Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beef With Stout -- A Superb Winter Meal (Our family's variation on Ballymoe Cookery School recipe)


Ballymoe Cookery School, Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland

     When posting recipes here, you may have noticed that I try mainly to stick to non-meat or vegetarian dishes or meals, although I am not myself a vegetarian.

     I was a vegetarian for several years in college at the behest of a Manhattan-raised girlfriend.  Ultimately, the many pleasures and broad education provided by the cuisine she introduced me to (which opened the door to a universe of of foods and flavors I had never before experienced) outshone other aspects of our relationship that were declining in quality, but I will always be grateful to her for (only) this part of her bossiness and inflexibility

     Before she imposed her eating regime on me, I was accustomed to my family's somewhat restricted diet, which was based around eating grilled, really excellent, steaks most nights of the year. In the late 1960s, my father researched the availability (n.b., this was a generation prior to the world-wide-web), purchased and installed one of the earliest models of gas-powered, lava stone barbecues (tapped directly into the house's propane lines, this was a superb machine allowing year-round outdoor grilling with the ease of turning on the  lights) on our terrace so that he and my mother could maintain their low carbohydrate Atkins Diet regimen (successor and very similar to the earlier, popular "Drinking Man's Diet")  at a high degree of precision and quality without interruption or impediment.  Both my parents were very good cooks and the meat was all  New York City top steakhouse grade.  Although I had no real complaints or concerns (cuisine wasn't really a priority subject of mine anyway when I was a teenager), I can see in retrospect that the "steak grind" (as a witty restaurant critic named Seymour Britchky dubbed it at the time) was a limited regime and I definitely benefited in the short and long term by the broadening of experience easily and inexpensively achieved and enjoyed dining in New York City's vast array of ethnic restaurants in the early 1970s with my  girlfriend and her relatively sophisticated group of Manhattan classmates and friends.

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (Deborah Vivien Cavendish nee The Hon. Deborah Freeman- Mitford)

     Although my girlfriend was dictatorial in many ways, I am in also and mainly in her debt for making me think seriously for the first time about the moral underpinnings of vegetarianism.  Although what seemed crystal clear and absolute then seems somewhat cloudier (not murkier) now, I think that confronting  thoughtfully the things we all must do to survive, i.e., the inevitable and irreducible competition among species in the so-called "food chain",  necessarily helps us to navigate better this vale of tears.

     So I went from being principally a carnivore to total herbivore status, and then several years later put the two together, becoming an omnivore of considerable culinary range and attention to detail, with a collection of books and still-ongoing magazine subscriptions to prove it.  Currently, I am mostly a herbivore again by preference, but because winter is clearly coming on, friends are invited for dinner next Sunday (with more friends to follow in succeeding weeks), I have cold weather meals (lunches and dinners that are great and can be prepared easily) much on my mind. 

The gifted and beautiful Darina Allen

     This leads me to want to share my version of Irish chef Darina Allen's recipe from her famous Ballymoe Cookery School for Beef With Stout with you.  

A Murphy's Irish Stout petrol pump, Cork

     I now consider this dish (including our chosen accompaniments), discovered in the course of a recipe hunt triggered by my finding a New York Times news clipping about the Duchess of Devonshire's Boeuf Bourguignonne (the duchess in question being the current Dowager Duchess Deborah Mitford (b. 1920), a fascinating woman and the last of the six legendary Mitford sisters) by chance in one of my late mother's books, now to be perfected.  It is close to Darina Allen's original, but it now tastes exactly the way we want it to.  It is ultra-easy to prepare, should be made several hours ahead (allowing you to spend time with your guests while you're reheating the stew), and it makes the house smell wonderful while it is cooking. 

