Monday, April 30, 2012


      A few years ago at a business reception  in Manhattan (felicitously called a “salon”) organized by an old friend, I ran into a girl from my college class who had clearly gone nuts.  You could feel this entering the room, even before setting eyes on her.  I sensed a  low, throbbing, dissonant hum, growing ever more persistent.  It reminded me of  the intense electronic music in the movie Forbidden Planet  painfully gathering and swelling until Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen finally fled the Krell's graveyard world.

     She still looked good.   Always a pretty girl, now become a very minor celebrity,  she had maintained her schooldays Pre-Raphaelite visual persona, but her face and eyes told that either the “meds” weren’t working or that she was completely beyond their reach.  When I spoke to her, the “no one home” sign was sadly unmistakable.

     I told Caroline about this later that evening and wrote about it the next day to another friend, describing the feeling I had seeing the crazy girl as  "dislocation.”  

          In other words, I had no idea where my old friend was, what she was feeling or why, and seeing her pushed me off my grid into terra incognita.

         It's often that way when you meet people who seem to be there, but aren’t really, i.e., people lacking empathy and emotional coordinates.  Based on the things I’ve learned in school and experienced, I think human nature has remained pretty much the same throughout history (this is why great poetry, visual art, music of the past, and historic philosophy and religious teachings can still “reach” us), but now there are many more trap doors and worm-holes leading to private mirrored prisons  than there were when I was growing up.   People seem intent on constructing their own black holes.

        I feel this every time I view Facebook, where friends have transmuted into “friends” and all things seem simulated, not real.  I see it reflected in our remote-control  international drone wars prosecuted by dessicated entities I see in 3-D tv shadows and  fought by soldier-technicians schooled, skilled and desensitized on "shooter" video games.  

       This morning I feel it acutely in the fervid interest and pleasure I see some of my own contemporaries taking in the weekend's annual “White House Correspondents Dinner,” an event that so clearly demonstrates the “productizing” and trivializing of news and reinforcing of status quo thinking and values, it prompts feelings of loss and tragedy.  Only a serf satisfied in his servitude could feel anything but disgust and shame.  (Who was it that said  "politics is show business for ugly people?")

   To gain some peace, perspective and relief, I contrast all this with Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1939 poem, Perfect, which I learned a short time ago:

     ..On the Western Seaboard of South Uist
     ......Los muertos abren los ojos a los que viven

I found a pigeon's skull on the machair,
All the bones pure white and dry, and chalky,
But perfect,
Without a crack or a flaw anywhere.

At the back, rising out of the beak,
Were domes like bubbles of thin bone,
Almost transparent, where the brains had been
That fixed the tilt of the wings.


     I hope you liked that.  I thought it was amazing when I  read it.  Its mysterious origins and the poet's biography are both fascinating and worth investigating.   Oh -- Jane and I saw  The Raven yesterday.  You can skip it.   This was a movie that really needed Nicholas Cage to succeed.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


entangled with

the scattering cherry blossoms—

the wings of birds!

Above:  Hand-painted photograph of Scarlet Tanager, 1897

Below:  Alexander Calder, Untitled hanging Mobile, 1957

Note: A haiku by Masaoka Shiki from 1887. "The image of the falling blossoms catching in the wings of the birds (or bird) is quite lovely; but the word 'entangled' is an exaggeration. Shiki would not allow himself such idealization in later works."  Janine Beichman, Masaoka Shiki, His Life and Works, Boston, Cheng & Sui Company, 2002, p. 50.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Over Under Sideways Down

Over under sideways down,
Backwards forwards square and round.
Over under sideways down,
Backwards forwards square and round.
When will it end, when will it end?
When will it end, when will it end?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Love, Time, Crêpes Suzette, and Eggs, William S. Burroughs

Joan Crawford invites you to her 1936 dinner party.  According to Photoplay magazine, Joan will be serving Crêpes Suzette for dessert.

     Lately, it seems, I and everyone I know is spiritually, if not actually, in need of dessert – something sweet and sprightly to articulate whatever good feelings and (now that it’s full spring) buds of hope still reside inside.    I don't often feel this way; I’m fairly optimistic by nature.  Dessert pangs mostly visit me when I’m enervated or, for some reason, emotionally bereft.

     Therefore, when I reached for Joe Hyde’s Love, Time and Butter (New York, Richard W. Baron, 1971) in the bookshelf this afternoon, I was guided by an inchoate impulse to find a dessert worth sharing, i.e., one for group contemplation, as much as actually tasting.

