On my mind . . . / Je pense à . . . / Ich denke an . . .     Anthony Bourdain’s TV program Parts Unknown, S08E06 (Nov 2016), “Japan with Masa”. In this episode Bourdain travels around with renowned chef Masa Takayama. In one segment they visit the home in Yamanaka Onsen of Masa’s friend and mentor, where they all share a meal. Masa prepares a traditional winter vegetable:

[Interior: A living room cookout, Japanese-style, around an open hearth]

This vegetable is called fukinotō ふきのとう. Under the ground, covered with snow, cold. Then [demonstrates] little by little bit, it opens up, like that. This is first sign of the spring. We appreciate that.

   

– How do you cook this?

Grill, fried, or braise it. I’m gonna grill it. Little bit oil, then little bit salt. This gets so happy, the phases, so happy.

   

They want to be cooked this way. Their blood is bitterness, very bitter. Need bitterness to grow.

– This is Italian. This, agrodolce, at the end of an Italian meal.

Exactly.

   

– Sweet, fat, sweet, fat. At the end of the meal, something bitter to remind you of the sadness.

I didn’t pay attention to Parts Unknown during its original run, and only watched it when they rebroadcast the shows after Bourdain died. But it was a lot better than I thought it would be, a combination of travelogue and food show that stands its own on both counts.

This segment of this episode stuck in my mind because of the appreciation of bitterness as a principle of flavor—and of life—and the connection with likeminded customs of Italy (the ammazzacaffè and suchlike). And now Michel’s recent posts have me musing about gardens and harvests as well . . .

The fuki ふき plant is Petasites japonicus and belongs to that ubiquitous megafamily of Asteraceae. It grows in a lot of places; this fellow in Maryland talks about harvesting and using it. Alas, it seems to be a mixed bag—besides its virtues for the table, it has good pharmaceutical chemicals in it, but it’s also invasive and contains toxic substances too. The (English) Wikipedia page sort of suggests that kitchen preparation reduces the harmful substances to negligible levels, but upon checking the scientific work in German that it cites, one sees that it’s not the traditional cooking method that is shown to do so, but a laboratory procedure using high-pressure liquefied CO2. Not only that, but apparently the growing plants release the toxic stuff into the groundwater. 😦

Many apologies to me dear weaders for bein’ out of the loop. Unfortunately life has been a friggin’ disastrous mess for quite a long time, which tends to get in the way. Hopefully things will improve—they have to—BUT I’ve been saying that for a while, and it is still very difficult to see it happening.

Now, if only the external world were not a disaster, too. But it is. I of course mean, among other things, recent events here in the U.S. I’m not quite sure why I’m so fatalistic about the election. After all, in other places that have parliamentary-style governments, laughingstocks can and do rise to power if the polls break the right way (or, as the case may be, the wrong way)—and Italy, or wherever, is still around in spite of Berlusconi, or whoever. I guess we’re just not used to that here. Oddly enough! We Yanks are supposed to be the unsophisticated ones, but in a lot of ways we hold our own against the Old World.

I wonder a lot about our other Xanga (turned WordPress) friends these days and our collectively cosmopolitan environs. Lately I’ve been thinking that, if life ever breaks the right way, chances have increased that I might eventually expatriate. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I …

It’s sooo long ago now that I started to look at this fellow’s scholarship. Since then interest in him has increased. Here’s an interesting recent article about him and his milieu. It fits into an apparent trend in writing the history of science these days, of trying to capture the atmosphere and spirit of the times, which (depending on how it’s done) could be more or less of a pseudo-scholarly gimmick, but does make for lively reading. This article is in turn based on an autobiographical piece that the guy wrote, which is among the material I’m examining. It’s naughty of me to do this, but here’s a draft of my notes. It’ll go *poof!* in a while, but before then maybe me dear francophone weaders can check me Fwench. 🙂

I’ve also finally gotten around to assembling a combined version of three of my fave language-instruction texts, namely the “Made Simple” books on French, Spanish, and Italian originally published by Doubleday. It really does pay to learn several related languages at once, but the problem with that strategy is that in order to be effective, it takes special resources—like parallel texts for study—that are either hard to find or nonexistent. But these fit the bill, because they were developed by the same person and designed around the same story (“businessman goes abroad”). Here’s (naughty naughty!) what it looks like so far.

*Sighs.* Our old friend Banyuls/Gilbert would have been proud. And would have had much to opine upon, in these turbulent times. Alas, that’s a cherished memory now. On the other hand, our compatriots in the UK, and Ostend, and Lausanne, and Amiens, and the Bay area, and Medellín, are surely still around, and we wonder about their circumstances. Now more than ever, I suppose, is the time to draw sustenance from one another. I will be looking out for their news!

UPDATE apropos of the sort of thing Hawai’ian pidgin is (below): this just in, from the New York Times.Linguist Finds a Language in Its Infancy
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/16/science/linguist-finds-a-language-in-its-infancy.htmlWhoa!

Readin’ an’ writin’   [23 June 2013]   My muse has been absent, but here’s some things brought to mind by recent Xangan goings-on. As I mentioned on @fauquet’s blog, his old exercise book recalled some beautiful university lecture notes from the late 19th century, but my memory misled me on the author—it was the mathematician Hermite (not Hadamard).

These notes are for the traditional cours d’analyse, which sort of corresponds to advanced calculus/intro analysis in the math curriculum now. Thanks to document processing, professors these days routinely put up such course materials electronically, and of course that’s a boon, but I think we’ve also lost the token of commitment that ink on paper represents—the tangible sign that one’s got something its maker deemed worthy of the effort it took to say it, hence worth considering. The debates nowadays over the decline of cursive often don’t really get at that end that’s served by all serious writing, whether it’s a business invoice or a scientific treatise, namely to transmit something of value. Being able to easily dash off a document or revise it on a whim doesn’t necessarily further that purpose.

It’s a little funny to think that kids growing up now find cursive English incomprehensible. It gets a lot worse! Here’s a page of traditional German script from one of my antique books. I think the style is called Kurrent.

Notice lowercase c, d, e, i, m, n, r, u, and w. They all consist mostly of one or more wedge-shaped peaks, so when they occur next to each other (which they often do) you end up with what looks like an indivisible line of zigzags. Just look at the samples at the bottom—ugh! Surprisingly, your eye does get trained before long to see the subtle differences between letters and to recognize combinations. For about 45 minutes I was like, WTF , but then the phrases kind of assembled themselves: Aller Anfang ist schwer (Every beginning is difficult), Das Werk lobt den Meister (The work becomes the master), Wie der Herr, so der Diener (As the master, so the servant), Wie die Arbeit, so der Lohn (As the effort, so the reward), Morgenstunde hat Gold im Munde (I had to Google this one: lit., “morningtime has gold in the mouth,” which is supposed to be like “the early bird gets the worm”), Jeder weiß am besten, wo der Schuh ihn drückt (Each knows best where the shoe pinches him).

Here’s a page from another old gem I have, a Greek textbook from when they still taught Greek and Latin in schools. I really can’t imagine having to deal with these!


@naughty_virgin wrote nicely about one of the common English bugaboos involving similar verbs. It would be easy to blast people for having bad language skills (not least of all because it’s true), but to be fair these are tricky. As an editor I’d say people do generally sort of know principal parts and conjugations of verbs in an intuitive way. Unlike, say, cases (i.e. the difference between “Neil and I” and “Neil and me,” which folks seem to not comprehend at all), with verbs it’s genuinely confusing duplications that trip people up, like “lay” being both the present tense of one verb and the past tense of another, or “had had” being not a typo but the past perfect of to have.

