Category Archives: Film

Knowing How to Swing

Revisited some of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Liz Taylor and Paul Newman.

poster

How gorgeous and weird a production it is, and what a knockout she is in her silken white dress with its deep vee.

taylor

And, something I’d totally forgotten, what an amazing crutch walker is Newman’s Brick.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof blouse skirt

It’s not a real broken ankle, Gil reminds me. But still, to be able to swing around the room like that, spilling nary a drop of his whiskey, a single wooden crutch under one arm?

newman crutches

His real crutch of course his his addiction to alcohol.

Or what about the incredible gymnastics that occur when Newman takes a swing at Taylor’s Maggie with the crutch, ending up on the rug, the both of them smiling ruefully. Why is Uncle Brick on the floor? asks one of the little no-neck monsters. Because I tried to kill your Aunt Maggie, says Brick. But I failed. And I fell. Eyes of blue, achilles heel.

newman floor

I wonder if Tennessee Williams ever had to go around on crutches.

tenness

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Crushes on Crutches

At the movies I saw a woman on crutches. A young, pretty woman in a color-block sundress. As I watched, she hopped around the serve-yourself beverage kiosk, assembling her ice, her soda and her straw, putting the whole drink together before her boyfriend politely carried it away for her.

I saw her next swinging her way into the ladies’ room. Into a regular stall! Not the one with the wheelchair icon I was struggling to enter with my kneeling scooter The Bloke. I washed my hands, she washed her hands, the difference being that she was cool as a cuke, graceful and weightless, not perspiring and puffing like me. Probably about 24 years old.

At the film line she was waiting, as was I, to go in. We shared war stories. A motorcyle accident, she said.

anime

A little piece of the bike flew off into her ankle. The doctor had her in her cast for six weeks. It was a little difficult, she told me, because she lives up four floors and the laundry’s in the basement. But she’s making do okay. Her bike? Came out of the accident perfectly fine. She couldn’t wait to get back on it.

By the next morning my conversation with motorcycle girl had begun to percolate. I had been proud of myself for managing The Bloke so well. But now I had crutches envy. How do you make the best of this particular situation, a bum foot, and do it with some measure of equanimity and grace? It helps if you are an athletically gifted person of 24, of course. I wondered, how do you take your lumps and move forward, albeit with a cast on your foot that feels like a stiff leather ice skate with no sock? A little sand drizzled in for good measure.

Recently I asked my brother Peter for blog ideas since I knew I’d be less able than usual to go on gallivants and cover eclectic cultural happenings like I usually do. Why don’t you just catalogue all the stuff in your house, he suggested.

I feel, though, that I have already catalogued some of the things I like best. My vintage cookbook-pamphlet collection, for example.

salad book

The heirloom lace created by my foremothers.

lace cu 2

I don’t know that I’ve ever indexed the bones that have surfaced from the marsh in front of the Cabin, mainly carried helpfully to us in Oliver’s mouth. We joke that he is trying to assemble to assemble a full deer skeleton.

bones

Or the skins that have been sloughed off by so many snakes just to the south of the house.

snakeskin

But, like motorcycle girl, probably I do get to a few things every day, even now, move my constrained life ahead bit by bit. Take some action, even if I’m not swinging effortlessly on my axilla mobility aids. Thus, a catalogue of 10 actions taken today.

1. A shower bath, my leg encased in a plastic bag, with streaming hot water and a worn-down bar of soap a revelation.

2. A knitted row of  angora, hopefully without a slipped stitch.

angora

3. Perused some passages in Travels in North America, a volume published by Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm in the 1760s. In it he expounds on such scientific matters as the way bears kill livestock in Philadelphia: by biting a hole in a cow’s hide and inflating it until it dies.

racoon1

4. Stumbled upon a recipe for Warm, Cheesy Swiss Chard and Roasted Garlic Dip. As soon as I’m up and around the kitchen again!

5. Checked out the Thanksgiving episode of Orange Is the New Black.

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How many programs have a cast that is 99 percent female, let along with a heavy lesbian slant? Mindblowing.

