Archive for May, 2009

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition): Sur le balcon

Sunday, May 31st, 2009


Rather late this year, but never more sweepingly, I whipped the balcony into shape over the weekend. No monumental cleaning was required; just a bit of potting. I have finally accepted the impossibility, for reasons unknown, of building a perennial garden on our balcony. (I suspect that emissions from the trucks on First and Second Avenues poses a long-term insult, at least to the potting soil.) I ran the knickknacks on the hutch through the dishwasher, and wiped down the marble ice-cream table, and that was that. Or rather, that would have been that if I had not been on a stuff-ridding rampage.

There used to be five very large tubs of dirt; now there are two. There used to be a stock of empty clay pots. Now there are two empty clay pots, and they’re going to be filled with ivy the next time I make it down the street to Nicky’s. there used to be a stack of old (and very dirty) baskets. Those have been tossed, along with the hamper that housed a friteuse that I no longer use. There used to be a Blue Italian teapot that I had repaired and repurposed as a planter. Gone. A neat halogen lamp that we had gotten our use out of. Gone, gone, gone. It was immensely satisfying.

(The hutch was Kathleen’s idea: she had it built at Gothic Cabinet Craft (maker of everybody’s starter bookshelves in this part of town), thinking that it would be nice to look at from our bed — as indeed it is. It’s a bit the worse for wear, having spent six or seven (or more?) years out in the elements, but it hasn’t lost a whit of its charm. On a rare weekend, Kathleen spends hours in the wicker armchair, knitting or poring over catalogues. On a good day, it’s as nice as a cruise ship — a statement that I make in perfect ignorance of conditions aboard cruise ships.)

(The quaint bricks are actually a very durable plastic, installed by me shortly after the hutch arrived (it wouldn’t have been before — oh, no). They’re hollow and about two inches deep, so the step down from the living room isn’t what it used to be, and rainfall puddles out of sight.)

Ms NOLA came to dinner last night, and we celebrated happy developments in her career. Dinner was not especially complicated, but we sat at the table until just past eleven. I had already chosen links for tomorrow’s Daily Office, and I thought that writing them up would be a breeze. Ahem: Not after the bibulous evening, they weren’t. (Sancerre, Gigondas, Perrier-Jouet) Oh, no. I could hardly read the html page of the WordPress interface, and any wit conferred by Bacchus appeared to have evaporated — cooked off, as it were. I clawed my way to bed the moment the entry was finished.

I was asked what I’m reading. What I’m reading! An interesting idea — reading. I really ought to give reading a try. All I have to do is to stop writing. It’s too bad that I seem to be stuck in a tedious adaptation of a classic British film, called (in my case) The Red Keyboard.


Aperçu: Contemptible

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

At the end of a long chain of thinking — about Gay Pride, as it happens — occasioned by the wonderful Quebecois film C.R.A.Z.Y., I realized that my adoptive mother was a contemptible human being.

She was not at all a bad person, and most people found her attractive. I want to be clear about that. But she preferred the intelligence of the people around her to be as limited as her own. She hated “intellect,” which was the only thing that I had to offer. I’m not saying that I was very bright, but she hated my trying to be.

What I’ve just said describes most people, I’m afraid. I should never have objected to this characteristic of my mother’s if I had loved her. But my worrying about being a defective human being because I didn’t love her — and I didn’t, ever, although I wanted to — is another story. Nearly thirty years of life and love with Kathleen have made it possible for me to write this paragraph.

There we are, then: She was contemptible. 

This is the Gay Pride confession/acknowledgment/truth-telling that I want to make.

Weekend Open Thread: Tricycle

Saturday, May 30th, 2009


Last Week at Portico: Something of a Noël Coward entry, this, as you will see. ¶ Our Memorial Day weekend was bracketed by two evenings on Broadway, in theatres right round the corner from one another. Blithe Spirit was a must-see, because of its cast, which included Angela Lansbury, Rupert Everett, Deborah Rush, and an actress whom I’ve been trying to see for years, Jayne Atkinson (Christine Ebersole is great, too). God of Carnage was also a must-see because of its cast, but the playwright’s name was certainly a draw. The cast was made up of Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden. The accidental Tony Soprano jokes were a squirt of lemon juice on a great dish. Has there ever been anything like the profusion of great actors on Broadway?