There’s a really funny example of verb-tense confusions in the street talk found in Hawai’i. We call it “Pidgin,” and though its roots are in the melting pot of the islands, it’s not complex enough to be a real creole according to linguists. Pidgin varies a lot, from slang-heavy regular English to something that probably is arguably a dialect, and, as with “Black English,” a talented comedian can put it to good use. This classic routine is a familiar situation: two people, who were supposed to meet and go somewhere together but missed each other, argue about whose fault it is. It’s exaggerated beyond what you’re likely to hear in a real convo, but it is genuine Pidgin. Listen and read the transcription on the left first:

Rap Reiplinger, “Local Argument #7”
from Poi Dog (1978)
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–>

A: How come I come, I stay, you go?

B: ’Cause was going when came. How come you come, no call?

A: HowI going call when I stay coming already?

B: Eh, when you stay going come, go try call.

A: Next time I no come. I going.

B: OK, next time you going come, I stay—me, I no go. But if you going stay come and me, I no stay—no stay, go!

A: ’Course! I not going see you stay gone! But me, if I stay coming and you stay gone, then when I stay going and you stay coming—what?

B: Then no go come first place.

A: In the first place, I going call I stay coming, and if you going go, me, I no going come, ’cause went call for see if you going go already stay.

B: Botherin’ me? A:How come I came and waited, but you left?

B: ’Cause I was going when you came. How come you came without calling?

A: How will I call when I’m already on my way?

B: Eh, when you’ll be coming by, try to call.

A: Next time I won’t come by. I’m (just) going.

B: OK, the next time you’re going to come by, I’ll stay—I won’t leave. But if you’ll be coming and I’m not there—don’t wait, (just) go!

A: ’Course! I’m not going (I don’t want) to see that you’re gone (you’ve left)! But if I’m coming and you’ve left, then when I’m leaving and you’re coming (back)—(then) what?

B:So don’t come by in the first place.

A:In the first place, I would call to say I’m coming, and if you’re going to leave, then I wouldn’t come, ’cause I’d already called to see if youd be staying.

B: Botherin’ me?

Didja get that? The key is that in Pidgin, go is the auxilliary verb for the future tense and stay is the auxilliary for the present progressive, rather than will and the present tense of to be as in standard English: “I/you/he/we going eat ” (Pidgin) = “I/you/he/we will eat” (standard English), and “I/you/he/we stay eating” (Pidgin) = “I/you/he/we am/are/is/are eating” (standard English). In particular, I stay going (“I am going”) and You going stay/go (“You will stay/go”) are grammatical, and the future perfect future progressive is [going go + verb] in Pidgin, instead of [will be + verb + ing] in standard English: I going go eat (“I will be eating”). Also, [go + verb] is used to make the imperative: Go eat! = “Eat!” So you can see the translation on the right is totally systematic!


Da good fights  [25 June 2013]   @Banyuls’s entry on Robert Charlebois made me think of Harry Chapin. I guess they were contemporaries, and it looks like they both wrote long, smart songs of a sort you don’t often see in the mainstream. Chapin of course died early. When I was a kid my siblings had his Greatest Stories Live LP. This included two original tracks that were cut from later (CD) releases of the album, so you basically can’t find these songs anymore. It was a totally asinine move, but easy to see why it was done when you consider the lyrics.

“Love Is Just Another Word”

Time, time, time, it’s telling you the story.
Truth, truth, truth, a secret never heard.
Peace, peace, peace, you know I don’t believe it.
Love, love, love, it’s just another word.

Hey, brother, you are bleeding;
You’re black and brown and yellow, you know that isn’t right.
Hey, brother, what you’re needin’,
We will never give you. Why can’t you be white?

Hey, sister, stop your tryin’;
Don’t you know that you were lost when you were born a girl?
Hey, sister, stop your cryin’;
Don’t you know you’re just another woman of the world?

Hey, children, you are starvin’;
I’m too fat to find the time for feedin’ someone else.
Hey, children, you are dyin’;
Don’t you know you’ve got to find the future for yourself?

Time, time, time, …

“She Is Always Seventeen”

She has no fear of failure, she’s not bent with broken dreams,
For the future’s just beginning when you’re always seventeen.

It was nineteen sixty-one when we went to Washington;
She put her arms around me and said, “Camelot’s begun.”
We listened to his visions of how our land should be;
We gave him our hearts and minds to send across the sea.

Nineteen sixty-three, white and black upon the land;
She brought me to the monuments and made us all join hands.
And scarcely six months later she held me through the night
When we heard what had happened in that brutal Dallas light.

Oh, she is always seventeen;
She has a dream that she will lend us and a love that we can borrow.
There is so much joy inside her she will even share our sorrow;
She’s our past, our present, and our promise of tomorrow.
Oh, truly she’s the only hope I’ve seen, and she is always seventeen.

It was nineteen sixty-five and we were marching once more
From the burning cities against a crazy war.
Memphis, L.A., and Chicago—we bled through sixty-eight
Till she took me up to Woodstock saying, “With love it’s not too late.”

We started out the seventies living off the land;
She was sowing seeds in Denver trying to make me understand
That mankind is woman and woman is man,
And until we free each other we cannot free the land.

Oh, she is always seventeen …

Nineteen seventy-two, I’m at the end of my rope,
But she was picketing the White House chanting, “The truth’s the only hope.”
In nineteen seventy-five when the crooked king was gone
She was feeding starving children saying, “The dream must go on.”

Oh, she is always seventeen …

[26 June 2013]  Speaking of social progress and justice, my my my … it looks like the SCOTUS conservatives’ hail-Mary pass came to naught.

There really is no putting this genie back in the bottle. Although I am kind of surprised at how quickly the issue has gained traction—DOMA wasn’t that long ago!—the people who are against marriage equality are just looking more and more pathetic every day.

You can’t blame traditionalists for being so ludicrously insistent about how their cause is to preserve the beleaguered institution of marriage when a comparison with Edie Windsor is enough to put a lot of them to shame.

Not that there isn’t a ways to go still …

… but at least we aren’t going to be utterly shown up by Vietnam just yet. It’s still an OK day for equal rights (better than SCOTUS gave us yesterday), and we’ll take them as they come.

Poem     [03 February 2013] An unpublished poem by Carl Sandburg, recently discovered in the Sandburg archive at the University of Illinois. Talk about currency.
Da pope     [18 February 2013] My my … the first papal resignation in six centuries. Definitely an occasion to raid the cartoon files! This was my reaction, too:


As usual, only more so, it’s fun to wonder who’s going to be “it” … Vatican-watching is kind of like Supreme Court–watching—always a wonky, amusing, and topical pastime.


I guess I’d place my bets on one of the Italians already there, or maybe that Ouellet guy if they really want to try to be “bold.” Somehow I doubt they’ll go much farther south or west than that. In any case, it’s not likely the universal church catches up with the times, at least on some things, anyway …


(I love that young priest. Danziger’s cartoons have an edge to them, but little touches like that show he’s not really all that mean—not the way you might think at first, anyway.)

But hey, nil nisi bene dicendum, we don’t have to wait for the guy to be dead first. Granted, the Catholic Church preaches and does a lot of things that aren’t very good for the world, but Benedict wasn’t worse than everyone around him, and unlike JP II and his allies in the curia (e.g.,  Sodano) he did pay serious attention to the child-abuse issue when he was in charge of that department and was overruled by them. His specific problem was that he was an awful top administrator—but professor types usually are, plus the Vatican sounds like your absolute worst nightmare of politics and infighting and scheming. And of course there’s his tin ear, which is not a good thing for a public-facing figure in any outfit. But I have to say I was kind of fond of this nerdy, intellectual pope, in a way that I wasn’t of JP II. Not that JP II wasn’t a reputable scholar, too—actually, he had a really good academic pedigree, a doctorate in philosophy under one of the founders of one of the main branches of phenomenology, I think—but he was a showboat, which is distinctly anti-nerdy. Benedict was more cerebral. I remember before his election someone described him as the only person he knew who would, in any one of a handful of languages, think for a minute when asked a question, and then answer in whole paragraphs. It’s remarkably hard to find cartoons about Benedict that don’t go overboard, depicting him as a demon or a Nazi or … I’m kind of surprised there aren’t drawings of him as the evil emperor Palpatine from Star Wars—it would be an easy visual pun. But this one kind of sums him up the best, I think:

Laramie, redux   [19 February 2013] I can’t believe it’s been so long since Matthew Shepard’s death. Evidently the theater company that put together The Laramie Project has also done a sequel, and now the two form “The Laramie Project Cycle.”

