Join David Lehman and Frédéric Bouché for a summer evening of:
Poetry & Port
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Ports of New York Winery
815 Taber Street
Sample Ports of New York’s delicious white or red Meleau wine while listening to David Lehman read his award-winning translations of poetry by Charles Baudelaire, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Henri Michaux. Frédéric Bouché will treat you to poems in their original French, all in the intimate space where he crafts wines unique to the Finger Lakes.
David Lehman is the creator and series editor of the annual Best American Poetry anthology, now in its twenty-sixth year. He edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry and is the author of eight books of poetry, most recently New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013). He was awarded the Virginia Quarterly Review Emily Clark Balch Prize for Poetry for his translation of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “Zone.”
Frédéric Bouché is the owner and winemaker of Ports of New York, where he produces the bold red and elegant white “fortified” Meleau wines using the traditional method associated with the production of Port. Bouché built his winery from the ground up, using salvaged materials for much of the building's façade. He maintains a small but fascinating museum which includes winemaking materials passed down in his French winemaking family for several generations. Arrive at 7:30 for a brief tour.
Books and Port will be for sale.
We need line 14. . . Please submit your candidate here
The sonnet so far:
How like a prison is my cubicle,
And yet how far my mind can freely roam:
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon,
Thence to the true hell: the heat in Tucson
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.
Freedom starts or ends with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.
What buzz can cheer this gloomy canticle?
Redemption is a swift revolving door
Maybe I dreamed it. Don Draper sips Canadian Club from a coffee mug on Craig Ferguson’s late-night talk show. “Are you on Twitter?” the host asks. “No,” Draper says. “I don’t” — he pauses before pronouncing the distasteful verb — “tweet.” Next question. “Do you read a lot of poetry?” Though the hero of “Mad Men” is seen reading Dante’s “Inferno” in one season of the show and heard reciting Frank O’Hara in another, the question seems to come from left field. “Poetry isn’t really celebrated anymore in our culture,” Draper says, to which Ferguson retorts, “It can be — if you can write in units of 140 keystrokes.” Commercial break.
The laugh line reveals a shrewd insight into the subject of “poetry in the digital age,” a panel-discussion perennial. The participants agree that texting and blogs will influence the practice of poetry in style, content and method of composition. Surely we may expect the same of a wildly popular social medium with a formal requirement as stringent as the 140-character limit. (To someone with a streak of mathematical mysticism, the relation of that number to the number of lines in a sonnet is a thing of beauty.) What Twitter offers is ultimate immediacy expressed with ultimate concision. “Whatever else Twitter is, it’s a literary form,” the critic Kathryn Schulz has written. True, the hard-to-shake habit causes its share of problems, “distractibility increase” and other disturbing symptoms. Nevertheless there is a reason Schulz got hooked on this “wide-ranging, intellectually stimulating, bighearted, super fun” activity.
The desire to make a friend of the new technology obliges us to overlook some major flaws: The Internet is hell on lining, spacing, italics; line breaks and indentation are often obscured in electronic transmission. The integrity of the poetic line can be a serious casualty. Still, it is fruitless to quarrel with the actuality of change, though in private we may revel in our physical books and even, if we like, write with pencil on graph paper or type our thoughts with the Smith-Corona to which we have a sentimental attachment. One room in the 2013 “Drawn to Language” exhibit at the University of Southern California’s Fisher Museum of Art was devoted to Susan Silton’s site-specific installation of a circle of tables on which sat 10 manual typewriters of different vintages. It was moving to behold the machines not only as objects of nostalgia in an attractive arrangement but as metonymies of the experience of writing in the 20th century. Seeing the typewriters in that room, I felt as I do when the talk touches on the acquisition of an author’s papers by a university library. It’s odd to be a member of the last generation to have “papers” in this archival and material sense. Odd for an era to slip into a museum while you watch.
Note: Readers of "astrological profiles" know that the use of astrological terms is laid on pretty thick but with tongue in cheek, firmly so, on the nervy assumption that the horoscope -- like the "haruspicate or scry," "sortilege, or tea leaves," playing cards, pentagrams, handwriting analysis, palm-reading, and the "preconscious terrors" of the dreaming mind in T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" -- may be a bust at prediction bur may turn out to be not only "usual pastimes and drugs" but the means of poetic exploration.
Born in Brooklyn Heights on July 16, 1907, Barbara Stanwyck was an atypical Cancer, with both her moon and her rising sign in Virgo. Gemini, the sign of the twins, rules her midheaven. A talented actress (Mercury in Leo), she was able to project a wide variety of women -- a paranoid hypochondriac, a confidence artist, a calculating femme fatale, an unflappable witness to a murder -- in modes tragic or comic.
According to Isaac Babylon in The Charts of the Stars, his classic study of six Hollywood starlets from the 1940s (Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Irene Dunne, Olivia de Havilland, Bette Davis, and Joan Crawford), Stanwyck's Virgoesque self-restraint combined with the gush of watery emotion that comes from having not only her sun but her Venus, Jupiter, and Neptune in Cancer. She was a good businesswoman (Mars in Capricorn) but prone to morbidity (Saturn in Pisces).
