Saturday, December 31, 2011

At 20 of 4 today, Whit and I could sit on the lawn toward the sun

The grazers were delivering hay
for the horses, you could hear
them hollering to let them know
on the other side of the berm.
The sun from the pond was fresh
and sharp in our faces, the firm
ground was fragrant and warm
from an overnight rain. The 
branches stood out white in the 
reflection overhead, and still, 
like the feathers at his flanks, 
but alert, directed, as the incline 
of his shoulders. When we came 
inside, I turned to this page
in Derek Walcott's recent White 
Egrets ~

A dun day brightening, clouds like grey flannel,
but, more than the usual, occasional sail,
a grey-hulled tanker anchored in mid-channel,
hazed by the distance and a sunlit drizzle.
They never pause going further north, or else they seem
to wait until I silently send up a flare
to signal my lifelong distress, wave flailing arms
against such paradisal luck at being stuck here,
among scuttling crabs and the ribbed hulks of palms
looking like frozen detonations, each
ghostly anchored tanker is a young man's dream
of flight, adrift in all the ports of the world
where he has left his name scrawled on a beach,
hiding in ramshackle harbours with a white beard
like a sea urchin, a skin cracked like leather:
that when masts crack and lightning bolts are hurled
he would have seen the world in its worst weather,
quiet as the tanker grazing in midstream.

If you have just come to this page
you may not know, Whit is the name
of an English Cocker Spaniel, my
dog. We seldom co-operate on an
entry here, but the character of
the day is what did it; and this
we always share.

We wish all visitors comfort on
this night. You know, we can
hear your peaceful gathering
past the berm.

Derek Walcott
White Egrets
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010©

iv  Jakob Wiechmann

Saturday commute li: An amiable route to a man's heart

          I rose about 8 o'clock,
          having first rogered my
          wife. I read a little
          in my commonplace book.
          I said my prayers and
          drank chocolate for

At Westover, down any number of tributaries of to the James River from here, William Byrd operated 180,000 acres without so much as a tractor. Still, life was OK for a guy in 1711, if he kept at it. Nowadays, of course, we can't get the help we used to have, and a lot of us are scaling back. Happily, this leaves more time for reading.

The competent wine merchant has tasted his wines, and has visited the estates where they come from; he has dined well and read broadly since his childhood, and has attended not just the cinema and the theatre, but the ballet, the symphony, and the whelping of his litters. The good tailor has done all of the above, and knew your uncle or your father, before you. These labours now qualify a man to be an accountant for a fine bookshop. The bookseller will know you. My route to the bookshop whose Christmas cracker is quoted, here, dates back to my father's headmaster at school, but is 'handed down' to me by the booksellers who are there today. 

A guy needs to know where he can go for his refreshment, and he needs that place to be there to welcome him. Layers upon layers of the gift for teaching infuse this shop as they did at two others, for me, in San Francisco, both of which were close with this one. The unannounced hun-ger, walking in the door, is the rea-son they are there; and if it were up to me to mark a year with gratitude, I'd thank my readers by saying, pick up the telephone. Give them a call. Of course you can order on line, but you'll want to talk, and you will be very glad you did. Now your curiosity surfaces - it is yours, it is fun, it goes way back, and it is is very pretty.

Heywood Hill can be reached by dialing country code 44 and then 20-7629-0647. If you are already in England, press 0 and then the number.

  William Byrd, 9 Sept 1711
Heywood Hill, 2011
ii, v, vi, vii  Derek

Friday, December 30, 2011

Notes of a gentleman traveler ii

     Did I really fall asleep last
     evening, reading John Buchan
     stories? Did I really see a
     park derelict, claiming to be
     a South American president, 
     disarm 2 assassins while loll-
     ing in his underwear in Ned
     Leithen's Mayfair flat, with
     schoolboy badinage on thor-
     oughbred racing? 

