Archive for August, 2007

The Last Entry

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Why do I feel that I’m leaving something, when nothing is going anywhere? The only change, for me, will be no longer having to deal with MovableType, a blogging platform that I chose in 2004 precisely because it was said to be the most daunting. (And it was daunting. I discovered that I am a closet masochist.) Exchanging MovableType for WordPress is like taking off a very heavy backpack. Life is suddenly, startlingly easy. I have no regrets.

But it’s true that I am leaving school. I started the Daily Blague at a strange time, right after George Bush’s second victory. The Blogosphere had been hopping during the campaign and was still very lively, as the writers at political sites that I visited, such as Crooked Timber and Obsidian Wings, tried to make sense of the disaster. Eventually, I lost interest in political blogs. I lost interest in all single-issue blogs. And I really didn’t know what to do with my own. For far too long, I filled it with reams of material that belonged in a different setting. I was like the bore who shows up at a cocktail party and wants to talk about the death sentence.

At some point or other, the old Daily Blague developed a serious comment-spam problem, and my Web host actually considered shutting it down, along with at least one other MoveableType site. That’s when I decided to move, both to another host and to another platform. By now, I had a very clear idea of what The Daily Blague ought to look and feel like. Thanks to the heavy lifting of Searchlight Consulting, the look and feel has been realized. But as Steve Laico can tell you, I knew what I wanted.

What distinguishes a blog structurally from other Web site is, of course, its interactivity: the solicitation of comments. Most blogs don’t get nearly as many comments as their creators would like, and The Daily Blague is one of them. But every comment is a lively acknowledgment that someone has been reading what I’ve written. I don’t know why any writer doesn’t keep a blog for that reason alone. (Writers who aren’t celebrities, that is.) The comments that the Daily Blague has accumulated have given me a better idea of where I stand in the world than I had before blogging.

To all readers, but especially to those who were “in at the birth,” I say Thank You!

The All of It

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Here we are at the end of August. Tomorrow will see the last post at the old Daily Blague (www.portifex.com/DailyBlague/). Happy as I am about the new Daily Blague (www.dailyblague.com/blog) – which is what I hope you’re reading – I’m stung by the old leaving-school nostalgia. It is painful to outgrow things.

For my penultimate pointer, I’ve chosen a book that I read because I met the author herself, in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room. She was a handsome matron in tweeds who asked me if I knew what the music playing on the radio was. (They play WQXR at Dr Odell’s.) I did: it was Telemann’s delightful concerto for three oboes and three violins. We fell into a conversation of sorts, with her doing most of the talking. I don’t know how I captured the name of her book, because the doctor’s office knew her under her married name, but after my exam I walked round the corner to Lenox Hill books, which was still going, and found a copy of The All of It. The clerk told me that it is a “favorite in the neighborhood” – the neighborhood being 10021, the city’s ritziest ZIP code. (It’s still going, too, but in much reduced form.)

¶ The All of It.

Laudate Dominum

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Every now and then, I just have to listen to Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore. “Solemn Vespers of the Confessor” – sounds like a laff riot, no? But Austrian Catholicism isn’t what I grew up with. It’s a blast. If I thought I’d hear music like this every Sunday, you wouldn’t be able to keep me away.

Not that this is music for every Sunday. But feasts of the Confessors are not all that rare, and these prayers – psalms, mostly, but with the evangelical “Magnificat” – could be performed anywhere capable of mustering the forces. Manuscripts have been found in churches and monasteries within one hundred miles of Salzburg.

My favorite has always been Confitebor tibi Domine, but everybody agrees that the Laudate Dominum – a soprano aria with choral accompaniment – is absolutely ravishing. How interesting it is that Mozart backs up the solo with violins scaling the same huge intervals that make the Lacrimosa of the Requiem so moving. It’s very hard to listen to this music without feeling that the ecclesiastical and the erotic were reconciled in a certain corner of Germany.

¶ Laudate Dominum.

The Ring of eBay

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

After dinner, Kathleen asks if I’d mind if she spent “fifteen minutes” at the computer, looking for something at eBay. I snort, but I accede. I know that I will finish the book about the Congress of Vienna before Kathleen tires of the search.

Kathleen is in search of a Tarnhelm. Tarnhelms are indispensable when you’re trying to impersonate mutual fund board members. But they are also elusive, and Kathleen is not entirely sure that they exist.