The actresses of the 1940s – we can add Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell to Babylon’s list -- belie the notion that women born before the age of female enlightenment lacked strong models who could either keep their families together despite the stresses of war or be psychiatrists, reporters, con artists; they could solve murders or commit them, could go crazy, could run a restaurant, pack a gun, slap her daughter, commit adultery, or risk her life as an American agent in South America during World War II.
Barbara Stanwyck came from a working class background. She went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Thanks to shrewd investments (Mars in Capricorn) she grew rich. It figures that she never won an Oscar though she was nominated four times. Her real name was Ruby Stevens. She was hilarious in “The Lady Eve” and superb in “Golden Boy.” She helped William Holden get the title part and became Holden's lucky star. He was crazy about her as photos taken on the set of “Executive Suite” attest. In 1939 she married Robert Taylor. Whisperers said it was a sham designed to get gullible people to believe the two stars were heterosexual. Taylor was four years younger than Stanny. "The boy's got a lot to learn and I've got a lot to teach," she said. She kept the ranch and horses when they divorced in 1951. Robert Wagner said he had a four-year affair with her. Could be.
Stanwyck had a sharp tongue. She defined "egotism" as "usually just a case of mistaken nonentity." She had a proud notion of her true worth. "Put me in the last fifteen minutes of a picture and I don't care what happened before. I don't even care if I was IN the rest of the damned thing. I'll take it in those fifteen minutes." During the filming of Double Indemnity, the Billy Wilder masterpiece, she says that her co-star, Fred MacMurray, would look at the rushes every day. Babs would say, "How was I?" And Fred, perhaps in keeping with their dialogue in the movie, would reply, "I don't know about you, but I was wonderful!" Actors look only at themselves.
On the day we visited, Stanwyck, a self-described "tough old broad from Brooklyn," took one look at the script and started laughing. What's the matter? "Be a good lad and re-fill my glass. Scotch, rocks, no water. You know what my biggest problem is? My biggest problem is trying to figure out how to play my fortieth fallen female different from my thirty-ninth."
The most marvelous seduction poem in the English language combines the logical precision of the mathematician with the wit of a courtier and passion of a lusty lover. Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" has wowed a regiment of English majors, generations of suitors and their valentines since it was written 3 1/2 centuries ago. T.S. Eliot liked it so much that he raided it twice, lifting an image for "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and lampooning a couplet in "The Waste Land."
Marvell (1621-1678), one of the great mystery men of English letters, lived a shadowy life on the continent that led to speculation that he was a spy or double agent. An avid fencer, he impressed his friend John Milton with his command of foreign languages. For 20 years he served as a member of Parliament. His poems operate on "metaphysical" conceits, metaphors exquisitely spun out. Some of the poems achieve a maximum of intellectual complexity and ambiguity.
We need line 12 for our crowd-sourced sonnet!
'Tis a game anyone can play.
It elevates collaboration and chance to an esthetic dieal." -- Manny Kant
Here is where we are right now:
How like a prison is my cubicle,
And yet how far my mind can freely roam
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon
Thence to the true hell: the heat of Tucson
Where drug lords blaze loads of coke, meth, and pot.
Freedom starts, or ends, with a funeral.
I once watched men with Uzis guard the Pope
No hope, no hope, no hope, no hope, no hope.
It's a game, a contest, a stunt, a cunning stunt, a lovely extroverted poetry pastime. Try it!
Kenneth Koch would have approved.
I once heard Kurt Vonnegut says a writer has to believe that what he’s writing right now is the most important thing anyone has ever written. That was hard for me in the beginning because my Presbyterian minister father taught me to be modest, humble and circumspect. At potluck suppers in the church basement, we always waited to be the very last in line. I never learned how to be important.
Then I met David Lehman. In high school an English teacher told David that he was a poet, and he believed her. The day I met him he stuck his head out of his dorm room door as I was entering mine for the first time suitcases in hand and asked me, “You don’t have a copy of The Paris Review with you do you?”
“The new Paris Review. I’ve got a poem in there. Hi. I’m David Lehman. I’m a poet.” I did not see a poet. I saw a gawky, pimply, eighteen year old kid with a New York accent and a Yogi Bear lilt in his voice.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said. “Pete Ferry, Undersecretary of the Interior.” David didn’t seem to hear me. He shook my hand. David and I were students in a summer program at Oxford and after sharing a plane ride, had been bumming around England on our own for a few days. Oh, we had a good time with David for a couple of weeks. We (three of us had come together from Ohio and had never even been to New York - we were groped in Times Square and charged eight dollars a beer on Second Avenue - much less London) had chips on our shoulders, a bit of residual Midwestern adolescent anti-Semitism, and an absolute phobia about being ugly Americans. And now one of us was David, our worst fear, the ugliest American of all, a New York Jew. So we mocked him, imitated him, asked him stupid questions (“Do poets wear boxers or whitey-tighties?”), and it all missed him (“I don’t think it really matters. I wear briefs. Kenneth Koch wears boxers. This I happen to know because I once came home to my apartment to find him playing the violin in his boxers for a graduate student in comparative literature. She was quite beautiful.”) For a couple of weeks we huddled together talking about all the stupid things David did and said, and then he did something stupider. He challenged John Fuller to a poetry reading. We were just mortified.
