Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Okay so I have two recommendations:

1. If you can (and in NYC, you can't, because yesterday was its final night) do check out In Search of Memory, the documentary about Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel. I'm not saying it's perfect, because it's not (the re-enactments...well, you'll see) but in parts it's fascinating and moving, too, and if I liked it you know the science is pretty easy to swallow.

2. The Roald Dahl Cookbook. I asked for this for Christmas after Simon Hopkinson gave it a shout-out in More Roast Chicken (which, like its predecessor, you should own) and have been holed up with it for the past three days. (I mean, when I wasn't working, walking etc.) It was published shortly after Dahl's death, and is as much a collection of reminiscences as a cookbook. Anyone who's read his memoirs - or, indeed, his fiction - needn't be told that this is a treat. Likewise, anyone who's read them knows about Dahl's keen love of food, chocolate especially, and can guess that the collection is both idiosyncratic and very useful - albeit in that peculiar British sort of way which requires a different set of assumptions. It's also a lovely portrait of his later years and second marriage (his wife Liccy co-wrote and executed) although one can't help feel a little bad for Patricia Neal, who's not mentioned once, especially knowing how Liccy was her best friend whom she took in etc. etc. etc. as the King of Siam (aka Yul Brynner) would have it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quick Update

I saw a yellow lab on the subway bound for JFK then Haiti for search and rescue.


I thought the White Ribbon was super heavy-handed.


Why am I always the one stuck playing the tambourine with the old oom-pah band?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I got so many kind responses from people on that last post - some, it must be said, of frustration from loved ones, but I think you guys know what I was getting at, yes? In any case, I want to talk about it more in future, and with permission, quote some of your remarks? You said some things far better than I could.

Weekend: Saturday I covered a Brooklyn wedding fair, which was a lot of fun and, while I alternated between despair (at the knowledge that I'd never have the energy nor money to give each one of my guests an NYC Moleskine notebook) and elation (at all the delicious samples and gorgeous flowers), it was extremely useful: Slim and I loved the old-fashioned camera setup one of the photographers had, and I like the picture of us enough that I will even show it to you, here.

And Sunday we did indeed get to Philly, packing a book on tape, to catch the Gorky retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art which, you will be glad to know, does indeed sell a $500 foot-high sculpture of an exultant Rocky-in-training. The Gorky was okay. I mean, the exhibit was great, and if you're a fan, it's probably essential. I liked some of his early work very well, but the evocative descent into crippling depression and suicide was not really to my taste and probably not what anyone fragile-minded should see (along with Nick Drake's "Place to Be.") So I sort of rushed through the last two rooms and examined the thoroughly baffling exhibit gift-shop, wondering at the Gorky-print kimonos and long-sleeved tees (of the semi-transparent varietal favored by Julie on Felicity)and then overheard two older middle-aged ladies exclaiming over a little "make-your-own shrine" kit that came with a selection of little Gorky prints for one to, presumably, revere at home. "That just looks like a fun, creative thing to do," said one.
"And I don't need to use their picture," put in her friend. "I could use one of my kitty!"
"Absolutely," said her companion encouragingly.

We made it to the Rosenbach Collection with barely an hour to spare and so, said the eccentric docent with the chestnut-colored toupee, he would give his spiel in double-time. He was as good as his word. It was impressive, albeit unintelligible. I didn't get much time at all in the Mary Ann Moore room, which was really the purpose of my visit, but did manage to lie down on the floor and take a closer look at the slipcovering on this one sofa before we were ushered out. The room (which was recreated wholesale from the West Village home where she lived out the end of her life after Fort Greene became dangerous) is wonderful: equal parts family things, un-self-conscious mid-century and the animal figurines that friends gave Moore to accompany her fauna-themed poetry. Altogether cozy, elegant, full of personality and perfect for both intellectual spinster living and literary salons.

I was eager to either follow-up on a friend's rec of a nearby Turkish place or try out some dingy Little Italy joint, but Slim had his own ideas: he'd read about, and fixated on, some highly-dubious sounding spot that combined Peruvian and Chinese cuisines. He claimed this had a basis in historical, ancient trade routes, but I know Asian Fusion when I hear it. Nevertheless, it's rare that he gets so excited about a place, and I supposed I could stand to eat somewhere under 75 for a change, and plus we've never been to this "silk road" spot he's always wanted to try in Gravesend, so I acceded with poor grace and we found the restaurant pretty easily. Worst fears immediately confirmed: a red-lit bar, black-clad waitstaff, a youthful "professional" crowd and some low-pitched thumping music. I turned furious, accusatory eyes upon my dining companion, who said he'd "thought it would be more historical." We ordered - oh, did I mention it was "tapas-style?" - a selection of innocuous-looking stuff (which is good because we were perched at a very tiny laquered table) and Slim was dissuaded from getting some awful-sounding kimchee and crab empanada. I was, it must be said, extremely bratty, asking snidely if afterwards we'd be hitting some velvet-roped club and getting bottle service, whether he wouldn't care for a lichee martini, and to be sure and finalize that Buddahkan reservation for Valentine's Day. I was somewhat mollified by eating (I am furious when hungry) but maintain that the pork belly bun was a pale shade of Momofuko, that the lamb thing really could have done without that wasabi mayonnaise, and that, well, okay the shrimp ceviche was fine, actually.

