Friday, July 30, 2010

Seven wonders

Several things that recently happened to me:

1. While lying in bed alone on my side, awake (this was not a dream), I felt the firm touch and slight pressing of several human fingers on my right shoulder. I looked around and no one was in the room with me.

2. While changing a fuse in the mud room of my house, I dropped the old fuse before putting in the new one. It vanished into thin air. It’s a small room. Neither Caroline nor I have been able to find it. It seems to have vaporized. She believes me when I tell her that this is what happened.

3. The intense pain in my lower back brought on by my recent severe cold suddenly and completely disappeared like THAT.

These are recent wonders. There are others.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Life-Cycle (A partial view); Cantaloupe Conserve

As I get older, I find that whenever I catch  a cold, they all seem increasingly novel-esque (or at least short story-esque) in aspect.  Each cold  unfolds in a unique, dreadful way and seems to issue from a different, dark and unknowable pre-history.   

Summer colds are always the worst.  I always seem to contract one and this summer’s two colds (the first lasted a couple of weeks and departed in early July; I’m now experiencing the “Encore Presentation”) have  been hideous.   
I’ll spare you the symptoms, apart from the fact that this one has affected my back, rooting me to bed.   Like most people, I hate the feeling of immobility.  It’s summertime and, dreadful  heat notwithstanding, I need to get around and go because I have things to do.    

But being merely human, my reach and my grasp are approximately equal and they are greatly diminished.  What I can’t reach, I must shout for (uncouth as that is) and if no one is listening………..

On my terrace this summer, I am growing cantaloupes, watermelons and morning glories in large pots.  Being rooted in place does not inhibit their ability to move, however.  They each reach out from their pots to attach themselves to adjacent neighbors (sometimes several pots down the row) and to the iron railings of our terrace. Multiple tendrils extending to many locations, their reach and grasp seem approximately infinite.   You can actually see this  occur and we’ve spent many dinner hours in silence watching this amazing phenomenon.

A friend suggested that my cantaloupe friends are perhaps genetically altered Triffids.  I hadn’t thought  about Triffids for a long time (although one never really forgets them) and, all I can say is, I hope not.  

Sadly, it’s all happening out on the terrace right now, but I can’t see it.   Sadly also, there’s no cure for the common cold, although I do think the word “common” is misused here.  My cold is unique.

                              CANTALOUPE CONSERVE

Spooning this conserve over yogurt makes a light, sweet summer dessert.

Start to finish: 45 min
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large ripe cantaloupe, seeds and rind discarded and flesh cut into 1-inch pieces (4 cups)
1/3 cup golden raisins
Accompaniment: plain yogurt
Bring sugar, water, and lemon juice to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved, then boil, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in cantaloupe and raisins and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, until cantaloupe is translucent and syrup is thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer conserve to a metal bowl, then set bowl in a larger bowl of ice and cold water to cool, stirring occasionally.

Makes 6-8 dessert servings

Friday, July 23, 2010

Andy Warhol with Lana Turner

My friend Andrew McLenon found this wonderful (in terms of the sheer, unforced, sincere joy on Andy Warhol's face and the exquisite weirdness of Lana Turner's expression) "fan photo" of these two 20th century celebrities.

I had to share this with visitors to this blog and will provide explanations and history (if needed, if desired).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sad But Worth Noting -- Dennis Hopper Collection Being Auctioned At Christie's, NY -- November 10-11, 2010; American Dreamer

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s announced the sale of artworks Property from the Collection of Dennis Hopper during its Post-War & Contemporary Evening and Day Sales in New York on November 10 and 11, 2010. The late Hopper, who fused film with fine art throughout his influential 60-year career, culled a comprehensive collection of contemporary art; including prized works by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The actor-artist’s collection is expected to realize over $10 million.

Under the tutelage of James Dean, who he acted alongside in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955, Hopper took an interest in the arts early on, from photography to painting, assemblage and sculpture. With Dean’s encouragement, underscored by a vigor for all things anti-establishment, Hopper pursued his own art as well as collected the works of then-fledgling artists such as Warhol, Basquiat, Claes Oldenburg, Julian Schnabel and Richard Prince. He counted many contemporary artists as friends and creative peers. Hopper’s seminal Easy Rider — the 1969 film about two counterculture bikers that travel cross country in search of America, which he wrote starred in and directed alongside Peter Fonda and a young Jack Nicholson — earned him respect in both acting and artistic circles. He went on to act in several paradigm-shifting films, such as Blue Velvet opposite Isabella Rossellini and Apocalypse Now, opposite Marlon Brando.

Hopper once said: “I am just a middle-class farm boy from Dodge City… I thought painting, acting directing and photography was all part of being an artist. I have made my money that way and I have had some fun. It has not been a bad life.”