6. Pushed The Bloke to the sushi bar at the back of a Japanese restaurant and had the treat of watching the chef halve a bright pink, yard-long salmon with finesse, season it with rock salt and layer it in a tub with its perfect filet brothers.

7. Scootered through a supermarket I usually despise as being too plastic but which today looked cheerily kaleidoscopic after two weeks of grocery deprivation.

market

8. Brought home the beer in The Bloke’s handy basket.

kaliber

9. Visited my garden for the first time since the surgery. The collards were begging for a simmer with a pork hock.

collards

10. Visited with Oliver on his turf, the front yard, for a change, rather than him visiting with me on the couch.

oliver rolling

I’m getting back onto that couch now and elevating my aching foot. Ahhhh. But… I wonder what motorcycle girl is up to. On her anime-sparkle-titanium-neon crutches. Rocking the lead vocals with her hip hop crew? Bottle-feeding a new litter of rottweiler-lab pups? Baking a dozen loaves of vegan meatloaf for her closest friends? Or just getting ready to fly down those four flights and go out to the movies again? Because she can do just about anything she wants. As can I.

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L.E.C.M.-Elysium-Karma

An interminable eighteen days until the brittle cast comes off my leg. In the meantime, Gil Reavill has consented to contribute yet another juicy post to this page. Here he is.

JEAN ZIMMERMAN (writes Gil) is well celebrated for her parking karma. This arcane skill is probably not noteworthy in any other place than New York City and San Francisco, but within the confines of Manhattan, especially, it is golden. Jean’s strategy, by the by, is to drive directly to the place we’re heading for and not slow to look for street parking along the way. Like as not, she finds a spot close upon  the goal.

In Cabinworld, cabin fever is a quite literal situation, and Jean insisted on getting herself and her splint-bound leg off the couch and out of the house this afternoon. We decided on Elysium, the Matt Damon movie by the South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp, who directed a 2009 film we both liked, District 9. Lured by brand-new reclining La-Z-Boy style seats, we aimed for the AMC theater on 84th Street and Broadway. (These are the best movie seats in the world, says Jean, worth going to a film for even when the film is rotten.)

Pulling up directly in front of the movie house, we found ourselves opposite a sedan with a driver sitting in the driver’s seat. Jean posed the traditional NYC question: Are you leaving? Yes, I am, said the driver. And he did. It was magic, especially for unloading a knee scooter and a person with a hurt foot.

Parking Karma

Karma is a belief that there is some form of justice in the universe. Behave badly, be reincarnated as a worm or some other lower life form. Do good and step up the chain of being toward bodhisattva.

Gamblers call it luck. Here’s a passage from Jean’s The Orphanmaster that deals with it:

Drummond had witnessed the world’s best gamblers at play, including Prince Henry, a demon at cards. Bassett was Henry Stuart’s game, and he could win a hundred pound on the turn of a queen, only to lose it the next hand. Drummond knew the action well enough to understand the play was not really about winning and losing.

It was about faith and belief.

The field of battle and the gaming table. Drummond once stood beside an officer, a good man judged by all to be lucky and deserving, only to see a dressed-stone cannon ball take off his head. Every soldier learned the harshest lesson of battle in ways that re-ordered his very soul: Luck had nothing to do with it. Randomness ruled.

The gambler wanted to believe differently, that the world held some secret order to it, one that would accord him a special measure of good fortune. Every play tested the gambler’s faith in that belief.

Jean’s parking karma notwithstanding, I’ve always considered karma as no more than a comforting fairy tale. The universe is random and makes no exception at all for human concerns.

Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated a belief similar to karma, not in Buddhist/Hindu terms but with his usual Southern Baptist eloquence: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Martin-Luther-King-Jr-9365086-2-402

It would be pretty to think so, as Hemingway would say. Such a kernel of optimism might be necessary in order to commit to the long-haul cause of social justice. King no doubt needed to believe to endure the incredible trials he encountered.

Talk of karma and the bend toward justice somehow implies that the universe will take care of itself. You don’t have to get on up off of your duff. But social justice doesn’t just happen. It needs a push.

