Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday commute liv: finding a stonecutter

I have a young-ish friend who's wandering around the world, as I think I've reported already, investigating where materials for buildings can be found. He wrote in, not long ago, on a bouncy little rail jaunt he took to Carrara. And yet, among all our media of transit, surely this must be among the more immune to the bounce? But it's a funny thing, the prophetic effect of the sociable intervention of a note. It can affect one's perceptions for the long-ishest time. In the present portrait, I'd been convinced of discovering a stonecutter. It turns out, if you care to open the file, that this is not what the stonecutter is doing. And yet, underlying my sense that I'd found a stonecutter, must have been some expectation that he might pursue a range of interests. Yes? Such is the burden of proof at Guantánamo, still. This minute.

Philippe Sands
Lawless World
Viking, 2005©

When did you learn about France, ladies, and François Truffaut


It was a very what have they done to the rain sort of thing, wasn't it. In a dining room of mine I kept an orig-inal cinéma poster, mounted on linen at the Bibliothèque Nationale; the face of Cargol in Truffaut's L'enfant sauvage, my touchstone of merciful surprise for guys. But by then I loved Truffaut so much, I had less fear. Billi bi, the absolutely death-defying soup of mussel stock and cream, or a classic sauce Nantua of penetratingly true lobster, remain enthralling, batteries of revelation included. Ladies, at the same time, invariably come too fleetingly for comprehension. I share Doinel's bafflement, more than I think. 

On a wintry weekend I am glad to be at home to groom Whit and allow the house to assimilate a ragoût de boeuf from Van Gogh's Auberge Rivoux, simmering as slowly and vinously as the law allows. I want to see Small Change again, and know the triumph of the boy with the chocolate milk. Mine will probably be the mourvèdre from Olney's beloved Domaine Tempier, but I'll smile for that priceless vision of independent delectation, critique, satisfaction; the endearing folly. I never could learn a thing about France that I could put behind me; I leave that to the French. To England I owe my DNA, to France I owe my learning. A legacy of chance and natural choice, like any.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Right, Auguste. I don't think we'll go to Betty Comilfaux tonight."

Betty is accustomed to hedging her portion controls on the shorter side for Friday, if Hercule and Auguste are on the guest list. It's a small game she plays with herself, enabling her to feel racy, win or lose. Heads, they come, and she's assured a social success. Tails, they don't, and she's ahead 4 shavings of truffle, for her boiled egg. But tonight, with Mr Romney having delivered himself of yet another diagnosis of his condition (I am se-verely conservative), she knows the lads will be licking stamps and jogging to the mail slot with updates for guys who don't tweet.

     But can you believe it,          Auguste:  we're in the 
     midst of the most comic          meltdown since the King 
     and the Duke, and people 
     are still not laughing.

     Possibly it's less funny 

Anywhere, it can be almost time for lunch in France

for her

Mathieu is struggling with the milk
bottle, which refuses to open. At
last with a determined punch of the
thumb he pierces the top and causes
the milk to gush forth. 

'Ah, merde! My eye!' Mathieu ex-
claims, bespattered with milk.

Franck imperturbably butters a
slice of bread and urges his broth-
er to do likewise. Then he gulps
down a glass of chocolate milk, 
prepared by himself, and states


I had the pleasure, earlier today, to be in correspondence with a lady in France, when I noticed that the hour was approaching over there for lunch. It seems to me that it must only lift the heart, anywhere, to sense this sudden glimpse of highest sweetness.


François Truffaut
Livre de poche
Small Change:
  A film novel
Anselm Hollo 
Grove Press, 1976©

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Not anyone we know

His youth was fiery, glowing, tempestuous - and in age he discovereth no symptom of cool-ing. This is that which I ad-mire in him. I hate people who meet Time half-way.

Lamb was talking about his cousin, JE. Not any-one we know, probably.

Charles Lamb
Elia and The Last Essays
  of Elia
  My Relations, 1821
Jonathan Bate, editor
op. cit.