When The Laramie Project was new, our little circle here hung out at a certain other virtual watering hole—and society could still be moved by an event like Laramie to focus itself to make something like a play out of it. Today—“It Gets Better,” Tyler Clementi, and everything else notwithstanding—you sort of wonder if anything could be that singular anymore, exactly because so much reaches us so quickly, and it all competes for our finite fund of attention and love.

Memento mori     [22 February 2013] Edward Gorey’s birthday is the subject of today’s Google homepage picture. Very cool—it’s about time.

Fittingly enough, the other day a Goreyesque children’s book was mentioned in the New York Times. It’s a German story called Ente, Tod, und Tulpe (or “Duck, Death, and Tulip”) and was made into an animated film that has won some acclaim. The Times writer calls it “a gentler version of Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal.” The synopsis on Wikipedia (with images cribbed from the Internets):

The story involves a duck who acquaints [sic] a character called Death who, as it turns out, has been following her all her life.


The two become friends, discussing life, death, and what any afterlife might be like. They go diving together


and sit in a tree, pondering what would happen to the duck’s lake [sic] after her death. The duck reports that some ducks say that they become angels and sit on clouds, looking down on earth. Death says that this is possible since ducks already have wings. Then, she says that some ducks also say that there is a hell, down below, where bad ducks are roasted; Death replies that it’s remarkable what ducks all think of, and says “Who knows,” prompting the duck to respond, “So you don’t know either.”


In the end, the duck indeed dies, and Death carries her to a river, placing the duck gently in the water and laying the tulip on her:



“For a long time he watched her. When she was lost to sight, he was almost a little moved.”

[23 Feb 2013] A few more pics cribbed from the Internets. It’s kind of a neat-looking story.


Below, when they first meet. Putting together bits and pieces from the reviews and blurbs, it continues with Death replying, “Well, in case something happens to you. A bad cold, an accident—you never know,” and when Duck asks if he’s going to make something happen, he says, “No, life takes care of that.” Kind of like @pukemeister described.


And, as best I can make it out, the German on the spread below reads

verso:  Death smiled at her kindly. Actually he was nice, if you disregarded who he was—quite nice, in fact.

recto:  “Shall we go to the pond?” she asked. Death had been afraid of that.

[16 May 2013] Und, some clips from the animated film, also cribbed from the Internets. The first is the very beginning of the story (“For a while, Duck had had a feeling…”), the second is when Duck tells Death about how ducks say there is an afterlife in heaven and hell, and in the third, Duck says to Death, near the end, “I’m cold … will you warm me a little?” (As usual, most of it goes by too fast for me to follow except the parts that I already know from seeing the text.) Hearing their voices kind of brings it down a little. I liked it better when I just had to imagine them.   [18 May 2013] It looks like the whole thing is on the YouTubes, done up with Spanish subtitles. I guess the film doesn’t quite have everything in the book, like when they go diving and then Duck warms Death.

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–>

Poem     Then what is left when all is loss?
Those laid-on hands? That fiddle sinew?
Not you, young fiddler, not you can renew
The antiquarian lease
That ran out on Parnassus. No moon bitch now, no Apollos.
Dry gullies, from god-wine cut loose, are no wine-god palace.
But: not only spiders spin from their bellies;
Go spin new Parnassus within you.
With what? Well, what’s left in these shallows
Except your living gut to string the fadeless
Fiddle my fadings bring you?
Though learning takes just a day longer than life-span allows,
Though life ails just a day faster than art allays,
Though age rots art before it can learn to sing true,
Sing anyhow. Continue.
   —Peter Viereck
   from ‘Continuities’
FINLAY-1
Chase Finlay as Apollo, by Andrea Mohin/NYT Franz von Stuck, Orpheus

The young Apollo took a liking to Orpheus and taught him to play the lyre. Viereck supposedly uses these classical figures in his poetry…

Károly Ferenczy, Orpheus

Perstonal shtuff   Still in dire straits, and gettin’ dire-r. Ugh. ’Nuff said fer now.

Giorgio de Chirico, Orfeo trovatore stanco
Giazotto, ‘Adagio in G minor’ (arr. Y. Malmsteen)

“The Star”   A Christmas story.  Arthur C. Clarke’s famous 1954 short story, and a made-for-TV drama­ti­za­tion that’s not bad—it manages to soften the original with a bit of theo­dicy (Arthur would not have approved!) with­­out be­­com­ing in­­art­ful. It aired on that re­vival of The Twi­light Zone in the ’80s, with Harlan Ellison as creative director. And of course I have to throw in some­thing from Carl as well while we’re at it.

“The Star” (1986) Imagined observation of a supernova

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25 Nov 2012
25 Dec 2012
31 Dec 2012

A bookmarklet for the misbegotten    I’ve come to the conclusion that me dear weaders are the best of all here on Xanga. Seriously, though, I’ve been poking around beyond our little circle for several months now, which I’d never done very much in all the time we’ve been here, and this place is full of drama and dysfunction perpetrated by people who act like zarking fools. You’d think it wouldn’t take genius to realize that even if someone else really is a pathetic loser, your behavior toward them is a reflection on you. And that Merlin’s advice to Arthur—to not dishonor your feast by disrespecting who shows up—transfers pretty directly to the blogosphere.

Ai yi yi. It got me thinking that while deleting obnoxious comments is fine, the ultimate revenge against jerks who pollute your blog space might be to sanitize their vomit but selectively leave evidence of their stupidity intact. Actually, for some time I’ve known a way to do it with client-side scripting, and I finally put it together during a few free moments earlier today.

You can see how it works by going to the comments page for this post. The first and third comments have been flagged as obnoxious by using the HTML editor to make a hidden paragraph that contains a list of their id values:

<p style=”display: none” id=”qqcrapfix”>ctext-1527102644,ctext-1527102648</p>

The comment IDs are separated by commas, with no whitespace before or after, and the id of the paragraph is qqcrapfix. It doesn’t matter where in the post the paragraph is, it just has to be there somewhere. (It doesn’t even have to be a <p>—any HTML container called qqcrapfix holding comma-separated values will do.) You can use your browser’s View Source option to find out the comment IDs: the text of each comment is inside either a <div> or a <span> whose ID looks like either ctext-nnnnn or text-nnnnn, depending on whether you still use the original, antiquated Xanga layout manager, like I do, or not.