Here is King’s great predecessor in the cause, Frederick Douglass:

Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are people who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did and it never will. Find out what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice which will be imposed upon them. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

This August 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the occasion for King’s celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech. Five years later, just before his assassination, his political strategy had widened to a specific economic purpose. He proposed another march on Washington, D.C., this one rendered tragic by his death: The Poor People’s Campaign in June 1968.

Civil rights is a dangerous enough cause to push, but demanding economic equality, that’s what they’ll kill you for.

Elysium, the movie that we watched flat on our backs in the AMC 84th Street Theater, was surprisingly political. (Political enough to make you drop your popcorn, says Jean.)

gil reclining

A broad-gauge fable of sorts, it spoke to the world’s most pressing issue, according to Dr. King. It usually goes by the name of “income inequality” today. We’re creating a two-tier society, segregated, policed and imbalanced.

In the film, the haves have decamped the earth for Elysium, a paradisal, mandala-like orbiting space environment.

elysi

The have-nots, down below, live in impoverished, overpopulated, climate-fried squalor. It’s like America after the Walton family and the Koch brothers get through with it: one sprawling, fetid favela.

The film has a covert message, with plenty of clues littered throughout. Elysium, a word the ancient Greeks invoked for paradise, is code for L.E.C.M. (say it fast), the alt-culture rallying cry of Love, Empathize, Create, March.

Damon’s solid, but Jodie Foster, as the military bigwig who concedes nothing without an armed invasion, turns in not her best performance ever. The steampunk flavor of the art direction is really the movie’s star. It just looks cool.

explosive

One way to follow the dictates of Frederick Douglass and agitate for social justice in 2054 Los Angeles, it turns out, is to have a rack of metal implanted into your skull.

What the haves really have and the have-nots haven’t any of, in Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian vision, is health care. It’s oddly endearing to watch a $115 million Hollywood action movie where the climax is… everybody gets the Affordable Care Act! (In the form of a magic box in your living room that instantly cures all ills, says Jean. Wouldn’t you like to have one? Now if Obama could manage that, that would be karma.)

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The Mummy’s Bones

The Bloke smokes. The thing you need to know if you get a kneeling scooter is you have to embrace the experience, you have to enjoy it, you have to gliiiide. Even with a cup of iced Starbucks in one hand.

jz scoots

Like a kid. Like all the kids that look at you with envy when they see you and your device, The Bloke, come careening their way. I beat Gil in a race down the drug store aisles.

Gil says, Jean, don’t write about your foot again.

But I say, write what you know. And at this point my foot is pretty central to what I know.

I felt good because I came out of my first week of rehab with a completed book review for NPR – and the book was a hefty one, too: The Daughters of Mars, by Thomas Keneally. It makes it somewhat easier to handle an achy-breaky right foot when you’re reading about World War I soldiers getting their faces “shorn off.” Amputees were the new normal. Who am I to complain? I got a few stitches, that’s all.

suture

But crutches suck. You see those college jocks swinging along on a pair after a football injury, going to History 329 or maybe a crowded  party up a flight of frat-house stairs – how do they do that? It’s all I can do to limp across the living room or out to the car. It’s the young guys’ superior upper-body strength, I’m sure, but also the breezy ‘tude, and a strong desire to get back into the swim of beer pong.

Which brings me back to The Bloke. I was going to decline the Pig Mountain barbecue at the end of August, thinking I just couldn’t manage the street fair thing. But how can you turn down a pork-enshrining food fest in a town called Narrowsburg, New York, which started out as a punk rock show in a basement? Fourteen chefs and fourteen pigs. So what if I get some drinks slopped on The Bloke. He can handle a little rust.

This is one way to get through 6 weeks of life in a foot cast: gliiiide through it, sampling pork ribs and other delicacies along the way.

I’ve become a pudding fiend. A bowl of the stuff being the demarcation between early evening on the couch, foot up, and late evening on the couch, foot up.

