ending things when the thought of the same strangers kept me afloat. Because I realize that, in some small way, you have become a familiar part of peoples' worlds, and it would upset and sadden them in a way I can't ignore. So it works both ways, in the way any "relationship" does. I guess what I mean is, I feel strongly that I owe people in my life, whether I know them or not, the best I've got. Feeling I've failed them (which my shrink says is a madness in my head) - and I don't think in a meaningful way, but to the small extent they have to live with my work or my thoughts or my actions - is horrible. I feel that like a sharp pain in my gut.

Anyway, I took a pill and a little walk and both helped. I'll be okay, I always am.
I must stop reading comments. I feel so often there's no point because folks ignore one's larger points and are so insulting, and gosh, I quite literally feel like I can't stand it sometimes. It's no job for those of us who are fragile, and who take things so much to heart. I feel at times like this that one callous remark could just put me over the edge, like I'm made of an egg yolk's membrane. I know that makes no sense.

That's no one's fault but my brain chemistry's, I guess. I am awfully frightened about it all, not well at all. I just need to get through today and wipe my eyes and keep going. And then maybe take a walk or distract myself some other way.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Early to be in on a Friday, especially such a beautiful one, but here I am in my night gown. I was out like a normal 20-something, but got felled by a persistent migraine and am only now in the delicate detente stages, which may be fleeting.

The weather's been wonderful. Last night, Slim and I went to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was being screened downtown in concert for some reason with the Tribeca Film Festival. (The turtles lit the Empire State Building yesterday, too (green.)) Before the film started there was face painting for kids, free pizza and a Tae Kwan Do presentation, which was strange only because then the film's director and producers got up and made speeches and the kids, for whom all the other events were staged, were bored silly. The movie was, of course, terrific, and it seems like the guy who played Danny, the disaffected teen,, may have been in the crowd, judging by the delighted whoops that came from one section whenever he appeared onscreen being sullen. Afterwards Slim and I stopped into a Financial District pub called Seamus McShea's or something, which was playing host to a very intense Irish cover band and an equally intense group of middle-aged fans, all of whom seemed to have come in from Jersey. At one point I timed a 5-minute drum solo. This one guy came up to us, very excited, to explain that the guitarist had, maybe, at some point played with a late incarnation of Vanilla Fudge.
"You know the part in Die Hard I where Bruce Willis throws the guy out the window?" he asked Slim. "Well, welcome to the party, Pal. This is it!"

Prior to the headache, I went for a walk in Williamsburg; some street style blogger took my picture (I had on a good sort of "artistic grandma" look), a guy whom I didn't recognize addressed me by name (I think he and Slim went to college together; I hope so, since I gave him S's number), I found Slim a shirt, and got an iced tea at the bakery with the terribly surly staff. Later, saw Sugar with Charlie and Sam; then the headache got too bad - can you tell it still is? - and I hightailed it to sweat it out. The walk back was nice, the neighborhood much quiter than I'd expected. I glanced into the bohemians' apartment - last night they seemed to be projecting a film onto the wall - but they were out and I could just make out the drums and the ethnic hangings they have up. I want to get to know them, but I also recognize that if I ever did, they'd just bang up against all my hard edges and I'd hold myself aloof from their soft ones, and while Slim might be able to bond with them over music or weed or the language of artistically-inclined nonjudgmental good people, I never could.

Overheard a peculiar exchange between a mother who was one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen in real life and her equally stunning, maybe 12-year-old daughter.

"The last time I went to the Hamptons, I dropped a watermelon in a pool," said the girl.

"Well, what's your tradition: dropping watermelons in pools, or having a good time?" demanded her mother.

"I have a good time in New York," said the child sullenly.

Anyway. Someone apparently killed just a few blocks over earlier this week. Not too worrisome as apparently they knew each other and one guy shot the other in the face in a building's entryway. As I told Slim when he cautioned me about it, "if someone shoots me in the face, I'll know he means business." Not funny, but there you go. I have a headache. Sometimes when I was little I used to fantasize about chopping off my afflicted head with a guillotine or a samurai sword; now I'll settle for bed, thanks.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Watch this. Be warned, I can't stop saying "put a donk on it!" in v poor northern accent...