Eventually, Kathleen comes across Fafner.com. Fafner offers Tarnhelms in many sizes and degrees of quality. Some will make you look like the vitreous porcelain shape of your choice; others will make you look like anything you like. Money is an object. It all sounds great, but Fafner’s customer rating is in the toilet.

Kathleen decides to look for an expediter who can maybe make a deal with Fafner.com. She finds an operator called Mime who agrees to get her the kind of Tarnhelm that she has in mind. Mime knows that Fafner is only going to sell a really worthwhile Tarnhelm to someone who can beat him at Dragonsblood, a digital game that Mime himself can’t be bothered to learn. Also, Mime doesn’t have the right keypad. But this kid he knows, Siegfried, is the only guy who can program a VCR, so Mime commits.

The long and the short of it is that Kathleen has to go to Gutrune’s to pick up the Tarnhelm. She is not cool about this, since Gutrune’s is in Williamsburgh. “I hate the subway,” says Kathleen. I offer to do my rainbow bridge thing, but Kathleen is into low profile.

Kathleen finds Gutrune alone in the shop. “All the guys are out on their bikes,” she says, peeling black polish off her nails. Kathleen resists the impulse to be condescending.

“Yes, we have the Tarnhelm,” says, Gutrune. “But this Siegfried guy wanted to wear it on his ride, so that he could ook like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix.” Kathleen has no choice but to wait for the funeral march.

Eventually, Siegfried’s dead body is carried back into Gutrune’s shop. “Will you please just wrap it up?” says Kathleen, finally in possession of the Tarnhelm and irritated that, although she lives in the age of the Internet, she finds herself dragged outside of Manhattan.

At this point, there is a tidal surge, and Siegfried’s body is washed away. “Oh, no,” says Gutrune – the last resident of Willimasburgh left standing. “The flood broke my cash register.”

Kathleen is initially speechless. Then she realizes that she’s in the virtual Rhine. Listening to the Rhinemaidens isn’t exactly fortifying. Then she realizers that she’s in an entry on a blog, namely this. Brünnhilde eventually buys a twin set.

And that is how it is nowadays.

What I'm Reading

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to read a book about the Congress of Vienna, but the only one that I’ve ever found is Guglielmo Ferrero’s Talleyrand au Congrès de Vienne (1940), which, notwithstanding its considerable virtues, is not an introductory text. (I’ve just had a peek, and seen quite clearly why I haven’t got through it.) My delight, therefore, was extreme the other day, when, at Barnes & Noble, looking for something else, I came across Rites of Peace: the Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna, by Adam Zamoyski (HarperCollins, 2007). A glance at the book suggested that it was worth buying, and that judgment has only been confirmed by the text, which is lucid, engaging, and even a bit suspenseful.

I’ve been guilty, I confess, of the vulgar error of thinking that the principal item of business before the Congress was the disposition of France. But France had been dealt with, in Paris, earlier in 1814. The big headaches at Vienna were Poland – or, as the political correctness of the day had it, the Duchy of Warsaw – and Saxony. The major headache was Tsar Alexander I, a mystical man who could reconcile liberal outlook with autocratic behavior. Alexander, wildly popular at first, is a fine example of why hereditary monarchy of the unconstitutional kind is not a good idea. In any case, I broke down and cheated, checking the index to find out what happened to Poland.

I’m about halfway through, but the Congress only began a few chapters ago. Mr Zamoyski is careful (but never fussy) about beginning at the beginning, and his narrative starts with Napoleon’s return to Paris in December 1812, the disaster of his Russian campaign behind him. The complicated maneuverings of the following year, which ended with Castlereagh’s departure from London, were all news to me. I’ve reached the fall of 1814, and, if I was wrong about the Congress’s agenda, I was well-informed about its effervescence: when asked how the debates were going, a visitor was told, “Le Congrès ne marche pas; il danse.” This lovely pun on marcher (both “to walk” and “to work”) conveys the carnival atmosphere in which the Austrian capital was saturated.

About to start: Darin Strauss’s Chang & Eng. And Clublife, by Rob Fitzgerald, a/k/a Rob the Bouncer, which is also new from HarperCollins. Perhaps you’ve seen the blog? I meant to go to the signing two weeks ago, but didn’t write down the date. The book seems even saltier than the blog, but it’s also more coherent. The blog read like random notes. Well, here’s the book. What about a movie?

As for this week’s Book Review:

¶ Family Blessings.

