Saturday, November 16, 2013

How many might there be?

The other day, having been invited by Ermenegildo Zegna or some such industrialist, to reflect upon the battles of the Isonzo River, all that came to mind was the tendency of granite cliffs to shatter disagreeably, under the influence of repeated artillery shelling - itself, a large enough nuisance. But hardship by misdirection is of such renown to the Common Law, that I found myself lapsing into nostalgia for Torts class, and those many dreamy nights of sharing hypotheticals between Socratic drubbings before one's peers. One likes to know where to lay a blame, and yet in the case of battle, Sovereign Immunity wittily bars the door. It's splendid to be able to turn to a Creator for damages, in the defective production of His rocks. It was bad enough, I think we can agree, to allow a river to carve away half of Arizona.

We may never know how many readers there must be, who had experience of that Century, on which the Sisyphean genius of the Isonzo River battles - staged 8 or 9 times, over a couple of years, to prodigal movement of rock, if none of either front line - raised such a mesmerising curtain, one could have skipped the entire opera. Whole bunches of human limbs actually made it out of that interval, to our fair surprise.

Tony Judt
Timothy Snyder
Thinking the Twentieth Century
Penguin Books, 2012©

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday tidyings

 Oh, heavens, yes, 
I'm with 
 you. One signs up for the
 seminar on canopy manage-
 ment, only to hear the lec-
 turer claim that it's all 
 about leaf pulling and the
 ventilation of clusters. 
 And what ever became of tan-
 nic grip, one should like to
 know; extraction, and length 
 of finish? Tidiness may be a 
 mode of godliness, but are 
 they the same thing?

The language of oenological criticism approaches the unreadable, much less 
the unpresentable, the more that it escalates into the mystical. An ac-
quired neurosis is its constantly 
pressing touchstone (if you see what 
I mean), and consensual myth becomes 
its dreary blight. Friends have an-
ticipated that I'd touch upon this, 
since the launch of the page; people, 
simply, with whom I've dined in the
exploration of wines. 

But the subject is switched,
in focus upon the hoary myths
of wine. That subject is the
human being by whom and for
whom the transfiguration of
fruit has been undertaken and,
yes, refined. And that is a
most consuming discussion, 
yet after Virgil, almost un-
avoidably egotistical to re-
open. We have lived with the
fundamental text for more
than 2000 years. We are in no
position to say, science has
failed us. The problem of in-
articulate wine is not in its
stars or in its ground; it's
in the scientist, among whom
no lover of wine is exempted,
as it is up to him to complete
the gesture that it is. How he
will is how he does.

La Fleur '66
  scan by Laurent

Cabernet Franc in 2013
  grown by Eric Chevalier 
  photo Kermit Lynch

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thursday stop and frisk

I had a plan.
                          I said we should
                          go to the police.

  Well, what's the rush,
  Thelma? If we wait long
  enough, they'll come to

Callie Khouri
Thelma and

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How does one remember the Isonzo campaign?

Well, as a haberdasher,
one multiplies 300,000
youngsters by two legs
and quantifies a sudden
this season, on a scale
to compel peace talks,
subito. But possibly,
this is the logic of a
nation of shopkeepers,
not of their clients in
fashion's cauldron.

Where is the edifice of
permanence, for man to
confide his aspiration?
The fascist monstrosity
shown above, as much as
Lutjens' revolting dur-
has no response to give.

Where does that come
from, do we suppose,
if not in embodying 
disdain of vanities

John Keegan
The First World War
Knopf, 1999©

Before the Terror, and of course Ted Cruz

Sir, I'm sure you believe
that everything is for the
best, both in the moral and
the physical world, and that
nothing could possibly be

I, sir, the scholar answered,
think nothing of the sort. I
think everything goes wrong,
in this world of ours; that no
one understands either his place
or his duties, and except for 
dinner - which is cheerful and
appears to bring people together - 
we spend our time in ridiculous
quarrels. We have Puritans fight-
ing with Jesuits, parliamentarians
fighting with bishops, writers
fighting with other writers, and
courtesans with other courtesans;
we have bankers fighting with peop-
le, women fighting against their
husbands, relatives against other
relatives. What we have, in short,
is endless warfare.

Candide replied, I've seen worse
things. But a very wise man, who
suffered the misfortune of being
hanged, taught me that all these
things are truly fine: they're
shadows of a lovely painting.

Your hanged man, said Martin, was
poking fun at the world. Your shad-
ows are really ghastly stains.