Fuller was one of our dons. He was young, handsome, witty, wry, bored, very British. He was also a rising star among British poets and the son of Roy Fuller who was the sitting Poet laureate of OxfordUniversity. Fuller accepted, and on a Wednesday evening after sherry and shepherd’s pie, we sat back gleefully to watch David’s vivisection.
John Fuller began the evening with some nakedly deprecating remarks about his young challenger from across the sea. He was at least annoyed, perhaps insulted. We choked on our laughter, bit our thumbs, but David beamed at us oblivious, certain that we were all on his side or certain of something, at least. Then they began to read. They took turns standing at the podium trading short poems. We were quieted. David wasn’t that bad. David was pretty good. We looked sideways at each other and raised our eyebrows. After half an hour David said that he would now read some of the New York poets who had influenced him: Koch, Frank O’Hara, David Shapiro.
“No, no,” said Fuller with a wave of his hand. “Read your own stuff.” They read on. David was damn good. After an hour Fuller took the podium and looked back at David. “Got a long piece?”
“I have one long piece I want to read. If you have something, too, we’ll read these and then go home.”
“Well, I have one, but I’m still working on it.”
“Try it. I want to hear it.”
“You first,” said Jon Fuller.
And David read a poem called “Supercargo.” He shuffled pages and started quietly, perhaps uncertainly, but his voice rose and rose with the poem, and he stood forward on his toes although he was tall to begin with. He was wonderful. When he finally sat down, we found ourselves clapping.
Fuller took the podium and looked down for a long moment at his loose sheets. “I can’t follow that,” he said finally, and sat down, too. Oh we had a party that night. The girls dangled their bare summer legs from our dorm windows over the Cherwell River, and we all laughed and sang and passed a hashish pipe and bottles of Spanish Graves. We toasted David all night long.
For the rest of the term, I spent as much time as I could with David Lehman. We ate Chinese food because David was homesick, hitchhiked to the sea shore reciting poetry between rides and made plans to go to France where David said “the vegetables all taste like fruits.” Before the end of the summer, Fuller, who had a little basement press, had published a broadsheet of David’s poetry (I still have a copy of it somewhere), and I knew I wanted to be a writer and was able to say it aloud, at least to myself.
-- Peter Ferry
Cambridge University, with its medieval passageways and glorious college gardens, has dominated this town for over 800 years. It is the university of Byron and Wordsworth, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking, Emma Thompson and Stephen Frye. Francis Crick and James Watson famously announced their discovery of DNA at the Eagle, an event enshrined on a plaque on the pub’s smoke blackened walls.
David Lehman studied at Clare College in Cambridge for two years, while a Kellett Fellow from Columbia University. He was following in the footsteps of poets and scholars, including John Berryman, and his contemporaries David Shapiro and Aaron Fogel. While there he met Lawrence Joseph, a University of Michigan fellow at Magdalene (pronounced "Maudlyn") College, who became a life-long friend.
The University has its share of food lore: Trinity College claims credit for inventing crème brûlée (“Trinity cream”), any mention of “Clare College mush” to an “old boy” will surely elicit groans, and aside from the Queen, only the dons of St. John’s college can legally eat swan, inspiring a student to pen this bawdy limerick of renown:
There was a young man of St. John’s,
Who wanted to bugger some swans.
So he went to the porter
Who said, “Have my daughter!
The swans are reserved for the dons.”
David credits his years as a Clare College fellowship student with motivating him to cook: the food “in hall” was inedible and the restaurant fare that an American student abroad could afford was not much better. He saw no alternative to renting a flat, buying a few kitchen basics, and preparing his own meals.
David and I have returned to Cambridge several times over the past few years, most recently so that David could give readings at Clare. While he met with his former Dons, I sussed out the food scene, following pointers given by food-writer and restaurateur Tim Hayward, with whom we shared a leisurely morning at Fitzbillies, his tea-shop and restaurant.
What a difference a few decades make. Thanks to the high-speed train that departs every 30 minutes from London’s King Cross station and pulls into Cambridge in under an hour, Cambridge is both a tourist destination and a commuter town. It also has a flourishing food and dining scene, with chefs and culinary entrepreneurs as ambitious as a university mathematician vying for a Nobel. Cambridge is now home to two Michelin starred restaurants, the one-star Alimentum and the two-star Midsummer House, where an acquaintance predicted, correctly, that our meal would be “bonkers.” Though Chef Daniel Clifford flirts with molecular gastronomy, he honors his classical French training. It all comes together beautifully, as exemplified by my starter of celery and watercress bavarois with beetroot cannelloni balanced atop a scoop of horseradish ice cream.
