Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Letter of Transit

     There are times when you ride the train in the early morning and it's all grotesques.


Vincent Van Gogh, Prisoners Exercising (After Dore), 1888 

     Residual, slight self-awareness quietly tells you that this is an unfair, possibly inaccurate, judgement.  On these days, to the extent you retain (and wish to retain) any small sense of self-containment, the disconnected endings that seem to protrude from every point tear, abraid, and “put paid” to that.  You become entrapped in a collective, unhappy and bothering, unconscious. 

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night Over The Rhone, 1888

     Steps that take you from home to terminus (not yours) are like climbing a defense wall studded with glass shards or penetrating razor wire. Remembering that you actually pay (a great deal) for this experience lends, as a poet once wrote, comedy to shame.

     Every single building and still unlighted window seen across the river from the train reminds of an unacknowledged telephone call or unanswered letter.  Long Shot Kick De Bucket by The Pioneers comes to mind.   All your pens stop working at exactly the moment you finish finally drafting the grim letter you've been carrying around in your head.  

      Cold, no coat; mislaid and misremembered address, purpose for the day and conviction.  At the next terminus (not yours), terrible food made of oddly assorted ingredients is on sale in ugly stores at prices that recall childhood “Your Weight On Jupiter” exhibits.  I feel like a fish swimming in the wrong kind of water.

Vincent Van Gogh, Wheatfield With Crows, 1890

     Many hours later the phone rings and Jane has a question. (The only good part of cell phones is hearing from your daughter or wife.  Everything else can be handled in due course.)  Let Your Yeah Be Yeah (Pioneers) comes to mind along with a memorable passage I cannot quite remember from Henry Green about dangers inherent in leaving the house, recommending  the “oblique approach in middle age” and ending “the unusual at this period is to get anywhere at all—God damn!”   There was also something about loving your family and your cats.

Only an approximation of the wonder that follows

     This is the basic version of a Christmas cookie recipe we make every year, which may have  a couple of secret chef variations (I believe the French call these trucs) that I’m not aware of because I’m not the baker.  We served these the other night and our guests ate with greater pleasure than I can recall seeing on view anywhere during the entire year 2010:

Almond Spritz Cookies 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine 4 1/2 cups flour with 1/2 teaspoon salt.

3.  Cream together (using standing or hand mixer) with 1 1/2 cups sugar and 2 cups butter.

4.  Add 4 egg yolks, 2 teaspoons almond extract, green food coloring and stir into flour mixture.

5.  Put dough through cookie press (we use a Christmas tree shape) onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Paint carefully with reserved egg whites and decorate as desired. (Take care not to drip egg white onto sides of cookies or cookie sheet as it will make cookies stick and break.)

6. Bake about 10 minutes.

Van Gogh at 13, 1866

Arles Arena


  1. Curtis . . . I deeply admire that you either could write so well and for such a goodly spell , that is to say, so eqotistically, about your personal alienation, only to arrive--as a good husband and father often does--at home, and, quite happy in a christmas cookie recipe . . . or I admire that the delicate flakings of a Christmas cookie may be so gruffly undergirded by a long, life-bumping walk to work. The highest and most stern transcendentalists, like Dante, might well pass you by, but Melville would love this, and, I, who am neither a talented Italian nor a world-travelling seaman, also love this.

  2. Good morning and thank you very much. Yours is the brightest note so far today. I loved Prelude to the Obamiad, by the way. Yesterday was just so grim for some reason and this is what came from a mundane trip from Berwyn to Manhattan. I definitely think it's time to exercise more, watch the news as little as possible and, along lines you sort of suggest, take up the Purgatorio again. I had to stop doing most outside reading when I was studying for the MPRE (it's a part of the bar exam I had to take to gain admission to the Pennsylvania bar). Since then I've been recovering from the experience, but was pleased and relieved to receive the news last week that I passed it and actually did quite well, which was a big surprise to me. It's a lovely day here, but really cold. Curtis

  3. You need not be surprised that your mind of obviously many compartments should do well . . . and congratulations in your late-life ascent to the bar . . . as well as your traditional ascent to the cooking table . . . but , stop me, all the yabber of "ascents" is going to make me gulp on Guelphs and Ghibbilines rather than mitts and madelines. All the best to you and your family.

  4. And to you and yours. Avoid bar exams like the plague. They take and wreck entire seasons. When I sat for the NY bar in 1981, it was during the two days in summer dedicated to the Charles-Diana royal wedding. That, at least, was diverting when you weren't taking the exam itself. This time I was placed in an ugly auditorium at what seemed like a 5th grader desk with current law students slightly confused by my presence among them. I hoped and prayed that a bomb would not fall so that this would be the last thing on earth that I'd see. When I left several hours later, quite drained, I drove over a traffic barrier, having previously sent Caroline and Jane up to New York State on the wrong date to attend a party. Things have semi-straightened out since then. Curtis