¶ This week’s movie is Easy Virtue, an interesting and not heavyhanded adaptation of a play that Coward wrote in his twenties. In the Twenties. You have to see it, because Kristin Scott Thomas just about sings. ¶ And, of course, the Book Review review.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition): Blidgets

Friday, May 29th, 2009


Well, there they are, my new collection of blidgets, over there to the left. Instead of explaining what they are, I’ll ask you to play with them — you won’t get hurt! I think they’re pretty cool.

It’s my plan to change one or two of them every month, as the whim suits me. For the most part, I’ve chosen Web logs that have strong visual components; and I’ve steered away from ultra-well-known sites. For a start, anyway.

With luck, Widgetbox will take off, and all busy bloggers will offer their own blidgets, just as I’ve done way down on the right-hand side, below the Archives. I don’t know what happens when someone tries to “get” it, but these are early hours, much less days.

Right now, I’m waiting for one of the blogs to which I’ve blidgeted add a new entry.

* * *

I had a good day. I got to the movies very much on the early side —10:20 showings are rare — so, even with lunch at Burger Heaven and two grocery stops, I had a full afternoon for pottering. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and a lot of time at my desk, but I was never rushed or tense. It was just one thing after another — the way I like it.

For dinner, I made fried chicken again. When I dragged out the deep fryer last weekend, it had been a very long since I had made fried chicken. I made two miscalculations: the fat was too hot (by ten degrees), and, once it was done, I kept the chicken warm in too hot an oven. In other words, it was rather miserably  overcooked. This week, I avoided both mistakes, and the result was excellent.

* * *

And since I’m talking about food, I’d better describe the shrimp and vodka sauce that I improvised the other night. I shelled and deveined seven shrimp (don’t ask me, “why seven?”), and cut them into small pieces — three or four per. I minced a bunch of green onions, including a bit of the green. I minced two cloves of garlic. The shrimp, onions, and garlic stayed in separate bowls until I was ready to cook.

Into a hot saucepan that could have been smaller, I poured a teaspoon (or maybe two) of oil, and tossed in the shrimp right away. When the shrimp bits were partially pink, i tossed in the onions, and when the onions looked halfway done, in went the garlic. Less than a minute later, I deglazed with a splash of Vermouth. Then I threw in half a tub of Buitoni vodka sauce. I spooned in a few globs of Eli’s roast-tomato pasta sauce, just for texture — and to use up the sauce. When the spaghetti was cooked, I tossed it into the saucepan.  Lordy, it was good. And since I had a tub of frozen shrimp in the freezer, and the vodka sauce was left over from an earlier use, the only thing that I bought fresh for the dish was the bunch of green onions.

Dear Diary: The Boxer

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


Having seen a woolly mammoth in the mirror over the past couple of days, I was determined, this morning, to visit Willy’s for a haircut and a beard trim. I hustled down and back in time for my lunch appointment with Steve Laico, the man who keeps my sites looking great. (It helped, enormously, that Steve was running late. What he would have seen in the apartment had he walked in at the appointed hour!) I listened to the iPod Shuffle while in transit (ie, on foot) — Rufus Wainwright and the Pet Shop Boys. Also on the Shuffle: I Muvrini, a Corsican group that sings in French and Basque, too; and Madredeus, a great Portuguese band that Jean Ruaud turned me on to years ago. Go figure.

I mention all of this music because Willy was playing WCBS FM — a format targeted at people my age or a little younger. People my age or younger who still want to hear “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” that is. I almost asked Willy what happened to the Peruvian music. Willy comes from Peru, and once, when he was playing an album of palatially schlocky aubades and serenades by Juan Diego Florez, he announced to his customers that only Peruvian music would be played in his shop. I have been wanting to snitch on the relief men who ran the place when he went home for his annual vacation last month: the music that they played was distinctly Brazilian. Today, though, I wanted to ask for the Peruvian. Anything but a Memory Lane that I stayed far away from. But I kept quiet.

The next thing I knew, the radio was playing “The Boxer,” a song that everybody my age or a little younger knows, by Simon & Garfunkel. The interesting thing is, I didn’t know that the song was called “The Boxer” until today. I realized, sitting there listening, that I have never owned a Simon & Garfunkel album — not so much as a 45. I didn’t dislike Simon & Garfunkel; it wasn’t that. But something made me hold back from declaring allegiance to the duo — which is what buying an album amounted to back in the Sixties. The music was absolutely inescapable, which is how I came to know “The Boxer” so well without knowing that it was called “The Boxer.”