Indian Melon Salad

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Tonight or tomorrow night, I’ll be roasting a chicken. Kathleen and I will eat the legs and the wings at dinner. The breast will be stored for a few more days, to make Indian Melon Salad. I got the recipe from a lovely Irishwoman living in Chicago, and it has always represented for me a peculiarly Midwestern ingenuity: taking ordinary ingredients, adding a few unusual ones, and producing something that’s both comfortable and sophisticated. The earthiness of the dressed chicken contrasts delightfully with the crisp celery and water chestnuts and with the sweet fruit (the grapes pack their own crunchy punch). The one thing I don’t understand is why Kathleen invariably insists that “this time,” I’ve done something different that had made the salad even better.

¶ Kathleen Brady’s Indian Melon Salad.

The Frog Prince

Monday, August 27th, 2007

frogprince.jpg

Oh, to be young: what I’d give to be him. ie me. This is me thirty years ago or nearly, in a photo that I have always called “The Frog Prince.” That’s because the other person in the room was (finally) Kathleen. I put on the tie in her honor, even though she was sound asleep.

I behaved badly last weekend, at the funeral of Florice, my father’s wife for five yeas. I walked out of the church and kept on walking. In plain truth, I needed a bathroom. HMC has never been good about such mortal requirements, however, so, mad as usual at her perfidious inadequacies, I walked off without a bye your leave to anyone standing on the terraced steps outside St Saviours’s. I feel dreadful about it now. My father expected better.

An August Sunday in New York

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

pots.JPG

We had a grand time today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exchanging corrective glances during a walking lecture on the arts, fine and decorative alike, of Eighteenth-Century France. Our leader’s art was sound, but his grasp of history was more blather and invention that we found digestible. The most egregious sins: Watteau was not of the same generation as Boucher and Fragonard (Watteau died some time before Fragonard was born); Louis XV did not return the court to the Louvre; and Mme de Pompadour did not inspire the invention of upholstery. Also, the French Academy of art (l’Académie de France à Rome) was never situated in Paris. It still isn’t.

LXIV was particularly exercised by the notion, broadcast by the curator, that André-Charles Boulle caught the attention of the Sun King by hauling his commodes out onto the Rue St-Antoine on days when the king was riding out to Vincennes.

Fossil Darling, in contrast, claimed to be entranced by the experience. But don’t worry; justice triumphed. He was made to pay half of my martini bill at lunch at the Trustees’ Dining Room afterward. Where I made up a wonderful word – it just came to me – in connection with a failed financier: lootocrat. “It just came to me.”

Then we went to see the pots, pictured above.  Aren’t they amazing? These Qing beauties have not been on view for a while, yet they are without a doubt objects that the Museum should never, ever, put in storage. Whoever made them climbed the Mount Everest of garish bad taste – and then declined to jump.

Dans Paris

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

Our cold and gloomy weather came to an end overnight, and although it wasn’t blisteringly hot, we were back in August. I had promised myself that, if it were still showing, I’d see Christophe Honoré’a Dans Paris, even though that would mean going to the IFC theatre for the first time. Shocking – but I hadn’t yet been. With the small independent theatres, I never know what to expect, and I’ve been feeling rather unadventurous lately, probably because, ahem, I’ve been launching a new site. Curiously, what sold me on Dans Paris was the late first show, at 12:40. Ordinarily, that’s far too late for me to be starting the day, but it was just right this morning. I took the 6, the V, and D trains to West Fourth Street, and didn’t get there a moment too soon.

Afterward, I ambled up West Fourth to Seventh Avenue, where I had lunch at the Riviera Café, a survivor that I last visited in the early Eighties. After reading a bunch of pieces in The London Review of Books – including Jenny Diski’s brightly scathing review of the latest book about Princess Margaret – I paid the bill and caught the train at Sheridan Square. I took the 1, the S, and the 6, and I got to 86th Street with plenty of time for Barnes & Noble. Note to Max: I finally have a Robert!*

¶ Dans Paris.

*Collins Robert French Unabridged Dictionary.

Strong Motion

Friday, August 24th, 2007

The Corrections catapaulted writer Jonathan Franzen to the top of the tree, where, in the manner of literary greats, he will remain until he dies, no matter what he does or does not go on to write between now and then. He is not famous enough for me, though. He’s not yet famous enough to have attracted a massive reading of his second novel, Strong Motion (1992). I’ve read it twice, and look forward to reading it again. Its well-matched but mismatched lovers, Renée and Louis, tap into a nasty environmental hazard that gives the novel the coloration of a thriller, even though they’re much too hip and well-developed (as characters) to be at home in a page-turner. Even that dissociation strengthens the book.