To put a strikethrough over the offending comments, copy and paste the following incantation into your browser’s address bar (or click <A href="javascript:(function(){ if (d=document.getElementById('qqcrapfix')) { (function(x){ for(i=0, a=x.split(','); i<a.length; i++) { (e=document.getElementById(a[i])).innerHTML='‘+e.innerHTML+’‘; } })(d.innerHTML); }; void(0); }());”>here), after navigating to the comments page.

javascript:(function(){ if (d=document.getElementById(‘qqcrapfix’)) { (function(x){ for(i=0, a=x.split(‘,’); i<a.length; i++) { (e=document.getElementById(a[i])).innerHTML='<del>’+e.innerHTML+'</del>’; } })(d.innerHTML); }; void(0); }());

To hide the crap altogether, use this incantation (or click <A href="javascript:(function(){ function u(n,i) { for(r=n, j=0; j<i; j++) { r = r.parentNode; } return r; }; if (d=document.getElementById('qqcrapfix')) { (function(x){ for(i=0, a=x.split(','); ihere), after navigating to the comments page:

javascript:(function(){ function u(n,i) { for(r=n, j=0; j<i; j++) { r = r.parentNode; } return r; }; if (d=document.getElementById(‘qqcrapfix’)) { (function(x){ for(i=0, a=x.split(‘,’); i<a.length; i++) { if (a[i].charAt(0)==’t’) { ((v=u(document.getElementById(a[i]),4)).nodeName==’LI’?v:u(v,3)).style.display=’none’; } else { u(document.getElementById(a[i]),6).style.display=’none’; } } })(d.innerHTML); }; void(0); }());

The scripts execute locally in the browser, so nothing happens to the saved blog, as you can see by refreshing the page—but you regain a bit of control over how the post looks. Although I haven’t tried it directly with the newer layout, as far as I can tell the code should work on all Xanga blogs, on comments with and without minis. And while the code is totally transparent, no one who still doesn’t trust moi has to run it in the first place (unless there’s someone out there who wants to get their bloomers in a twist—which by now wouldn’t surprise me). Elegant, no?

I doubt I’m ever going to need to use these, but you never know, and the exercise of doing them was fun. I think the coding trick could be adapted so as to be able to do those recipe demos and other scripted blog entries, with animated gifs and mouseovers, that I liked to make back in the day when we could still write JavaScript code in our Xangas. (I was looking at this one just now , not to mention some of the *ahem* naughtier ones. ) I won’t get around to that anytime soon, but something reasonable to use might just be possible.

Too many moons have gone by without a word from me, especially in reply to some of me dear weaders’ wonder­ment (‘worry’ is probably too strong a word for it, but it’s still awfully kind). In retro­spect, it was a bit pre­mature of me to proclaim a ‘return to life’ ear­lier. A lot’s been go­ing through the mind, and many a time I’d meant to write some­thing about it, but it would in­var­i­ably end up being an emo­tional reac­tion to im­med­i­ate crud—in a word, un­post­able. May­be some­day down the road. Or not. Right now things are in rather dire straits, and I have to be deal­ing with that.

A few weeks ago I made (fin­al­ly) one of those dread­ed cell­phone-in-the-mirror pics for the sake of visual evi­dence that I’m still alive, but it turns out that my lap­top doesn’t have the zark­ing Blue­tooth adapter installed, or some­thing. So I can’t grab the photo out of the phone, and that will have to wait, too. (No matter—every­thing still looks the same. ). [UPDATE: I am soo zark­ing stu­pid. The Blue­tooth adapter is in­stal­led, just like I thought it was, but I didn’t have it turned on. ]

cameo-120709

Even when I don’t have the where­with­al to post, it’s aw­ful­ly com­fort­ing to read all what’s on me dear wead­ers’ minds—and a bum­mer that most every­one is like­wise in ab­sen­tia  (al­though it looks like most of our lit­tle group is actual­ly still around, but just fly­ing under the ra­dar too ). Anywho, rather than inflict my in­elegant and tire­some moan­ing and whin­ing on me dear weader, I’ll share some moan­ing and whin­ing from an un­dis­put­ed literary mas­ter. Here’s some stuff that’s fit my mood a lot these days, from the begin­ning of Hesse’s Step­pen­wolf, when Harry Haller first discovers the Magic Theater.

Affect­ing light­heartedness, I trod the moist pave­ments of the nar­row streets. As though in tears and veiled, the lamps glim­mer­ed through the chill gloom and sucked their re­flect­ions slowly from the wet ground. The for­got­ten years of my youth came back to me. How I used to love the dark, sad even­ings of late autumn and win­ter, how eager­ly I im­bib­ed their moods of lone­li­ness and melan­choly when wrap­ped in my cloak I strode for half the night through rain and storm, through the leaf­less win­ter landscape, lonely enough then too, but full of deep joy, and full of poetry which later I wrote down by candle­light sit­ting on the edge of my bed! All that was past now. The cup was emptied and would never be filled again. Was that a mat­ter for regret? No, I did not regret the past. My regret was for the present day, for all the count­less hours and days that I lost in mere pass­i­vity and that brought me no­thing, not even the shocks of awaken­ing. […]

I sought out the little ancient tavern where nothing had alter­ed since my first visit to this town a good twenty-five years before. Even the land­lady was the same as then and many of the patrons who sat there in those days sat there still at the same places before the same glasses. There I took refuge. […] Here, too, I found nei­ther home nor com­pany, nothing but a seat from which to view a stage where strange people played strange parts. None­the­less, the quiet of the place was worth some­thing; no crowds, no music; only a few peace­ful townsfolk at bare wooden tables (no marble, no enamel, no plush, no brass) and before each his evening glass of good old wine. Per­haps this com­pany of habitues, all of whom I knew by sight, were all regular Philistines and had in their Philistine dwellings their altars of the home ded­i­cat­ed to sheep­ish idols of con­tent­ment; per­haps, too, they were solitary fel­lows who had been side­tracked, quiet, thought­ful topers of bank­rupt ideals, lone wolves and poor devils like me. I could not say. Either home­sick­ness or dis­appoint­ment, or need of change drew them there, the married to recover the atmos­phere of his bache­lor days, the old of­fi­cial to recall his student years. All of them were silent, and all were drink­ers who would rather, like me, sit be­fore a pint of Elsasser than listen to a Ladies’ Orchestra. Here I cast anchor, for an hour, or it might be two. With the first sip of El­sasser I realized that I had eaten no­thing that day since my morn­ing roll.

It is re­mark­able, all that men can swal­low. For a good ten minutes I read a news­paper. I allowed the spirit of an ir­res­pon­sible man who chews and munches another’s words in his mouth, and gives them out again un­digest­ed, to enter into me through my eyes. I absorbed a whole column of it. And then I devour­ed a large piece cut from the liver of a slaugh­ter­ed calf. Odd indeed! The best was the Elsasser. I am not fond, for everyday at least, of racy, heady wines that diffuse a potent charm and have their own par­ti­cu­lar flavor. What I like the best is a clean, light, modest country vin­tage of no special name. One can car­ry plenty of it and it has the good and home­ly flavor of the land, and of earth and sky and woods. A pint of Elsasser and a piece of good bread is the best of all meals. By this time, how­ever, I had already eaten my por­tion of liver, an un­usual in­dul­gence for me, as I seldom eat meat, and the second pint had been set before me. And this too was odd: that some­where in a green val­ley vines were tended by good, strong fellows and the wine pressed so that here and there in the world, far away, a few dis­ap­point­ed, quiet­ly drink­ing towns­folk and dis­pir­it­ed Steppen­wolves could sip a little heart and courage from their glasses.

And here’s Haller’s poem about the Step­pen­wolf (‘wolf of the steppes’), his alter ego.

The Wolf trots to and fro,
The world lies deep in snow,
The raven from the birch tree flies,
But nowhere a hare, nowhere a roe.
The roe—she is so dear, so sweet
If such a thing I might surprise
In my embrace, my teeth would meet,
What else is there beneath the skies?
The lovely creature I would so treasure,
And feast myself deep on her tender thigh,
I would drink of her red blood full measure,
Then howl till the night went by.
Even a hare I would not despise;
Sweet enough its warm flesh in the night.
Is everything to be denied
That could make life a little bright?
The hair on my brush is getting grey.
The sight is failing from my eyes.
Years ago my dear mate died.
And now I trot and dream of a roe.
I trot and dream of a hare.
I hear the wind of midnight howl.
I cool with the snow my burning jowl,
And on to the devil my wretched soul I bear.

