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