Hopper was on the forefront of the Pop Art movement, and was noted for buying Warhol’s first Campbell Soup can for $75, at the artist’s first show in Los Angeles. The works of Wallace Berman and Bruce Connor, that Hopper collected derive from a beatnik generation aesthetic. Other artists whose work he collected include Donald Baechler, John Baldessari, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and Robert Rauschenberg. This summer, Julian Schnabel, whose work Hopper also collected, curated Dennis Hopper Double Standard, Hopper’s first, comprehensive museum survey exhibition in the U.S. at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Hopper has had monographic exhibitions outside the U.S., but being appreciated in his own country was insurmountable to him, as he supported mostly American artists himself.

“Dennis Hopper went from cultural icon with Easy Rider to a multi-faceted artist and art collector,” said Cathy Elkies, Director of Private and Corporate Collections at Christie’s. “His relationships with artists reflect his dynamism and forward-thinking.”

Andrew Massad Senior Vice President and International Contemporary Specialist at Christie’s, called Hopper an influential free spirit. “Hopper had a fierce individualism and he was an auteur in the realm of popular culture,” said Massad. “He was always his own man and he collected works that linked to his life and his lifestyle. He lived the art. He was part of the moment.”

Highlights from The Collection of Dennis Hopper include Basquiat’s Untitled 1987, executed in acrylic, oil stick and graphite (estimate: $5,000,000-$7,000,000) as well as Warhol’s Portrait of Dennis Hopper, 1971 in synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink (estimate: $800,000 -$1,200,000) in shades of blue, gray and ecru. The two works will be presented for sale at Christie’s Post-War &Contemporary Evening Sale on November 10.

An additional single-owner section from the Hopper estate will be featured at the Post-War & Contemporary Days sale the following day.

Christie’s will host a sale of prints, smaller works and other memorabilia from The Collection of Dennis Hopper, in January 2011 during Christie’s Interiors Sale.

American Dreamer 
Written by Gene Clark for the Dennis Hopper film American Dreamer

Think of all the things that money can buy
A ranch in the mountains and a pleasure for your eye
A home you can call your own

Then maybe think of all the things that a dollar bill won't bring
Like someone to hold you close and a song for you to sing
And then think of all the years that it takes to be a fool
Like the lessons you learn in a lifetime like your lifetime was a

And then think of all the things that don't turn out what they seem
Like the love you thought you owned in the American dream
The American dreamer sometimes a thinker sometimes a schemer
Sometimes a child sometimes a wise man
A lonely soul a great extremer
But nonetheless the American Dreamer

Monday, July 19, 2010

Beets Three Ways

I meant to post my Cantaloupe Vigor piece today, which will describe the major mental doings in our garden, but I won't be able to download Jane's photos until later this week, that is if the cantaloupe and watermelon permit me to leave the property. (They're the new sherrifs in town.)

Since it is too hot to exert any extra effort, I will fall back, as I do daily all summer it seems, on beets.

The beets grown in Orange County, New York, like our onions, are widely known for their excellence.  They grow and develop beautifully in the region's black soil, which in recent years has given its name to our "tipico" local red wine, Black Dirt Red from Warwick Valley Winery, which is sort of our local Beaujolais.  I'd love to say that Black Dirt Red reflects the local terroir but the grapes are actually grown upstate in the Finger Lake region and brought to Warwick for crushing and vinification.  No matter -- it's nice to drink something quasi-local.  (Warwick Valley Winery's really outstanding products are its eaux-de-vies, which are made with our outstanding local apples and pears.)

We cook and pickle beets as soon as we can find them in the farm markets and eat them until we are sick of them, which usually takes most of the summer.  Here is the recipe we use:

Pickled Beets

Remove tops and greens from beets; trim tops and bottoms

Place beets in cold water, bring to boil and simmer until beets are tender – 30-40 minutes

Rinse beets under cold water and allow to cool.  Remove skin from beets and slice, quarter or dice, as you prefer.

Dress beets as follows:

Chopped scallions, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Other vinegars can be substituted (an example follows below) to achieve a different flavor.


Chopped scallions, “sushi” or other seasoned rice wine vinegar, 2 tbsp. soy sauce.

I am semi-ashamed to say that, until yesterday, I used to discard the beet greens even though I knew they were edible and considered delicious (that is, if you like things like kale and collard greens).  I finally decided that this was silly and the tremendous heat notwithstanding, I prepared this simple, obvious and delicious dish of beet greens, which I recommend highly:

Beet Greens
While this recipe calls for discarding the stems, if you want you can use them too if they aren't too woody. Just cut them into 1-inch segments and add them to the onions after the onions have been cooking for a minute.