While Cambridge has chain-food imports, we had no trouble finding local talent. Contemporary clichés apply: market driven, nose-to-tail, locavore. Here’s what we found:
1. Cambridge Cheese Company:
When we stepped into this welcoming shop, manager David Wilshin was unpacking bunches of fresh garlic, each head a tight fist of creamy cloves. These he would display in the window alongside stalks of white asparagus and a sign announcing the availability in bottles—finally—of the popular and bracing Pickled Pig Cider, brewed from local apples. We assembled a sampler comprising Cambridge Blue cheese, the nutty cow’s-milk Red Leicester, a wedge of the aptly named Stinking Bishop, and a Bramley apple and pork pie (made locally by an octogenarian farming couple).
Cambridge Cheese Company
4 All Saints Passage
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire CB2 3LS
+44 1223 32867
2. Cambridge Wine Merchants:
Don’t be fooled by the name. Though its wine selection is impressive enough to garner several awards, CWM has distinguished itself as a leading specialist in malt whiskey. At any given time you’ll find as many as 350 bottles on the shelves of the Kings Parade flagship store, some of which are quite rare either because the distillery no longer exists or the whiskey was in limited production. Fancy a bottle of 21 year Lagavulin? You’ll find it here for a mere 425£ (about $650.)
Cambridge Wine Merchants
2 King's Parade,
Cambridge CB2 1SJ,
+44 1223 309309
3. Cristine Patisserie:
If you blink while walking along Trumpington Street, you might miss Botolph Lane, which would be a shame because that’s where you’ll find Cristine Pattiserie, with its display case filled with Brazilian sweets such as brigadeiro, coconut beignho, and my favorite, the surprise de uva. From the outside, surprise de uva resembles a truffle, albeit a green one. Take a bite for a hit of cold grape juice from the single fruit hidden within.
1B Botolph Ln,
Cambridge CB2 3RD,
+44 7763 529886
Go to this bakery-café for a famed Chelsea bun, just to find out what all the fuss is about, but return for dinner to try chef Rosie Syke’s British cooking. When Alison Wright and Tim Hayward snatched this 90-year mainstay from the insatiable jaws of the fast-food monster, they introduced innovations that include selling artisanal bread from a local baker, inviting food-truck cooks to host “first Wednesday” pop-ups, and serving imaginatively conceived weekend dinners. The menu is posted Tuesday nights on Fitzbillies’ website. Tables fill quickly yet one still has the feeling of dining in undiscovered country. On the night of our visit, we had the boldly spiced seven-hour shoulder of lamb and a rich rabbit, chicken, and St. George’s mushroom pie baked in an oblong enamel tin that would dwarf a volume of Pepys’ diary.
52A Trumpington St
Cambridge CB2 1RG,
+44 1223 352500
5. Grantchester Orchards Tea Garden:
You can travel to this historic tea garden by car but far better to walk the two miles from center Cambridge. For the full Grantchester Orchards experience, hire a punt for transport by way of the river Cam. Here is the spot that aroused longing in WWI poet Rupert Brooke—But Grantchester! Ah, Grantchester! There’s peace and holy quiet there—and continues to attract Cambridge dons and students. Large and small tables and casual deck chairs are strategically placed throughout the leafy orchard, giving visitors a certain amount of privacy while they snack on tea, scones and light meals before gliding home.
Grantchester Orchards Tea Garden
45 - 47 Mill way,
Grantchester, Cambridge CB3 9ND
+44 1223 551125
6. Jack’s Gelato:
To find Jack, you either have to subscribe to his twitter feed (@jacks_gelato) or stumble upon him by accident while he’s dishing out inspired flavors from the back of his tricycle. Recent tweets: "Now scooping seven flavours outside the
@CUBotanicGarden. I am having an earl grey gelato. With a bit of dark chocolate on the side.Happy." and “Organic 72% dark chocolate and single estate Rwandan coffee sorbet, churning as I type. #pretentious #butdelicious.”
Jack’s Gelato (facebook)
133 Sturton Street
+44 7909 224178
7. Seasonality Cambridge:
Amanda O’Neill got her start by making bramble jelly with blackberries foraged while walking her dog. She now offers a full line of jams, preserves, and chutneys that includes Cambridge Greengage, Spiced Apricot & Cardamom Chutney, and her best selling Piccallili relish. Her latest creation is Summer Pudding conserve, inspired by the traditional English dessert of fruit and juice-soaked white bread layered in a deep bowl. Though her business has grown, Amanda works from her home kitchen, makes her own pectin, and has no plans to expand beyond Cambridge or into mail-order (though she’s happily “chuffed” when a customer wants her to ship to California). Visit her website for retail locations.
+44 7950 049618
8. Steak and Honour:
Hamburgers. Why would an American bother when there’s glorious fish and chips to be had? Chinese writer Lin Yutang rhetorically asked, “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” If you happen to be in Cambridge and feeling homesick, find the tricked-out Steak and Honour food truck and join the queue. Owner Leo Riethoff established his bona fides at top kitchens in London and Cambridge before turning his talents to the fundamentals of a good burger: great beef ground daily, brioche bun, and a garnish of pickles, lettuce, and onions with the requisite “Heinz Tommy K” and mustard. It’s your lucky day when Steak and Honour parks beside Jack’s Gelato.