The announcer at WCBS FM reminisced about the night in 1975 when Paul Simon was the host of SNL, and the producers surprised him by producing Art Garfunkel, with whom he was not on the best of terms. They greeted one another awkwardly and sang — “The Boxer.” Paul Simon would go on to have a vibrant solo career: I have several of his CDs from the Eighties, and if I don’t listen to them very much now it’s because they remind me too strongly of the second biggest mistake in my life, which I made round about when they were new. I believe that Art Garfunkel had an afterglow career of sorts, but when I think of him alone I remember a heartbreaking story that was told to us by a friend.

The heartbreaking part is that our friend had no idea how heartbreaking her story was. Flying across the Pacific in first class, she struck up a conversation with the man sitting next to her. One thing led to another, and soon he was outlining the details of his comeback concert tour. He, too, was the less famous name in a very well-known duo — trust me; you’d recognize the name if you’re over forty — but what hit us, when our friend recounted the story, was that she had no idea who he was. Not a pop fan by any means whatsoever (I wash Cindi Lauper’s laundry by comparison), she had never heard of X & Y. So here is this once-famous name, desperate to make a comeback, full of hope and needing a bit of wind in his sails, and the passenger next whom he’s fated to pass the hours between here and Narita is the one person in his demographic (out of — what? — twenty five?) who has never even heard of him. Encouraging, eh?

Kathleen has a very funny story about Art Garfunkel, but we can’t tell it yet. We’d have to shoot you. The funny part isn’t the Art-Garfunkel part but the what-Kathleen-did-with-it part. In a word, she made everybody at Willy’s laugh. Not my Willy’s; her Willy’s. “If you know what I mean by that.”

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


¶ Matins: As the twentieth anniversary of “Tiananmen” approaches, it appears that most younger Chinese don’t have any idea that there’s an anniversary to mark. (via Brainiac)

¶ Lauds: I’m pretty sure that I don’t really want to see Steven Soderbergh’s new film, The Girlfriend Experience, but I’m fascinated by the wildly divergent responses that it has elicited at The Rumpus, from Stephen Elliott (pro) and Andrew Altschul (con).

¶ Prime: A story from last week that I missed: “A Vibrant US Train Industry Would Emply More People than Car Makers Do Now,” at Infrastructurist.

¶ Tierce: The testimony of Henry Christensen, the Sullivan & Cromwell attorney who served as Brooke Astor’s trusts and estates lawyer from 1991 to 2003, may have its greatest impact upon his own career. 

Update: Imagine what it must be like to read the following bit of news about yourself: “Though Mr Christensen is not charged with a crime...”

¶ Sext: Something fun from — “Down Under”? (Maybe that was the problem.) Balk balks.

¶ Nones: Little Elise André has been put in the position of a human ping-pong ball, as her parents — Russian mother, French father — secure conflicting custody awards from their respective home courts.

¶ Vespers: Dwight Garner gives Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human a very enthusiastic review; not the least of the book’s attractions is its brevity (207 pages!).

¶ Compline: Here’s an item to add to the checklist: bring the guys (and gals) who actually build/make things into the Green conversation. (How can I see Greening Southie?)

¶ Bon weekend à tous!


Dear Diary: After Another

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


A few mildly interesting things happened today, but either I’m obliged not to write about them or they’re about food. I improvised another dish for dinner, but had the devil of a time over lunch.

I finished Tony Judt’s Postwar, at last — and then I wondered what the dickens I’ll write about it, if anything. Oh, it’s a grand book, and essential reading for everyone with a brain. But/and it seems quite enough just to say that.

I was daunted by the number of pages that I have to write. I did write one, and when a friend asked me how I’d liked Easy Virtue, I rumbled it into presentability and published it without editing. If you know your way around Portico (and care), you’ll find it easily enough. I could have just answered the question by saying that I liked the film very much, and not least because of its defects — which perhaps will turn out not to be defects in the long run, when I’ve seen the film, as I undoubtedly shall see it, for the twenty-fifth time.