1 lb. beet greens
1-2 strips thick-cut bacon chopped (or a tablespoon of bacon fat)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cups water
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/6 cup cider vinegar

1 Wash the greens in a sink filled with cold water. Drain greens and wash a second time. Drain greens and cut away any heavy stems. Cut leaves into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
2 In a large skillet or 3-qt saucepan, cook bacon until lightly browned on medium heat (or heat 1 Tbsp of bacon fat). Add onions, cook over medium heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occassionally, until onions soften and start to brown. Stir in garlic. Add water to the hot pan, stirring to loosen any particles from bottom of pan. Stir in sugar and red pepper. Bring mixture to a boil.
3 Add the beet greens, gently toss in the onion mixture so the greens are well coated. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5-15 minutes until the greens are tender. Stir in vinegar. (For kale or collard greens continue cooking additional 20 to 25 minutes or until desired tenderness.)
Serves 4.
Because the preceding recipe was so good, next up will be: 

  • 2 bunches beet greens and/or spinach
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sweet paprika
  • Cumin
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Juice of one lemon
  1. Clean 2 bunches of beet greens, 2 bunches of spinach, or a combination, by putting them in a clean dishpan filled with cold water.  Agitate well, leave to soak a few minutes, lift out, drain the water (and sand!), and repeat until there is no sand.  (This is both easier and much more effective than the running water and colander method.)
  2. Slice horizontally, about 1/4 inch wide, and put into a deep pot.  Add a spoon or two of water if they seem dry.  Cover and steam on medium low heat for 10-15 minutes or until soft.  Let cool.
  3. Put the greens in a wire colander over a bowl and press out as much liquid as possible. (You can save it for soup made with all the holiday leftovers.)
  4. Finely chop 2 to 4 cloves of garlic and put in a large frying pan with 3 T (tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil.  Saute at medium high until garlic begins to brown. Add greens, stir and cook a few minutes.
  5. Add 1 t (teaspoon) paprika, 1 t ground cumin, 1 t oregano, 1 t kosher or other salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir and cook a few more minutes, adding a bit of reserved liquid or olive oil if it seems dry.  Add cumin if desired, but it’s easy to overdo the oregano.
  6. Remove from heat, squeeze in the juice of one lemon (can be partly bottled juice), and taste for salt and lemon.  Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fuse Is Lit (Crazy Tale)


Mathias Rust (born July 1968 in Wedel, Schleswig-Holstein, West Germany) is a German man known for his illegal landing near Red Square in Moscow in 1987. As an amateur aviator, he flew from Finland to Moscow, being tracked several times by Soviet air defence and interceptors. The Soviet fighters never received permission to shoot him down, and several times he was mistaken for a friendly aircraft. He landed on Vasilevski Spusk next to Red Square near the Kremlin in the capital of the USSR.
Rust's intentions, as he stated, were to create an "imaginary bridge" to the East, and he has claimed that his flight was intended to reduce tension and suspicion between the two Cold War sides.[1] Rust's successful flight through a supposedly impregnable air defense system had a great impact on the Soviet military and led to the firing of many senior officers, including Defence Minister Sergei Sokolov. The incident enabled Mikhail Gorbachev to speed his reforms (by removing numerous military officials opposed to him), and reduced the prestige of the Soviet military among the population, thus helping bring an end to the Cold War.[1]

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Major Minor

For the last ten days or so, I have been crazy from the heat, sick as a dog, demented by details and generally inattentive. But all the while I’ve been planning to post a piece here, which I finally decided to call Major Minor, which is the name of a fine Peter Blegvad song that appears on his album, The Naked Shakespeare.

Originally, I had simply intended to write a short appreciation (because I am not a professional critic, that seemed to be the proper appellation for my projected effort) of the 20th century English novelist and playwright Patrick Hamilton, who is probably best known for his successful stage plays Rope and Gaslight, both later made into famous, highly regarded motion pictures. Although I enjoy both plays (and think the recent transformation of “gaslight” into a verb is fascinating, if disturbing, language and behavior issue), I strongly prefer Hamilton’s novels (early to late, from Craven House through Unknown Assailant) and thought I would include in the post the section of Claud Cockburn’s memorable introduction to The Slaves of Solitude where he recalls Hamilton’s extraordinarily acute powers of physical and psychological observation, even in crowded settings like London pubs, which can overwhelm most people with their buzz and din, and his “bat’s wing ear” for dialogue. I also planned to include several selections from Hamilton’s work, including an excerpt from his remarkable, underrated early “graphic novel”, Impromptu In Moribundia (which illustrates Hamilton ability to raise and transform what might be viewed as tiresome political polemic into genuinely moving story-telling and art), and the short final section of Mr. Stimson and Mr. Gorse where we leave the story of Ernest Ralph Gorse (Hamilton describes his protagonist as “the worst man in the world” and creates a riveting portrait, sustained over a long haul, of a sociopath) proper, and are suddenly placed on a different plane of convincing, frightening prophecy, which has unfortunately proved to be a largely accurate picture of European and western life. Rounding the post out would be the inclusion of several charming “author photos”, including the one showing the great man’s drawing room in his flat at The Albany in London (also home to Lord Byron, William Gladstone, Raffles, Jack Worthing, Graham Greene, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, Sir Kenneth Clark, Terrence Rattigan and Terence Stamp, among other notables).

