Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday commute lxi: forest murmurs

An accidental keystroke in-
advertently will have given
followers of the page a sig-
nal of a finished posting.
In fact I'm not content with
the draft, which was being
composed while pre-occupied
by a little inconvenience in
a foot; but I'm sure enough
of the imagery to present it
to the play of visitors to
the page. 

The backstairs navigator in
the asylum, which many may
take for a school, seems to
be straight out of Merchant
and Ivory's view of Forster,
with which I frankly wouldn't
quibble. And I'm also not im-
mune to the Forsterian prolet-
arian in his forest bower, or
the brisk stride of missing, 
at best, the forest in its

All of these are drawn from a
life that could be, and in the
the aggregate could be from any
of ours, whether or not from a
single paragraph. I cannot be-
lieve that readers of this page
come here to see the dots con-
nected, so much as to play in
the interstices between them.

I'll let the accidental key-
stroke leave the field open.
I do have a parti pris to
confide; I like the sight
of someone's seeing this.

Gerhard Richter, Tate, 1992

Friday, April 6, 2012

Suppose it were Friday lix: hot cross magic

    Who has ever once known it to
    fail? There one'll be, lazing
    in an exchange with a learnèd
    colleague on a subtle point of
    familial homophobia, when sud-
    denly he'll have to leap up to
    to attend to rising hot cross 
    buns. The escape is on a par
    with Toad's sighting of a mo-
    tor car, impeccable in its sym-
    pathies and impregnable in the
    dominion of their object.

    Just when it may seem, some-
    thing could not be any worse, 
    we're probably right. But not 
    even the direst obduracy has
    ever survived an insurrection 
    by that glossy pastry.

    Happy weekend to us all .. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The inquest that launched a thousand canvases

From time to time the neurotic   inquest of boys bears fruit, the pelting, morbid rain of dread that soaks them from above breaks open, lifted by some fluke of light. Then they turn, and recite the desperate cry, themselves, to see how it is done.

    What are you doing in there,       Maître, in the dark at             Vauvenargues?

How long the neurotic inquest framed the fabric of our days is deeply in our heart when we are free. What could this anxious hounding have so feared? On seeing a Picasso, one doesn't have to know who he was to love what he did. To be so coaxed by strength and not by dread, as finally to trust one's sight, is rather like being given over to the wisest university, to restore one to oneself. It is a reclamation to be shared. 
There have always been many, yet seldom so bold as here, this year, to restore us to the pelting reign of dread. Now is not the time to forget how to play.

iii  Derek
      Pablo Picasso
      Photograph David Douglas Duncan

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Upon his death, his sister dutifully destroyed his papers

A sunny morning posting, meant to bring lightness to the stride into midweek, is possibly not the place to reflect upon the solicitous fastidiousness of friends and family toward one's reputation, when it can reflect only upon society to efface the preserved core of its creation. Only just now, in glancing into internet resources on a writer I've enjoyed for thirty years, without whom a good deal of Noël Coward, Norman Douglas, Dorothy Parker and David Sedaris would be unthinkable - and conducting that glance for the sole purpose of documenting the year of publication of a story I was savouring quite merrily in the last couple of days - was I drawn to this not-uplifting fact on the sorting out of H.H. Munro, Saki, an inevitable flowering of Edwardian mores if ever there were one. 

Of course I was not surprised; the custom of eradicating the traces of the deceased gay man not being foreign to my family or my friends', and probably not foreign to yours, I wouldn't draw unusual attention to it in this entertaining writer's case, given the mordant delectability of what he published, himself. His trifle, The Lumber Room, was published in 1914 and can be read in its entirety, on line; and there is even a grievously unsatisfactory audiobook ren-dering to be heard, upon which I remark only as a student of Gresham's Law. How uncannily the flashier medium will eviscerate the good, time after time, by sheer facility of absorption. This is not a story for a shrill comedienne, but for the quiet corner and the slow cigar.

Leave it to the deliciously sentimental wit, then, of a Milanese haberdasher to bring out the substance of Saki's creation in The Lumber Room, in this natural image of the indomitable anarchy of boys, even at their most expensively suppressed. In the dis-tracted idiosyncrasies of their loopy little march, laden or not with thousands of dollars worth of decorous togs, mischief and tease seem to percolate implicitly.

Their private papers, un-doubtedly, will exhibit an inveterate propensity for the lark of sweet subversion; and there will be generations to feel restored by that original voice, whether or not their papers sur-vive. But again, we will cherish true affections as the wellspring of their play, and leave our copy open of their story to be found.

The Lumber Room is a classic account of the rascally revenge on repressive spinster aunts, which any fellow will naturally have to carry on his con-science throughout his life. But his revenge is delicious, even so: arriving in the shape of a frog in his bowl of breakfast gruel, which he interjected there, himself, to strain the disbelief of elders. His undoing of the discipline he bargained for, earns our respect as impressively more clever than anything we ever devised, and for a moment, we bask in his glory. We feel a modern twinge, at this tweaking of his aunt, knowing her villainy arises from some other complaint; but this is not an under-standing privy to the boy. His triumph comes only fair and square.