KozyShack

I’ll tell you a secret about Kozy Shack. It’s no worse than any homemade pudding or gourmet restaurant mousse either, containing just milk, eggs, sugar and real vanilla. It has only one flaw. The chocolate does not have the delectable skin on it you get when it cools after you spoon it out of a hot pan. Yuck, says Gil.

Another avenue to wellness: idolize your doc, and realize you lucked into the Greatest Foot Surgeon in the World. The Greatest. There is something of the Stockholm Syndrome in this, probably, as Dr. Voellmicke is mine for the duration, so he better be good. But in truth, he has a sharp mind and a gentle touch. Not everyone could repair a fifth metatarsal with such delicacy.

foot xray

We visited with Dr. Voellmicke so that I could get my sutures removed and my plaster cast exchanged for a streamlined fiberglass model. This sterling representative of his profession performs every bit of the work himself, including creating a fiberglass mold of wet strips the way you’d make a kids’ pinata.

bandaged foot

I came up with a horror film trope. Bunions: The Movie. Or maybe The Bone Spur. Anyway, my feet have been a nightmare for a long time, and it was thrilling to see the monster bones I was living with transformed into the elegant lines that now lie beneath the mummy bandages, awaiting their closeup.

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A Hut of Candy Floss

Magical, feel good potions of the day: a tall iced coffee, a small pain smoother, a delicate skein of candy floss.

coffee

There’s a lot you don’t know about crutches before they come into your life. Like what good yarn-winders they make in a pinch.

crutch winders

This silk-angora begs to be knitted into a Barbie evening wrap.

candy floss

I seem to be rendered all thumbs by the work on my toes.

floss knit

Don’t you love it when you come across an actress just casually knitting in the movies?

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s makes a famous attempt, looking fetching while botching her pattern.

audrey

Or Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies. She makes knitting snazzy.

Myrna Loy

Sylvia Sidney appears in a fantastic shot on set, needles in hand.

Sylvia Sidney A

That last comes from one of my favorite blogs, One More Stitch, whose author researches and recreates garments of the past.

All these glamour pusses make it look so easy.

When I feel like tossing my needles, I think about entering the knit world another way — through  the example of this guy in France who soaked sweaters in milk and lime, threw them over a frame of branches and covered them with black soap and linseed oil. He padded the inside with earth and, for some reason, horse manure. He lives there now.

Hepburn would probably even look more cool knitting her sweater in this knit hut.

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Escape From the Small Screen

Out of a doze, into a tavern. Burgers, seafood, beer. Prop up the cast on a chair, so much more comfortable that way. Cold beer, even nonalcoholic never tasted so good. After a dozen Breaking Bad reruns, the real world looks sharp, magnificent .

What’s that on your face, said my father to my husband.

Project

It’s my project beard, said Gil. I’ll cut it when I finish my book.

Christmas isn’t for four months, said my dad, suggesting Gil could get a job as a mall Santa. He went back to calculating the check.

B&S

Just a touch more coffee, said my mother to the waitress. No, that’s too much.

Just drink what you want, said my father.

I’ll finish my cold, cold beer. Crunch a last potato chip. Swing my way home to the couch.

Jean on crutches

Did you know it rained today? Like sheets of rock candy, or maybe that’s from Breaking Bad.

il_fullxfull.399180881_uw8j

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Dirty Disney

I expected the Paul McCarthy show at New York’s Park Avenue Armory to be raunchy, demented, transgressive. What I didn’t anticipate was that it would be hilarious.

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If you follow the contemporary art world you know that McCarthy excels at tweaking the public’s nose. Not long ago there was the giant inflatable “Complex Pile” he contributed to ultra-civilized monumental art shows.

poop

The fifty-one-foot dog poop went pop in a downpour one recent day in Hong Kong, but not before it had made its comment on our expectations for the public sculpture we’re used to admiring. Plastic dolls, masks and ketchup have also figured in the 68-year-old McCarthy’s oeuvre over the years.

In W/S,  the largest installation the artist has ever created, we have a multimedia reimagining of the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, its Disney iconography mashed up with elements of horror and porn and probably a few other elements I missed. In the films that are the bulwark of the show, McCarthy plays an ersatz Walt Disney, here called Walt Paul, nose prosthetiicized to the max.