Odd, James' not mentioning this about the hobbledehoys

  They clean up 

A minor similarity between the Fellows and the strays in the yard. To the one, he is virtually an official, a tolerant and mer-cifully itinerant master from the remote seat of their empire, looking in on their pleasant satrapy for the day, for whom all pomp and display are a dreary burden. With the other, the equilibrium is magical. The whole constituency of the creative act is rude in its demand, incorruptible at its core, abashing in its acceptance. Fair is fair.


Solzhenitsyn at Eton
Georges de Keerle photo
The New York Review
  of Books

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

À qui appartient l'ébullition i

How much could it hurt, to know? We know how a toaster works, and in relevant part Champagne is a mechanical device. Subject to the vitality of the yeast, the two are further not unrelated, even before the fact of butter might come up, to say nothing of fruit. I can promise that nothing is hostile to our happiness in studying the rights and duties of Champagne. After all, the components of delight need not be less charming when love plays a hand, than when accident does.

Test Me

But I cannot deny a distaste in some people, given that I tend to share it when I feel like it, for popular mechanics. For myself, I wish I had not allowed myself this reticence, because it tends to stunt the imagination, rather than working the other way. The hydromechanics of Champagne go a very long way, in my experience, toward wrapping this occasional scolding I give myself in the most poignant and surprisingly unephemeral delicacy. It is a pity when a principle harbouring an innocent frisson cannot be adapted to the most quotidian aspects of one's transit through life, in such a way as to stimulate and not merely deplete the senses, as in Champagne.

I hadn't thought to bring this up, necessarily, but with some of the educational aspects of Champagne having been elicited in passing, the other day, I had felt wistful about parting from them so abruptly. But even then, Champagne, as among our more spontaneous of fluids, might have asserted itself in our thoughts with-out prior warning, denoting if not also imparting an irrepressible and urgent tingling under acquaintance with sudden hydraulic pressure. Accordingly, I cannot gainsay that it is timely to disclose the existence of a text which I've forborn for years to discuss, and must present now to any reader who shrinks from the mechanical mysteries of inexpressible charm.

Consider, then, a youth of unin-hibited curiosity (not to suppose the contrary, in Nature), who has been saddled with two contracts at once: one from Moët & Chandon, and the other from Princeton University Press; and basically all he has to do is, examine Champagne. You see? There are silver linings in the proletarian condition. And how like society as we know it, a flute of Champagne really is: The kinetics of bubble production also depend on the size and shape of the particles that act as nucleation sites. In a flute, the collection of particles on the flute wall most likely will be made up of all shapes and sizes 

An element of any experience of illumination of the benign, is a residual sensation of ebullience - is it not? Forgive my resistance to attributing this quality to that trajectory we call the learning process, because of its overtones of manipulation. The distance, rather, between the ebullience of our nature and ébullition in Cham-pagne is so brief and so direct that we all have it down by heart. It is wonderfully harmless to allow it to impregnate the mind. We can't know all of the incentives and all of the affinities that peel us sequentially from the flute of our dock. But it is marvelous to possess their qualities.

I'm happy to say, this is one of the most delighting and accessible of the studies I have read, in the intriguing physics and chemistry of wine. It happens, also, to have been startlingly revolutionary. Parenthetically, it's surprising that it took so long since Dom Pérignon for this understanding to be established. But I would be remiss in not recommending it very warmly as pleasure in its own right, a beautiful play of the mind. Its deficiency is in the biochemistry of viticulture; this is a study of the science of wine after the harvest. But it shares the élan of its subject, as Edwin Denby wrote about ballet: it can be so gorgeous, one has to know why.  

Gérard Ligier-Belair
Professor of Physical Sciences
University of Reims
Uncorked: The Science
  of Champagne
Princeton University Press, 2004©

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

So many fine people did the very fine thing of living their lives

United States Court of Appeals
  for the Ninth Circuit of the United States
February 7, 2012

Gérard in the nave: who knew, except the whole Middle Ages?

   The twelfth and thirteenth 
   centuries, studied in the 
   pure light of political e-
   conomy, are insane .. One 
   artist worked for Mary of 
   Champagne; the others work-
   ed for Mary of Chartres, 
   commonly known as the Vir-
   gin; but all did their work 
   in good faith, with the 
   first, fresh, easy instinct 
   of colour, light, and line. 
   Neither of the two Maries 
   was mystical, in a modern 
   sense; none of the artists 
   was oppressed by the burden 
   of doubt; their skepticism 
   was as childlike as faith. 

