Gotham Diary:
22 February 2011

After an extraordinarily productive afternoon of paper-sorting — how much more agreeably effective it is to pick up where I left off a few days ago, instead of reinventing the forgotten wheels spun off by work done six months ago — I realized that I’ve misplaced the Fancy Lady Tea Set. I put it away (not paradoxically) for our tea party two weeks ago. The Fancy Lady Tea Set consists of a flowery teacup and saucer, famille rose if you must, a Royal Albert creamer in apple green with flowers that I ought to be able to describe given that it has been there, so to speak, since before I was born, and a new English teapot with an oval footprint, covered in flowery decals. These items of bone china rest on a disc of silver tray that’s just big enough for them. The ensemble is not quite kitsch, but it’s the sort of thing that would not so long ago, by a certain class of woman, be considered “faine.”  The other day, Kathleen actually complained – jocularly  — when I did not give her her afternoon tea on it. (I hadn’t missed it yet, but another teapot was handier.) When I find it, I’ll take a picture. The problem with this apartment is that there are dozens of places in which something like the Fancy Lady Tea Set might be misplaced — and also none.

The Bach in Order project continues. Two out of the five playlists are complete, and when the next shipment from Arkivmusic comes in, bringing two recordings of the French Overture, two more playlists will fill out. The fifth list will be presentable, if far from finished, when the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields recording of Corelli’s Opus 6 arrives. This morning, I rummaged through the closet where all the CDs that are still in their jewel boxes are stacked. (When we gave the CD shelves to Ms NOLA, there were eight yard-high stacks in the closet, but I’ve been working on them, and now there are only seven.) I was looking for a recording of the Goldberg Variations made by Zhu Xiao-Mei. It was recommended to me by a Luxembourgeois banker at a conference in Bermuda in 2000. (I remember hearing someone across the table ask Kathleen, “Why would anybody want to by shares in an ETF?”) The banker said that Ms Zhu’s was simply the best recording out there. I haven’t listened to it in some time, but I recall that it is very good. I’ll hear it later this afternoon, when it comes up on Bach in Order III.

 This morning, Kathleen tried to remember a line from a famous skit. Happily, the text was near to hand, so we were able to get it right.

Basil: Well … may I ask what you were hoping to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House perhaps? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeeste sweeping majestically….
Mrs Richards: Don’t be silly. I expect to be able to see the sea.
Basil: You can see the sea. It’s over there between the land and the sky.
Mrs Richards: I’d need a telescope to see that.
Basil: Well, may I suggest you consider moving to a hotel closer to the sea. Or preferably in it.
Mrs Richards: Now listen to me; I’m not satisfied, but I have decided to to stay here. However, I shall expect a reduction.
Basil: Why, because Krakatoa’s not erupting at the moment?

That’s from Communications Problems, with the great Joan Sanderson as Mrs Richards, seen here with Andrew Sachs in the immortal Dexter Haven rally. This all came up because of the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Kathleen wondered how Krakatoa’s eruption measured on the Richter scale. The answer to that question is: VEI 6 (“colossal”); Krakatoa (Krakatau, Indonesia; 1883) was a volcanic explosion, not an earthquake.

And where are my Brian Mortons? All four novels are missing. I must have done something “clever” with them. Perhaps I put them in a “special place,” with a view to writing them up as a group, or having a second look. Perhaps I let somebody borrow all of them. (What a long and miserable old age of senior moments I am bound for!) I was reminded of Breakable You the other day by Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger — the first Woody Allen movie that I didn’t see in the theatre in a very long time. (Chalk it up to “The Year of Being a New Grandparent” — a long list.) In the film, the character played by Josh Brolin passes off the manuscript of a dead friend as his own work, and is all set to reap huge undeserved awards when it turns out that the friend isn’t dead — it was somebody else who died — but only in a coma. Coming out of which he’s showing signs. It’s very dark and very funny. In Breakable You, a famous but dried-up writer absconds with the manuscript of a rival who really is dead. And he gets away with it. Three years ago, I wrote,  “Although — as Adam rationalizes the matter — the thing that he does (it will go undescribed here) causes no material harm to anyone, it is so dishonorable that the pages fairly curl in the reader’s hands.”

Earlier, over the weekend, I watched Whatever Works, in which Larry David stands in for Woody Allen. I adore Whatever Works. I love the vaudeville relish with which Allen turns his characters and their contexts on their heads: Patricia Clarkson’s Marietta, for example is transformed (as if in The Metamorphoses) from a pious Southern Baptist who believes in beauty pageants to a gypsy-ish downtown photographer who sleeps with two men — all in the same bed. Her lovers, who are colleagues, discover her with a too-good-to-true enthusiasm that pokes fun at our sophisticated resignation when faced with strange doings in foreign movies; we learn not to doubt what we don’t understand. Marietta’s fame requires us to accept what we know never really happens. And it does so with a look-ma-no-hands vitesse that we can only giggle at. The other thing that I love about Whatever Works is Larry David’s Schopenhauerian bleakness: to him, life is a bad joke that condemns him to spend time in the company of “microbes” and “inchworms” (other people). The pessimism pours out of him like carefully decanted beer. Watching him kvetch, I remembered bouts of similar despair when I was in college — and, bingo! I got it: Boris is a preserved adolescent who has never outgrown his smart-alecky but hypertense uncertainty not about what the future will bring (he knows what that is: death) but when.

Also missing: the Levenger bookweight that belongs in the living room. Will was playing with it. I remember seeing him put it down somewhere, but I don’t remember where that was.