 Beef With Stout

     Other virtues are that it is fairly inexpensive, improves greatly overnight as stews are meant to, and you can (and should; it won't be as good later in the day) finish the remainder of  the bottle of stout you don't use in the dish before bidding the stew adieu in the late morning for its long untended simmering. (Please note that although  Beamish or Murphy's are the preferred cooking liquids because this recipe originates in Cork, not Dublin, and apparently even the choice between those two brews can provoke strong and differing local opinions, I have also used Guinness in the dish.  As you would expect, it's excellent.)   Finally, although the recipe calls for chuck, a stewing cut of beef, we tried it once using sirloin from some disappointing steaks we bought that were not good at all on the grill.  That version of the stew was, I must admit, even better than with the chuck and the cooking time is a little shorter.

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, photographed at Chatsworth in 1952 by Norman Parkinson

     I really hope you and your guests  like this.  We have found that it's very popular with adults and children both. I'm also going to throw in my summer variation at the end in case you're as enthusiastic as we are about the flavors and think mixing things up would be fun.

     At some point soon, I will get around to writing about Deborah ("Debo") Mitford and posting her excellent recipe also.  Reading one article led to reading another and another after that.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the beautiful Norman Parkinson portrait of her and her dogs above taken at her famous and beautiful Derbyshire home, Chatsworth, in 1952.

Ballymoe Cookery School Beef with Stout  (OurVersion)

Serves 6-8

2 lbs (900g) lean stewing beef, e.g., Chuck
Seasoned flour (Wondra, if possible)
3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil
2 thinly sliced onions
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry English Mustard
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato puree
1 or 2 wide strips of dried orange peel
A bouquet garni made up of 1 bay leaf,  several sprigs of fresh thyme, 4 parsley stalks.
6 fl oz  Beamish, Murphy or Guinness
¾ pint (425ml) beef stock (fresh stock from butcher preferred)
8 ozs (225g) mushrooms
½ oz (15g) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the meat into 1½ inch (4cm) cubes and toss in seasoned flour. Heat some oil in a hot pan and fry the meat in batches until it is brown on all sides. Transfer the meat into a casserole and add a little more oil to the pan. Fry the thinly-sliced onions until nicely browned; deglaze with the stout. Transfer to the casserole, add the stock, sugar, mustard, tomato puree, orange rind and bouquet garni. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer in a very low heat, 150C/300f/ regulo 2, for 2-2½ hours or until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile wash and slice the mushrooms. Saute in a very little melted butter in a hot pan. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside. When the stew is cooked, add the mushrooms and simmer for 2-3 minutes, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Note: This stew reheats well. You may need to add more sugar to the recipe if you find it a little bitter.

Serve with:

(a) Fresh pappardelle noodles (you can make these by buying flat sheets of fresh pasta and cutting it into ribbons 1" or so wide using a fluted pastry cutter or substitute any dried broad flour or egg noodle) with butter; and

(b) A cucumber and tomato salad with dill and an apple cider or rice vinegar vinaigrette.

(c)  For dessert in Pennsylvania, you really can't beat a shoo-fly pie and Bassett's vanilla ice cream, but any local dessert variations should work. It actually turns out to be quite a light and refreshing meal.

We like to drink a red Cotes du Rhone wine with this dish.

Tuxedo Park Summer Variation

Using this basic recipe:

1. Substitute ale for stout.

2. Substitute sun-dried tomatoes for mushrooms.

3. Substitute fresh oregano for the bouquet garni.

4. Substitute sirloin (esp.disappointingly tough sirloin that you're intending to rescue ) for stewing beef.

5. Cook for 2 hours maximum.

6.  Serve with white or saffron rice.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Duchess of Devonshire, 1786

Beamish Irish Stout (Cork)

Guiness Extra Stout (Dublin)

Monday, November 29, 2010

White Light (Gene Clark Lyric)

Oh, the village of the hill
Sitting silently at will
Like some prophecy forgotten by an age
With no guns before its gate
The mysterious estate
Lies waiting for its history's dawning page
With the raging of the sea before its height
And the strength of those who see beyond their sight

Oh, the smithy's anvil rings
And the symphony it sings
No voice nor poet's pen can put to tune
And electric lines of force
Ring around the humble lives
Of the souls that hear the master say the sooth
With the clouds that gather near disturb the night
Striking flashes of a difference, fleeing fright


