Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Perfect Day

I've been wanting to tell you for a little while now about the perfect New York day I enjoyed last week but first, an update: my mother just called to tell me that the glass snowman who for the past decade has topped our Christmas tree had committed suicide.

"It was the strangest thing," she said. "It was like he leapt to his death. And I had been thinking lately that I didn't love him, that I wanted to replace him with a pineapple. And it's as if he felt that. And I needed to learn a lesson about taking things for granted."

I said we would not know the full meaning of the sacrifice, or whether it was senseless, until the replacement comes to life. But it's all very Hans Christian Anderson.

So: Sunday. I went to church. I am not, as anyone who's seen my last name might infer, a baptized Christian, but periodically I've gone to services with my mother, and I very much like the idea of living the year by a liturgical calendar. St. Thomas has beautiful music and the best WASPs. This January, I want to finally take the Christian education class - for those interested in the church, or in joining the church - to learn a bit more and also to hopefully tackle some of my real questions about the ideology, as I don't want to have such profound confusion about a big part of my future husband's life, and family.

I'll not say much about the service save that, on the way out, one guy said to the greeting minister, "Father, haven't seen you lately at the New York Health and Racquet Club!" It was a beautiful day, and waking down Fifth Avenue seemed to me the most wonderful thing in the world to be doing, the many tourists the most interesting and finest group of people I'd ever seen. I went down the street with a huge grin on my face, to 55th, and as my mother and I always did, went into La Bonne Soupe. I was alone, but it's a great place to eat alone, and indeed several of the small tables were occupied by dignified solo lunchers, including one elderly gent brandishing a large hardcover. I ordered a croque monsieur and a glass of house white, and opened my book, but I was too interested in the goings-on of the restaurant to do more than read one paragraph over and over. At length, the older couple at the next table engaged me - she, it turned out, was from Quebec and her gentleman friend a New Yorker originally from London - and by the meal's end we were fast friends who'd traded book and restauarnt and life advice and email addresses into the bargain.

When I left, the old gent with the hardcover was standing outside, and he beckoned me over, said I seemed full of life, and would I get a drink with him some time at the same restaurant. I said it depended on his intentions and my liveliness varied with the tides, but that I was always game for a new friend. "I'm old enough to be your grandfather!" he said, reassuringly, and, I suppose to further reassure me, he produced a business card which identified him as a Ph.D, and the hardcover which, it proved, was written by him and with which, one presumes, he travels. Needless to say, we're having a glass of wine at the same restaurant early in the new year.

As to the rest, well, I browsed hats at Bendels and saw the Robert Frank show at the Met. (In the words of Kerouac, "Robert Frank, you got eyes.") I made mac and cheese, with tomatoes and some leftover Christmas ham. And that night, Slim got back and my idyll was over, not that we don't have adventures of another kind.

The Good News

When I was 18 my grandmother gave me a book. It was called Daily Power Thoughts and, although she didn't normally go in for anything like self-help or any demonstration of faith more public than communion at the Episcopal church at the foot of the hill, she'd bought it for my uncle when he was beginning to go through problems as a teenager, and when he cast it aside, unread, she'd picked it up herself and dutifully filled out every list and questionnaire that the authors demanded. So what she gave me was, in fact, many of her private thoughts on faith and life, far more than I'd ever have learned otherwise from such a private woman. Although she was as kind and as good as anyone you'd ever meet, the book was filled with self-recrimination and her struggles to better accept her husband's bouts of temper or be better. There was one part of the book that asked her to list "Nourishing People" in her life. I was shocked and humbled to see my own name written there (along with Billy Graham's) and ashamed, because I knew I wasn't really worthy of such a compliment, and that in her goodness she was seeing only the best in me, too, not all the smallness and selfishness she could not even have comprehended.

I remembered that phrase, though, of "nourishing people" because it's so apt - there are people in one's life who do indeed provide a sort of moral fuel, a reaffirmation of what we can be and what's worth sticking around for. There is one such friend - I'll call her L. - who's very much on my mind because I just saw her, and learned she is engaged to someone as kind and as dear as she. To call her a person without meanness makes her sound like a Beth March, and that's to deny her tremendous sense of the absurd and incredible goofiness and perfectly mordant comments on whatever author's absurdly overblown at the moment. But it's also true: she has a capacity for kindness, for unconditional support, and for spreading joy that I doubt she's even aware of. In short, she deserves happiness, and she's found it, and it's wonderful, and indeed nourishing; congratulations, L. - I wish I could be more articulate but sometimes when really in earnest I have trouble best expressing myself. I know you'll forgive me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

...someone on YouTube has said it's the Vaselines kissing at the end. Confirmation? (Someone else said, "TWEE AS FUCK." Whatever, I have gifted you with it.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Snuggie with which I gifted my father is a hit!