(Note: Earlier this month, Saveur magazine published my short piece about nocino, the Italian liqueur made from underipe or "green" walnuts. Here's the back story.)
It is June 24, 2006, in Umbria and Giancarlo Giubilaro has invited me to help make nocino, the green-walnut infused liqueur that is traditionally made in Italy at the beginning of the Feast of St. John the Baptiste. I am staying at the Civitelli Ranieri Center where my husband David Lehman and several other artists, writers, and composers from around the world are enjoying six blissful weeks of free time while cosseted in this fifteenth century hilltop castle. As David’s wife, I am welcome to stay for two weeks.
The nearest village is Umbertide, the nearest town, Perugia. During outings to Perugia, and Assissi, Gubio and Bevagna, I'm reminded of writer Kate Simon's observation that the high hill towns of Umbria "dare one to invade their secret places — virgin princesses sequestered in towers."
To say it is paradise would overstate the case but not by much. Fig and cherry trees line the gravel path near our apartment just outside the castle walls. We have more living space here than we do at home in New York City. David has already appropriated the lone hammock that hangs between two trees near the painters’ studios for his afternoon reading and nap. It's only later that we discover that the hammock is part of an art instillation made by a previous visiting artist.
I like taking long walks, sometimes to the village of Umbertide, where I browse the market stalls and treat myself to a porchetta sandwich or an espresso or gelato. The sun is hot, the sky is blue. This may be the part of the world that inspired Henry James to remark that “summer afternoon” is the most beautiful phrase in the English language.
Giancarlo is the operations manager here, a shy man who becomes animated when talk turns to food and cooking. After dinner on our second night Giancarlo placed an assortment of digestifs on the table – Grappa, Limoncello, Amaro, and a dark liquid in a carafe, the nocino he made last year. It was a syrupy brew with flavors of nuts and spices and the pleasing after-burn one looks for in a good digestivo. I had one small glass, then another. It seemed prudent to stop after two, but when Giancarlo announced that he would be making more this very week, I asked if I could observe. He went one better and said I could help.
We meet outside the small kitchen from which has issued a parade of regional dishes that has far surpassed my expectations, high though they were. Romana Ciubini, the head cook, prepares them with two assistants, both named Patrizia. Romana, a Tuscan native, cooks for the Civitella residents from Spring through Fall. With her tattoos and changing wardrobe of chandelier earrings, she bears no resemblance to the stereotype of the Italian cook who learned her trade at mama’s elbow. She is well traveled and highly skilled in the kitchen. (Several years ago she came to the States for an apprenticeship with acclaimed chef Dan Barber at his Blue Hills at Stone Barns restaurant.) I’m told that later in the summer she’ll make Limoncello, another digestif, but only when she can get the superior lemons from Sorrento. Although I consider myself well-versed in many cuisines, I’ve already tasted several local products and preparations that are new to me, thanks to Romana.
After dinner, Lynne Yamamota, a visual artist from Amherst, Massachusetts, and I interrogate Romana to find out how she’s prepared one dish or another. I’m determined to duplicate some of them in my own kitchen. I write everything down with the translation help of Mauro Lanza, a young composer from Paris by way of Venice who is one of the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic gourmands I have met.
The scent of jasmine is in the air when Giancarlo and I negotiate the rocky slope to castle orchard. It is a lovely June morning. The medieval castle against a sky unbroken by clouds looks less unreal with each passing day. After collecting a basketful of under-ripe walnuts, Giancarlo establishes our workspace on the table in the gazebo where we eat our dinners. It sits under a canopy of honeysuckle in full flower. The background noise is courtesy of bees getting drunk on their sap punctuated by the occasional distant cry of the resident peacock and the musical voices of Romana and the two Patrizias as they prepare our lunches.
Giancarlo tests the walnuts for the proper degree of softness. He explains that they must be soft enough to pierce with a pin and according to lore, damp with morning dew. They remind me of key-limes with their pale bumpy surfaces. With his OK, we proceed to quarter roughly twenty-five and place them in a large wide-mouthed jar. When we’re through, he instructs me to wash my hands quickly or the walnuts will stain them black. My already-tinted fingernails prove the point. Next we add some sliced lemons to the walnuts along with a few sticks of cinnamon and some cloves. Giancarlo empties two-and-one-half liters of 95-proof grain alcohol and a couple of cups of sugar into the jar with the cut fruit. He agitates the jar so as to combine everything. He screws a cap on the jar. Finished. “Now we wait,” he says. I am disappointed that my culinary adventure is over so quickly.
Every morning for the next forty, Giancarlo will place the jar outdoors to sit in the sun. Every evening he will bring it inside. Giancarlo explains that the only significance of the forty-day wait is that this is the amount of time necessary for the alcohol to extract the flavors from the fruit. At the end of this period, he will strain the liquid and discard the solids. In a twist on tradition, Giancarlo adds between one and two bottles of white wine instead of the usual water to his liqueur, which he believes adds sweetness and depth to the finished product. Once strained, diluted with wine, and bottled, the nocino will age for six to nine months before it is ready for drinking. I like imagining the faces of a new crop of resident artists enjoying the mysterious flavors as twilight falls and – to quote Henry James again – all frowns expire “in the teeming softness of the great vale of Umbria.“
In the years since my stay at Civitella, I've experimented with making nocino at home, thanks to walnuts shipped to me by Laura Orem from rural Pennsylvania and to a recipe translated from the Italian by Moira Egan and Damiano Abeni. I age my nocino for at least a year in a small oak barrel. Last year's batch will be ready for drinking soon. I can hardly wait.