It bothered me that I did not write about Blithe Spirit or God of Carnage. For what it’s worth, I could not find my copy of Blithe Spirit, and I ordered a copy of Dieu du carnage from Amazon in France. Correction: I placed a copy in my shopping basket. If I do buy it, I know that, by the time it arrives, I won’t care anymore; I’ll have moved on to other curiosities. Writing about the film adaptation of Easy Virtue was made vastly more comfortable by the discovery of a synopsis of the Coward original at Wikipedia. God bless Wikipedia; in any case, I do, with a $10 monthly contribution, made automatically. I have only two principles about the online encyclopedia. The first, obviously, is that I must support it financially (if modestly). The second is that I must never, ever, participate in the writing of a page there. I’m troubled by a recurring dream that always ends with my realizing that the text that I’m straining to read is being written by me — but no longer faster than I can read it. I cannot describe the acrid smell of shorted circuits that accompanies my waking from this nightmare, so I’m going to take care never to risk encountering them at Wikipedia.

I execrated Melville, but there’s no need to repeat that.

Morning Read: Las ollas de Egipto

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


¶ A copy of Lord Chesterfield’s letter of 22 September 1749 ought to be handed out with every new cell phone, Blackberry, netbook, &c &c.

I know of no one thing more offensive to a company, than that inattention and distraction. It is showing them the utmost contempt, and people never forgive contempt. No man is distrait with the man he fears, or the woman he loves; which is a proof that every man can get the better of that distraction, when he thinks it worth his while to do so; and take my word for it, it is always worth his while.

Later on in the letter, he refers to Bacon’s reference to Queen Isabella: in a man, good appearance is a permanent letter of recommendation.

¶ In Moby-Dick, the story of Pippin, the black boy who couldn’t help jumping from the boat. Melville’s explanation of Pip’s problem is perfectly opaque to me, but I am pathologically unable to follow instructions, particularly when I am reading a novel. (I more and more regard this tome as a glorified Boy Scout Handbook.) The thing to know is that poor Pip is deranged by the experience of finding himself for a spell in the middle of the ocean, far from any vessel.

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God

While I can appreciate something of the grandeur of this passage, I cannot feel it. I have parted company, at this reach of my life, with talk of God in everyday affairs, and with references, however poetical, to divine agency. I can read about God in Scripture, but nowhere else. Although I have acquired the patience to wade through this monstrosity of a fiction that I lacked when I was young, I have lost the tolerance for mentions of God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom. It is so much bilge now.

¶ In Don Quixote, our hero is the very voice of good sense, arguing that, as all is fair in love as in war, Basilio and Quiteria ought to be forgiven by the tricked Camacho. This is all very well, but when Basilio and Quiteria decline to remain at the rich wedding feast, and take their champion away with them, Sancho is awfully sorry to leave the “cauldrons of Egypt.”

¶ In Squillions, Noël Coward rather inattentively engages an actress whose singing voice is in decline to play Mrs Erlynne in his operettic adaptation of Lady Windermere’s Fan. To the Lunts:

I have been having a terrible time with After the Ball, mainly on account of Mary Ellis’s singing voice, which, to coin a phrase, sounds like someone fucking the cat.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


¶ Matins: The two items have little overtly in common, and yet they seem related (if “opposed”): President Obama has settled on Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the Supreme Court nominee to take David Souter’s place, and Prop 8 was upheld by the California Supreme Court.

¶ Lauds: This week’s New Yorker cover was created on an iPhone. Jorge Colombo (published in the magazine since 1994), drew it with Brushes. (via  Emdashes)

¶ Prime: John Lanchester’s review of three current whahappen? books about the “economic downturn” musn’t be missed.

¶ Tierce: In the Marshall trial, Mrs Astor’s last white-shoe lawyer, Henry Christensen, takes the stand. Meanwhile, defendant Tony Marshall is asking $17 million less for his late mother’s Park Avenue apartment.

¶ Sext: Oh, no! “Texting May Be Taking a Toll on Teenagers.”

¶ Nones: Is the Sri Lankan civil war really over? Whether it is or not, Christopher Hitchens (at Slate) has the piece that you want to read. (via reddit)

¶ Vespers: Very different (but equally fond) appreciations of John Updike, by Julian Barnes and Alex Beam.

