In Union Square: Cantaloupes
Confused by weather
The woman on the subway
Wears socks and sandals.
Turning a corner,
Into Sixth Avenue wind,
The man holds his hat.
At Gonzo cafe
On Thirteenth, outdoor tables
Are empty by eight.
Looking up, nothing.
On the horizon, two lights
Grow brighter, then dim.
(from the New York Times, October 4, 2004)
So I took this photo the first time I met Erin. It was shortly after I had moved to New York City and I was quite nervous. We were at David's Greenwich Village apartment, about to go to Quantum Leap for lunch. Erin let me try on her gloves, which were made out of Polar Fleece and lined with Thinsulate. They were extremely warm and confirmed that Erin was up on the latest in cold weather fashion.
In case you're wondering about the title of this post, for some reason this song popped into my head so I went with it:
Even though it's high summer, you may be thinking about a winter escape to Florida. You should consider staying at the Betsy, in South Beach, where David and I have stayed and where, in the interest of preserving the legacy of poet Hyam Plutzik, the people behind the scenes have established the Writers Room to support writers.
Since its official opening in April 2012, the Writer’s Room has hosted over one hundred writers—poets, novelists, journalists, playwrights among them— during which these writers have presented readings of their work, published or in-progress. The Betsy Hotel makes the room available to visiting artists and writers working a wide variety of domains and disciplines, at many project stages, but with a hyper-focus on poets during final-stage efforts.
The hotel itself is a stunner. With the graceful symmetry of its Georgian architecture, the Betsy Hotel stands in proud contrast to the Art Deco neighbors that typically define the historic area of Miami known as South Beach. First opened in 1942 as The Betsy Ross, the hotel had gone through several incarnations until 2009 when it was renovated top to bottom and reopened as luxury accommodations, with 61 rooms and suites, a BLT Steak restaurant, a pool, spa, and a superb rooftop lounge with expansive ocean views.
The lobby, with its palm trees and Terrazzo floor, captures the sultry atmosphere of the tropics so convincingly that I half expected Bogart and Bacall to walk in off the set of To Have and Have Not. Ceiling fans turn lazily overhead and the capacious sofas and wing chairs invite you to order a cocktail from the bar and settle in for intimate conversation or hours of reading, or simply to watch the parade of international guests making their way to and from the hotel’s nearby beach.
David and I booked a “Superior” room that overlooks the courtyard pool. Though the room is small, the amenities elevate it beyond the usual: king-size bed with luxury Frette linens, plush bathrobes, cult brand (Malin+Goetz) toiletries, and flat screen TVs in the bedroom and bathroom. Suites double the space, with separate living rooms and sofa beds.
Immediately after check-in we headed to the bar for a LaBrava Cooler, a refreshing combination of Hendricks gin, St. Germaine, sage simple syrup, and cucumber. Nearby, a couple enjoying the final night of their stay devoured hamburgers with a tower of onion rings along with the BLT Steak signature popovers, which they nicknamed “crack-overs.” I was soon to discover why. Served warm, they are addictive; oversized, eggy, and topped with Gruyere cheese.
Dinner at BLT Steak the following evening was a relaxed affair. The restaurant had introduced its new menu, the star attractions of which, in my book, were the charred octopus over silky sous vide pork belly, lentils, and saffron-lobster broth, and the perfectly grilled Wagyu steak with an herbal chimichurro sauce. The key-lime panna cotta dessert provided a not-too-sweet palate cleansing finish.
As luxurious as the accommodations are, The Betsy is set apart from other hotels in its class by the owner’s commitment to the arts. Descendants of the acclaimed poet Hyam Plutzik (1911-1962), owner Jonathan Plutzik and his sister Deborah Briggs support the arts by sponsoring and hosting events year-round and by making available The Writers Room to which writers and artists can escape -- gratis -- in order to work. One wonders why more hotels don’t carve out such spaces. -- SDH
Here in New York’s Finger Lakes, corn season arrives late and leaves early. If you're like me, when you spot the first ears at a farmers market or roadside stand, you go a little crazy. Even though I’m usually cooking for just my husband and myself, I tend to buy dozens of ears at a time. My favorite comes from Ed Fedorka (above, also known as "the corn dude"), of Rainbow Valley Ranch, because corn is all he sells. Ed is living proof in my experience that if you make just one thing, you’re going to strive for perfection (think Antonio Stradivari). When corn comes in, Ed’s table at Ithaca's farmer's market is strewn with his super sweet varieties ($5/dozen); later in the season, he adds corn for popping packaged in neat plastic bags shaped like hands.