No slight of tongue nor hand
Can so boldly there withstand
When the spirit of its truth shall speak the time
And no ignorance of life
Can be held within the sight
Of the buttresses of ageless binds of time
The communion of the forces take delight
With the fear that no tongues may read nor write
White Light

Oh the village of the hill
Sitting silently still
With the strength of ages past they're still at hand
Reckons not to look behind
But to look within and find
And to hear of those enlightened by the lamb
With the powers of the wind both fierce and light
And the waters of the storm went through the night

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Meglio Solo Que Mal Accompagnato

Rose photographed by Jane B. Roberts

Travels In Arabia Deserta by Charles M. Doughty (An Extraordinary Work)

Map of Arabia (From Samuel Butler, Egypt and Arabia, London: Longman & Co., 1851)

Volume I, Chapter I (The Peraea; Ammon and Moab)(Beginning)

     A NEW voice hailed me of an old friend when, first returned from the Peninsula, I paced again in that long street of Damascus which is called Straight; and suddenly taking me wondering by the hand "Tell me (said he), since thou art here again in the peace and assurance of Ullah, and whilst we walk, as in former years, toward the new blossoming orchards, full of the sweet spring as the garden of God, what moved thee, or how couldst thou take such journeys into the fanatic Arabia ?"

Madain Salah in Al Madinah (discovered by Doughty)

Volume II, Chapter XVIII (Wady Fatima)(Conclusion)

     We remounted ; and they said to me, with the Arabian urbanity, "When we arrive, thus and thus shalt thou speak (like a Beduwy -- with a deep-drawn voice out of the dry wind pipe), Gowak ya el-Mohhafuth!  keyf 'endakom el--'bil?  eth-- themn el--ghrannem eysh ;  wa eysh ijib es-samn? 'The Lord strengthen thee, O governor! what be the camels worth here? -- the price of small cattle ?  and how much is the samn ?'  Now I saw the seabord desert before us hollowed and balked ! -- the labor doubtless of the shovel plow -- and drawn down into channels towards the city ; and each channel ending in a covered cistern.  Rich water-merchants are the possessors of these birkets :  all well-water at Jidda is brackish, and every soul must drink cistern-water for money.  By our right hand is "the sepulchre of Hawwa," in the Abrahamic tradition the unhappy Mother of mankind:  they have laid out "Eve's grave" -- a yard wide -- to the length of almost half a furlong [v. Vol. I, p. 434] :  such is the vanity of their religion ! -- which can only stand by the suspension of human understanding.  We passed the gates and rode through the street to "the Sherif's palace" : but it is of a merchant (one called his agent), who has lately built this stately house, -- the highest in Jidda.
     On the morrow I was called to the open hospitality of the British Consulate.

"Ships of the desert, laden with coffee", 19th century

Notes to reader:

1.  From Nature, 6 February, 1926:

"WE regret to record the death on January 20 of Mr. Charles Montagu Doughty, the famous traveller in Arabia and poet, at Sissinghurst, Ken, at eighty-two years of age. Mr. Doughty was born on August 19, 1843, at Theberton, Suffolk.  He was educated at Portsmouth, and later, on failing to enter the Navy, with which he was closely connected through his mothers's family, he went to King's College, London, and Caius College, Cambridge.  He took his degree, however, from Downing, to which he had migrated from Caius, obtaining second-class honours in natural science (geology) in 1865,  During his career as an undergraduate he had shown a taste for antiquarian exploration, which he continued after taking his degree, spending some years in travelling and study.  In 1866 he published a short pamphlet on the Jostedals-Brae glaciers of Norway, where he had spent a year as an undergraduate.  In 1870 he went to Holland, where he acquired Dutch and Danish, thence to Italy, Spain and Greece, crossing over to Palestine a year later."