But now, with two post-ings in a row on the play of the personality in the levying of justice, a course-correcting comment would not be untimely. Should Saki's young hero, Nicholas, have allowed the denial of a frog in his breakfast, against the exception of his nature?

H.H. Munro [Saki]
The Complete Works 
  of Saki
  The Lumber Room
Noël Coward, introduction
Doubleday & Company. 1976©

The coming out of Lady Gregory and the path of this page

To the wonderfully deft hand of Colm Tóibín, Lecturer now in Irish Studies at Princeton and the author of the most widely admired contemporary Irish fiction in English, can be traced a restoration to our gaze of the indefatigable female engine behind the Irish Renaissance, Augusta Gregory, as the heroine of an authentic coming out, with all its classic flowerings of creativity and progressive arousal. 

Such an achievement must be counted as something of an excuse for this blog to fold its tent, as much as presenting a model for its continuance, to portray in bits and pieces and anonymity (in the Irish novelist Bernard MacLaverty's phrase), how the germ of affection breaks the impacted terrain of its planting seemingly haphazardly, toward the coherency of its completed image.

In Tóibín's short story, Silence, the first in his collection published last year under the title, The Empty Family, we find the recently, repressively married Lady Gregory reflecting on the illuminating extra-marital love of her life - with the poet, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt - whose residues in memory would be released into the Irish literary bloodstream in nourishings both anonymous and attributable through the rest of her life. Famously, Blunt, himself, published her sonnets at her request as "from a Woman," when she was able to write, herein lies the smart, that grief for you no longer grieves my heart.  

At the core of this great fount was a comprehensively fulfilling sexual relationship, despite its conduct in secrecy. The simplicity and sufficiency of that unalloyed causation simply can not be reinterpreted. We find, in Tóibín's sympathetic telling, the inner workings in her heart of the breakdown of that secrecy, whose tortured maintenance had nevertheless shaped a vision of longing and remembrance into a keen literary implement. As an unbitter, sweet and spontaneously convincing glimpse of that inner process, Tóibín's telling manages, itself, to capture that release of generosity which is the sine qua non of sexual fulfillment, its most universal venue.

That the manifestation of this spirit in an energised political awareness adopted its classic form in Lady Gregory's life, from an original aristocratic contempt for Gladstone's Home Rule Bill to a flowering of empathy for Ireland's ferociously abused farming tenants, and ultimately to leadership in the revival of the Irish stage, is nothing less than the model of American gay people's long and unbroken support of the human rights movements of every wave of classes and ethnicities to break through their exploitation by the nation's power structures. 

The immortal phrase invented to disparage this correlation in the racial desegregation struggle, commie-pinko-faggot, lives on in the American Right's teasing, to this day, of gay people with little trinkets of their human rights, against a backdrop of flagrantly sadistic political manipulation. By no means is discrimination in employment likely to be relinquished by the Right, before the sectarian monopoly of marriage is undone, which underscores how Lady Gregory's seizure on humane sexuality as the essential progressive instrument, is so comprehensively radical.

In his final motion picture, it was John Huston's imaginative stroke to interlineate a character given the name, Mr Grace, into his adaptation of Joyce's The Dead, for the sole function of presenting Lady Gregory's translation of the 8th Century ballad on the exploitively broken heart, Donal Og. She was cardinally aware, that political intransigence is better shattered by sexual candour than by charades of passing as British, passing as male, passing as bourgeois, passing as assimilated. It was generosity, again, for Huston and his son to direct the recital of this poem for the full impact of its unanswerable praise of love.

As Lady Gregory demonstrated even in her anonymous publications, a consciousness is more important than a name. Released in 1987 at the raging height of the gay men's health crisis, a film which conflated her insight into humane sexuality with James Joyce's was therefore utterly legitimate. Huston's movie will always be recalled in the minds of its contemporaries as one of the rare balsams of that withering era, by summoning her experience. More to point, that lady speaks directly through to our time, still all but unnamed.

Colm Tóibín
The Empty Family
Scribner, 2011©

James Joyce
Penguin Books, 1976©

Mary Lou Kohfeldt
Lady Gregory
  The Woman behind the
  Irish Renaissance
Atheneum, 1985©

John Huston, director
Tony Huston, script
Frank Patterson, tenor
The Dead
Channel 4 Films, 1987©

This entry originally appeared March 28.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Little Sammy Alito resented his acceptance by Princeton

Just as Clarence Thomas
detested Yale for his
admission, Alito joined
the nasty society of al-
umni reaction during his
freshman orientation. 

The Supreme Court where
he sits is a brotherhood
of insecurities, groomed
by think tanks and spon-
sors of the Right as a
sleeper cell against a
progressive government,
maladjusted adolescents
when the Party calls.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Who is Elizabeth David, and why will she not leave me alone?