¶ Compline: Alan Beattie writes about Argentina’s failure to become a great power, at FT. (via  The Morning News)


Gotham Note: St Guilhem

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

© Jean Ruaud 2009

The other day, I wrote about not publishing a photograph until I obtained the permission of a friend to do so. I did get the permission, but by then I’d decided (with a lot of help from Kathleen) not to run the photo, but to keep it as a purely personal souvenir of a great evening. Now I discover a photograph taken  by the very man from whom I sought that permission — but I’m not thinking twice about stealing it for The Daily Blague. If Jean Ruaud asks me to take this picture down, I shall, but I hope that he won’t.

I’ve been visiting the Cloisters for over forty years, and this space, taken from the abbey at St-Guilhem-le-Désert in what used to be called Aquitaine, is more lovable every time I see it. Never mind why right now. The thing to know is that, when you visit the reconstruction, your idea of the height of the space is fixed at a meter or so above the capitals, because that’s where the architecture stops. As a great photographer, though, Jean saw light, not architecture, and the result is stupendous. I won’t rest until the Museum buys this picture from him!

(All right; it’s an idle boast — but I still mean it.)

Dear Diary: "Go!"

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009


Easy Virtue is the sort of movie that you have to see a second time, in order to decide whether it is better than you thought the first time — or worse. The only certainty is that you won’t remain undecided. I think that I’ll find Easy Virtue to be better. But I’m too jaded to believe that my adoration of Kristin Scott Thomas will blind me to the drawbacks of the other actress. I wish that I’d memorized some of KST’s great lines, but they were great only because she said them at the time. Out of context — pffft. She and Jennifer Biel do construst a scrumptious-looking, towering meringue of mutual insult. Whatever it is, they can top it.

I ate both of the day’s meals in old-line French restaurants: not temples of gastronomy of the kind that used to rule the earth (under Manhattan, anyway) but hole-in-corner places that were long ago designed to remind New Yorkers of the Left Bank of Paris, or perhaps of a star-crossed romance in Dijon or Angers. One of the restaurants — I shall name no names — defies the waning suitability of its location, in a Subcontinental district, with a convincing demonstration of culinary excellence. The other, stationed more or less like a baleen whale near schools of querulous diners, is rapidly approaching Williamsburg Restoration status with respect to cuisine in general, and to French cuisine even more generally. I enjoyed both meals, but not in the same way. I am very glad that my companion at one of them — no names! — was not the companion at the other. Although vice versa would have worked nicely.

At seven o’clock, Kathleen and I were sitting in the third row — Row A — of the Jacobs Theatre (formerly the Royale), hoping that we were ready for God of Carnage, Yasmin Reza’s play about two couples who are trying to work out the consequences of an altercation between their eleven year-old sons. The cast, like that of Waiting for Godot, is ne plus ultra: Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels, and James Gandolfini. What a privilege it is to sit before such a range of talents! Even if I was terrified that Mr Gandolfini and Mr Daniels would come to blows. Like every other married man in the house, I wondered if I and my marriage could or would fall apart so drastically (but inconsequentially) if I were put into the characters’ competitive predicament.

Daily Office: Tuesday

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009


¶ Matins: As a thoughtful Memorial Day present, tenants of a building at Third Avenue and 92nd Street were evacuated after an unexplained bomblet went off at Starbucks.

¶ Lauds: Philip Mould describes his first moments alone with a Gainsborough that he bought at eBay for less than $200: when the white spirit didn’t work, he applied acetone, and the overpainting “dissolved like lard.” Don’t try this at home — but don’t miss reading it, either.

¶ Prime: A short list of healthy banks, at The Economist. (Names below the jump.)

¶ Tierce: While we wait for the Marshall trial to heat up, Ruth Padel provides a sleazotic aside: she tipped off the press about Derek Walcott’s Harvard problems, but she did nothing wrong. Sez she. Update: She resigns!

¶ Sext: Hey, yesterday was a holiday; why not take it easy this afternoon as well. Wallow in Schadenfreude as the Telegraph telegraphs all those naughty British MP expenses.

¶ Nones: Scientology, a hit with certain Hollywood movie stars (who get rather special treatment), is regarded rather more skeptically in Europe. In France, seven leading members of the organization are on trial for fraud.

¶ Vespers: John Self reviews James Lasdun’s collection, It’s Beginning to Hurt, at Asylum.