Charles M. Doughty (1843-1926)  

2.  From Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols., 1922-58:

Doughty, Charles Montagu.
Adm. pens. (age 18) at CAIUS, Sept. 30, 1861. [2nd] s. of Charles Montagu (above), clerk, of Theberton Hall, Suffolk. [B. Aug. 19, 1843.] School, King's College, London. [Naval School at Portsmouth (Who was Who).] Matric. Michs. 1861.
Migrated to Downing, Oct. 8, 1863; B.A. (Downing) 1866; M.A. (Caius) 1869; Hon. Litt.D. 1920.
Hon. Fellow of Caius, 1907.
Hon. Litt.D. (Oxford) 1908.
Studied in Leyden and Louvain on leaving Cambridge.
Spent 1863-4 alone in Norway, studying glacier action, and a paper of his on this subject was read at the British Association Meeting in 1864.
Travelled, as a poor student, in France, Spain, Italy, Greece, North Africa, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula.
Joined a pilgrim caravan to Mecca, and travelled for many years in Arabia.
Returned to England, 1878, broken in health.
Addressed the R.G.S. on his travels, Nov. 26, 1883.
In 1912 received the R.G.S. Royal Founder's Medal.
Author of Travels in Arabia Deserta (1884), in which he contributed much to Western knowledge of Arabia.
Was the first to record accurately the true direction of the great watercourses of Wadi Hamd and Wadi er-Rumma.
This work was issued by the Cambridge University Press after it had been refused by four other publishers, one of whom wrote that 'it ought to be practically re-written by a practised literary man.' At first only scholars appreciated its value and the style of its writing; but in 1908 an abridgment was published by Mr Edward Garnett under the title of Wanderings in Arabia which brought much appreciation.
In 1921 Travels in Arabia Deserta was re-issued with a new preface by the author and an introduction by T. E. Lawrence, which was accepted as a classic of travel.
The rest of his life was given up to poetry, and he lived a recluse's life, first on the Riviera, and after 1899 at Tunbridge Wells, Eastbourne, and from 1923 at Sissinghurst, Kent.
Hon. Fellow, British Academy.
His published poems were, Dawn in Britain, 1906; Adam cast forth, 1908; The Titans, 1916; The Cliffs, 1909; The Clouds, 1912; Mansoul, or the Riddle of the World, 1920.
Died Jan. 20, 1926, at Sissinghurst.
Brother of Henry M. (1860).
(Venn, II. 355 and Addenda; Burke, L.G.; Who was Who, 1916-28; D.N.B., 1922-30; The Times, Jan. 22, 1926; D. G. Howarth, Life of Doughty.)

Memorial at Golders Green Crematorium, London

Frederic Edwin Church, The Arabian Desert, 1870

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Henry Green Moment (Drive-By Shooting)


Chris Burden, Trans-Fixed, 1974

     The other day I had my most unusual job interview experience ever.

     Everybody's first job interview is nerve-wracking, of course, and for a while such encounters can remain that way.  After you've gone through hundreds of these exercises, however, you tend to calm down.  Whatever the ultimate outcome, no one, as they like to say, is going to die.  So you make sure to have your teeth clean, to wear a white shirt, prepare as best you can, adopt your "game face" and take a deep breath.  No one is going to die.

     Unless, of course, someone is actually trying to kill you.

     When the possibility arose recently of obtaining a full-time position at a company where I had been consulting for some time and achieving what were always acknowledged as excellent results, I wanted to pursue the opportunity despite certain sacrifices I might need to make in terms of potential earnings, level of seniority and convenience of location.  Work life is all about trade-offs  (I try to keep in mind Andy Warhol's observation that "being born is like being kidnapped and then sold into slavery") and in addition to the apparent security offered by having a "regular" gig, I both enjoyed and felt a real commitment to my work and my clients at the company.

     I was invited to travel to their corporate headquarters on the day before Thanksgiving to meet with the division head for whom I'd presumably be working if hired, and also briefly after that with my day-to-day company contact (essentially my current supervisor) and his boss, a person I had met once before, corresponded with occasionally, and with whom I previously enjoyed entirely cordial relations.