     So I chose Hyde’s recipe for the luxurious classic and favorite, Crêpes Suzette

     I’ve mentioned previously that I am almost completely un-nostalgic.  There are so many things I would prefer to forget if I could.  But I will never forget the time my parents gave a large afternoon party in our home that was catered by Mr. Hyde, who was extremely well known during his career as a chef and teacher and  renowned for his omelettes and crêpes.   That was a wonderful memory.  HERE (link)  is a very nice biographical story about Joe Hyde from, all places, Sports Illustrated, published in 1971 when his reputation was firmly established as one of the "go-to" party and event chefs.

Joe Hyde teaching students.

     And here is the recipe from Hyde’s felicitously named book:

    “Henri Charpentier claimed to be the inventor of this classic.  I visited him in his tiny reservation – the only restaurant in Redondo Beach, California.  A very charming man.

Henri Charpentier (1880-1961)

Serves 6 or 7

Crêpe Batter

1 cup flour
¾ cup milk
½ stick butter, melted
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs

     To make the crêpe batter, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl with 1/3 cup of milk. Whisk or beat the mixture until it is smooth. Add the rest of the milk or as much of it as it takes to achieve a mixture of the same consistency as heavy cream.  Heat a frying pan (about five inches across the bottom).  Holding the pan off the heat, pour 2 tablespoons of batter into the middle of it.  Tip and slowly turn the pan to permit the batter to coat the bottom evenly.  Crêpes have to be very thin, so there must be no excess batter floating around the surfaces of the crêpe; if the pan flares out, let this excess run up along the sides, or just pour it back into the bowl.

     Return the pan to medium heat  Within 20 seconds, the underside of the crêpe will be brown.  Take the pan from the heat and turn it upside-down over a table.  Tap the edge of the upside-down pan against the table and the crêpe should fall out.  Use a spatula or your hand to put the crêpe back into the pan with the opposite side down.  Better to let them get a little black than not brown at all.

     The crêpes can be made far in advance and once cool can be kept, covered, in the refrigerator. 

Suzette Mixture

½ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ pound butter
4 oranges
1 lemon
1/3 cup Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons Kirschwasser
2 tablespoons Cognac

     The suzette mixture is what the crêpe will eventually cook in and soak up.  It can also be made in advance, and kept in the refrigerator. Mix the sugar, butter, the grated peel of 2 oranges and one lemon together in a bowl.  Squeeze the oranges and the lemon and strain the juice into a little pitcher.  There should be about a cup of juice.

     When ready to serve, fold the crêpes in half and then fold them again so that they have a quarter-moon shape.  Arrange them on a platter.  Now at the table at dessert time, there is a plateful of folded crêpes, a little bowl full of the butter mixture, a pitcher with the juice in it, and another pitcher into which you have measured the Grand Marnier, Kirsch and Cognac.  This dessert is flamed, served hot, and can be cooked at the table in an electric frying pan.  Turn on the pan to 400 degrees and put in ½ of the juice and ½ of the butter mixture.  Put in the crêpes side-by-side, and before they have absorbed all of the liquid, turn them over with two forks or a pair of food tongs.

       Add the rest of the juice and the Suzette butter mixture.  When all this has been absorbed by the crêpes, pull the plug and pour in the liquid.  Keep your head to one side and approach the pan with a lighted match.  When the flame dwindles and the simmering stops, there should be almost no liquid left.  What there is will be thick and syrupy and should be spooned over the crêpes as they are served.  This cooking process takes no more than 15 minutes. It can also be made in a chafing dish.”

Crêpes Suzette aux citrons

     Henri Charpentier’s claim to be the inventor of Crêpes Suzette is heavily disputed.  Interested readers should consult this article (link) for a summary of suppositions regarding the dish’s origin, including the so-called “Suzanne Reichenberg” theory. 

Suzanne Reichenberg (1853-1924)

     I don’t think the precise history is terribly important, but the lore is fascinating and full of places I’d like to have been and things I’d like to have seen. 

Crêpes Suzette aux framboises

     I only know that Crêpes Suzette are delicious and have given me great enjoyment since I first tasted them, that my father worked hard to succeed at becoming skilled preparing them for dinner parties (which gave him tremendous pleasure and pride), and that they were the nightly exclamation points concluding Pink Floyd's midnight Roman dinners following their daytime work scoring and recording the soundtrack for Michelangelo Antonioni’s odd and "of its time" (I wonder what it would be like to view it today?) Zabriskie Point

Pink Floyd ca. Zabriskie Point

     There will definitely be more on Henri Charpentier posted here in the future.  He was a fascinating character and a blogger’s delight because he named many of the dishes he devised for his restaurants in honor of intriguing yesteryear celebrities.  One of Charpentier’s most  mysterious creations dates from the early 1940s and probably originated at his luxe Chicago restaurant, Café de Paris, in the Dearborn Park Hotel

      It appears on page 426 of his book Food And Finesse, The Bride’s Bible, and is called Eggs, William S. Burroughs.