It's men who make the stains, 
said Candide, and they have
no choice.

François-Marie Arouet
1694 - 1778
Candide, or Optimism
Burton Raffel, translation
Yale University Press, 2005©

Monday, November 11, 2013

Last House in backlight

Yet another benign defeat of
ambition redeems Luke Barr's
new book on his great-aunt,
M.F.K. Fisher and her franco-
phile peers in gastropublish-
ing, Provence, 1970. Mr Barr
is involved in the hedonism
business with Travel & Lei-
sure, and Clarkson Potter set
the bar accordingly low, to
his effort to identify a his-
toric turning point in Amer-
ican culinary culture, as if
there could be any to sift in
the wake of so many first-per-
son accounts from the victors.

It helps, that Barr wasn't ac-
tually there, and that a night
of long knives, ultimately lib-
erating American cuisine from
francophilia, was never so con-
centrated in one place or time
as it is his project to declare.
M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, 
James Beard, and The Reinvention
of American Taste - he means to
include Olney, but it would have
thrown the meter - his subtitle,
gives a robust but partial cast,
as enlistment by Sybille Bedford
and Elizabeth David clarifies,
tending toward a reinvention
which remains anarchic to this 

They dined together, warily, and
with a sectarian bitchiness wor-
thy of Jeremiah Tower, boiling
water. Their quibbling egos make
for tiresomely familiar reading,
to which Barr nevertheless brings
an arresting impartiality as the
foundation for a sharp anatomisa-
tion of snobbery. Ignore the pre-
tense, that the book is a neces-
sary history. It's a provocative
and sensitive scrutiny of rules. 

I've read most of the books by all 
his protagonists, Child excepted;
and like other San Franciscans of
such interests, I was fortunate
to visit one of them in Sonoma.
Now, Barr's survivorship of their
influence is all one has wished
for oneself. He has a gift for
sharing hunger without claiming
it, and taste without regulating
it. A fundamental understanding
the generosity of the casual, 
within the spheres of equable
competence and sympathy, places
him estimably close to two polar
opposites in his text, to expose
ego as the only quality dividing
them into putative factions. His 
gift for characterising their vir-
tues, for restoring their company,
is distinguished, and greatly to
be prized. His understanding ex-
ceeds his own awareness, and this
is a fine failure of ambition in
a field where it flocks intermin-
ably. If he could laugh, he might
be Liebling. 

Luke Barr
Provence, 1970
Clarkson Potter, 2013©

ii  Engraving from Pauillac

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I may take in a new lens sometime

  To judge the appearances
  that we receive of ob-
  jects, we would need a
  judicatory instrument;
  to verify this instru-
  ment, we need a demon-
  stration; to verify the
  demonstration, an ins-
  trument: there we are
  in a circle.

.. Something cleaves to form
until the last minute, past it,

and though the vet's needle was an act
of mercy, the life needed to continue,

the life was larger than cruelty,
the life denied the obliterating gesture

where only kindness had been expected.

the life takes it in and says more,

and the flooding darkness. The life doesn't care.
The life only wants, the fugitive life.

Sometimes our judicatory instrument
is that supreme essayist of succul-
ence, Montaigne, a son of Bordeaux
and of the early family of Château
d'Yquem. Of him Emerson wrote, Cut
these words, and they would bleed;
they are vascular and alive. Flau-
bert admired his style as a fruit
that fills the mouth and throat,
so succulent that the juice goes
right to your heart.

When it comes time to identify the
judicatory instrument Montaigne en-
visioned, Sainte-Beuve points us
right: Thought and image, with him,
it is all one. Montaigne senses; yet
it is his mode of judgment, which is
celebrated. Between the camera and
the refractometer, both unknown to
his century but not to his imaging, 
he would have chosen the latter, to 
study the impact of the object on 
the light, not the other way 'round.
It is the winegrower's choice, of any
who thirst to match their taste. It
is the choice of Alexandrians, from
Cavafy to Durrell to Doty.

The refractometer, which can measure
suspended sugar in a drop of grape
juice by its refraction of light, re-
lies upon technology impervious to
solids suspended in the air, such as
fog and its less seemly corollaries.
The painter, the photographer incor-
porate them. When it comes to it, we
will breathe what is there; the soul
will come before disdain.

Michel de Montaigne
Apology for Raymond Sebond
Donald Frame, editor and
The Complete Essays of
Stanford University Press, 1958©

Mark Doty
My Alexandria
  With Animals

i  photo Laurent