¶ Strong Motion.

Worse than W

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Anyone who hasn’t yet awakened to the realization that Rudy Giuliani would make a worse president than W has been – impossible as that might seem – ought to have a look at Stephen Schlesinger’s review of the Giuliani foreign–policy statement.

Business and Sports: Competition Misunderstood

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

One of the oldest pages at Portico is this one, about the strange folly of talking about business as though it had something in common with sports. Would that they did! – as I’m sure businessmen would think, if they thought. In fact, the comparison between business and sports, the overlay of sports metaphors on business situations, is specious, a real case of “whited sepulchre.”

What do you think?

¶ Business and Sports.

What I'm Reading

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

This week, I’m reading Indian. History: David Gilmour’s The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj. It’s extraordinarily well-written and full of answers to questions that you didn’t know you had. I had never heard of Haileybury, for example. That was the training school that the East India Company set up in 1806; it ran for about fifty years, before the merit system was introduced. Fiction: Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games. This lively novel, centtered on a policeman in Mumbai, Sartaj Singh, is studded with local dialect; happily, there is a glossary. I haven’t got very far. Backround: Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guide, India. It’s very fat, but then the usual DK guide covers a single city, not a massive subcontinent. I’ve also got a map of Mumbai, largely to help me navigate what I can see at Google Maps.

As for this week’s Book Review:

¶ On the Road Again.

The Palm Beach Story

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

adventuress.bmp

What’s your favorite comedy? What a question! The Palm Beach Story, though, stands firmly within the clutch of ten or so films that answer that question at any given time. Preston Sturges does things that nobody else ever thought of trying. Surely there has never been anything as grossly transgressive as the behavior of the Ale & Quail Club members in their bar car. And the way Geraldine keeps stepping on Hackensacker’s spectacles! Lots of “ouch” factor there. Just the same, there has never been a more seductive surrender scene than the one that Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrae deliver at the end.

Our favorite line:

“Don’t you think garnets are a little lifeless?”

Our second favorite line:

“You’re thinking of an adventurer, dear. An adventuress never goes on anything under three hundred feet – with a crew of eighty.” 

¶ The Palm Beach Story.

Up in the Air

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Of the three novels by Walter Kirn that I’ve read, Up in the Air is the most unsettling. A contained but quietly cocky consultant flies from one Western town to another on a mission that is not entirely clear even to him. But the plot is a McGuffin. Up in the Air is a meditation on the depersonalization of the American atmosphere wherever corporations control the climate.

¶ Up in the Air.

Death at a Funeral

Monday, August 20th, 2007

Last Friday, I saw Death at a Funeral. First thing on Saturday morning, I went to a funeral. Happily, the funeral was not as funny at the movie. It wasn’t funny at all. Everything happened according to plan. There was none of the alarming, sidesplittingly funny mayhem that fills Frank Oz’s instant classic.

¶ Death at a Funeral.

Before setting off for St Trinian's…

Monday, August 20th, 2007

From the current London Review of Books, the following hilarious paragraph from John Lanchester’s review of The Blair Years: Extracts From the Alistair Campbell Diaries:

One of Campbell’s foci is ‘TB’s terrible sense of style, e.g. the awful pullover he wore on his walk with Bush and the dreadful creation he wore on the plane’. This becomes a running gag. ‘TB was wearing Nicole Farhi shoes, ludicrous-looking lilac-coloured pyjama-style trousers and a blue smock. After GB left, I said he looked like Austin Powers. He said you are the second person today who’s said that.’ The next day: ‘Up to see TB in the flat. Another Austin Powers moment. Yellow/green underpants and that was it. I said what a prat he looked. He said I was just jealous – how many prime ministers have got a body like this?’ There is a flirtatious edge to this. Martin Amis, in a piece reporting on Blair’s last weeks in office, also described himself flirting with Blair. Some men have that effect on other men; it’s not a gay thing exactly, but it’s not the opposite of a gay thing, and there is something faintly homoerotic about the governmental milieu described here, full of dark-haired men shouting at each other, TB and AC and PM and GB all coming to blows (Mandelson v. Campbell in the course of an argument about whether Blair should wear a tie), bursting into tears, having make-up heart-to-hearts, saying bitchy things about each other behind each others’ backs, and ruthlessly doing each other down while secretly knowing that they are mutually dependent. Anyone being sent to a girls’ boarding school would do well to prepare by reading The Blair Years. The cover photo is part of this, Blair looking up at Campbell with an expression of submissive yearning that verges on the pornographic.