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Neither Maud nor I said much as we went around the Armory’s cavernous Wade Thompson Drill Hall, one of the largest public spaces in Manhattan. The last time I visited the Armory it was for the prim and proper Winter Antiques Show, and I remember marvelling at the fancily gorgeous reception rooms designed by people like Louis Comfort Tiffany.

armorytiffany3

This time we heard the exhibit before we saw anything, a raucous moaning and groaning like a bloated x-rated soundtrack. The noise emanated from two gigantic screens, each as big as a drive in theater’s. On the screens, dwarves cavorted with  White Snow – McCarthy’s version of the Disney heroine — in a hectic, squalid party.

screen

Under the blast of sound we couldn’t hear each other anyway. In front of us stood a large, Wonderland-proportioned forest of painted styrofoam trees and garish monster flowers.

forest dark

Its lavish 8,800 square feet formed the centerpiece of the show and had served as the soundstage of the production, before it was carted to New York from Los Angeles in dozens of tractor-trailers.

forest

A house, or “cottage,” stood in front of us, or anyway a film set version of one. The back was punctuated with a series of square peepholes like the ones you see at some major construction sites. I’ve always liked peering into those. Here there was the same suggestion of a secret view.

body

There were disturbing glimpses of the aftermath of something gone terribly wrong, a woman and a man collapsed in a tacky living room. But the squirt bottle of Hershey’s was the tipoff as to the display’s tomfoolery. You do know that in Hollywood, Hershey’s often substitutes for blood, don’t you?

In W/S, McCarthy exhumes Walt Disney and has him trot around getting into trouble before really getting into trouble at the hands of Grumpy, Sneezy, et al. All I could think of was a guy I knew who landed a good job working at Disney in the ‘60s before Walt personally had him fired for sporting a beard.

Now here was one of the most famous men in the world surrounded by beards and noses and genitalia and a lot of chocolate syrup, making love to a wench of a White Snow, all of them doing everything that no one would ever do in a Disney film (or theme park or corporation). It’s an upside down, inside out world, as crude and scary as the other was clean and safe. I imagine the Disney barracudas preparing their legal briefs.

balloons

Randy Kennedy of The New York Times did a piece on the artist recently that said, “His work can – and does – provoke physical revulsion. But it is not mere provocation; it’s intended as an all-out assault, a ‘program of resistance,’ as he calls it. And the older he gets, the more explicit he has become that his target is the American entertainment-consumer economy.”

Spectators weren’t allowed in the forest, but in a smaller film arcade along the side we could observe chapters of the story. An unclothed Prince Charming wandered through its glades. Shocking events transpired. We could also visit another house in a retro ranch style that is actually a three-quarter-scale replica of McCarthy’s Salt Lake City childhood home. Alex Poots, Artistic Director of the Armory, has had a lot of explaining to do about the piece, and at one point he said, “it explores the vast and at times distressingly dark corners of the human psyche.” And the dark corners of some pretty sad vintage rooms, I would say.

screen set

Walt Paul is not Paul McCarthy – the latter lives in Pasadena with his wife of 46 years, surrounded by kids, grandkids and pets. His grown son partnered with him in putting on W/S.

portrait

 

McCarthy told an interviewer that the show “may have something to do with how we see reality and desire. And art. This is a kind of hyper-reality of desire. A Disneyesque landscape that does not exist. A dreamscape.” All of this styrofoam and soundstage equipment comes at a cost, of course, and the project required millions of dollars. I like to think of Walt Paul in his lumpy nose approaching potential benefactors: Well, there’s this plastic forest, see, and this Hershey’s syrup…

I read a review that said the show “put the grim back into the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale.” I saw it as a series of extravagant what-ifs. What if Snow White had a split (or triple) personality? What if there was a handsome prince who didn’t rescue her but treated her more like a centerfold than a princess? What if Walt actually appeared in his own movies alongside Bambi, say, or Cinderella? What if those beloved childhood movies were more like stag films? What if the dwarves weren’t wholesome and helpful and cute but more like your twisted Uncle Charlie?

ws

The Grimm tales have always been dark. The great children’s author Philip Pullman recently came out with a new version, just in time for the 200th anniversary of their first publication.

grimm

 

McCarthy’s show is also unabashedly commercial, with plentiful Snow White artifacts available in the gift shop.