Friday, January 8, 2010

On Settling

The New Year prompts us to take stock, however arbitrarily. Sometimes, but not more than I can help it, I think about my career. When I was little I assumed, against all evidence, that one day I would be beautiful, just as my mother and grandmother were. Never mind that I didn't have my grandmother's symmetry of feature or the elegant, modern lines that nabbed my mother a series of high-profile 70s boyfriends. I just assumed it would happen, like it was my due. I might be ugly, I would think as a teenager, but by golly, one day I'll be a beauty. And then one day I realized that I would never be beautiful, and that I was in fact on the plain side of average. The acceptance of this fact was somehow liberating, and I've long since come to a similar realization about my professional life.

When you're young and precocious and doted upon, you assume the world will inevitably understand this, too, and you'll play some major role in the proceedings. But then adulthood strikes and, quite apart from any question of talent, one needs to be realistic about one's capabilities. I can turn a phrase and write quickly, but I've come to understand, probably since college, that I won't ever be really successful in the professional sense: I am not good enough, for starters, but I also don't have the drive to overcome that. And, worst, I'm content to be that way. I realized as soon as I took my current job that, while I could do a workmanlike job, I'd never really distinguish myself: I was too soft, and too mindful of my own psychological self-preservation to really commit to it or become a strong voice, and that was a compromise I was willing to make. I'm not really proud of it, but there you are.

I think having such trouble with depression through my 20s has changed me a lot, of course it has. I'm probably less fun, I'm certainly less funny. I could have been a better blogger, for sure, had I not collapsed in on myself in the way I did, and not incidentally opted out of professional life for a few crucial years. I mean, I used to have big ideas! I had dreams, so silly as to be kept closely-guarded: I wanted to be the "Lucky Girl" one month, and I wanted, one day, to tell a story on "This American Life."

Maybe I can, some time, do something I am proud of. If I could write one line as funny as Barbara Pym's, I'd be happy. And I'd be unsatisfied if I were not working, and working hard. But I think the real happiness in my life is probably destined to come from other things, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'd hate for my father to read this; he comes from the school of Wasted Potential Is The Greatest Tragedy. But what's "wasted," anyway? Is this all very dreary? I know it's solipsistic. I'm sorry about that, but it's something I've been wanting to get down for a little while now. And I'm happy as I do so, too.
Snow again! Was awoken by the scrape of a neighbor's shovel and the simultaneous rattle of someone going through the bottles on the curb. Went through the recycling bag in my head though and he can't have found much. There's just enough snow to dust things and the streets are clear. When Slim woke at 6 for work I saw at once from the watery light through the slats of the shutters that it must have snowed. He didn't know what I meant and I realized it's because he grew up in L.A. and wasn't alert for the signs of a snow-day.

Friday but I'm not excited, are you? Probably because I have a lot of work to do, although Sunday we may take a day-trip to Philadelphia to catch an exhibit. The truth is, what I want most to see is the recreation of Marianne Moore's apartment, but I want to do that alone. (And, of course the stone babies and things at the Mutter Museum, but with friends as doing that sort of thing alone becomes peculiar very very quickly.) I have a heightened interest in Philly since learning that it was the birth-place of the sticky bun. I don't love them, but I'm interested in the endemic. I've also read about something called a "dewey bun" which I'm hoping I can find at the market there. Or do the Amish not sell on Sundays?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