Just had friends for dinner (just spaghetti - that kind with the onions and bacon - and, somewhat grossly, Toll House cookies, since it was only boys) and now am feeling like a martyr, since I told everyone I didn't want help with cleaning, when obviously I did and do. I am by no means one of these people who finds cleaning of any kind contemplative or therapeutic.

We talked about the new Neil Strauss book; now I have borrowed it. I made them watch the Donk documentary, obviously. My brother was talking in a very nihilistic way about going to L.A. in a Winnebago, which one can only hope will pass. Slim, not helping matters, seemed to think this was a fine plan. He, by the way, is at this vacant lot he likes, where he's been spending a lot of time. Last night he devoted several hours to drawing a hypothetical building that would meet the zoning requirements, having once taken a drafting class in San Francisco.

As they left, I said,

"Charlie, did you see my new doll?!" I indicated the stockingette 60s girl, who's now positiioned just at the top of the stairs.

"Yeah," he said.

Monday, April 20, 2009

As I've mentioned on Twitter (of which this marks the start of my second week; I'm lousy at it) I watched Grey Gardens last night. (And does one self-reference? Is this breaking the fourth wall? It's all the same wall, surely, and the mason is narcissism and so is the mortar!) Well, here's what my friend Raha and I had to say: Why? Why bother at all? Not shockingly, the best bits were the to-the-letter recreations of the doc anyway. If one needs a reason, well, the 1930s-50s costumes in the flashbacks are very good. The performances are fine in that impression sort of way that can't erase physical differences, but it only serves to point up the superiority of the Maysles film and make you thank goodness for Real Life where people don't feel the need to screech about their motivations every five minutes.

Everyone feeling duly chastened by Jack Frost, I'm guessing; the tip of my nose has been chilled all day. The bone-cold calls for British spinster-wear.

Yesterday, we undertook the Brooklyn Flea and were sort of underwhelmed, even if I did come away with a dear little lady made of scallop shells and looking awfully good for 70 or so. Slim spent about ten years comparing two WWII-era Swiss navy jackets before buying the smaller (although I like his inconsistent dandyism when it rears its head), three different women were wearing vintage parachute pants, and we saw a baby who looked exactly like our friend Jim, even though he was French and wearing little knickers.

I want to recommend again Clive James's Cultural Amnesia, even if I'm not sure why the sales lady pointed me towards it when I asked for something "fun, borderline trashy and Secret History-esque."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Like everyone else in the northeast, I have been aggressively deluding myself this weekend that winter has retreated permanently. I didn't go so far as to get a pedicure - which is as good as tempting Old Man Winter, so far as I'm concerned - but I am a blister casualty.

Well worth it, of course...that spring exhilaration puts me in mind of the days before I was medicated! I had a brunch date with Baby Fanny, who is six months now, adorable, very intense, prone to moaning and groaning and growling, and was wearing a miniature pair of skinny jeans. It was strange going into Brownstone Brooklyn...it feels like it's changed so much since I lived there, or maybe it's just living in Bed-Stuy that makes the contrast sharp. Not to play the moral superiority card here, as I'm the very living definition of gentrification (albeit for purely monetary reasons!) but there is something disconcerting about a pleasure garden where one can't find function without a thick, organic-sugar coating of pricey form. There are, on the stretch where I used to live, now no fewer than two coffee bar/bakeries, a New American locavore restaurant, an organic market, two vintage/art shops and a fancy bicycle store. (Part of my chagrin comes form the fact that I wouldn't have half minded a few of these amenities!) We got breakfast at a happening little takeout gourmet shop of the steel-cut-oats and Greek-yogurt varietal, and it took ages, what with the throngs of Times-toting joggers, dogs named Django, toddlers named Django, and the occasional hipster. Fanny's dad, Rick, told me it's now impossible to get two eggs on roll, with ketchup, in the neighborhood.

(As to our corner of creation: there are, a few doors down, a passel of sure-nuff bohos, a commune of musicians who picked up wholesale from New Orleans and occupy a ramshackle brownstone (which lamplight shows to have been decorated along standard hippie lines.) On occasion they play New Orleans-style music, dirges and such, and it took me a while to decide how I felt about them. I've come down on the side of "enthusiastic love" and am equally sure I never want to break bread (surely made sans recipe, if not 'scavenged') within their walls.)