To find out about commercially available nocino, go here.
Shakespeare asked whether a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The question’s more complicated than it looks.Take the moniker of the Washington Redskins. By revoking the squad's trademark, the US Patent and Trademark Agency did its bit this week to get the football team to change its name from one that is patently "disparaging to Native Americans."
Unless you can make the case that the team's market value would go down if it changed its name -- and that's a hard case to make -- there are only sentimental reasons for resisting the writing that's on the wall.
Team owner Dan Snyder has no intention of making a change. To him "Redskins" must be as innocent as the games of Cowboys and Indians that kids used to play. Good clean juvenile red-blooded American fun.
But say he kept an open mind. There are a lot of options, and remember he is legally entitled to keep using the logo and image associated with the 'Skins. From the summer-camp practice of pitting the “shirts” versus the “skins” in games of pick-up basketball, he could opt for the Washington Red Shirts. In time this would be abbreviated to Reds, just as baseball’s Cincinnati Redlegs became the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Stockings became the Chicago White Sox..
But where’s the gain in doing that – other than good will toward a group that is sensitive to its unique place in American history? There's no getting around it. The native Americans, who were here before the rest of us, were vilified, its people depicted as savages and brutes, when in fact the tribes were routinely victmized as the United States moved is frontier to the Pacific Ocean.
Snyder is the defiant type. Perhaps he fears that his fan base will lose its ardor if he caves. Maybe it's a macho thing, a bit of Republican resistance to the forces of political correctness.
Or maybe he just hasn't come up with the right new name that will set his spirits soaring?
Here's a suggestion. Surely Dan remembers the old Washington Senators, hapless cellar-dwellers, in the 1950s when the mighty Yankees diominated baseball. The joke had it that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” There was even a novel about the plight of the Senators’ fan: Douglas Wallop’s The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. It was turned into one of the immortal musicals of the 1950s, Damn Yankees -- with great songs by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross and a superb performance by Gwen Verdon as the naughty bawdy temptress Lola. "Whatever Lola wants, Lola Gets." She it was "who took the wind out of the sails / Of the Prince of Wales."
In Damn Yankees, the long-suffering fan makes a deal with the devil – his soul in exchange for a Senators’ pennant. It turns out that the devil is a Yankee fan, but you’ll get no more spoilers from me -- except to say that the show's all about "heart": "When the odds are saying, you'll never win / That's when the grin / Should start."
There is, at the moment, no Washington team bearing the name of the Senators. If you’re Dan Snyder, you could change that in a flash. I say, keep the logo and the helmet, but embrace the heritage of the Washington Senators and see if you can't get the perennial losers to redeem themselves.
I am open to other suggestions and hope that readers will suggest away -- just in case Dan is one of the blog's secret admirers. -- DL
David Lehman is the featured poet on Poetry Daily. You can read about him and his poem "A Conversation with Paul Violi," here.
John Deming, editor in chief of the important on-line journal Coldfront, has posted Part 2 of a 3-part interview with David Lehman.
I want to get back to God, briefly. At the end of your poem “Existentialism,” you write, “Such perhaps is the fate of certain avant-garde movements in art or thought. They arrive with the intent to move heaven and earth, and after they’ve gone, what they leave is their faded glamour, and it’s same old hard earth, and heaven’s as remote as ever.” To what extent is this statement true of any major idea, or any theory of God?
I think it’s true of all philosophy, including even the greatest, the most systematic thinkers from Plato to the present, who have done their best to confront the ultimate questions about the meaning of our existence: what would make a perfect state, what makes a great work of art, what would constitute an adequate explanation for how the world came into being, or what will happen after we die. Great works have been written, and none of them has settled these questions. You can’t do that, so at the end of the process, you still have what you started out with, a hard earth and a distant sky, by which I mean that the earth is resistant to your wish to assert yourself and heaven is too far away to reach. Time is resistant to your desire to make a name for yourself. Mortality resists your wish to endure. And at the same time as there is all this material resistance to your accomplishing what you want to achieve, you also have a self that aspires to a high spiritual state. And that’s a state very different from our quotidian lives, because we’re mortal beings whose bodies corrupt, and who are susceptible to lust, and whose behavior is not at all to be idealized. We are living contradictions in some ways. And movements come and they go. Existentialism came along and it was the killer philosophy of its day. And where is it today?
In 1968 I didn't really know you though
Dick Gallup, who sat next to me
in Kenneth Koch's Modern Poetry
class, invited me to a party and
there you were and I went to hear
you read and I went through old
copies of Columbia Review to read
your poems (including the one
signed "the sloth sloth") and why
am I telling you this? Because it's
your day of the year, and you're a gem
as well as a Gemini twin, and I
would tip my fedora to you if
I were wearing one as men used
to say when men wore fedoras.