 In London Rudolf Nureyev said    I should live with a dancer,
 which was the only sane ad-
 vice I received until Eliz-
 abeth David advised me to
 have another glass of white
 wine. 'Oh, dear,' she said,
 'oh dear,' her voice trailing
 off into memories of when
 she was young and beautiful.

Accessing that abscess of auto-
biography which is the chronic
nuisance of any essayist's dai-
ly stretch among the pillows of
his pride, is something we are
all taught to undertake before
the dawn in dreams of harmless
consequence, so that if we're
seized by some shading of a
subject in the light, our sense
can at least be attributed to
observation more than vanity.

Yet it was before dawn, when
I awakened to the next chapter
of post-surgical tingling in the
affected extremity, as if under
the auspices of Mickey Mantle  
in batting practice, that a
jaunt to the aspirin cabinet
(did I just 'practice medi-
cine'? - didn't mean to ..)
found me passing a treacherous-
ly exposed copy of An Omelette 
and a Glass of Wine, whence I 
loitered in greater confidence
of my inconvenience's remission.

Just why my confidence had been
so adjusted, would involve that
resort to autobiography which
sets a low example for an English
dog, and must on all accounts be
suspended just now in aid of some
peace and quiet. But that a plate
of chicken livers and pasta, un-
der her mentorship, promises a
more thorough release from the
batting cage of bypass memories
than a dusty tablet of anything,
is not a proposition to challenge,
very much, a gentleman's morals.
And Mrs David will do this to me, 
all the time. I suppose it has to
do with her having ministered to 
an island people, recovering from 
the dreary diet of war, that she
so snags the soul in search of
that arid luxury which aspirin
represents, with the ethereal ar-
omatics of gustatory simplicity.

A terrible vulnerability of the
nostrils, to the slightest devia-
tion from their suspension in the
conduct of sleep, has been noted
before in the childhood sensation
of bacon's being rendered at the
dawn; and with what really very
naughty canniness do we find our
Florence Nightingale of the kit-
chen infusing her chicken livers 
with the even earthier extrac-
tions of coppa, to lend justice
to our rising from our bed. It's
enough to induce a fellow to lose
his trust in pain, to find him-
self grating a lemon for this
nostrum, instead of hacking and
gnawing at the childproof cap of 
his prescription. 

Reflecting, thus, we draw near
to the secret of Mrs David's
genius for our rehabilitation.
Her stuff tastes better. Had I,
in the bluntness and breadth of
this abrupt generalisation, in-
tended an offense to the prac-
tice of medicine, I would cer-
tainly have added that her in-
gredients are more compatible
with wine; but we all respect
how even the peaceablest por-
tion of alcohol and the blith-
est opinion represent a mix to 
be abjured unless necessary, 
say, to do justice to Liebling 
or Benchley - to name but two
of her naturalest janissaries.

Shall I, then, in the hoary
traditions of the blogging of
medicine, haul out a telephone 
to illustrate Sabatier's dia-
phanous deliverance of one veil
after another of the ham from
its mold, or the santoku's dice
of the garlic? I think not. The
biography of a nostrum is the
surer guide to its preparation,
than any chapter and verse of
measure or technique; and with
this plate Mrs David finds her-
self prefiguring the cherish-
ing of her sources as her guide, 
that we recognise in the ebul-
lient Gabrielle Hamilton, each 
of them unearthing a collation 
of bliss from the treasures of 
the day, in a mountain relais 
in Italy with no name and no 
telephone, no menu and no 
maître d'hôtel.

It's here, I think, where I'd
like to rest the aspiration to
impart a happy bit of news in
the entry of the day, taking
care to eschew the singe of
autobiography. The domicile 
of this composition is awash 
in the literature of amazingly
sweet-spirited people who have
ideas about what one could eat.
Just awash. That is why it strikes
me as so notable, that the ter-
ribly wonderful Mrs David should
have found something of a spon-
taneous exponent in the original
yet wholly generous genius of a
another irresistible lady in her
line, the proprietress of Prune,
a place resembling a restaurant
as little as possible, consistent
with compliance with law. They
write and they give from the ex-
perience of discovery, first of

And so what one does, en route
to the medicine chest in the mid-
dle of the night, is to modulate
that trek with the underlying
reason for getting well, which
has remarkably to do with living
well. For such things not merely
were chicken livers and pasta in-
vented, but those slopes of orig-
inal context for their enjoyment.
Before one can dine, one comes 
to appreciate the walk that con-
ceives of that repast in nature.
Do you know, we participate in
that sphere even more deeply than
we do in consumption? 

Jeremiah Tower
California Dish
  What I saw (and cooked)
  at the American culinary
Free Press, 2003©

Elizabeth David
An Omelette and
  a Glass of Wine
  Giovanna, pp. 115-117
The Globe Pequot Press, 1997©

Gabrielle Hamilton
Blood, Bones & Butter
  The Inadvertent Education
  of a Reluctant Chef
Random House, 2011©