Friday, November 25, 2011

My Dinner with Julian Barnes

Not really, but I had a lovely little intersection with Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending, which I'm about 3/4 the way through, on Thanksgiving.

I cooked this year for the first time in many years. The gathering of the family was going to be small (with a larger gathering on Friday), so I made a turkey breast. I ordered an organic turkey from D'artagnan, along with White Truffle Butter. You pull the skin away from the bird and slip medallions of the butter under it, to melt into the meat and flavor it, and it also flavors the au jus beautifully.

I finished doing that, then popped down to Penn Station to meet my mother. On the subway I continued read The Sense, where the narrator is going on about his ex-girlfriend Veronica and his ex-wife Margaret.

And so I read:

I said I wanted to get under her [Veronica] skin, didn't I? It's an odd expression, and one that always makes me think of Margaret's way of roasting chicken. She'd gently loosen the skin from the breast and thighs, then slip butter and herbs underneath. Perhaps some garlic as well, I'm not sure. I've never tried it myself, then or since; my fingers are too clumsy, and I imagine them ripping the skin.

Margaret told me of a French way of doing this which is even fancier. They put slices of black truffle under the skin . . .

Butter and truffles under the skin of a fowl: I had JUST done that very same thing. Art mirroring life on the #1 train on a holiday. One of the thrills of reading.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks Be to Buffy and Blogging

Things are a little intense for me right now, as they are for many people for many reasons, at this time of OWS and all the ongoing wars, struggles around the world.

To handle the pressures—big and small, life changing and life threatening---you’ve got to find small pleasures where you can find them. They are one of the things that help keep you balanced.
And on this Thanksgiving, two small things have given me that little blast of “things are okay”: A Buffy marathon, and a blog comment.

I’m cooking this year, so I was up early and stumbled upon the 6:00 am start of the Chiller Buffy Marathon. I am an original, serious fan. It’s hard to describe the import of that statement to the uninitiated. I haven’t seen an episode since the series ended 8 years ago, so what a great cheap thrill it is to hear that music again. And, the marathon is the last 10 episodes of the series, which (except for the last, which I DID NOT LIKE), I don’t remember that well, so it’s like seeing new episodes. (And, I want to go on record that, in the final analysis, I believe Angel (the series) was the superior creative achievement, an unpopular idea in my circle that I hope to defend someday in print.)

I could transcribe great Buffy dialogue all day: “First Date”: Buffy: He (the principal) may want to give me a promotion, or he may what to kill me; Willow: Well, you’ll have to dress for the ambiguity.

As anyone who has stopped by here before knows, I am also a serious fan of blogging, and tomorrow happens to be my 5 year blogoversary.

Last night someone in Abu Dhabi, clicked over from a 23 year old’s tumblr who had linked to my Orson Welles post. I love when the UAE visits. But my favorite part is the way the 23 year set up the link on his page:

"First-hand Accounts of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds

This has long been my favourite example of early, en masse trolling.
Orson Welles, my hat is off to you sir."

A 23 year old saying that any concept has “long been” in his vocabulary is enheartening.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Enjoy the day of rest and family (and for those who partake, Buffy).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Do I Like Parks & Recreation? I only SUPER do

Leslie: Due to my campaign, the romantic aspect of our relationship is over. And I'm totally fine with that. But Ben and I have so much in common we're amazing friends. And friendship is better because friends help you move, they drive you to the airport. Boyfriends just . . . love you and marry you.

I never got into The Office, haven’t seen many episodes, though I appreciate a line from an event with Steve Carell-—“If you don’t know a Michael Scott, you are a Michael Scott” —and I’m not a particular fan of Amy Poehler, so I didn’t rush to watch Greg Daniels and Michael Schur’s not-Office spinoff, Parks and Recreation starring Poehler.

But I have slowly come around to watching it most weeks, and the recent episode “The Treaty” is such inspired, smart, sparkling lunacy that I am now the recent convert who must convert everyone she knows. It’s for your own good! Watching this episode will pick you up when you are feeling down and restore your faith in humanity!!

A Relationship/Model U.N./& High School

Parks & Recreation
is one of those comedies which—when it’s hot-—can convincingly offer an A, B, & C story in the commercially allotted 21 or so minutes. I’m highly impressed by that narrative agility (How different from the one--story classics of The Dick Van Dyke Show, the early attempts of 2 stories like The Mary Tyler Moore Show.)

Here’s a little set up you need to enjoy "The Treaty":

General series premise: A crew is making a documentary of the city workers in the Parks Department of Pawnee, a fictional town in Indiana. So there is direct address to the camera, which should be a tired conceit after The Office and Modern Family, but somehow it’s still fresh here.

Story A: Leslie Knope (Poehler) and Ben Wyatt (the unassumingly charming Adam Scott) fell in deep, deep like, finally dated, and then broke up when Leslie was approached to run for public office, because she thinks having an office romance won’t be good for her election.

Leslie and Ben are still struggling with how to be apart in this episode, and it plays out with hilarity as they go make the Pawnee High School Model United Nations Club awesome so it doesn't get canceled.

Leslie represents Denmark, Ben, Peru, and while they start as allies they devolve into crazy screaming teenagers, perfectly capturing how the horrible hurt of a broken relationship can manifest in crazy ways (here the crazy is funny instead of scary).

Story B: Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), who is Leslie’s boss, tries to rehire Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) who left to start his own entertainment business, which failed.