¶ Compline: At Olivia Judson’s Times blog, The Wild Side, Steven Strogatz explains why the United States does not contain two cities the size of New York. (via Infrastructurist)  (more…)

Dear Diary: Salad

Monday, May 25th, 2009


This afternoon, I invented a chicken salad. I probably did no such thing, but what I came up with was new to me. I tossed the white meat from a roast chicken (Kathleen and I eat only the dark when the bird comes out of the oven) in a dressing made up of mayonnaise, a half teaspoon of curry powder, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, two tablespoons of fresh orange juice (left over from breakfast), a splash of white wine vinegar, a few pinches of dried tarragon, and salt and pepper. How much mayonnaise? Enough to make a slightly runny dressing. I covered the dressed chicken and set it in the fridge for a few hours. (In winter, I should have left it on the counter, wrapped.) At the last minute, I added two avocados, chopped, and one small tomato, seeded and chopped. That was that.

While different from anything that I had ever had, the result was not at all strange. Like most tasty food, my chicken and avocado salad tasted like a secret that I’d just been let in on. The sweetness of the orange juice combined with that of the tarragon to brighten the roast chicken, and the hours of steeping in the fridge had moistened it nicely. As we enjoyed the salad, I thought of how often in the past I have ruined chicken and avocado combinations with the greedy but deadening addition of bacon and mushrooms.

As for the rest of my day….

Yesterday — was it yesterday? I think so — I was trying to select an RSS feed in Outlook when I noticed a problem: the reading pane was blank. Worse, Outlook was suddenly “not responding.” Rebooting, deleting the feed and replacing it with a new one under a different name — nothing worked. Presently I discovered that the laptop was similarly afflicted. The net result was that I gave up on Outlook for feeds, and started a page in Google Reader. I ought to have done this a long time ago, for when you’re working from two or three computers, it makes no sense to channel all news feeds to just one of them. Clouds, my dear, are all silver lining.

Unfortunately, I had by that time deleted whole folders of feeds. Of course I remembered the sites that I depend on the most, but I’m afraid that I lost many of the new possibilities that I’d begun following in the past two weeks. A few years ago, the loss would have put me in a tragic frame of mind for at least a week. Now, I’m too busy for that sort of thing. I say this not to show off my newfound stoicism but to thank heaven that I am too busy for tragic states of mind about… lost RSS feeds.

Thanks to one of the new blogs whose name was rescued from the debacle, I discovered the site of an artist who paints disturbing oils. You could say that the pictures are pornographic, or at least I can, because I responded to them, more or less, as one responds to dirty pictures, if you know what I mean by that. (I looked at every last one of them.) But the paintings are disturbing in a way that has nothing to do with bizarre couplings. The young people who are shown in various states of undress, smoking and drinking at a party held in a Eurotrashy-deluxe setting, look terribly lost, and anything but happy. They’ve clearly been drinking too much, or drugging too much; and the men especially seem to be wondering how they got to this swinging soirée. When, that is, they’re not in a state of leer. I also had the most peculiar sense that they were for the most part still living with their parents, whose servants had ironed the shirts that hung unbuttoned on their unbalanced chests, and pressed the jackets that, despite the décolletage, they had neglected to shuck. The women are rarely absolutely naked, but almost always elaborately nude. The air is rancid with the scent of privilege gone wrong. For what it’s worth, the artist appears to fancy Cartesian, geometric titles.

You’ll be waiting for a link about now, but I’m not ready to give it. There’s no need for you to risk feeling as complicit in unseemly doings as I did for hours this afternoon.

Daily Office: Monday

Monday, May 25th, 2009


¶ Matins: Frank Rich argues that the Obama Administration ought to take a firmer lead on same-sex marriage. I think it ought to do so as well. But it’s an ought that, like many liberal Southerners in the Fifties and Sixties, I find painfully premature.

¶ Lauds: Have a look at Mnémoglyphes, to see the photographs that Jean Ruaud took here in Manhattan last week. 

¶ Prime: The economics (or lack thereof) of the Susan Boyle Surprise.

¶ Tierce: Actor Jefferson Mays sat at Charlene Marshall’s side in court last week. Why do I think that this was a bad idea?

¶ Sext: Why does Mr Wrong (Joe McLeod) sound like Fafblog?

¶ Nones: China’s support of the Burmese junta suggests that the Central Country has made a thorough study of American foreign policy.

¶ Vespers: Join the Infinite Summer book club, and read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. (via kottke)

¶ Compline: Helen Epstein on America’s prisons: “Is There Hope?” Surprisingly, the answer is yes: the Resolve to Stop the Violence Project (RSVP).