Just as Leithen credited the tramp's story by appraising his underwear, "which seemed to be of the finest material," I knew this was a Buchan story when Sir Edward pronounced him, "not a wastrel." Who knew, back in the 1920s, that Lord Tweedsmuir's writings would go through an entire cycle of imperial ascendancy and embarrassment in fewer than three generations, only to emerge in the 21st Century as the stuff of the acutest penetra-tion of goddy blogs and fashion publicity, alike? I don't know that he's in for the kind of rediscovery Graham Greene made of Kipling and Stevenson, but plainly Bruce Weber has figured him out.

   The capital of the undergarment
   is nostalgia and its chaplain is
   John Buchan. Snowy as the purely
   driven is his past, more formid-
   able than vanity is his idolatry
   of chums. It's not for us to ask
   if it's OK; it goes on and on. 

A vigorous Presbyterian, Buchan's
gentleman is almost always wholly
self-made, but of obviously pref-
erred whole cloth, requiring only
a brush with some scoundrel to e-
licit the spark of native flint,
casting a permanent aura which his
kind will decipher, instantly.

The history of the brand name, 
Abercrombie & Fitch, is prob-
ably not the fall of man it has
seemed. (I still comfortably wear
several garments I acquired in
college when A&F were yar). The
sale of boytummies on the backs
of boy heroes is not quite new. 

Buchan wrote the same story a dozen hundred times. A boy, always alone, is sometimes in uniform but usually at greater risk on surreptitious assignment. He feels his heroics in public school sports were unremarkable but we all know better, and so, in the end, does he. He is the boy who can pose credibly as the village idiot and lead a resistance movement, say, or crush a revolt in the raj; and we never stop to wonder why the boors he is humbling never get around to noticing the sublime set of his jaw, the steadiness of his gaze, the affecting frolic of his cowlick - until it is too late to reckon their awesome power.

I have his entire oeuvre, if that is not too grand a term, in first editions from my father's boyhood, and I admit I've been reluctant to chuck it all for Frank O'Hara - to cite another literary partisan. There's almost never a lady in the entire opus (there wasn't, in his most famous Hannay story, The 39 Steps, until Hitchcock supplied one). Yet, to this day, I'll slip beneath the covers late at night with a paragraph or two of extremely simplified, serenely racist and appallingly imperialist stuff. Buchan's tales of clubmen in their youth are a lullaby any boy, anytime, will understand.

John Buchan
The Runagates Club
Dedicated to Lady Salisbury
  Sing a Song of Sixpence:
  Sir Edward Leithen's Story
Houghton Mifflin, 1928©

v   Bruce Weber

i   et passim  Derek

ii  Jeremy Young

Suppose it were Friday xlix: Compassion of the diligent reader

Never let it be said,
a blogger walks alone,
unmourned between posts.
At least not, where the
travels of a gentleman
pertain so anxiously to
the acceleration of an
to our aid, if not to
the general comfort, we
are sent this reminder
of Australia's rapport
with the Tasman strait,
the Cook Sea, to say
nothing of the pendan-
cy of bejeweled India.

Be the print ever so
fine, there does come
a scholar to unearth it.

Tierra del Fuego, may I
say, needs no confirma-
tion here. Mr Chatwin
was there for us all:

What shall we think
of a people who defined
'monotony' as 'an ab-
sence of male friends'?

Bruce Chatwin
In Patagonia
  64: The Dictionary
Simon & Schuster, 1977©

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Notes of a gentleman traveler i

       I got a note from a friend
       in Sidney this morning, 
       declaring the place to be 
       in Summer. I had to check 
       the date: postmarked last 

 Was this 
 very nice?

Moreover, I come to find out, this
is true for the whole island. So,
now we have this continent, if you
will, which is not only a full day
ahead of us, but two whole seasons.
And why wasn't I told? This must be
like some puberty thing, I wasn't 
supposed to know about, a lower half
spinning totally off the planet and
I, utterly in the dark. I greatly
hope this is not the case for Africa;
it could unhinge Suez. Yes, and then
where should we all be?

iii  Derek

Year-end calamities ii: The measureman's advice, spurned

They knew we would do it. They saw us coming and they knew we would ignore their advice, yet still they gave it, honestly, forthrightly, as only the most mentoring tradesman must. Did any of us listen, in those giddy sessions of testing our heart rate, taping our throat, crossing our heart, tapping our elbow for its reflex, triangulating our lats, interpolating our traps, and casting our tummy through torsion's margin of error, for an occasional indulgence of béarnaise? And we'd thought an MRI were solicitous.