-- David Lehman (June 17, 2013)
(Ed note: Yesterday David Lehman was the guest commentator on NPR's "This Weeks' Must Read" segment.)
After his unexpected defeat in the Republican primary, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor opened a press conference by saying, "In the Jewish faith, you know, I grew up, went to Hebrew school, read a lot in the Old Testament, and you learn a lot about individual setbacks."
This is not mere piety, and the King James Version of the Bible, made up of the Old Testament and the New, is a terrific book. The heroes of these stories do not lead the race wire to wire. Those who are elevated are tested and taught by disaster.
If you visit New York City and want to try the restaurant of the moment, your best chance of getting seated is at lunchtime. So we picked a slow Monday and arrived after the early rush. Even so, we had to wait ten minutes for a table at Russ & Daughters Café, one of the hot new restaurants specializing in foods of our Eastern European and German Jewish ancestors. David and I went with Kevin Young, in town from Decatur, Georgia, where he lives with his wife, the writer Kate Tuttle, and their son Mack. In between writing and editing, Kevin teaches at Emory University and curates the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library. He had flown in to participate in the Poets’ House annual walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and to read from his latest collection, The Book of Hours, just out from Knopf .
I know from our visits to Decatur that Kevin is an adventurous eater. He’s also something of an afficianado of Southern food and cooking (he’s been active in the Southern Foodways Alliance). The foods of Kevin’s childhood inform some of my favorite of his poems (see “Ode to Pork” and “Ode to Gumbo”). Like the best food writing, these poems evoke memories and arouse feelings of love, grief, and intimacy without being saccharine or sounding overly sentimental.
How would Kevin feel about our food? As it turned out, and should have come as no surprise, Kevin was familiar with much of what was on the Russ & Daughters menu. We settled on cocktails--“Schmoozers” for David and Kevin, (Rye, Aquavit, sugar, Bitters and Herbsaint rinse), “Break-Fast Martini” for me (Gin, jam, lemon juice, egg white, Pernod Absinth, Bitters)--and an assortment of small plates or “Noshes.” Kevin was particularly impressed by the pickled herring trio (“exquisite”) and the latkes. I favored the “Super Heebster,” an open-faced sandwich of whitefish and baked salmon salad, wasabi-infused fish-roe, and horseradish dill cream cheese on bagel. “This I never had as a kid,” I said, helping myself to a second piece. To round out our feast we added potato latkes, pastrami-style cured salmon, pickled vegetables, and kasha varnishkas (a favorite of mine, owing to a goodly amount of caramelized onions) and new to Kevin. “An acquired taste,” said David. The prices were standard Manhattan, nicht billig.
Our conversation ricocheted between food and drink and matters of poetry and academe. What is the best bourbon for a Manhattan? (Kevin favors Dickel or Michters, with Cocchi vermouth.) How do you make a perfect Old-Fashioned (by slowly stirring the sugar and sans cherry or orange). How do you make brisket (me: slow braise, lots of onions, Kevin: smoked). At the mention of brisket Kevin recalled his Auntie’s, which held its flavor and texture even after being transported from Louisiana to Cambridge, Massachusetts and reheated.
After reminiscing about the year they worked together on The Best American Poetry 2011, David and Kevin took turns recommending heist films. Kevin touted The Heist and The Bank Job, David plugged Rififi, and the two of them waxed eloquent about Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and Sterling Hayden’s parting shot at film’s end.
How do we account for the resurgence of Jewish food? Begin with nostalgia, a curiosity about our roots, and the belief that Jewish food is as worthy of attention as any other regional or ethnic food. But Talmudists could spend many an hour on the question with no prospect of resolving it. Is there as much interest in Southern food? Not in the same way, says Kevin. Unlike the eager-to-assimilate Jews, Southerners have largely held on to their traditions. They never lost the taste for regional foods like beans, greens, and field peas. There isn’t the same need to bring back foods that never fell out of favor.
By then our cocktails were long gone. Should we have another round? What we need is a “suppressor,” says Kevin, a low-alcohol drink that one sips before ordering something more potent. Instead he and David test the bartender with Old-Fashioneds. These, they agree, are nearly perfect.
I wish I could say the same for the two additional dishes we ordered. Thumbs down on the Matzo Brei, a dish which Kevin first tasted in Kansas and is David’s Passover specialty. R&D’s was a dry and flavorless disc, as if they hadn’t bothered to hydrate the matzo before cooking. The blintzes were, well, meh, though in all fairness the bar was set high by my grandmother’s, which were truly superb, light pillows of farmer cheese wrapped in delicate nearly translucent crepes. Eating Russ & Daughters’ I was reminded of what Turkish chef Musa Dağdeviren said the first time he had a traditional dish prepared by someone other than his mother: “When I tasted it, that’s when I realized that my mother was dead.”