Weekend Update (Sunday Edition): At Large

Sunday, May 24th, 2009


This evening, right after Kathleen went off to see Star Trek with Fossil Darling and Quatorze, I packed my leather shoulder bag with a few accoutrements and padded down 86th Street to Carl Schurz Park. I climbed the stone steps to the right of the allée and threaded my way to the walk the lies between the paved playing field and the children’s playground. I sat down at the first of the four (or is it five) chess table that alternate with park benches on the playground side of the walkway. I withdrew the accoutrements from my shoulder bag, placing them, as illustrated, on the table. I pressed the I/O button on the small, playing-card sized object that you can see to the right of the netbook. When the smaller light, the one to the left, began to flash, I opened the netbook, woke it up, and clicked to connect to the Verizon wireless network that headed the list of “available” wireless networks. And it really was available, because the password was already stowed in the dialogue box. 

The first thing that I did when machine connected to the Internet was to write to JM, signing myself as his Number One Satisfied Customer. JM calls himself a technician, but I regard him a local Manhattan deity.  

Shortly afterward, I packed up my bag and walked home. Mission accomplished. And without a hitch. The MiFi — Verizon’s wireless cellular router — works as advertised.

Weekend Open Thread: The Lordly Hudson

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

The lordly Hudson, photographed by Jean Ruaud, 19 May 2009.

Last Week at Portico: In spite of spending a great part of the week out and about with Jean Ruaud, I got a great deal done. Well, I took care of le minimum: the Book Review review, natch; Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo; and, most important of all, a page — a preliminary page — on Vestal McIntyre’s magnificent first novel, Lake Overturn. 

On the dust jacket, Kate Christensen compares the novel to Middlemarch, and she is not wrong to do so. Lake Overturn is also a book written, as Virginia Woolf put it, for grown-up people. But its twelve year-old ensemble lead, Enrique Cortez, may be the first gay boy in literature to give Tom Sawyer a run.

Nano Note: The Servant Problem

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009


Listening to a new iPod Shuffle loaded with secret vices, I understand how much better we are equipped, today, to deal with the servant problem.

iPods, when you think about it, are like servants. They all do the same thing, basically: they serve. Two iPods can’t do anything that just one can’t — but they can do twice as much of it. Which, in iPod terms, means that this Nano, loaded with baroque music, will remember exactly where to pick up when you tire of listening to Rufus on the Shuffle.

Instead of footmen (who would undoubtedly drink too much in the evenings), I have Nanos: two tall and slender 16Gs, three squat but sturdy 8Gs, two merely squat 4Gs, and now the 4G Shuffle, which is tiny — the number of objects in my personal possession bigger than the Shuffle is bewilderingly large. The device may never be taxed to its memory’s limits; there aren’t that many good songs in the world.

But that’s the whole duty of servants. Reserve power.

Weekend Update (Friday Edition): Activation

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009


The picture that I want to run for this entry shows Kathleen and Jean Ruaud in the midst of a twinkling exchange at Le Bateau Ivre, the wine bar in the Pod Hotel. Perhaps Jean will give me permission to run it; maybe he won’t. He does not publish clear pictures of himself at his own blog. So, instead, you’re getting the Yodelling Pickle. Not to mention the Blue Willow mousepad.

But enough about fun and larks; let’s talk about activating our Verizon cellular wireless router. Wireless cellular router? I wouldn’t count on anyone at Verizon knowing what to call it, let me just tell you. Trying to activate the account online, house technician JM ran into a snag, and decided that we’d better call. To me, calling any kind of computer service provider is only marginally more bearable than being tossed into a dark closet for an indefinite term. In the end, JM achieved the activation online, but not before a the woman at FIOS Tech Support to whom we’d been shunted responded indignantly to my taking up her time. If I weren’t superstitious, I’d lodge a complaint. She certainly didn’t know what a MiFi was, and she made it clear that she couldn’t have cared less. Not the clearest speaker in America, she couldn’t be bothered to pronounce “FIOS” clearly enough for me to know whether the acronym began with an “F” or with a “V” — so I asked her to spell it, and that just about blew all her gaskets.

Let’s talk about how “simple” it is to install the new iPod Shuffle. Not interested? Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’m not, either.