Can anyone say, with all candour, they'd left a parameter of feature unrecorded, a perimeter unregistered, a circumference unsaved, a distension undocumented, a contingency dismissed, for future reference? Were there shadows not assessed, prominences unaddressed, slopes and sculptings undistressed for movement's sake, and idle rest? Had so much as a freckle been ignored for its topographic anomaly, a strand unstrained for its surface deflection? None of us could complain of any such neglect, down to the last cough, sneeze, and occasional laugh to please. The interrogation phase, to be fair, was comparatively gentle, almost amusing.

Generations of junketing metropolitans have converged upon Charvet for shirts, only to be admonished not to exert ourselves unduly, or by the time the priceless shirts are sent from a prior season's fitting they'll be tragically tight in the shoulder, and hideously ample at the waist. But there you are: one season's pursuits blends into another's, effortlessly in timing if not in tempo, and life is cut not to our own template, but to a pattern of its own.

And now the New Year is hard upon us, and he who is at ease in his shirt is alone at his own party, the rest of us ill-fitted to the form. Wal-mart refuses to deliver; and it will be time to be at Reinhard's lieder recital before Bergdorf can ship. It can't be countenanced, to miss this annual rite of song and Krug, the leading trill-and-swill of our holiday to-do list.

Who was it, who heard of this? Probably Gérard, getting around as he does. The open collar. Who can know what a boon to custom this discovery will be, if it carries any shred of truth? It relieves every edict to stand still, if not the conscience of Charvet.

et passim  Derek

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Refrain for New Hampshire

     Though they portray it with lies
     I shall understand this world.
     I shall be free in this world.
     Though they mock me for my learning
     I shall be at peace in this world.
     Though they tempt me to be selfish
     I shall love this world.

     I shall cast my vote in this world.
     Though they would silence me with contempt

     Nor shall they corrupt my soul,
     To condemn me to their ways.

Year-end calamities i: Oysters down in Oyster Bay do it

Possibly it will assist readers of any entry here on gourmandise, to be aware that before there was Apicius in our reading there was Mr Porter in our hearing. We needed no Seneca on the oy-ster's flattery of the gastric juices, to incline us to its delectation; and things have got worse in that vein, not better, as we have ploughed through Point and parsed Larousse, dallying with contemporaries and their trendy caboose. If not quite dreading the fact, we know there will be oysters on the 31st; and the question is, as in all such manifestations of hospitality, whether a celebration means going over the top, or epitomising the underlying ingredient.

We are to be counted among the waifs on the quay in New Orleans, harried commuters at Grand Central, denizens of the back door of the Plaza, weekend harvesters in Brittany, slaking our savourings of its saline slide in a sympathetic salutation of the shell, think-ing ourselves well satisfied. Not that we're unaware that behind this belabourable innocent there lies that spirit of travesty which affixes itself to everything luscious, purporting to enhance its unalloyed elegance. Say lemon, and you've loosed the tides of lèse-majesté.

Had not Mr Porter written, Why Don't We Try Staying Home? Could he really have meant that, literally? In our roster of Year-End Calamities, the crisis of the oyster comes first to mind because it yields to mitigation, setting a lovely precedent for Calamities to come. We know that Le Bernardin will slather oysters in truffles and their deriv-atives, because Le Coze showed the grotesque could be done. But does it have to be?

Oh, no. We can allow our chefs their margin and still escape with a palatable coinage of the briny bullion. Let us con-cede the naughty inclination of hosts, to do something with ingredients of such purity, so that glitzy bars now compete in the molding of their ice cubes, and discover, rather, that lesser state of alienation which seems the more consistent, after all, with tolerating another year. As in almost all quests for the best way of leaving something alone, one turns to the sympathetic lady.