     In a situation like this, one would normally imagine that the interview that might prompt concern, or even trepidation, would be the one with the division head, the person who was, after all, something of an unknown quantity.  I had been informed that he had some important specific problems he wanted to solve quickly, and although I sincerely felt I was the perfect person to accomplish this based on similar work I had done in the past, convincing people is always a challenge.

     He and I met at the appointed hour and that interview went swimmingly.  He was an intelligent, analytical, well-mannered, highly accomplished but modest person, whose curiosity, practicality and sense of conversational give-and-take were refreshing, stimulating and impressive.  Emerging from the meeting after an enjoyable 45 minutes, my mental notes read "so far, so good."

     Now, this is where things go all Henry Green.  I cite this English novelist, my favorite, because he is the great master of depicting unexpectedly askew situations and moments when the rules of "normal" order are suddenly and unexpectedly suspended.  Instead, life itself flows in beyond the characters’ control and conventional views about the natural relations and positions of things topple and crumble.   Readers who don't care for Green's works tend to mention what they perceive as their "oddness" (also their difficulties with his language), but I find Green’s words (especially dialogue showing peoples’ tendency to speak at cross-purposes and regularly miscommunicating) especially lifelike and accurate, and that "Henry Green situations" crop up all the time. 
     So, following my initial "good" meeting, I was taken to my company contact's office for several minutes to chat and “download”.  A few minutes later, his boss entered (quite late for work and obviously in a bad mood) looking like a cross between Judas Iscariot in Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper and the animated character known as Kung Fu Panda.  That is to say, his appearance was that of a person harboring dark and secret guilt and anger over an impending, epoch-changing "pre-crime", while dressed in clothes that made him look like a fictional martial arts bear.  To complete painting the scene, I should add that I myself was attired to resemble a business-suited mannequin from the Brooks Brothers window, circa 1964, wearing a fresh haircut and hopeful smile. 

     Generally, I'm both a perceptive and paranoid person.  Had I not been trapped in the closed-off, concentrated mental state typical of people at job interviews, I believe I would immediately have suspected trouble ahead. (I recall once reading a profile of entertainment mogul David Geffen where he disclosed that he organized his business life around the mantra "what is it that we are not noticing?"  I think this is good advice and a sound approach to most situations and I usually try to practice it.)   

Chris Burden, Shoot, 1971

     I had been told that this second meeting would be short, perfunctory and pleasant, which made sense. After all, this was the day before Thanksgiving  -- a short workday and one that generally lifts people's spirits.

     However, Judas Panda lost no time opening the door to the world of his personal psychopathy and I noticed that the air had become fetid.  He began what quickly became an act of assault without pleasantries, leading off with a low snarl and a fixed stare at his sneakers that continued for the duration.   A black curtain descended across and behind his eyes.  Despite having seen the Omen trilogy a number of times and all the Exorcist movies (the good, the bad and the ugly ones), I’m no expert, but all indications pointed to a case of demonic possession.

What on earth made me think that I was qualified for this position, he wanted to know, rather than the piecework I had previously been assigned (which he volunteered, still snarling, his only such concession, that I executed well and great efficiency)?  

What and where was my passion and what vision and unified theory could I offer for the entire future of his industry? 

And finally, what even gave me the right to speak to him? (N.b., he referred to himself exclusively in the third-person and by his title, a bad and potent sign.)

     I tried to answer to the first part first.  I felt on solid ground saying that having worked at the place for a solid year and a half, achieving consistently good results and getting to know many of the people, I had developed both feelings of allegiance for the organization and a desire to make a total commitment to the work, i.e., to see projects through from beginning to end, rather than continuing to do peripatetic work on disparate and unrelated assignments.  I also wanted to help the division head I met with solve his specific problems using what I regarded as my unique skills, which I had developed through long experience in increasingly senior positions at businesses involved in similar endeavors to this company's. 