Disney stuff

Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm are punchy and elegant but also violent and raw. In his translation of Snow White, a huntsman cuts out the heart and liver of a wild boar and takes them back to the evil queen as evidence of the girl’s death. “The cook was ordered to season them well, fry them, and the wicked queen ate them all up.”

Do you recall the conversation parents have had from time to time about whether these ancient fairy tales offer an appropriate reading experience for their innocent youngsters? The answer is No, if you’re doing it right. And this version is done to a turn.

 

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The Highest Bidder

“There have been horror films set in storage facilities,” says Gil.

“I can only imagine,” says Maud.

Gil likes to run the cart through to our storage locker, especially if he’s got Maud for a passenger.

gil running

We’ve kept about half our belongings in the deep freeze since moving to the Cabin.

gil:maud

Too. Much. Stuff.

“Every increased possession loads us with new weariness,” said John Ruskin. What did John Ruskin know about it? Between the English countryside and Mayfair, he had plenty of space to stash his private editions and his watercolors.

gil:stuff

Will we ever find Maud’s backpack and sleeping pad so she’ll be equipped for her next adventure? She’s going to New Mexico to conduct research for her senior thesis, on descansos, the elaborate roadside shrines that mark auto fatalities. In New Mexico they’re very grand and very sad.

In A&E’s “Storage Wars,” people bid on the contents of repossessed storage lockers after looking for ten minutes at just the front of the container. Bidders get excited and spend a lot on what turns out to be junk. Our locker wouldn’t inspire much action.

Television also brings us a scene in “Breaking Bad” where Walter White opens a typically bland looking locker to find his wife has used it to hide an enormous brick of cash, probably 4′ by 10′ by 10′. Only thing about it is they can’t spend this treasure or he’ll go to jail. For a long time. Walt asks how much is there and Skyler says, I have no idea.

You could say that about the number of books stored in our cage.

“Is there anything we put away in storage that you miss having?” I ask Maud.

“My birthday piñata,” she says. We had a “nonviolent” piñata commissioned for Maud’s 5th birthday, its papier mache in the shape of a carousel horse. There were ribbons for the little tykes to pull to release the candy rather than bashing it with sticks. The horse had a breastplate with Maud’s name on it. We knew it was in storage someplace with its tail broken off, the tail floating  someplace in storage too.

“Is there anything you would want out of here?” I ask Gil.

“One thing I desperately want to have right now,” he said, “but won’t be able to find, is the picture of my mother and my father in their 20’s. I want to display it at my mom’s memorial service. But it’s lost in there.” That picture proved to 14-year-old Gil that his parents were young once, his dad holding a pipe and his mom looking devilish.

“Maud, what do you think is in all those boxes?”

maud's back

“Books, clothing, photos. Dead bodies.”

Sure, there have been evil deeds in storage lockers. We saw a thriller once in which a serial killer kept the clothing trophies of his victims in a locker. And in Silence of the Lambs Jodie Foster enters one to find a head in a jar.

But we find good things. Better than good. Softball gear, from Maud’s high school varsity team. Tents. We went to North-South Lake, remember that, our fragrant late night campfires? A wedding dress, still lovely in its ever-browning box. Copies of books we wrote, with passion. Gently used snorkeling gear. Let’s go, let’s go away somewhere warm and sandy sometime!