The day being fine, I decided to do the whole circuit and marched through Park Slope, which is what it is, and for those who don't know, rather like the above, but with an older clientele and some lesbians mixed in. There were many stoop sales and giveaway piles and by the time I'd reached the park, I was laden down with a stockingette 60's doll in a peasant costume; a plaster mermaid; a milk-glass jar; a patchwork pillow; a potato masher; and, for Mirah, a little china dog. I also picked up a vintage girl scout dress, and quickly swapped out my jeans and blouse for coolness. By this time two and half hours had passed (I have a habit of sitting in church gardens and staring intently at friezes for hours at a time) so I bought a picnic of salami, some Cowish cheese from Alsace, a baguette and an eggplant spread (those yuppies know their charcuterie!) and met Slim. Today, just to square the circle, we're attempting the Brooklyn Flea, which may well prove impassible. It looks fair again. The block is unusually lovely, shaded by cherry trees (which are giving forth their characteristic musty smell) and packed with tulips and daffodils and, just facing, a really pretty yellow tulip magnolia. Last night there were at least three barbecues going on; the back yard that fronts ours was ablaze with tiki torches. This bodes well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

La Canadienne

At Montreal's main market, there were several guys making "taffy" by pouring hot sirop d'erable on snow, straight up Little House in the Big Woods style! We were, not shockingly, ravis.

Close-up of the action!

"Man Suit" at Museum of Montreal History.

Boat lights at Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, the "Sailors' Church"

"Our Lady of the Harbour," described aptly by E. as "of L. Cohen mention."

Ok, here was the best thing of all: the Musee Marguerite-Bourgeoys was dedicated to the first order of nuns to come to Montreal and establish schools, hospitals etc. In the 50s, the nuns of the order illustrated the prioress's life via a series of doll dioramas!
"Marguerite's mother dies when she is just 16."
"In 1637, the plague, a terrible sickness, kills thousands of people in the city of Troyes."

"Jeanne LeBer, a rich heiress and a friend of Marguerite, decides to come to the convent where Marguerite lives, to pass her days in constant prayer."

Here she is, teaching Indian children in her old age.

Poutine, the notorious late-night nosh of French Canada. That's frites, gravy and cheese curds to the uninitiated. And yes, it's vile.

The famed "smoked meat" of Montreal, basically brisket. More appetizing than it looks!

(Images courtesy of Eloise)

Happy easter etc.

This week:

Highly secular Seders attended: 1

Easter baskets given: 1

Small hats embellished for occasion with vintage velvet pansies: 1

Nanette Lepore suits originally purchased for wedding getaway at first, non-wedding: 1

Church services attended: 0, although we waited for about 20 minutes for space to open up at Saint Tom's...Presbyterian Church, as usual, had to take spillover.

Museum exhibits attended: 2. Die Brucke (movement of early German expressionists from Dresden) at Neue Gallery, excellent. Today, "Into the Sunset: Photography's View of the American West" at MoMA. Fascinating images, some beautiful, but mind-numbingly heavy-handed notes, seemingly written by 19-year-old who needed to drive home banality of suburbia, hollowness of the American dream, regardless of whether the photographer's intentions were more nuanced or ambiguous.

Movies seen: 2. Adventureland (has its moments) and Sin Nombre (predictable but engaging.)

Boldfaces seen: 2. Rich young person, heir to a manufacturing fortune, known for making film about rich young people, spotted at Neue with beautifully-dressed moddle type. Then, at bakery in midtown known for good hot cross buns, famous and beautiful author of British extraction, currently working at a New York university as opposed to her usual New England haunt.

Best thing eaten: pan con tomate at Bar Jamon. Also good: a new chickpea salad I improvised.

Sad times: 1

The rest: family troubles (2 kinds); mouse trouble; didn't finish any books and watched several episodes of "The Thorn Birds" on YouTube; cleaned pantry which is good but mouse means must do it again; was better about Twitter; clipped three funny newspaper pps; didn't get out enough; wanted Spring badly but settled for cold and liked it; relatively sociable although still bad; wish I knew how to take better pictures; must phone and write everyone I know; at least a few of them; must stop buying burdock, ramps and other things I won't cook.