     My answer didn't sit well.  Amazingly, I was told through clenched and bared teeth (some spittle may have flown) that I spoke merely "platitudes" (expelling the word, Judas Panda bore a brief resemblance to television ranter Keith Olbermann on a tear) and that it was shocking, disgraceful and insulting to him (invoking his third-person identity again) that I didn't have anything different and more passionate to say that might be deserving of his time.  Having spent the previous evening reviewing  all my company work in preparation for the initial interview so that I could enumerate, if asked, various successful projects and the names of  relevant executives,  I considered re-starting my remarks and reciting my specific burning ardor for every person, place and thing I’d met or done with the organization. However, I believe in being concise and I could definitely tell that I was on the wrong end of a sword being wielded for mysterious, unpredictable purposes.  

     Addressing the matter of an industry’s future is always problematic.  Lawyers are not usually asked this kind of question (especially in job interviews) because contributing on this level is not part of our basic job description. (What we do generally is to analyze discrete problems and make specific remedial action recommendations.)  “Futurism” is usually assigned to others in the organization (generally, a strategic planning team comprised of finance executives) who consider uninvited incursions on their turf by others unwelcome.  

     Also, as any fool knows, predicting the future is by definition impossible, which is why it can be such an enjoyable way to pass the time in bars, at sporting events, parties and other places of inconsequence.  I have my ideas, of course, but for all my years of industry experience, they really may not be much better than yours.  I find that proven out all the time.

     As things went down, I didn't really have an opportunity to respond to this one anyway.  Having previously noted my clear passion deficiency, JP hammered home my lack of even the capacity for vision with some rage and volume.  (Still no direct eye contact, though -- those sneakers must have had secret messages written on them or perhaps a running script like on a teleprompter).  More (possibly actionable) foul invective followed, resulting in an incredible performance that I will never forget and one that will forever give contempt a bad name in my mind.  As the very funny Monty Python joke goes, “The Spanish Inquisition? Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”.


     This whole drive-by shooting incident (it was also akin to the slow motion effect one experiences in car crashes) went of for about 35 or 40 minutes.  It was the most science fiction thing I’ve ever experienced and, although I’m a person who is generally receptive and positively disposed to the paranormal (see below), the whole encounter felt like I was being infected by a loathsome disease that had taken on human form.

     Except I wasn't infected.  Once JP left the room (I can’t remember his final words; they may have been something incongruous like “Happy Thanksgiving” delivered as Lucifer might recite them),  the specific gravity of the environment immediately changed. There was a lightening of spirit and the air actually seemed to clear and sweeten. I didn't feel that taking the time to have anything but the briefest conversation with my clearly shocked and embarrassed company contact made much sense, so I descended to the avenue by elevator as quickly as possible.  

     I felt shaken, but intact.  Strong still, but weakened.

     Then I thought of something I hadn't remembered for years.  When I worked as a Helena Rubenstein Fellow in Curatorial Studies at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1975-76, we arranged for the artist Laurie Anderson, who was still at an early stage in her career, to perform in our gallery at 55 Water Street.  Apart from her other artwork, Laurie was writing cute and clever country-western inflected songs that she performed, accompanying herself on violin.  One of them concerned the performance artist Chris Burden, who was notorious at the time for engaging in various acts many people considered to be masochistic and highly anti-social, such as having himself nailed to the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle (Trans-Fixed, 1974) in a crucifixion-like pose and shot at by a friend with a rifle (Shoot, 1971).  They were shocking and unforgettable artworks.  Laurie wrote a really good song about Shoot.  She said, in essence, that what mattered most "isn't the bullet, but the hole".

Chris Burden, Shoot, 1971

     That's exactly how I felt after this ghastly experience.  Shot through with a hole left behind, most likely sleepless for days, holiday definitely ruined (for the whole family), but alive, grateful and anticipating eventual recovery.  Or, as another songwriter I like once put it, “diminished but not finished”.

     The jackass I encountered is clearly a troubled person.  A friend of mine published an article last week citing a study by a Harvard physician estimating that 1 out of every 25 people are sociopaths/psychopaths.  That number seems high to me, but it is shocking nonetheless.