Or, rather, that’s of course not Haller’s poem, but an English trans­la­tion. I went looking for the original German version on the Inter­nets, and found this text of a clever talk about the chal­lenges of literary trans­la­tion.

[For the last part, it helps to know that ‘werewolf’ in German is ‘werwolf’, and wer is also the nominative pronoun who, which is declined as wen (ac­cu­sa­tive)/wem (da­tive)/wes (gen­i­tive)/(no plural). I’ll have to figure out the Mor­gen­stern poem some other time, but ap­par­ent­ly it makes a pun out of the werewolf’s name—who-wolf, whom-wolf, whose-wolf—and that of course only works in German, although the author of the talk notes that some­one did manage to ren­der it in English.]

An’ wit dat, I bid me dear weader adieu (fer now).

Serve up those Nut   Now here’s a ho­li­day basket I’d like to un­wrap on Christ­mas morn­ing and savor the goods all day long, with loads of the white stuff just coming and coming … and it’s part of the pro­duc­tion of The Nut­crack­er by the Jof­frey Bal­let, right over in Chi­cago:

NUTCRACKER-popup

How the Sugarplum Fairy Presides Depends on the ‘Nutcracker’ Narrative
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/27/arts/dance/27nutcracker.html

Literary feasts   Here’s a fan­tas­tic Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion from Law­rence Dur­rell’s Mon­sieur, which I fin­ish­ed ear­lier and is sure­ly one of the most un­us­u­al nov­els I’ve read in a long time. It’s the first book in his “Avig­non quin­tet,” set in the med­ieval city in south­ern France in the early 1900s. It fea­tures a love tri­angle be­tween Piers and Sylvie de Nogaret, a bro­ther and sis­ter who are the last of a noble French line, and their com­pan­ion Bruce Drexel, an English­man.

The once-prod­uct­ive estate of Ver­feu­ille had pret­ty much fal­len into dis­repair by the time the three came of age, with only a bare crew of ser­vants left to tend the château and work the fields, or­chards, and vine­yards. Piers, the last seig­neur, is about to leave to be­gin a dip­lo­ma­tic car­eer as a res­ult, while Bruce is study­ing to be­come a doc­tor with the for­eign ser­vice. Bruce re­calls the ancient manor house and their last Christ­mas there:

We sat now, the three of us cross-legged on the floor before the fire, eating chestnuts and drinking whisky and talking about nothing and everything. Never had old Verfeuille seemed so warmly welcoming. If we had an inner pang as we remembered Piers’s decisions for the future, we did not mention them to each other. […] He described to me the little ceremony in which the oldest and the youngest members of the whole household go out hand in hand to choose the tree which will be felled for Christmas, and then return triumphantly to the house bearing it with, of course, the assistance of everyone. It was paraded thrice around the long supper table and then laid down before the great hearth, while old Jan undertook to preside over the ceremony of the libation, which he did with great polish, filling first of all a tall jar of vin cuit […] his smiling dignity and serenity as he bowed his head over the wine to utter a prayer while everyone was deeply hushed around him, standing with heads bowed. Then he poured three little libations on the log, to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, before crying out with all the vigour he could muster in his crackly old voice:
Cacho-fio!
Bouto-fio!
Alègre! Alègre!
Dieu nous alègre!


Yule log burn!
Joy! Joy!
God give us joy.

And as he reached the last words of the incantation, which were “Christmas has arrived,” a huge bundle of vine trimmings was set alight under the ceremonial log and the whole fireplace flamed up, irradiating the merry faces of the company, as if they too had caught fire from sympathy with the words; and now everyone embraced anew and clapped hands, while the old man once more filled the ceremonial bowl with wine, but this time passed it about as a loving-cup, beginning with little Tounin, the youngest child: and so on in order of seniority until at last it came back to his hand. Then he threw back his head and drained it to the dregs, the firelight flashing on his brown throat.

[…] the most important supper of the whole year was in full sail. By old tradition it has always been a “lean” supper, so that in comparison with other feast days it might have seemed a trifle frugal. Nevertheless the huge dish of raïto exhaled a wonderful fragrance: this was a ragout of mixed fish presented in a sauce flavored with wine and capers. Chicken flamed in Cognac. The long brown loaves cracked and crackled under the fingers of the feasters like the olive branches in the fireplace. The first dish emptied at record speed, and its place was taken by a greater bowl of Rhône pan-fish, and yet another of white cod. These in turn led slowly to the dishes of snails, the whitish large veined ones that feed on the vine-leaves. They had been tucked back into their shells and were extracted with the aid of strong curved thorns, three or four inches long, broken from the wild acacia. As the wine was replenished after the first round, toasts began to fly around.

Then followed the choice supporting dishes like white cardes or cardon, the delicious stem of a giant thistle which resembles nothing so much as an overgrown branch of celery. These stems are blanched and then cooked in white sauce—I have never tasted them anywhere else. The flavour is one of the most exquisite one can encounter in the southern regions of France; yet it is only a common field vegetable. So it went on, our last dinner, to terminate at last with a whole anthology of sweetmeats and nuts and winter melons. The fire was restoked and the army of wine-bottles gave place to a smaller phalanx of brandies, Armagnacs and Marcs, to offset the large bowls of coffee from which rose plumes of fragrance.

So much for Christmas dreams …   Alas, no­thing so in­ter­est­ing is real­ly hap­pen­ing here. I have an in­dex that I have to stay up late to­night to fin­ish, for an aw­ful book that has to go to press next week. And of course it would have to be a white Christ­mas, too—it start­ed snow­ing again around noon, and so far it looks like we’ve had a good five inches or so just as the det­ri­tus of the last snow­fall was van­ish­ing. Oh well. Mele ka­li­ki­maka to all me dear wead­ers!

An opera   A bit of a be­lat­ed trib­ute to John (it took a while to put it together!). I tap­ed the epi­sode of Great Per­for­man­ces that feat­ur­ed this short opera a while ago. Un­for­tu­nate­ly I couldn’t rip the audio along with the video. The music is really what makes it.


Strawberry Fields

strawberry0

Music by Michael Torke
Libretto by A.R. Gurney


Old Woman. Good afternoon.

Student. Good afternoon.

strawberry1a strawberry1b

Old Woman. Excuse me, but I’d like to sit down.

Student. Please do.

Old Woman (points to worker). I want to sit there.

Student. Ah.

Old Woman. May I get by? Don’t get up. Sorry, are those your toes? (To worker) Excuse me, but that seat is mine.

Worker. Plenty of seats here, lady.

Old Woman. I know. But you’re sitting in mine. My family has subscribed to that seat for fifty years.

Worker. Yeah?

Old Woman. I don’t remember offering it to you.

strawberry1c

Worker. Look, lady …

Student. Why not let her sit there, man?

Worker. Who does she think she is?

Student. I don’t know, but give her a break.

Worker. Oh, hell … why not? Here is your throne, your Highness.

Old Woman. Thank you, sir. You’re very kind.

This is the time, the time, the magic time I love, settling in before the curtain rises. Half of life is anticipation, waiting for something wonderful to happen.

strawberry1d strawberry1e

Ah, here they come. Hello, hello, whoever you are. Don’t you love matinees? Hi, how are you? Where are the familiar faces? Where are the Forsythes? Where are John and Maizy Frick?

Yes, this is the time, the time, the magic time I love. What treat do they have in store for us today? Verdi? Mozart? Puccini? Anyone know? Oh, well, who cares? I love them all!

(To student) Oh, sir?

strawberry1f 

Student. Yes, ma’am?

Old Woman. Are they starting the overture?

Student. Overture?

Old Woman. I seem to hear music.

strawberry1g strawberry1h

Student. You must be hearing echoes and vibes of John Lennon.

Old Woman. Who?

Student. Lennon—John Lennon.

Old Woman. I don’t believe I know his work.