Gil finds the army jacket of Acton, his father.

acton's jacket

Maud finds her carousel horse.

maud:horse

I lift down something precious, the lacework made by my Tennessee matriarchs. “Really?” says Gil. Our house is so small. For some reason I need this work by me, from the deep freeze to my warm house.

lace from storage

We have a conversation. “How much of this stuff would you remember if it all disappeared one day?” said Gil. “How much of it would you really miss.”

red

“All of it,” I say. “I’d remember it all.”

elevator

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Simple Stock With a Side of Butter

We in the northeastern U.S. have been deluged with a cool spring rain for several days now. Not good weather for adventuring, though I managed to get out and about yesterday and sample some history and some garlicky pork chops.

weeds

The weeds are thriving. Our sump pump is heaving, with the Cabin set as it is down into an overflowing marsh. And the room around me is dim and shadowy, a womb of dark lumber. The pictures stare out of the murk.

picture

Chestnut, a building expert recently assured me. The Cabin is built of chestnut logs. How do you know? I asked. I just know, he said. You can see it in the fireplace mantle.

mantle

Today is fit for a few errands – dry cleaning, library, Good Will. Then as many rounds of a knitted cowl as I have patience for. Beautifully soft merino wool in a heathery blue-brown. The proprietor of my local knit shop, Flying Fingers, after salvaging yet another botched project of mine, confided that business falls off after the winter, that people seem not to think of knitting as a year-round activity. I immediately bought some new yarn.

heather

I think I’ll take another listen to Barry White’s Ecstasy, which I heard in the car for the first time in a long time. At least 20 years, in fact. Is it still brilliant or is it just me?

barry

Perhaps a chapter of What Maisie Knew, the original by Henry James, which I’m newly interested in after the disturbing contemporary movie version I took in earlier in the week. Perhaps a start on The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, which just appeared in April and takes place in 1975 in New York City, where a young woman named Reno is intent on conquering the SoHo art world.

flame

I know I’ll make a big pot of chicken soup, and dive into another pot: links I’ve been saving to mull over on a day just like today.

Here are some you can sink your teeth into.

Have you ever wondered about butter sculpting?

butter sculpting

Linda Christensen, a master at the craft, typically spends a week and a half in a booth chilled to near freezing at the Minnesota State Fair in order to render likenesses out of 90-pound blocks. An artist friend of mine once imagined making sculptures out of breast milk butter, but it never came to pass.

How about houses so small they can be mounted on grocery carts?

Early water pipes under New York City carved from whole trees.

wood pipes

Archaeologists are finding them now.

Italian prison inmates who make award-winning chocolate truffles.

The question of whether Michael Pollan is a sexist pig – an excerpt from Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, a new book by Emily Matchar that sounds an awful lot like my decade-old Made From Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth.

Is it time to order a new supply of Goatboy Soaps, handmade from goat’s milk and shea butter on a farm in New Milford, Connecticut?

1009wc07.jpg

The one called Heavenly does indeed have a celestial aroma, I can vouch for it,but you can also choose from among Blackberry Sage, Cherry Almond, Clean Greens, Lavender Oatmeal, Serious Citrus and others, including Red Clover Tea, the company’s bestseller. No breast milk in evidence.

Research showing why the act of pointing makes babies human. It turns out, according to Slate, that “Babies point to refer to events in the past and the future. They point to refer to things that are no longer there. They can figure out, when an adult points across the room toward a group of objects, what exactly the adult is gesturing toward (the toy they’ve previously played with, say). They can deduce that, by pointing, an adult is trying to communicate something specific (find that toy hidden in that bucket). And not least of all, babies point because they want to share their experience of the world—that puppy—with someone else.”

The fascinating blog of an Irishman elucidating a video of Dublin phrases.  You’re in for a treat if you make posts from Sentence first a regular part of your day.

A recipe for how to make Mango Sticky Rice, at a site called The High Heel Gourmet, brought to you by Miranti, a young chef who seems to know exactly what she’s doing.

high heeled gourmet

And, finally, a piece so lively it will drive all the rain away (by tomorrow, I hope, when I plan to go mushrooming in the Westchester woods), a photo doc on skateboarding in 1965, courtesy of Life magazine.

girl skateboarding

I am sure that some of the individuals pictured have traded skateboards for walkers, but then everything was a breeze.

If you wind up wanting to make home-made soup, a chicken elixir, here’s how.