On Tuesday, I started the Christian Education course I mentioned a few weeks ago, in hopes of broadening my knowledge of stuff. It was a bitter cold night and I almost talked myself out of it, but finally argued (again, to myself) that something interesting might happen if I left the apartment, whereas for certain nothing would if I stayed in. So, I bundled up and set forth and made my way to the third floor of the midtown parish building, which route afforded a good view of libraries and parlors and other neo-Gothic spaces. The room where the class is held was itself quite aggressively Gothic - it reminded me of college, what with the paneling and the mullioned ceiling. Above the line of paneling were hung a series of portraits of clergymen in vestments of varying degrees of opulence and naturally the room was lit with heavy, iron many-bulbed fixtures. For all this, though, it wasn't very impressive or attractive because the flourescent lighting was very harsh and because we were seated in concentric circles of the sort of tweedy padded blond wood chair that I associate with college dorm rooms. The lector, who proved to be the Church theologian, was a thin, ascetic-looking person with a neat beard over his minister's collar and a clipped, precise voice such as one hears in old movies sometimes. He handed us all forms to fill out, asking us to give our names and reasons for attending, which I was loath to do as it would reveal me to be a dilettante who wasn't interested in Baptism or Reception, and I'd hoped to slip under the radar.

He opened the class with a prayer, which suprised me for some reason. Then he launched into a discussion of creation. It quickly became clear that this would not be a mere lecture, but rather a seminar, for quickly people began raising their hands and alternately pontificating or asking questions in the usual numbers. There were about 20 people in the room - a few the minister seemed to know, and I guessed they were regular parishoners just taking a refresher course. A few were very well-dressed single men. There were a few couples; I wondered if they were getting married and joining the church together. The man next to me had tiny hands and beautiful, intricate shoes with a high cordovan gloss. The lecture portions were interesting, and the minister referenced one of my favorite cookbooks, The Supper of the Lamb, which I found deeply reassuring. He also had neat, Anglican answers for things like literal interpretation of the Bible (A day is a rotation of the sun; God doesn't even invent the sun until day #4, therefore there's nothing for it but to take it symbolically) and miracles (a miracle's a unique refutation of scientific law; science by definition studies repeated phenomena; therefore the two have nothing to do with one another) and stated that those who sought to interpret such things literally were prey, sadly, to "unfortunate misunderstanding." You needn't fear that I'll recap every class, because I won't, but suffice it to say that there was a good deal more argument than I'd anticipated, and there were enough things referenced that I didn't feel a complete ass asking a question that involved Kirkegaard. There was, of course, a bore who raised her hand every ten seconds and droned on about nothing much, and I thought the minister was much too nice to her. There was another woman who fidgeted, picked at her nails audibly, chortled to herself and periodically rested her face on her breasts and went to sleep. Then when we left she swathed herself in a large fur. The minister stopped me and asked my name as I left, and then glanced down at my form, which I'd handed him and if I'm not mistaken looked quizzical. I told him I was very much looking forward to next week's class, which is absolutely true, since it's on that topic that I have the gravest questions.

Afterwards I sneaked around a bit and opened doors and poked into rooms and found the nursery and then, of course, I went to La Bonne Soupe and had the soupe menu, which comes with salad, a glass of house wine, and a small cup of chocolate mousse. I chose French Onion.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Small Pleasures

Today, the toilet got stopped up. This might distress most people, but I was secretly pleased because at-home plumbing is one of my particular interests, and as we know from my experience with bedbugs, I'm not nearly as revolted by things as I ought to be. Having grown up in a house with, to put it kindly, indifferent plumbing, we all became adept in the ways of jerry-rigging, rube goldbberg mechanisms, and the anatomy of a toilet. "I got this," I told Slim confidently. And, sure enough, an hour later, having gone to work with a coat hanger and a kettle of boiling water and a number of other things, I had the immense satisfaction of seeing the water rush from the bowl like souls fleeing devils' pitchforks in some Medieval judgment day fresco.

Hip hip hurrah!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sadder But Wiser Girl

Happy New Year!

Slim and I have been spending some time in the car lately and as a result had a chance to listen to a book on tape. (A book on tape, I might add, that I bought my grandfather but that, like most presents, he quite openly didn't want and promptly returned to me. My gain!) It's The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, and it's superb. I imagine the book is too, but this is one of the best readers I've ever encountered. You know I'm a sucker for even faintly gothic tales of the British persuasion, but I'm rarely so completely satisfied. Anyway, it's a terrific story, beautifully told, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking to start the year with a really good read. Or listen, for that matter.

Resolutions: per usual, learning to drive. Also cleanliness and kindness and follow-through and a host of dull specifics. Enjoy every moment, of course, but not in a selfish, aging-boomer-finding-himself sort of way. Oh, and maybe get married while I'm at it. At the very least, get around to throwing an engagement party. Change my IDs so people don't read my email and send me creepy notes. Yes, that'd be good.

The girl at the wine store told me she's "involved with the S&M community." Kind of don't want to go back, but there's no other vinter's and besides, she gave me a really good steer on a "good-value red" to go with stew.