Student. You’ve missed something.

Old Woman. I’m sure I have. I’ve been so busy lately. Countless duties, details. I feel I’ve lost touch. I’ve missed things, important things. Music … feelings … life. I need to pick up the thread, need to drink at the well. That’s why I’m here. Oh, yes, that’s why I’m here.

strawberry1i strawberry1j


Son. Mother, we’ve been searching everywhere!

strawberry2a

Old Woman. Shh! This is the matinee.

Son. Come with me, Mother.

Old Woman. But the opera is about to begin. (To woman) Do you like the opera? Does your companion?

Son. Mother …

strawberry2b 

Student. She seems perfectly happy. She seems fine to me, sir.

Son. But she’s got to go. But she’s got to go. Today’s the day. The car is waiting to take her.

Student. Where?

Son. We found her a home.

Student. Oh.

Son. We found her a home outside of town. She’ll have a private room there.

Old Woman (to woman). I adore music, don’t you? I suppose you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.

Son. It’s something we have to do.

strawberry2k1 strawberry2k2

Student. Why?

Son. Her blood does not flow to the brain. Her mind is going.

Student. I see.

Old woman (to woman). If you hear me humming along, just give me a kick.

Student. She likes it here.

Son. She’ll like it there. She’ll have three meals with people her own age. She’ll have a view of a lovely garden. She’ll have excellent …

Student. Excuse me, sir. May I say something here? May I venture an opinion?

If I were your mother, here’s where I’d want to be. Here, right here, right here in the center of town. Here, where the sounds of life drown out the fear of nothingness. Here, where the sounds of life drown out the fear of nothingness. Oh God, I need … Oh God, I need this place myself. It tells me that there is more in life than books and musty air of classrooms and the dry lectures of exhausted teachers.

strawberry2c strawberry2d strawberry2e

If I were your mother, I’d come here whenever I could. Right here, right here in the center of town. Here, where the sounds of life drown out the fear of nothingness. Here, where the sounds of life drown out the fear of nothingness. Oh God, I need … Oh God, I need this place myself. Frankly sir, that’s why I cut my class and came here, and that’s why your mother came here, too.

If you will pardon me for intruding, sir.

Son. Thank you for your thoughts.

Student. So?

Son. So?

Student. Will you let her stay?

Son. I wish it were all that easy.

Student. Why couldn’t it be?

Son. You don’t know what it’s like to live with her.

Student. I suppose …

Son. She needs some place where she receives continual care.

Student. There must be a better way.

Son. There never is.

Student. I hope it never happens to me.

Son. It will, you know.

strawberry2f

Student. I know. And to you, too.

Son. I know.

Student and Son. It happens to us all, to all of us, and all we can hope for is that it happens well.

Son. Now, Mother, time to go.

Old Woman. Walk out of an opera? Never!

Son. There’s no opera here, Mother.

Old Woman. I’m hoping there will be.

Son. Please, Mother!

strawberry2g

Old Woman. I said no! Now be good, or I’ll call an usher to take you home. (To student) You have to be very firm with children, (to man) especially at the opera. (To worker) Excuse me, may I borrow your program?

Worker. My program?

Old Woman. I seem to have lost my own.

Student. Humor her.

strawberry2h

Worker. Think of Dauntless Dancer in the fifth.

Old Woman. That’s an opera I don’t know. Let me read the plot.

Son (on phone). Get me, get me Bergdorf’s. What? I said, get me Bergdorf Goodman. Uh-huh, right!

Chorus. That man is calling Bergdorf’s. That man is calling Bergdorf’s.

strawberry2i

Son (to student). I’m calling my sister.

Chorus. His sister, he’s calling his sister.

Son (on phone). Get me Women’s Wear. (To student) My sister will take charge.

Chorus. His sister must be loaded with dough.

Son (on phone). Please let me speak to Mrs. Stone.

strawberry2j

Chorus. He’s calling for help, a family emergency. He is asking to speak to his sister at Bergdorf’s.

Son (on phone). Susie, it’s me. Mother got out.

Chorus. What can she do? Call the police, call an ambulance?

Student. Why not just leave her alone?

Son (on phone). Strawberry Fields, Central Park West and Seventy-second. Meanwhile, I’ll get the nurse. Hurry! Student. Why not just leave her alone?
strawberry2k0

Chorus. This is New York for you. Never a dull moment, especially in Central Park. Student. I wish they’d just let things play out.
strawberry2k

Son. Sir, would you watch my mother while I go for help?

Student. No problem.

strawberry2l strawberry2m

Son. I’ll pay you, of course.

Student. Forget it. I enjoy her company.

Son. You do?

Student. I do.

Son (aside). Well, I’ll be damned! Have I got her wrong?

strawberry2n

Old Woman (to worker). Thank you for your program, sir.

Worker. Find out anything?

Old Woman. Well, it’s a complicated plot, I’ll say that.

strawberry2o


(To student) Where have you been?

Student (nonplussed). Me?

strawberry3a strawberry3b

Old Woman. Were you delayed at work?

Student. No …

Old Woman. I’ve missed you terribly, darling. You’ve never been late for the opera before.

Student (catches on). Never?

Old Woman. All of the years we’ve been married.

Student. I’m sorry, my love.

Old Woman. The opera hasn’t started yet, so we have a chance to plan.

Student. What should we plan, darling?

strawberry3c

Old Woman. A trip …

Student. A trip?

Old Woman. A trip devoted to music.

Student. Sounds wonderful.

Old Woman. I need music in my life.

Student. I know the feeling.

Old Woman. Without it I’ll wither away. Student. Turn off that radio, my parents used to say. Turn down that stereo.
strawberry3d strawberry3e

Old Woman. You see? Some people simply don’t know.

strawberry3f

Old Woman and Student. They don’t understand. But we do. Let’s sail away.

Student pauses.

strawberry3h strawberry3g

Old Woman. Our children will try and stop us.

Student. Why?

Old Woman. My bad heart. Your prostate condition.

Student. My what?

Old Woman and Student. Who cares? We’ll go anyway.

Student. Sure we will.

Old Woman. We’ll hear all the good music.

Student. Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms …

Old Woman. And Mr. Lennon.

Student. Lennon? You’re sure?

strawberry3i strawberry3j

Old Woman. Someone recommended him. Someone I respect.

Student. Then we’ll listen to Lennon.

Old Woman. On our musical trip.

Student. On our sunset trip into the golden age of …

Old Woman. Shh! I believe the opera’s beginning.

strawberry3k

Boy. How can I love you if you won’t commit?

Girl. How can I commit if you don’t love me?

Boy. Do you love me?

Girl. I think I do.

Boy. You “think”? You “think”?

Girl. I loved you last night.

Boy. How about today?

strawberry3l

Girl. Don’t know.

Boy. How about tomorrow?

Girl. Don’t know.

Boy. You see, how can I love you if you won’t commit?

Girl. How can I commit if …

Old Woman. Run along, you two. You’re blocking our view.

Girl. Your view of what?

Old Woman. The opera, dear child.

Girl. Opera?

Boy. I hate opera.

Girl. I love it. See, that’s why I can’t commit.

Old Woman. I was wrong. That wasn’t opera.

Student. No?

strawberry3m

Old Woman. That was just musical comedy.

Student. Ah.

Panhandler. A nickel or a dime? I am hungry, I am tired, and I got no place to sleep. I got laid off from work. My welfare has run out. I got wounded in ‘Nam.

Old Woman. Now that is opera.

Student. It is?

strawberry3n strawberry3o

Old Woman. Absolutely. It’s called German Expressionism. I don’t like it, but I suppose I should support it. (Puts bill in panhandler’s cup.) There you are, sir.

Panhandler. Hey, a hundred bucks! Oh, boy! What I can do with this! First I’ll buy me a clean shirt and a pair of shoes! Then I’ll go to a fancy restaurant and order steak!