Story C: City Manager Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) launches an “investigation” into why the daughter of one his employees stopped returning his calls.

They are all good, but the Leslie//Ben stuff at the model U.N. is successful lunacy. I had to watch it twice to pick up all the allusions and get all the lines. And I’m on the side of fans who think that nitwit Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) unknowingly negotiated for liens from Kenya (not real lions).

After you watch the episode, pop over the Sepinwall’s for great commentary and comments.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day in the Digital Age: 11 am on 11/11/11

There is something inherently cosmic/Matrix when the numeric dates that we look at so casually in everyday life reset themselves into such a clean declaration of the primary of the binary code: 1. It also looks like the great slot machine of life has spun and landed on all stars.

Oddly enough, the magnetism of this number was felt back in 1918. Germany had surrendered, and someone decided that the formal Armistice agreement would be signed on 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. That set a century of observances in motion, as the magnitude of the devastation to people’s lives became clearer and clearer as the years passed and the human spirit needed some sort of ritual to help it heal from the madness.

We called today Armistice Day until 1954, when Eisenhower signed into law the broader All Veterans Day, which became just Veterans Day. That was an excellent idea. We have Memorial Day to honor the dead; we need something to help us think about the living, all those individuals who have served in war and peace. The Department of Veterans Affairs has a website with information about volunteering, helping Veterans in various ways, and I learned that there is a VA hospital at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.

Americans never picked up the British honor of 2-minutes of silence, but many people will give some kind of thought to 11:00 am today.

These terrific photos are from The Guardian: British troops in Afghanistan; Veterans in London; 2 minutes of silence at Lloyds of London.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Relentless Pollution of Chongqing

One of Andrew Sullivan's regular features is The View From Your Window, where he posts photos that readers send him of the view they are looking at as they blog, or do work of any sort.

This one is from a high rise in Chongqing, China. I was there in 2010. When I first woke up I thought that it was just a cloudy day. But it was every day; then I realized the cloudiness was severe pollution. And after being outside for a whole day, I felt very unwell, in a weird, unspecific way.

I am sad to see this picture. I don't think the people who live there ever see the sun in the city. It has an eerie post-apocalyptic feel about it. I don't know what the answer is to the poisoning pollution of the earth, but if Americans experienced this level of pollution, I think more efforts and intelligence would go toward making changes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Music for All Souls Day

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine

"Grant them eternal rest, O Lord"

I find great beauty in the propers for the Requiem Mass, and on All Souls I find myself drawn to the musical settings of these most important and final of words.

The idea of eternity is so profound, so unimaginable, that sublime musical writing from the genius of composers is necessary to even glimpse the beginning of the magnitude of the concept. There are the big heavy requiems like Mozart, Verdi, Bruckner, and the more ethereal compositions of Faure, Durufle, and Rutter. The Faure is my favorite—-you can hear the haunting original ancient chant in its lines—-and if you have never heard it I urge you to iTunes or YouTube.

I heard the Britten War Requiem last weekend, from the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Lincoln Center. Britten wrote it in 1961 as a nonliturgical setting of the Requiem Mass, interspersed with the poems of the War World One poet Wilfred Owen. It's a powerful, moving juxtaposition, with the import of so much history: it was first performed in the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed in World War Two. For me, the music is too "modern" inflected with the dissonances of that mode.

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

I also heard the LSO under Sir Colin Davis perform the towering, overwhelming, Missa Solemnis. It was one of the most moving concert experiences I have ever had.

It is particularly difficult to capture the emotion, genius, joy, exuberance of this piece in words. In 2010 Anthony Tommasini called it "one of Beethoven’s most inspired, audacious and mystifying scores. . . . one of Beethoven's greatest compositions. It encapsulated his deepest thoughts, his profound humility in the face of adversity, his triumph over fate, the dignity of humanity as a part of God's design." (Recent review here)

My favorite writing on the mass is from the Bohemian-Austrian music critic Eduard Hanslick. Beethoven wrote the Missa Solemnis between 1819 and 1823, Hanslick's review was first published in 1861. Our civil war was raging, but Austria was thriving as a music capital. The whole piece is worth reading, but here are some excerpts (from Barry Mitchell's excellent blog, The Theory of Music, where you can read the whole review.)

"There is no other work of Beethoven’s which crushes the unprepared listener with such gigantic strength, at the same time raising him up again, deafened, delighted, confused.

A work by Beethoven conceived in the full power of his imagination and fully characteristic of his utter lack of compromise, is not to be enjoyed as easily, as freely, as a symphony by Haydn. In the Mass in D, Beethoven set down everything he possessed in the way of sublime ideas and religious feelings; he gave to this music three years of his life then in its sunset and brilliantly aglow with its double majesty of genius and adversity."

The Kyrie is the original Phil Spector wall of sound, amped with the entreaty of "Lord, have mercy." To experience the piece with the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra is to have a tide wave wash over you, and then raise you up in the water, just like Hanslick describes. The first downbeat of the first cry is like a sacred "Tristan Chord": riveting, emotional, profound, joyous and so very full of life.

Just perfect for All Souls Day.

This performance of Staatskapelle Dresden under Christian Thielemann is sterling. If you listen to nothing else today, listen to the first 4 minutes: the grand orchestra downbeat, followed by the melody in the oboes, then the enormous choral downbeat, out of which the soloists intone, until the chorus builds on triumphant thirds an explosion of sound.