Don’t ask me why, but I didn’t expect JM to be here for very long. I thought that the three installations du jour would be as painless as most are, but they were all difficult. A piece of gunk in the Dymo label printer’s feeder caused no end of trouble until it was found. Downloading the latest version of iTunes took preposterously long; indeed, it seemed to have stalled — an unpleasant reminder of the good old days of DOS, when the latest version of Word came on thirteen floppies. And printers never worked.

In any case, I didn’t get much done this afternoon. I was particularly looking forward to my new Friday routine of inventorying and tidying the kitchen. I was going to fry a batch of chicken, and  whip up some cole slaw and potato salad to go with it. I won’t say that I’ll do it tomorrow night, because I’m notorious for taking it easy on Saturdays, once I’ve tidied the apartment. And my “Friday routine” is still pretty aspirational: I’ve done it once.

“What do you mean, Jean’s permission? What about my permission?”

Dear Diary: Au revoir

Thursday, May 21st, 2009


Tonight was Jean Ruaud’s last evening in Manhattan, this trip. We had booked tickets to see Blithe Spirit long  before we knew the dates of his visit, so arranging a farewell dinner was a bit tricky. Everybody closes at eleven these days! (And that’s not the recession.) Kathleen found a Web site that put the duration of the play at two hours and forty minutes, which would have made it impossible to get to the Brasserie (for example) before it stopped seating people. The last thing we wanted to do was to bother Jean with complications, so we decided to meet at PJ Clarke’s, a restaurant that Jean took a very good photograph of the other day, at about eleven.

And then the play got out at two hours and twenty minutes. “Let’s walk,” suggested Kathleen, enjoying the beautiful weather. We took a taxi, and got to the corner of 55th and Third about two minutes before Jean himself. I shudder to think what he would have had to put up with at the very noisy bar, on the eve of a holiday weekend and the commencement of Fleet Week, if we hadn’t been there even before he was.

Blithe Spirit was super, but both Kathleen and I remembered it differently. We both thought that Charles Condamine gets killed by his wives in the end. We kept waiting for Rupert Everett to die. When he didn’t, I was very relieved. Death would have conferred upon his character the most undeserved martyrdom. Jayne Atkinson and Christine Ebersole are nothing less than magnificent as Charles’s wives. But the show belongs to Angela Lansbury. I had wondered how she would differentiate Madame Arcati from Salome Otterbourne, her world-class ditz from Death on the Nile. In a word: Madame Arcati was on top of her booze. Kathleen and I will never forget her trance dance, which, if you ask me, had a lot of Nijinski going on. The homeless Nijinsky.

Since Jean decided to spend his last full day in the city on his own, and in Manhattan (not Brooklyn), I was able to devote myself to working hard at this and that at home. I completed a page about Lake Overturn and, within minutes, knew that the piece needed just one more paragraph, plus one more sentence at the end. Tomorrow is another day.

But, tomorrow and the next day, we will miss our friend from Paris.

Daily Office: Thursday

Thursday, May 21st, 2009


¶ Matins: At a blog, new to me, called Reddit, readers were asked to identify “closely held beliefs that our own children and grandchildren will be appalled by.”  Then Phil Dhingra, at Philosophistry, composed a bulletted list of a dozen possibilities. Be sure to check it out.

¶ Lauds: Sad stories: No JVC Jazz Festival this summer, and no more Henry Moore Reclining Figure — forever. The festival may or may not limp back into life under other auspices, but the Moore has been melted down.

¶ Prime: David Segal’s report on the planning of Daniel Boulud’s latest restaurant, DBGB, on the Bowery near Houston Street (it hasn’t opened yet) has a lot of fascinating numbers. 

¶ Tierce: Attorney Kenneth Warner’s attempt to discredit Philip Marshall strikes me as desperately diversionary, but you never know with juries.

¶ Sext: This just in: “The 1985 Plymouth Duster Commercial Is Officially the Most ’80s Thing Ever.”

¶ Nones: The Berlin Wall, poignantly remembered by Christoph Niemann — in strips of orange and black.

¶ Vespers: The other day, I discovered An Open Book, the very agreeable (if less than frequently updated) blog of sometime book dealer Brooks Peters. (via Maud Newton)

¶ Compline: At Outer Life, V X Sterne resurfaces to post an entry about an unhappy moment in his job history. (We’ve been through this before, young ‘uns.)

¶ Bon weekend à tous!