Old Woman. He’s changing his tune.

strawberry3p strawberry3q strawberry3r

Panhandler. Then I’ll get me a case of booze and find a cozy place in the park to sit all night and look at the moon and get thoroughly, gloriously smashed!

Old Woman (clapping). The Italians call that a brindisi or drinking song.

Student. I see.

strawberry3s

Old Woman. But is that the end? It seems like a short opera.

Student. They make them shorter these days.

Old Woman. I was hoping for something big, like Verdi.

Student. I love Verdi.

Old Woman. And he loved me. We were lovers, Verdi and I.

Student. I didn’t know that.

Old Woman. Now you do. But look … a group of peasants is gathering in the village square.

strawberry3t

Singers. Good-bye, John, we miss you. It’s not the same without you.

Old Woman. What kind of music is that?

Student. They call it rock opera.

Singers. Good-bye, John, we miss you. It’s not the same without you.

Old Woman. A little goes a long way.

Singers. Good-bye, John, we miss you. It’s not the same without you.

Student. Give it a chance.

strawberry3u

Singers. John longed for a better world — John dreamed of a new tomorrow — John imagined a brighter future — John saw beyond the boundaries of nations — Freedom to love — Freedom to live.

Good-bye, John, we miss you. It’s not the same without you.

Student. They’re singing about John Lennon.

strawberry3v

Old Woman. I knew him well. If Lennon met Verdi, would they get along?

Student. Lennon yearned for freedom.

Old Woman. Verdi loved liberation. When he died, they sang his tunes in the street. They sang his arias as the hearse rolled by.

strawberry3w

Student. When Lennon died, crowds gathered all over the world and lit candles and sang his songs, lit candles and sang his songs.

strawberry3x

Chorus. Good-bye, John, we miss you. It’s not the same without you.

Old Woman. When Verdi died, the world went into mourning.

Student. When Lennon died, the whole world wept.

Old Woman. I love Lennon.

Student. And I love Verdi.

Chorus. A world without music is a world without love.

strawberry3y


Son (with nurse). Here’s your wheelchair, Mother.

Nurse. Let’s go for a little ride. Let’s find us a nice new place to live.

strawberry4a strawberry4b

Old Woman. I prefer to stay with your father.

Son. Father’s been dead for twenty years.

Old Woman. Oh, really? (Points to student) Then who is he?

Son. I don’t know. Here’s your wheelchair.

Nurse. Let’s go for a little ride. Let’s find us a nice new place to live.

Old Woman (to student). This is called opera buffa.

strawberry4c

Student. What’s that?

Old Woman. When people don’t recognize their own parents. It’s a wise child who knows his own father. Am I right, or am I right?

Chorus. You are right. You are right.

strawberry4d strawberry4e

Old Woman. Oh, this younger generation! They deny their parents. They have lost sight of all continuity and the past. Am I right, or am I right?

Chorus. You are right. You are right.

Son. Mother, we’ve made plans for you.

Nurse. Yes, we need to go bye-bye.

Old Woman. Cancel them. I’m starring in an opera. Am I right?

strawberry4f

Chorus. You are right. You are right.

Son. We need to … change the scene, Mother.

Nurse. Let’s go for a little ride. Let’s find us a nice new place to live.

Old Woman. My husband and I have plans of our own.

Son. Please, Mother!

Old Woman. Should I stay or go?

Chorus. Don’t go. Don’t go.

strawberry4g

Old Woman. You see? They want me here.

Daughter. Oh, Mother, what now?

Old Woman. I’m in an opera.

Daughter. I was having a fitting at Bergdorf’s.

strawberry4h strawberry4i

Son. She won’t leave.

Old Woman. I’ll leave when we get to the end.

Daughter. And when will that be?

Son. When will you be ready, Mother?

Old Woman. I’ll know, and you’ll know.

Daughter. We could be here all day.

Son. If not all night.

Daughter. It’s always about you. I knew this would happen. I sensed it this very morning. It’s always about you, Mother.

Chorus. I sense tension. I sense trouble. Things are coming to a head.

strawberry4j

Son. She’s senile.

Nurse. She’s aphasic.

Daughter. It must be Alzheimer’s disease.

Son. Don’t forget her heart.

Student. She seems okay to me.

strawberry4k

Son, Daughter, and Nurse. You don’t know. You don’t have to live with her. You’re not there, day after day. You’re not there, day after day.

Student. Maybe if you lightened up …

Chorus. Let her be! Let her be!

Old Woman. This is called modern opera. Very anxious and intense. They say it’s an acquired taste.

strawberry4l

Daughter. I’ve got to get back. Give her a shot.

Son. A shot?

Daughter. A sedative.

Nurse. This should do it.

Student. Oh, no …

Chorus. Let her be.

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Daughter. We have to do it.

Student. Let her enjoy the day.

Chorus. One of the last good days we’ll have. Soon winter will be here. Let her enjoy the sun while it’s still here.

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Student. This is better than the class I cut from Colum­bia. What a day! Son. May­be we’re wrong to ship her off. Daughter. I haven’t got time for this. I’m due back at Berg­dorf’s in ten minutes. Nurse. Why did I take this job?
Well, what do you know? I have fal­len in love with this old gal. May­be we mov­ed too fast. I’m hav­ing sec­ond thoughts. I am her use­less daugh­ter. Could I start again? Al­ways alone.
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Chorus. What a special place this is. Something is calling, pulling, causing a connection. You can feel it around you. You can sense it inside you. You can feel it around you. You can sense it inside you. And music is the magnet that draws us together …

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Old Woman. … into the world of music, into the land of dreams. Everyone in harmony, no one out of tune.

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I enjoy its characters. I admire the scenery. I’m enjoying this opera.

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Son. All right, Mother. Enough is enough.

Daughter. Yes, Mother, it really is time to go.

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Nurse. She’s gone.

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Son. Good-bye, Mother.

Daughter. Good-bye, Mother.

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Chorus. Good-bye …

Pip­pins and cheese   Thanks to me dear wead­ers for the wel­comes-back. There’s so much, large and small, to catch up, it’s sort of hard to start. Here’s more pip­pins and cheese, and may­be a light fish course—a steam­ed tur­bot, with a nice aïoli or some leeks vin­ai­gret­te, or some­thing.

Back in the sum­mer I no­tic­ed a fruit tree grow­ing by the train tracks. It’s a nec­tar­ine or peach tree.

100725-cameo 100726-nectarines

It’s not that large, so it must have been plant­ed rela­tive­ly re­cent­ly. More than half of it came down in a thun­der­storm, with the fruit still on the branches, and just lay on the ground for a while. New growth was emer­ging af­ter­ward, hope­ful­ly it’ll bounce back next spring. You see fruit trees on pub­lic land­scap­ing around here, but they’re us­u­al­ly crab­ap­ples and bor­ing stuff like that, so this was kind of cool to find.

Limonata The café where I hang out start­ed to car­ry San Pel­le­gri­no spark­ling water, which I’ve be­come fond of, es­pec­ial­ly the li­mo­na­ta. It comes in a soft drink can with a nice de­sign, and the top is cov­er­ed with a foil wrap that I think makes a nice book­mark. I gave up drink­ing most sodas a long time ago other than ton­ic wa­ter and gin­ger ale—most are over­car­bon­a­ted and just plain crap­py as be­ver­ages, not to men­tion un­heal­thy but foist­ed on us any­way by our big agri­bus­i­ness. It’s kind of nice to have an­other op­tion.

The eth­nic food store just ’round the cor­ner has also add­ed a few new items, in­clud­ing fresh whole shrimp (with the head and legs still on) and quail eggs.