The idea of a parent giving a thirteen year-old girl a copy of The Blair Years is asphyxiatingly funny.

Gone Fishing

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’ve decided not to pretend to have posted something yesterday by backdating it. At the same time, I don’t want anyone to worry. The day – yesterday, that is – began with a funeral in Park Slope at which I represented my family. Kathleen was kind enough to come with me. Not only that; she arranged for a car to take us there. (We came home on the train – three trains, actually.) I spent the afternoon cleaning, as usual, and when I was through with that I was seized by the desire to cook, something that hasn’t happened very often lately. I went to the store with a list, but I didn’t read it carefully and came back without cream. I went out again. Later, I made Suprêmes de vollaile aux champignons.

As soon as I’ve worked out the vast discrepancy between Julia Child’s timing and mine – her six to eight minutes was my twenty – I’ll write about this basic but delicious dish, which chicken breasts are baked in a casserole with mushrooms and a bit of green onion. When the breasts are cooked – that’s what took so long – they’re set aside in a warm place while the casserole is used to make a broth, wine, and cream reduction. Miam.

Yesterday was cool but glorious. Today not so much. It’s a great day for reading. Kathleen and I strolled over to Madison Avenue, where I bought a “toastrack” at the stationery store. You know, one of those thingies with three (or more) sections for sorting mail.

Speaking of getting organized, I have a new habit, and it’s getting me through The Economist, which, as you may know, is a shockingly expensive weekly. There is no point to subscribing to The Economist and then not reading it. At the same time, it’s hardly amusing reading. My new habit, or policy, is this: when in transit, or waiting somewhere, The Economist is the only permitted reading material. (If I’m eating alone, I can read whatever I please.) Every Saturday, I remove the previous week’s issue from my shoulder bag and replace it with the new one. It works! I may not read the whole magazine, but I get it covered. Now all I need is the ability to remember what I read.

Mad Men V

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Being thick as a post, I had to see the show twice before I got it. Why was Don Draper so determined not to be recognized as someone called Dick, by his own half-brother Adam? Had he committed some terrible crime? I was thinking à la 2007. Watching the show a second time – bless you, AMC, for re-running these fascinating episodes the moment they’re over – I got it. What’s Don Draper’s horrible secret, the one that inspires him to pay his half-brother 1960$5000 cash American to make him “go away”?

It’s in the names. The half-brother is Adam. The step-mother is Abigail. The uncle is Max/Mac. These are the people that Dick, a/k/a “Don Draper,” walked away from over ten years ago, when Adam was an eight year-old boy. Adam and Abigail are popular names today, and they were popular with English (but only English) protestants into the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. In Mid-Century USA, however, they were common only to -

Jews.

Don Draper is Jewish. That’s why nothing about his past is on display. That’s why he can’t have Seth as a half-brother. Is Matthew Wiener going to take the Sopranos formula and use it to etch the far subtler drama of bourgeois American anti-Semitism?

Jon Hamm’s most amazing face – and he turned in many during this episode – is in response to Adam’s pathetic question, “Did you ever miss me?” Don is paralyzed by the horror of having driven such “missing” from his mind with an iron discipline, until the Hallmark answer, “Of course I did,” presents itself to his adman’s brain. Don usually knows what he’s supposed to say right away. The surprise of Adam, a brother whom one ends up (after the third meeting, anyway) thinking that he loved, slows him down.

I may, of course, be wrong as Worcester about all of this. But when I shared my theory with Kathleen, she jumped on it. I’m suddenly wishing that I knew a few chat rooms.

My New Site

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

In a couple of days, this site has passed from Sandbox to Home-Sweet-Home. My allegiance has already been transferred – to the extent that this post isn’t going to appear at the old Daily Blague. I feel as though I’m graduating from a really hard boarding school, one run by Mena Trott. Except that I don’t feel that I learned anything particularly useful under the tutelage of MovableType.

WordPress has already won my heart in two ways. First, comment moderation. Everyone’s initial comment is moderated and thereafter approved (or forever rejected!). This bit of Internet hygiene is utterly basic, and there’s nothing that anyone at MT can say that will ever alter my position, which is that they were as thoughtless as the bureaucrats who thought that holes in the floor were good enough toilets on Chinese trains. Second, I can post in advance, and the post won’t show before its timestamp. This is another elementary convenience that was beneath the attentions of the Internet Zsa-Zsa.

 Justified paragraphs, I’m told, may be a struggle. Do I know struggle!