Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Onward with Reading

With The Children's Book completed (& still nothing said about it here) it was time to return to A History of Food. I'm proud to say that I've almost finished Part V: Luxury Food, and at page 387, in the middle of a section about foie gras, I am over HALFWAY through the book. It's painfully slow going though, & to delay things even more, I nipped out & got Mandel's Wolf Hall. Relief!
The Children's Book seems to have got scant attention here, though I'm annoyed to have missed the author appearing at The Strand tonight (damn). Couldn't make it. She's very discursive, very nineteenth century in scope, & at first you find the movement of the novel ponderous & even irritating in its didactic tone. Soon though, you get sucked into the lives of the central characters, & learn to love Byatt's steady paced account of their era. It's a really interesting examination of the cult of childhood in late Victorian & Edwardian England, particularly as reflected in the kinds of children's literature being written then. The ending of the novel is devastating - the whole pace & tone of the book shifts when she reaches the Great War. Just as the lives of the characters are upturned, lost & disfigured by war, so you, as reader, are disoriented & breathtaken by the sudden narrative change, and the rapid disintegration of the world she has shown us with such painstaking attention. It's one mighty emotional punch.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hitchens & Fry vs. Widdecombe & Onaiyekan

A review of my old favorites,the often inebriated Hitch, & Stephen Fry, doing their thing in a recent debate on the Catholic Church, at Methodist Central Hall in London. Even though I know that many have heard more than enough from CH on this matter, I can never resist the opportunity to hear one of his cutting performances (I saw him thriving in the presence of a jeering audience at Ethical Culture a few years ago), & with the kinder but equally urbane Fry there too, the very thought of this splendid tag team in action again is delicious to contemplate. I hope that there'll be a video of this posted soon. For those of you that want more Hitch, this site puts together a bunch of clips, & if you feel like a trip to the cinema this week there's a newly released documentary, Collision, documenting his US debate tour with Doug Wilson. I, for one, will be at Village East ASAP. The film opens tomorrow.

Monday, October 26, 2009


I'm very fond of second hand/thrift/charity shop/resale/"vintage" clothing stores, & will go out of my way to find interesting food establishments, but there are other kinds of retail places I'm happy to spend time in too. I like stationary stores. Not the boutique kinds with $10 birthday cards & craft supplies, or the Staples model, with endless aisles of garish unattractive nastiness. I like overcrowded office stationers, with stacks of lined office pads in unusual sizes, small but indispensable notebooks in sober colors, serviceable pencil sharpeners (usually German)& perhaps some interesting plain artists' sketchpads. I like boxes of dusty goods that look as though they might have been sitting around since the 1950's. Above all, I like my stationary to have a slightly dreary seriousness of purpose. This makes my purchases seem important. I'm also very fond of neighborhood hardware stores, with their peculiarly distinct odor of fertilizer, paint & cardboard. The best ones always have a selection of sensible kitchen equipment (Corning ware, cast iron pans, coffee pots & salt shakers) & a large collection of seed packets. Bliss. The fact that I'm completely un-handy matters not at all. I like the goods themselves (though most of them are mysterious to me), & the whole business of people buying modest but important products. Leopoldi's is an excellent hardware store in every respect, run by exceptionally kind & friendly people. I always leave there in a good mood.

Hoyt Street

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vanishing Daylight

It's only October, but still dark when I leave for work in the morning & there are only a couple of hours after work before darkness draws in again. It's very confining to be locked into such a routine, when really I'm desperate to be aimlessly loafing around on the streets, taking photographs & so forth. I may have to devise a plan. Perhaps, rather than heading home, I need to take the train to different neighborhoods at least once a week, to take in an wintery hour of fading light outside my own neighborhood. There's definitely a need for a visual jolt to the M-F grind.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sendak tells parents to "go to hell."

Maurice Sendak has not lost his curmudgeonly disdain for those who prissify children's culture. Good man.
For those that haven't seen the Wild Things film yet, here's the preview. I liked it a lot, but agree with those critics who feel it is too long. An hour would have been a perfect length & would have made the emotional traumas on the island less drawn out. It's probably best for those 8 & up, NOT because it's too scary (I'm all for dark tales for little ones!), but because of its length, & emotional complexity. An eight or nine year old could find it very satisfying fare indeed.
As I watched the film, I did get a bit distracted by Tony Soprano/Wild Thing parallels (James Gandolfini plays the central Thing) - I'm sure there had to be an element of calculated effect in the casting here. And of course the film made me think of the kids I work with at a residential school, of their rages, their destruction, & their desperate sense of abandonment. Wild things, every one.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Guy Ritchie, Man of the People?

Marina Hyde reads an Esquire interview with Guy Ritchie , is less than impressed, & questions his working class street cred.
Try this:
"The great thing about Gypsies is they keep you smart," Guy pronounces, before disproving his thesis in jaw-dropping style. "They will steal, you can bet on it. But they know things. They teach you lessons. About steam engines, about coursing dogs, folk music. They give great currency to language . . . "
and this
"What you've got with marmalade is fucking bitter and sweet," Guy explains. "Now, the marmalade at [the place they had breakfast], that's an accessible marmalade. And my sensibility is accessible. My nature is, I like accessible shit."