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Eye candy des jours récents   More cuties. This is Max­i­mil­lian Roeg, the son of Nich­o­las Roeg and Ther­esa Rus­sell. He had one of the lead roles in the in­ter­est­ing sound­ing movie Dream Boy, al­though I’m not sure it’s in­ter­est­ing enough to make me go out of the way to see it.

MRoeg

I tend to like mo­vies that are hard for a lot of people to like. Two I was watch­ing again ear­lier, and have been want­ing to write about, both have hot­ties in them. This is the Can­a­dian ac­tor Mi­chael Mc­Man­us in Atom Ego­yan’s Speak­ing Parts,

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and here’s the Greek ac­tor Stra­tos Tzor­tzo­glou in Theo An­gel­o­pou­los’s Land­scape in the Mist.

Stratos1 Stratos2 Stratos3

They’re both still around and have their own web­sites. It looks like Mc­Man­us went on to play an as­s­as­sin in a sci-fi TV ser­ies, and Tzor­tzo­glou has done a bunch of thea­ter and mov­ies in Greece.

And ap­par­ent­ly the scrawny-boy fash­ion model that was in vogue be­fore is now out of style. The New York Times chalks it up to the tough eco­no­my.

On Runways and in Magazines, a New Masculine Ideal
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/fashion/17MANLY.html

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Innards   The Mei­jer su­per­store here has start­ed car­ry­ing “var­i­ety meats,” in­clud­ing beef hearts and kid­neys.

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I’m try­ing to de­cide what to do with these. It’s a bit un­ex­pect­ed that they have heart at all, it’s tough to find re­ci­pes for it. M.F.K. Fish­er gave some ad­vice on them in How to Cook a Wolf:

An­other vi­tal part of a beef is the heart, which is not well enough known as a meat un­us­u­al­ly rich in vi­ta­mins and min­er­als too. A large heart should be stuf­fed with a reg­u­lar poul­try-dres­sing, aro­ma­tic with fresh or dried herbs, and basted of­ten with fat of rich stock in a slow oven until it is tender.

Small­er hearts can be split, brais­ed, and sim­mer­ed in the oven or a heavy skil­let with strips of bacon, un­til they are ten­der. Then put them un­der the broil­er long enough to brown.

Small veal or lamb hearts can be slic­ed thin, brais­ed quick­ly in hot fat, and then sim­mer­ed in stock with cubed veg­e­tables and herbs for a fine sav­o­ry stew to eat with rice. A lit­tle sher­ry and sour cream stir­red in just be­fore serv­ing make the fla­vors even more sa­tis­fy­ing.

I think I’m lean­ing to­ward the last one. Evi­dent­ly in Lim­o­ges they have a year­ly fes­ti­val of in­nards:

A Feast of Innards Nourishes French Nostalgia
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/world/europe/27limoges.html

Por­tu­gal and Hawai’i   Speak­ing of which, it looks like I did post the Fru­gal Gour­met’s Bas­que tripe stew re­cipe before. I re­mem­ber­ed do­ing the other one, but not this one. I’ve been won­der­ing where the Island-style tripe stew came from, es­pec­i­al­ly af­ter see­ing those pep­er­on­ci­ni things in Ban­yuls’s post.

We didn’t get it from the Bas­ques, that’s for sure. My guess is, it had to be from the Por­tu­guese. In per­u­s­ing me Por­tu­guese cook­ery book, there’s that theme of stews made with onion–gar­lic–olive oil–to­ma­to, and Por­tu­gal is just kit­ty-cor­ner around the coast­line from where the Basque lands were.

The Por­tu­guese are odd ducks in Hawai’i, in a way—they’re the only Eu­ro­peans in our “melt­ing pot” be­sides the Anglos (first the Brits, then the Yanks). I ga­ther there wasn’t a great deal of im­mi­gra­tion in­to the U.S. from Por­tu­gal—most of her em­i­gra­tion went else­where, like South Amer­i­ca—but a lot of what there was end­ed up in Hawai’i.

What­ever the case, they’ve cer­tain­ly been fix­tures in the lo­cal scene, as evi­den­ced by their food, which is just as tra­di­tion­al in Island­ cui­sine as the bet­ter-known (to out­sid­ers) sushi and luau.

  • Por­tu­guese sweet bread (pão-doce) is a staple, and a pop­u­lar fund-rais­ing item—I re­mem­ber (not fond­ly ei­ther) hav­ing to ped­dle it to raise money for school ac­ti­vi­ties. It has the con­sis­ten­cy of chal­lah, the Jew­ish egg bread, light and fluf­fy, but it’s sweet too. French toast made with it is good enough to make you cum in your pants so bad that you’ll have to send your jeans to the dry clean­er.
  • There’s also “Por­tu­guese sau­sage,” which makes a pro­mi­nent ap­pear­ance at break­fast. One of the break­fast plates that McDon­alds res­tau­rants in Hawai’i serve is the “Por­tu­guese sau­sage, eggs, and rice” plate, which, as I re­mem­ber it, used crap­py, mass-pro­du­ced sau­sage re­mi­ni­scent of mass-pro­duced ham steaks or “Ca­na­dian bacon.” Un­for­tu­nate­ly, that’s my main ex­per­i­ence with it, but you can also get the real thing, and I won­der if it isn’t the tra­di­tion­al Por­tu­guese chouriço. That break­fast plate strikes me as kin­dred in spi­rit to some­thing I first en­coun­ter­ed here in the Mid­west, name­ly the cho­ri­zo-and-egg bur­rito.
  • There’s also a “Por­tu­guese bean soup” that’s pop­u­lar and has beans, sau­sage, and el­bow ma­ca­ro­ni in it—which seems ra­ther like the Por­tu­guese sopa de pedra.

One thing makes me won­der, though: It’s real­ly com­mon to grow hot pep­pers in the yard, or in pots, in Hawai’i. The plants are lit­tle shrubs, with fruit about the size of small Christ­mas-tree light bulbs that pack a wal­lop. (My brother once told me how as a kid he pick­ed one up, play­ed with it, then threw it away, only to rub his eye later, with pain­ful re­sults.) We had a plant in our side yard, and al­though we never used it for any­thing that I can re­call, the chilis are used in a local fla­vor­ing call­ed “chili pep­per water.” I gather it’s like Ta­bas­co or Lou­i­s­i­ana hot sauce. I don’t think I ev­er tast­ed it my­self, but ac­cord­ing to my cook­book, there’s also a Por­tu­guese ver­sion, molho de piri-piri:

Por­tu­gal’s na­vi­ga­tors of the fif­teen­th and six­teen­th cen­tu­ries were res­pon­si­ble for dis­se­mi­nat­ing many Old World foods to the New, and vice versa. Piri-piri pep­pers, for exam­ple, were brought from one Por­tu­guese co­lo­ny, Bra­zil, to an­other, An­gola, where they be­came so in­te­gral to the lo­cal cui­sine that they were ul­ti­ma­te­ly known as “An­go­lan pep­pers.” The pep­pers are tiny but they are fil­led with fire, which Por­tu­guese cooks learn­ed to cap­ture by min­c­ing the pods and steep­ing them in oil and vin­e­gar. The re­sult­ing sauce has be­come a staple in kit­chens and din­ing rooms through­out Por­tu­gal.
I’m now won­der­ing whe­ther our Hawaiian chili pep­pers are real­ly An­go­lan pep­pers.

Recipe   Hot Red Pep­per Sauce (Molho de piri-piri)   Stem and coarse­ly chop 2–6 chili pep­pers (in­clude the seeds). Place in a 1-pint shak­er jar along with 1 t. ko­sher or coarse salt, 1 c. olive oil, and 1/3 c. cider vin­e­gar. Cov­er tight, shake well, and store at room tem­per­a­ture. It keeps for about a month. (From Jean Ander­son’s ter­ri­fic The Food of Por­tu­gal)