     If one has to make 
     an exception, per-
     haps the passion of 
     love was more seri-
     ous than that of re-
     ligion, and gave to 
     religion the deepest 
     emotion, and the most 
     complicated one, which 
     society ever knew.

Incomparably the most strenuous text ever assigned to me as an undergraduate was this book. You may marvel at how easily we got off in those days, or you may wonder what deficit of compre-hension made it so arduous. Our youth was being gutted to a close, our maturity was being stigmatised. Adams had known these experiences in a lucidly troubling way, of which this book is a literal tour. We are fortunate, who do not resemble Henry Adams. But the extremity of our youth was a godsend; or when we turn to him, reading in the ruthless mode of our day, only period quaintness and disability might survive. Gérard, whose ditziness is that of our dearest friend, was never so impressive as he was in undergoing this.

In his autobiography, Adams confesses to our kind of education. If [college] gave nothing else, it gave calm. For four years each student had been obliged to figure daily before dozens of young men who knew each other to the last fibre .. and no audience in future life would ever be so intimately and terribly intelligent as these .. Whether this was, or was not, education, Henry Adams never knew .. As yet he knew nothing. Education had not begun. 

 I admire more gigantically 
 his claim to what he knew, 
 than if it were the whole 
 of Widener Library by heart. 

Henry Adams

  and Chartres
  XI: The Three Queens
op. cit.

The Education
  of Henry Adams
  An Autobiography
Massachusetts Historical Society
Charles Francis Adams, 1946©
Houghton Mifflin, 1961©

Monday, February 6, 2012


           Hark, hark! just now my listening ears
           Are struck with the repeated sound
           Of labouring oars ..


Henry Purcell
Swifter Isis, swifter flow
Charles Daniels, tenor
Robert King, director
The King's Consort
Hyperion, 1992©

So now it's Monday, and you think you have it rough

  Well, guess what?
  For some people, 
  there's never any
  relief from being
  Jeremy Young. And:

  all you have to do 
  is, go out there as 
  you are: and let our 
  cassoulet be richer. 
  You'll get it; believe 
  me, you will. Today, 
  don't send down to the 
  house for any partridge. 
  A nice pig's trotter, 
  quietly truffled, may 
  slip into the marmite 
  without remark; and 
  you can't estimate to- 
  day, what's maturing 
  in the cellar to be 


Sunday, February 5, 2012

I completely trust the grasp of this boy


He's hosting a birthday party
for himself in a room off his
parents' terrace to their gar-
den in California. Ladies who
have looked after him since
the day he was born, Leila and
Alberta, are sweeping in and
out with boytreats and boy-
drinks, as boychums squirm to
see him open their presents.

He's remembering the very
nice things he has been
taught to say but he is an-
xious to be dazzled and he
expects to be. He doesn't
know what this day will
give him, but he knows it
will be generous.

The treasuring, the con-
centration and play in the
hands, clasping this box,
seem to me to bequeath an
attitude which I still ad-
mire in gentlemen. He is
aware of something sweet
in this gesture, and he
is already grateful. 

I see and I hear grown men, 
frantic to claim a divine
right to everything they
can grasp; and I wonder, I
wonder very sincerely, how
they could conceive of this
vice as leadership. I won-
der how that nature could
even know leadership, being
so stunted. What is it that
they harbour deeply but can
not admit, that they want of
people's places of trust?
They want a very fat present
and don't even know, it is.
Where is treasuring, where 
is gratitude, where is the 
sharing of sweetness in for-
tune, that even a child with
freckles knows, at twelve?

Happy birthday, sailor.

    I'm so much more me
    that you are perfectly you.
    What you have clearly said
    is yet in me unmade.

    I'm so much more me
    as time ticks in our ceilings
    that you are perfectly you,
    your deep and lightning feelings.

    And I see in the flashes
    what you have clearly said,
    that feelings are our facts.
    As yet in me unmade.

Frank O'Hara
To Edwin Denby
The Collected Poems
  of Frank O'Hara
Donald Allen, editor
op. cit.