I went home over the weekend to attend a concert with my mother on that very rainy, blustery day, dressed in my high-waisted social x-ray windowpane check wool trousers circa 1990 and was met at the train station by my dad, who said, "what interesting pants, Sade. They look like something from a 19th Century minstrel show."

The concert in question was part of a free series at a local mansion, endowed by an elderly eccentric. My parents are regulars, but this was my first time. The mansion was liberally sprinkled with Hudson River School landscapes and festively decorated, and filled with old people and the loner who's always shooting hoops at the playground. The pianist, who was quite the consummate entertainer, entered in white tie and tails and played some very bravuro Liszt. Then he exited, returned in a red velveteen jacket, played Christmas carols in a variety of jazzy styles, cracked wise, and incongruously mentioned a wife. ("Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in ha-cha-cha rhythm was particularly bold.)

Afterwards, there was a small bar serving wine, hot cider and eggnog and a few poor waiters who were attacked by the hungry oldsters every time they emerged from the kitchen bearing miniature Yorkshire puddings and latkes and tiny ham biscuits. My mother engaged the pianist in intense conversation about the new organ in Alice Tully Hall, which saga my mother has followed closely and about which he, having inaugurated the original organ, cherishes passionate feelings.

Back home, my father called me into their room, where he was watching football. He pointed to the foot of the bed where, sure enough, the Snuggy was lying in readiness! "It's become a very important part of my lifestyle," he said.
"It's true," concurred my mother, coming in behind me. "It's risen to the top of the Pantheon, with Big Boy." (Big Boy is a large square pillow favored by my father for TV-watching.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sweet Tastes

I'd been badly craving a simple, buttery sweet taste, so last night I made a pound cake (by no means the ne plus ultra - still too dry for my degraded tastes but with a good flavor and pleasantly crusty top.) Besides, I was in the mood for baking: careful measuring, meticulous buttering-and-flouring, and even little niceties I generally ignore, like bringing the eggs to room temperature in warm water.

On a roll, I decided to clean out the vegetable bin which, with each successive visit to the greenmarket, becomes more impassible. So I roasted parsnips, squash, shallots and turnips with thyme and olive oil; threw in some beets wrapped in foil; steamed leeks and dressed them with a mustardy vinaigrette, and then grated carrots and tossed them with oil and lemon. (A small cabbage could not be saved. I was secretly relieved.) The result was an aggressively healthy dinner saved from veganism only by the excellent cow's milk cheese a friend contributed to Wednesday's Maria Callas Memorial Spaghetti Dinner. And, of course, the pound cake.
Ugh. Have been getting spammed all morning by furious folks accusing me of being "jealous" of the animated Sun-Maid girl's cleavage and body. Downside of the job.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A NY Tip...

From the estimable Lost New York blog:

HIDDEN LUNCHEONETTE: Walk out of Grand Central on the Vanderbilt Avenue side, cross the street and enter 52 Vanderbilt. Halfway through the corridor that leads to Madison Avenue you'll find a vestpocket luncheonette. Once upon a time, all working New Yorkers fed themselves from such anonymous in-house lobby eateries. They are not many of an independent, non-chain variety left. This one has a sweet charm, and the food is cheap and good.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


It is with great excitement that I present one of my very favorite childhood movies, 1948's Bill and Coo!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On Language

"Steampunk" barely has a foothold in the lexicon and I'm already sick of it, not least because people are tossing it about with impunity and with utter disregard for its meaning, such as it is. (Not long ago, some business website described the Gawker Media offices thusly, so.) To wit, from today's Times:
Over the next two weeks, The Times published more than two dozen letters on the subject of scrapple, which, taken together, form a sort of steampunk prototype for online food discussion. It’s all there: the pseudonymous “usernames,” the off-topic ranting, the preoccupation with pork fat. In short, it’s a modern-day food thread in very slow motion.

I propose, by way of alternative, "whale-oil dystopian." I mean, really. For goodness' sake. Remind me to tell you a few recent thoughts on the subject of love.