For fusing these qualities on behalf of the palate, I turn to Amanda Hesser; and I greatly mean no disdain of Mmes David, Fisher, Waters, Goldstein, Rodgers, Des-jardins and Hamilton, whose sense of the correlation between literature and food is no idle gesture in their feeling for how to celebrate with the palate. Often, I do what Amanda would do or implies she would do, because she respects ingredi-ents and their culture, as what they are, as we see in her masterpiece from Burgundy.

A nice boundary is the natural wine pairing for the ingredient in its ideal state. Abduct its viticultural balance from the intersection of minerality and brevity, firm acidity and neutral oak, and you simply don't have an oyster, anymore.

I'm fully aware that some hand has shot up, demanding to query the concept of an ideal state, and who are we to disdain this Platonic reservation? If we cannot retain the pH, texture, intactness, suppleness, profile, and palpability of the oyster, to say nothing of its fla-vours, then indeed, yes, we may stew it, chop it, spice it, and blizzard it out our pipette for all it cares.

Amanda has the home key of the beast, to perfection. Whereas, we were in grand cru Chablis or Sancerre with the original, we've modulated no further than to Meursault, and the thing remains recognisable as what it is, losing little or none of its visual allure, its colour balances only deepening. This is not a skill, it's an honest appetite. Henry Adams, himself, remarking at Mont-Saint-Michel on how the archangel loved heights, would have felt no decline in the vitality of her transposition. Here, happily, is all of the respect for the culture of the oyster that we loved in Eleanor Clark's The Oysters of Locmariaquer. 

For, cuisine does have a home in the world where it comes from, and one learns to wish to enter it respectfully, as a relais from one's own wit. If this preparation seems too obvious, then it is successful.

Oysters with Shallot-Thyme Butter, for Four

16 oysters
sel de mer

2 shallots, 1 sliced thin, 1 minced
3 springs thyme, leaves stript
1/2 cup chardonnay, no oak
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

1. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Shuck the oysters on their shells with their liquor on a baking sheet.

2. Make the shallot-thyme butter: Place the sliced shallot, 2/3 of the thyme leaves, and the wine in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to 2 tablespoons. Add one cube of butter at a time to the pan, whisking continuously. The sauce should emulsify and return to a low boil after each addition of butter. When half of the butter has been added, season lightly with salt. Continue adding the rest of the butter. Taste and adjust seasoning again. (This butter is quite rich, and you want to maintain its soft, slightly acidic flavour, so don't season too highly). Strain through a fine sieve and set aside.

3. Bake the oysters (from refrigeration temperature) 4 to 5 minutes, until just warmed through and lightly cooked. Their liquor will steam them rather than drying them out; do not overcook. The entire dish is to be soft and unctuous in the mouth. Remove from the oven, and spoon over the thyme butter before plating. Transfer the oysters in shell to a bed of coarse salt on 4 salad plates, and sprinkle with the minced shallot and reserved thyme leaves.

nb: If you are a couple staying at home on the 31st, this is a fine après-Rohmer snack with toast points, and there one could apply a little caviar. With the wine for these oysters, please avoid alcohol above 13.5 and frankly, if at all possible, stay around Beaune. The shallot butter will embrace malolactic fermentation in the Chardonnay (which the oyster would normally reject) but it will still desire only the subtlest use of older oak. Be firm with your wine merchant, who should know you well enough by now. "Big" is horrible with oysters, and if he notices that it is "buttery," then it's too buttery. Is Champagne OK? Please, never ask that. 

Cole Porter

Selected Lyrics
Let's Do It
Robert Kimball, editor
op. cit.

Why Don't We Try
  Staying Home?
Robert Kimball, editor
Overlook Press, 2000©
Amanda Hesser
The Cook and the Gardener
  A year of recipes and writings from
  the French countryside
Norton, 1999©

Henry Adams
  and Chartres
op. cit.

Eleanor Clark
The Oysters of
Pantheon, 1964©

v  Claude