     As further evidence of the toxicity of this encounter, I would like to mention that yesterday morning a small lighting fixture that was firmly anchored into the ceiling of our kitchen fell suddenly and for no apparent reason from its berth,  exploding on the floor making a sound loud enough to be heard down the driveway, and shattering in a million pieces. We're no strangers to "psychic" phenomena in our house and have come to accept them as normal.  I don't understand them, but I'm essentially grateful to be able to experience them.  This horror show has generated and stirred up a lot of toxicity and a great deal of  psychic energy.

     Quakers (we are Quakers) respond to situations like this (and all manner of other occurrences testing the human spirit) by “holding in the Light” people who are suffering and in danger of failing, creating a sort of prayerful net supporting the needy.  A central tenet of Quakerism is “seeing that of God in everyone”, including kidnappers, mass murderers, fascists and craven sneaks and creeps of every shape and kind.  (Quakers give no quarter to Republicans these days, though, which is strange and regrettable.)  

     It is monumentally difficult to rise to the level where you can sincerely do this, but I still believe it’s a good and valid idea. 

     In a further act of generosity, and possibly as a subtle corrective, I would also point this wretched creature to two musical milestones, which I’m happy also (and with no agenda at all except the hope for your enjoyment) to leave as presents for present friends:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day For Night (Gene Clark Lyric)

  Somewhere in the passage of morning to night,
Figures fade into the wind.
Delighted in trials and purposely exiled,
Trying to trade the day for the night.

Shades of evening, purple empty space,
Where everybody dreams like there all true.
Shadows of morning, curtains of twilight,
Trying to trade the day for the night.

Deep misunderstandings have echoed through the years,
Judge and you will be judged wrong or right.
I wonder why she still stands there, her face in tears.
Trying to trade the day for the night.


Regiments of our lives and tigers silver stripes,
Can’t pass each other without taking life.
Believe me I have seen the last fine bird in flight,
Trying to trade the day for the night,
Trying to trade the day for the night.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Princess Daisy -- Thanksgiving Day

      I've mentioned her previously in passing, but here is my cat Princess Daisy sitting in her usual king of the mountain/sentinel position in the high window of Signal Hill.

     Outside our house, especially at night, Daisy is visible to visitors, poised aloft looking down across our property and at Sugartown Road below, stationed in front of the house's high lantern. Because Signal Hill was one of the five lookout points for the Valley Forge encampment in the winter of 1777-8 (Caroline's ancestor Captain William Sproat was present and a member of General George Washington's staff, having recently survived the Paoli Massacre in September 1777), it seems appropriate to have a cat on sentry duty at all times.

     Daisy is one of our cat Tige's two surviving offspring.  Tige's kittens were born in our garage in Tuxedo Park and continued to live there in downy, pillowy comfort with their mother, but after a raccoon mauled the third kitten in the litter, we brought the family inside to live with us.

     Daisy is physically slight, but strong and agile.  Watching her leap up and across to her viewing position, then back to the stair landing again, is breathtaking.  Most people would say she's "funny looking", but I love tortoiseshell cats and I like her looks.  They show her intelligence and personality.

     For a long time, Daisy dwelled in our basement with her mother, her brother KingKing, and with our other feral cats, Honey and Tiger Lilly.   Then Daisy began her emerging and, although shy, she is now fully an "upstairs cat" whose sight, sweet insistent voice and curious habits are dear to all of us.  She is everything a cat should be in the "predictably unpredictable" department.  She spends a lot of time in Jane's room and is very much at ease with her, which is fairly typical.  Even the shyest animals seem to gravitate toward children and Jane is especially good with all animals (and small children also).

     I had hoped to post a photo of KingKing here, but haven't been able to get the shot yet.  The best opportunities usually come in our kitchen between 4 and 5 am when he slides all around the house before re-disappearing.  He was very good company during my recent exam prep.  He (as you will see soon) looks nothing like his sister or his mother. He's a large, elegant black and white cat and he is gorgeous.