I picked Russ & Daughters Café because it has a great heritage that I knew would not be lost on Kevin. The parent store on Houston Street has been in business since immigrant days when Yiddish was still common in many households. You can imagine such a café--with its roomy booths, and soda fountain where the bar is--existing side-by-side with other now defunct establishments that emerged to serve the growing Jewish population. Russ & Daughters, store and restaurant, are reminders that delicacy and deli can go hand in hand. They can even inspire poetry:
Three Flights Down the Stairs by Harvey Shapiro
Three flights down the stairs,
south one block to Houston
cross the street and maybe a half-block
west to Russ & Daughters.
Take a number—why is that woman
buying all that sturgeon?—for black
Russian bread, 3 smoked fish, farmer
cheese (the bulk kind) and nova.
Retrace the route, up the stairs,
and she’s just getting out of the tub
right by the kitchen sink, pink
thighs slowly rising so you can get
the whole flavor of it, water
streaming from the red muff thick
as bread. That was Sunday.
from How Charlie Savers Died and Other Poems, Wesleyan University Press, 2001
After David Lehman’s “Lost Weekend”
He was the all-American man in the novel she was writing
On the plane. He proved that a character can come to life.
When she didn’t touch her Scotch, he drank it instead and fell asleep
On her lap. He woke up hung-over and looked into her eyes
And realized he’d become her lover. The fourth so far
In a romantic plot. But that was all right. It was a long flight.
And he still felt as if he had won a prize. Do you recognize the date?
She asked and smiled. It was his birthday! She decided
He liked a good surprise. Later when they arrived in New York
(Or was Miami or LA?) she served him cake in a négligée
And opened like a rosebud in the sun. She knew his every need.
You’re my protagonist, she sighed, resting on his chest, listening to the clock
Tick of his heart. You’re my Honey, my Buster, my Don Juan.
And he was, once he got into the swing of it. She made sure
Of that. He was all in. The titles of her books: Who Can She Trust?,
A Season of Greed, Confessions of a Lass, and Righteous Lust.
On my birthday today in 1950, Ben Hogan won the Unted States Open in a three-way playoff. What made it almost miraculous was that Hogan had suffered multiple injuries sixteen months earlier when a Greyhound bus swerved out of its lane and hit Hogan's car head on. Hogan, attempting to shield his wife, Valerie, from the impact, went to the hospital with a broken collarbone, broken ankle, broken ribs and a double fracture of his pelvis. (Valerie escaped with minor injuries.) A blood clot in Hogan's leg required emergency measures; doctors tied off the surrounding veins to prevent the clot from reaching his heart. As a result, Hogan’s legs atrophied. Would he ever play a round of golf again? The more pressing question was whether he would ever walk again.
Yet here he was at the Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, PA, site also of last year's U. S. Open. Hogan defied the skeptics, playing four rounds of superb golf, walking from hole to hole unassisted. At the 72nd hole, he needed a par to tie Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio for the lead and join the pair in a June 11th playoff. Hogan's one-iron shot to the green, one of the great moments in golfing history, occasioned Hy Peskin's photograph, above, undoubtedly the sport's most famous. A year later Hollywood turned the inspiring tale into a movie, Follow the Sun, with Glenn Ford as Hogan and Anne Baxter as Valerie. Click here or here for more on Hogan's heroics. -- DL
John Deming, editor in chief of the important on-line journal Coldfront, has posted Part I of a 3-part interview with David Lehman.
I interviewed David Lehman for about three hours in his office on a Friday night in October, 2009, two years after I finished studying with him and others at The New School. It was around that time that he published two new books–Yeshiva Boys, a collection of new poems, and A Fine Romance, a book of prose about the great Jewish songwriters in America. I was compelled by both books, and I also found it interesting that his book of poems had some thematic overlap with his book of prose–a pattern we’ve seen in him before, when he published The Last Avant Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets around the same time that he published The Daily Mirror, a book of daily poems that took on some of the improvisational whim that surfaces in some prominent works by New York School poets, especially Frank O’Hara (“just go on your nerve”).
Now, four and half years later, we have succeeded at transcribing and editing the conversation. Lehman is a well known poet, and perhaps equally well known for his editorial work–the annual Best American Poetry series is a staple, but he has also edited The Oxford Book of American Poetry, Great American Prose Poems, The Best American Erotic Poems, Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, and other books. He is also the author of several books of prose, including Sign of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man and The Last Avant Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets. He has drawn considerable attention to poetry and its many modern manifestations over the years. With all of this work to his credit, it is conceivable that his own poetry is not always afforded the attention it deserves, a notion suggested by the poet Bill Knott. Knott, who died earlier this year, had his own history of frustration with the Best American Poetry series, but on April 2, 2012 blogged the following of Lehman:
…I must confess my admiration for his superlative service to poetry and for his unique accomplishments…He is so well-known for his civic leadership in the poetry community, his role as the public persona aegis of BAP’s success, and for being the face of USA poetry as it were, that his own distinguished and marvelous verse is perhaps sometimes lost in the shadow of that spotlight fame, and doesn’t get the recognition and acclaim it deserves…He should put out a big Selected Poems, and it should win the Pulitzer on the strength of its own merits alone.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.