William S. Burroughs, sometime Chicago resident.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Mushroom Communiqué

Illustration: Leopold Trattinnick  (1764-1849)


 Music   and   mushrooms:

       two   words   next   to   one
another   in   many   dictionaries.
                 Where   did   he
  write   The   Three-Penny   Opera?
                  Now   he’s  
buried   below   the   grass   at   the
 foot   of   High   Tor.
           Once   the   season   changes
  from   summer   to   fall,
        given   sufficient   rain,
              or   just   the  
mysterious   dampness   that’s   in   the
 earth,                  mushrooms
  grow   there,
 carrying   on,                  I
   am   sure,                  his
   business   of   working   with  
                    That   we
 have   no   ears   to   hear   the
  music   the   spores   shot   off
 from   basidia   make   obliges   us
 to   busy   ourselves   microphonically.

           --  John Cage


Deep, deep in the murky shadows,
There where the slime mold creeps,
With joy the stout mycologist
His pallid harvest reaps.

           -- Song of the New York Mycological Society

Illustration: Jean Louis Émile Boudier (1828-1920)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sappho 90 (Let Me Tell You This)


You may forget but

Let me tell you
this:  Someone in
some future time
will think of us


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bobby Fischer Dada

Harry Benson, A Horse Kissing Bobby Fischer, Iceland, 1972

      Encountering the exhibition announcement yesterday for “Bobby Fischer:  Icon Among Icons,"  now on view at the World Chess Hall of Fame (link)  in St. Louis, along with its online photo grouping, was unexpected fun.  Harry Benson's photos, so often seen in Life, Paris-Match and other photography-rich mainstream magazines, were always high quality entertainment and lovely to look at, but seeing Bobby Fisher kissed by a horse in Iceland in 1972 in beautiful black and white is very special.  The proto-punk incised leather visor Fischer portrait below, also from the Iceland series, reminds me a bit of  Russian Revolution pictures --  sad, seamy, edgy.  

 Harry Benson, Portrait of Bobby Fischer, Iceland, 1972

     The Hall of Fame exhibition runs until August 12th concurrently with another art show called "End Game" by Marcel Dzama, a contemporary Dadaist, whatever that means.   (Actually, the punk-Bobby photo below looks more Zurich Dada to me than the Dzama work shown on the Hall of Fame's website, which seems false and staged -- "dress-up Dada.")  Apparently, though,  Dzama, a Canadian artist, has been "celebrity-collected” by Jim Carrey, Brad Pitt, Leonard Nimoy, Spike Jonze, Viggo Mortensen, Gus Van Sant and Steve Martin, so who am I to judge?

World Chess Hall of Fame, Dada (Inspired) Party Invite

     A 4/27 party invitation in connection with the exhibitions appears above.  I understand you can RSVP on the World Chess Hall of Fame's Facebook page.  I won't be able to attend, but if anyone reading this does, please report back.  I hate missing a party and the Dadaists were known to give some great ones at the Cabaret Voltaire.

Hugo Ball at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich,1917

     Dada erupted in Switzerland as a sane/savage multi-media reaction to the the First World War's horrors and tragedies and I was thinking about that when I saw the journalist Sebastian Junger interviewed on television about his new book, War, and the non-profit group RISC  (Reporters Instructed In Saving Colleagues) he has established in the memory of his friend and fallen comrade, the photographer Tim Hetherington (killed working in Libya last year) in order to teach freelance journalists war zone self-help/first-aid techniques and strategies. 

Emmy Hemmings at (or near) the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, 1917

     Junger says that most battlefield journalists (writers, photographers and videographers) are freelancers and they face greater danger than journalists having corporate affiliations because they are unconnected to support systems and lack knowledge for dealing with physical injury and obtaining medical aid when needed.  He believes that better preparation and training in these areas might have saved his friend's life.   The discussion was good and even inspiring until the interviewers began probing Junger about his general geopolitical outlook and recommendations for the lives of nations going forward, treating him more like a combination of seer and Bismarck than a presumably honest reporter with strong biases, prejudices and extensive, but still necessarily limited experience working in a few very specific contexts.  

    When  definitive, conclusory statements about disputed facts and figures and hyper-hypotheticals  began dominating the discussion, and one had a strong feeling that Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz and the Occupy Wall Street Chorus
were about to make an unscheduled appearance on-set, lucidity left the building and I thought that they might as well have been interviewing me, so I switched off.

Site of Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, 1935

   “News product” can be and is made out of anything and everything these days.  No one had the answers in 1916; No one has the answers now.  Sometimes I just wish someone would shout “Cut,” “Wrap,” and “Dada Happy Hour Is Now Being Served.”