A Recipe for Simple Stock

1 soup fowl/heavy fowl/soup hen

A bunch of chicken feet if you can get them

2 big fat carrots

2 sticks celery

1 large onion

1 large purple-shouldered turnip

1 large parsnip

a bunch of dill if you have it

salt and pepper to taste

Bring chicken to boil in a pot large enough to accommodate all ingredients.

Skim off scum and reduce to a simmer.

Add all other ingredients.

Simmer 3 hours or until chicken starts to fall off the bone.

Strain stock.

Add noodles or matzoh balls, use as a base for leek-and-potato soup, make gravy for chicken pot pie or stir up some risotto. Perfect for anything that ails you. And if you dribble a little over the kibble, your dog will love you for it.

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Meatpacking Amble

We started and ended our Manhattan amble in the Meatpacking District, that venerable neighborhood from around 14th  down to Gansevoort Street that has been totally gentrified in recent years. This is a place that in 1900 had 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants lining its streets. The paving stones under the butchers’ awnings used to actually lie slick with lard and blood when I first came to New York in the late ’70s. Now Diane von Furstenberg has a building of refurbished brick with lavender windows and a penthouse that looks like a geodesic glass bubble on top, and there are eateries like Bubby’s opening that pride themselves on their farm-to-table cuisine.

Bubby's

The sign announcing the imminent arrival of the joint puts across it’s down home, wry message: Defending the American Table (also, we steal recipes from grandmas.)

With illustrations around the side that already seem faded as a pair of farmer’s Levi’s.

Bubby's 2

It reminded me of a sign we saw up in also gentrifying Morningside Heights recently, on Broadway near 125th Street.

Barbershop sign

There was a man on scaffolding outside and we weren’t sure whether he was taking down an old sign or putting up a new one with an exquisitely vintage look. The sign down below left us equally confused.

Prices 2

Maybe you can figure it out.

Anyway, on from the Meatpacking District to see a movie on Houston Street, at the northern lip of Soho. “What Maisie Knew” is based on a novella  written by Henry James in 1897 about a classic dysfunctional family. Sad, sad, film.

maisie

It features Julianne Moore as a self-absorbed rock vocalist married to a self-absorbed art dealer played by Steve Koogan. At the heart of the story is their seven-year-old daughter, Maisie, who is being torn apart by the breakup of her parents’ marriage. The two adults literally abandon her places – the story takes place in contemporary Manhattan — when they tire of her. I wondered what James would have made of the profane adaptation.

portrait

The novelist was a theater aficionado and aspiring playwright. Couldn’t he be satisfied with being the most brilliant prose stylist of his day? He never got the reception on the boards that he so very much wanted. Movies might really have rocked his world. We think of him as fusty now, but Edith Wharton writes in her memoir A Backward Glance about how much James loved to “motor.” Yes, driving in the new, perpetually breaking-down automobiles, feeling the wind in his pate, was just about his favorite thing.

Making our way north, we grabbed a schnitzel and a wurst at a little German joint. En route, we passed the phenomenon that has been around longer than anything else I know in New York: the basketball game at West 4th Street and Sixth Avenue, also known as the Cage.

basketball

Anybody can play and there are fierce tournaments. The supports for the baskets are actually padded with duct tape to mitigate injury to players who stuff.

Under the High Line, where we had earlier found parking (who said it’s tough to get along in New York? Come with me, I have the best parking karma in the city) night had fallen.

high line

A park so beautiful that even Manhattanites are impressed, the High Line was once quite different. An old elevated freight line for meat packers, built under the aegis of Robert Moses, it ran through the buildings of the district, raised up above the streets underneath. The rail bed had long since fallen on hard times when I first saw it decades ago. It was basically a long, winding, dispiriting field of syringes, condoms and weeds. Some brilliant dreamers fought to bring it back to life as a park planted throughout with native plants, meticulously cared for, ingeniously designed. The first section of the park opened in 2009. Now people throng to it day and night, both to walk and to lounge on the massive wooden chaise lounges found along its length.

Gil climbed the stairs and waved down from the dark trees above. I was content looking up past the old, weathered, still-extant butcher’s awning at the winking moon.

moon over meatmarket

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