     My original plan was in fact to publish something here featuring all our feral cats in honor of the recent National Feral Cat Day, but the series seems destined to dribble out with one cat at a time being featured.  I think the cats would actually prefer it that way.

     I think that every day should be National Feral Cat Day.

     And this Thanksgiving I am deeply grateful that Princess Daisy seems so happy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Third Mind (Mark Tobey)


 Crystallizations, Mark Tobey, 1944

     I've been spending a fair amount of time among the leaves lately (mostly blowing them from the lawn into the woods), but it hasn't been too cold, so the task has allowed me a certain amount of time for calm-ish reflection.

     I thought it would be good to organize a short post around the work of the influential American painter Mark Tobey (1890-1976), who I like quite a bit but hadn't thought about for some time.  


Mark Tobey, The Grande Parade, 1971     

    Whatever his actual color palette on a given day, Tobey always makes me think of deep autumn and I suspect the imminence of Thanksgiving brought Tobey's work to mind.  I thought how nice it would look on the screen to display a couple of good Tobey paintings or etchings and pair them with words or other items suggesting the movement of water because Tobey's work always makes me think of water:  water with excited surfaces, free flowing water, water flowing around obstacles or under monuments like bridges. 

      Tobey is usually classified as an abstract expressionist, but for me his highly controlled, calligraphic and contemplative pictures tell a different story and I regard him as sui generis.

     My daughter Jane's Chinese name means "water" and water is often my mind and flowing through my waking and dreaming imagination.

   Mark Tobey, Night Celebration III, 1971

     It was difficult to find Tobey pictures that reproduced at all well (in fact, it's impossible; the pictures' dimensions and surface appearances -- which Tobey felt should be "a textile, a texture" -- both get completely distorted), but during my image hunt I found a few nice Tobeys to include, as well as works  by other artists that seemed to suit and amplify my unsettled mood.

James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne In Blue and Gold (Old Battersea Bridge), 1872
      So, immediately above and below are paintings by James McNeill Whistler (his marvelous and famous Nocturne in Blue and Gold, Old Battersea Bridge) and by Tobey's friend and Seattle colleague, Morris Graves.

Morris Graves, Time of Change, 1943

     These two paintings, as well as a couple of the Tobeys, appeared in a 2009 exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City called The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989.

     The thesis of the exhibition was to "propose a new art-historical construct -- one that challenges the widely accepted view that American modern art developed simply as a dialogue with Europe -- by focusing on the myriad ways in which vanguard American artists’ engagement with Asian art, literature, music, and philosophical concepts inspired them to forge an independent artistic identity that would define the modern age and the modern mind."

Mark Tobey, Mon, 1959

     According to Guggenheim senior curator, Alexandra Munroe: “What emerges is a history of how artists working in America interpreted, mediated, and incorporated Eastern ideas and art forms to create not only new styles of art, but more importantly, a new theoretical definition of the contemplative experience and a new, self-transformative role for art itself.”

     Ms. Munroe derived the title of the exhibition from Untitled ("Rub Out The Word")  from The Third Mind (ca. 1965), a" 'cut-ups' work by Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, which combines and rearranges unrelated texts to create a new narrative."  It's a good and clever title for the show.

     The exhibition thesis, however, sounds a little bit like arbitrary "curator-speak", i.e., less a real thesis worth advancing and defending than an attempt to hang an attractive grouping of works that seem to be related together in one place.  I don't think anyone really believes that modern American art developed "simply" as a dialogue with Europe.  Things in America tend not to occur "simply" in that way.  I agree, though, that there is and (naturally) always has been a preponderance of European influence in our painting and sculpture. 

     But the exhibition (which I missed seeing, unfortunately) seems to have been a terrific presentation of interesting art. I would love to read and view the catalogue and I believe that the influence of Asia on American (and European) artists will increase as the world continues to grow smaller and, in some ways, lonelier.

Mark Tobey, Thanksgiving Leaf, 1971