Weekend Note:
Figuring in Euros
14-15 July 2012

Having stayed up late, watching almost all the rest of Miranda but saving the last episode for later, I loitered on in bed the next morning, encouraged to do nothing more constructive by the knowledge that Kathleen, who stayed up even later than I did, wasn’t about to get up anytime soon. Although I’d proposed going to see To Rome With Love this morning, I saw at once that it would never happen, and that the better plan, if plan it would be, would be to make a simple breakfast and keep Kathleen in bed until one or so, when she would (will!) rouse herself for her Saturday-afternoon trip to midtown, to have her hair washed and dried. There was no hurry on the breakfast, either, so I crawled back into bed with Tessa Hadley’s The London Train and read the last twenty pages. A sweet way to begin the weekend!

The London Train is full of magic — magic being entirely a matter of encountering someone else at the right time in the right place. Or not: at the end of the novel, estranged spouses spend the night in one another’s empty houses, and this is precisely what their relationship needs in order to carry on. This almost ritual, but unconscious, separation, each exploring the other’s not-unfamiliar turf. (Cora, the wife, has retreated in the estrangement to her late parents’ house in Cardiff, which she is doing over in order to sell it when it becomes, instead, a haven. But on the very night that Robert comes to visit, she sleeps in the spare room of the Regent’s Park flat that she shared with him for over ten years. What she discovers is that he has been sleeping in the spare room, too.  


Variation on a theme: pork chops with pear, honey, mustard, and sage. My everyday pork chop dish, taken from Classic Home Cooking, calls for boneless chops, cut into two pieces if they’re very thick, to be slathered with mustard, brown sugar, and orange juice, with peeled orange slices between the mustard and the brown sugar on the top side. Kathleen is very fond of this dish, and I associate it with winter, not because it’s heavy but because it’s hearty. I wanted something less robust when I made it the other night. I bought a nice hard bosc pair and peeled it; then I grated it into a bowl. I added two spoonfuls of thick local honey, a little more than that of grainy mustard, and a dusting of dried sage. This stirred up into a cohesive paste, which I spread on each side of the chops and which I was delighted to find adhering to the chops when I removed them to the dinner plates with a spatula. Although wary of the novelty at first — that local honey is very strong and earthy — Kathleen decided that she liked it very much. I shall experiment with different honeys, and also with chopped fresh sage.

I served the pork chops with boiled arborio rice — yay! why did I never think to boil it before? — and one of the very first vegetables that I learned how to cook: summer squash steamed with dill.


Shortly before leaving the flat on Friday morning to join Ray Soleil for an early showing of Les Adieux à la Reine down at the Angelika, Kathleen, who had just left, called from the street to warn me that the regular elevators were out of service, mostly, and that everyone was crowding into the service elevator. Knowing how long it might take to get out of the building, I decided to descend by stairs. At the sixth floor, I paused to check on the elevators, and was happy to see that one was just about to stop where I was. But I might as well have taken the stairs all the way to the ground, because the damage was done. By Saturday afternoon, I was hobbling about like a foot-bound tai-tai, and my right leg would barely flex enough to step into shorts. I managed to do all my Saturday chores, but there was no thought of making an interesting dinner. I pulled out a small container (ample for the two of us) of Agata & Valentina’s okay bolognese lasagne. Later, I fell asleep in my chair, reading Timothy Mo’s An Insular Possession, a fat historical novel about Hong Kong that, when it finally fell to the floor about an hour and a half after I’d dropped off, according to Kathleen, woke me up and sent me to bed.

On Sunday morning, Kathleen and I went across the street to see To Rome With Love. Kathleen wanted me to wait to see it for the first time with her (such a romantic!), and I did, on the understanding that we’d see it on a weekend morning. Everyone at the 11:20 showing was my age or older, and we all liked it very much. It’s not as simply delightful as Midnight in Paris, but it is as full of magic as all of Woody Allen’s movies seem to be lately. The biggest trick of all is that the four plotlines that the movie weaves together run on different time-scales (one lasts hardly more than an afternoon, while another clearly takes weeks) without the slightest cognitive jar. Certain bits made me laugh to the point of tears, but the final scene, a nighttime, overhead shot of a (stationary) marching band playing “Volare” on the Spanish Steps, took me straight to the tears. Just thinking about it afterward, I could feel my face go a bit rubbery. Judy Davis has all the best lines. One of them appears in the trailer: when her character’s husband, played by the filmmaker, preens about his IQ of 156, she tells him that he’s “figuring in euros.” In an even better line, when he brags that his psychology can’t be made to fit the Freudian scheme, she agrees: “You have three ids.”

About Les Adieux à la Reine, my response was more complicated; I was certain that there was much in Benoît Jacquot’s film that I felt going over my head. Such as the dahlia that the central character, Sidonie (Léa Seydoux) a young woman who reads to Marie-Antoinette (Diane Kruger), is asked to embroider for the queen, even as the roof is caving in on the régime. How does Sidonie feel about the unpopular queen? I was never quite sure. I came to feel that I wasn’t expected to be sure. The film is a meditation of sorts on still-controversial aspects of French history. It might be thought of as a masque, if so many of its scenes weren’t shot in dull backstairs locations. The Galerie des glaces figures in one shot, as does the staircase in the Petite Trianon. The queen has a tête-à-tête with her favorite, the princesse de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) against the background of some very opulent satin upholstery, and Ms Kruger herself is the finest Marie-Antoinette yet to appear in film (if you ask me). But this is not a movie about luxe. What it does capture (I imagine) is the claustral, anxiously gossipy world of the great château in its final days as the seat of government. Nobody really knows what’s going on — a state of affairs that would plague France for years to come.


On Sunday afternoon, I attacked the overflowing basket of magazines. I read only five periodicals with regularity: The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, Harper’s, and Vanity Fair. Several times a year — Sunday was one of them — I wade through several issues of BBC Music, a publication that drowns me in information and guilt when consumed in this manner. I ripped out five or six pages from four issues; the next step is to order the CDs written up thereupon. Several hours seemed to pass in this manner. Then I picked up Vanity Fair, and quickly concluded, what’s the use. Every page informed me that I have lived my life to no purpose; I shall never be one of the great and good who glitter so handsomely from its pages. I’m beginning to feel that keeping track of the great and the good is beyond me.

Reading James Wolcott on the celebrity magazines whose headlines I peruse, bewildered, on the checkout line at Gristede’s, I inched a bit closer to understanding what he calls “the Kardashian Imperium.” As I say, what’s the use?