In any event, on my way to “there” (“there” being the composition and publication of the post), I ran into the following quotation about Hamilton from the English critic D.J. Taylor: 

“Every so often, though, the revulsion slips away and one is left with the joke or the sideways glance, the twitch upon the psychological thread that guarantees Hamilton a singular place as one of the great minor English novelists.”

The word and classifier “minor”, which I have seen applied untold numbers of times in various ways to artists I admire by critics I don’t, stopped me dead in my tracks. As it usually does, it made me angry for a while and arrested forward motion. I’m feeling better now and would like to say (as briefly as I can manage) that for some reason it appears that many of the artists I admire most are regularly classified as “minor”. Henry Green, who I consider to be the greatest English writer of the 20th century and an incomparable genius, has regularly been called minor. The extraordinary Ronald Firbank, author of Considering The Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, a writer of peerless wit, facility and humanity (read Sorrow In Sunlight) – minor. Denton Welch, the brave, gimlet-eyed soul who achieved so much as a writer in his short life, ending with the masterpiece A Voice Through A Cloud, is generally considered minor. And Julian Maclaren-Ross, a short story writer, memoirist, critic, parodist and novelist of uncommon character and quality (and the only critic with the sense and integrity to praise Patrick Hamilton’s uniformly loathed conclusion to The Gorse Trilogy, Unknown Assailant) is , for some pitiable and misguided souls, an artist placed at the minor end of minor.
I believe (and recall being taught) that classification was a key intellectual step forward for mankind, through which we bring order to the chaos of our copious, but disheveled, direct observations of life, supposedly in a rational and effective pursuit of our desire to discern “first principles”. That being said, I haven’t encountered (as far as I can discern) the intellect, soul or any other aspect of Aristotle in critics who expel the word “minor” like a puny bullet, damning artists with faint praise in order to elevate themselves to a plane higher than their target. The practice reminds me of a remark I read the other day in a magazine article about the “longshoreman philosopher” Eric Hoffer: "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength”.

Critics apply this “major/minor” idiocy/fallacy to other arts also and I confess to having a consistent record of finding talent, value, genius and pleasure in “minor” figures across the spectrum, from the Greek poet Archilochus to the artists of the French rococo period, from the French painter Yves Tanguy to the American painter of small details, Vija Celmins, from the English expatriate songwriter and pataphysician Kevin Ayers to the American expatriate songwriter and cartoonist Peter Blegvad, both artists of surpassing talent whose “crime” against “major-ness” was simply never having had a big commercial hit. 

(Notes to probably already bored readers: 

1. I have decided to dispense with the fuller list and to give only the several examples cited above. I could go on and on. N.b. I am leaving The Kinks out of this.

2. I am a Quaker, which is, I suppose a “minor religion” in some people’s eyes, although such a conclusion would be inaccurate in any number of ways. 

3. Peter Blegvad is the author of one of the world’s longest grammatically correct palindromes. “Peel’s foe not a set animal laminates a tone of sleep.” MINOR? I ask you.)

In conclusion, I would like to offer my “crazy from the heat” friends (and their parents in the case of Recipe 2 below) something delicious for relief from the high temperatures and stress of it all:

Recipe 1: Papaya-Banana Smoothie

1 cup milk
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 small ripe banana, peeled and sliced
1/2 large, ripe papaya, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 cup ice cubes
Combine the milk, yogurt, vanilla, banana, papaya and ice cubes in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a large glass.

Recipe 2: Mango-Yogurt-White Rum Smoothie

2 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted and chopped
2 cups Greek yogurt
1/2 cup mango nectar
1/2 cup white rum
Crushed ice
2 to 4 tablespoons simple syrup, depending on sweetness of mangoes
Combine mango, yogurt, nectar, rum and a few cups of crushed ice in a blender and blend until smooth and frothy. Sweeten with simple syrup, if needed. Divide among 4 glasses and serve. 

Stay cool. A toute a l'heure.