This season’s first corn coincided with a string of brutally hot days, days so hot that to boil water to cook the corn in my usual way would have made our un-airconditioned kitchen uninhabitable. Instead, I soaked the ears, still in their husks, in the sink filled with water, and threw them on the covered grill for roughly 10 minutes. The corn took on the smoke from the hardwood charcoal and was delicious, no butter or salt required. Even so, we had five large ears left over from a meal that included grilled wild salmon (also in season), and a salad.
The next day, with the temperatures holding steady in the 90s, I decided use the corn for a cold soup, nothing fancy. I stripped the kernels into the blender, added the last of my garlic scapes along with salt and pepper and a fistful of fresh cilantro (stems and leaves). After liquefying the corn, I streamed in about a cup of water, enough to thin the contents to the consistency of a pancake batter, and strained everything through a mesh sieve. Once chilled, the resulting soup was the essence of corn, or as some might say, the flavor of Kansas in August.
Fresh corn always reminds me of this poem, by Elaine Equi:
I strip away
your pale kimono.
Your tousled hair too,
comes off in my hands
All ears and
tiny yellow teeth.
from Surface Tension (Coffee House Press, Sept 1989)
(Ed note: This post first appeared on August 10, 2011)
Thanks to the repair work that's ongoing here, there's a temporary platform and scaffolding outside of our windows on the second floor. I was able to climb out on Sunday to take a few photos of the 44th annual Gay Pride Parade, which marches down 5th Avenue and turns west on 8th Street. Click through the slide-show to spot the celebrity in the crowd.
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.
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
My dad landed on Utah Beach, not as part of the first wave, thank god, or I probably wouldn't be here, but days later, to clean up. He went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and to liberate a concentration camp. Like so many others, he enlisted, a tough street kid from the Bronx, the child of Eastern European immigrants. During boot camp, he was court-martialed for striking an officer who called him a dirty kike. Though he was acquitted, he got shipped out soon after without having completed his training.
I don't know much about his service, not because he was particularly reticent but because he died suddenly at fifty, before I was mature enough to imagine my parents had lives worth learning about. How I regret that I never asked him about those years. Anyone who has tried to get WWII military records knows that a fire destroyed many of them. Thus, all I have are the things he carried, a French-English dictionary, a guide to Europe, and, oddly, a copy of Don Quixote, in Spanish. Several years ago, I gathered these mementos together and along with a few photographs asked Star Black, the brilliant poet, photographer, and collage artist to make something of them. A few weeks later she presented me with three collages, one of which is shown here. That's my dad in the middle, looking handsome, and so young! In the upper left is a page from his guidebook in which he wrote a list of the places he fought his way through, ending with "and a funeral in some god-forsaken place."
One of the more moving accounts of life as an infantryman during WWII can be found in Roll Me Over, by Raymond Gantter. Ganttner was a teacher who turned down his third deferment to serve in the army. He was unfit for officer status so he joined the infantry as a private. His service was almost identical to that of my father's. Here's a passage:
[This post originally appeared on June 6, 2009]
The anticipation of Mindy Aloff's posts gave me a hankering for the ballet. As it happens both the New York City Ballet and The American Ballet Theater are in town right now and I had to make a choice. I went with the NYCB for a variety of reasons but mostly I was swayed by two ballets on the program, both by Balanchine. Concerto Barocco, to Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D Minor, in repetoire since 1948, always seems fresh and new and Sunday's matinee performance was no exception.
But it was Who Cares? (music by George Gershwin) that made up my mind. I saw the original production in 1970 when I was girl, and have seen it many times since. It is irresistable. (You can search YouTube for clips.)
Here's what Lincoln Kirstein writes about the original production:
Balanchine had an early opportunity to work with George Gershwin: In 1937 Gershwin asked Balanchine to come to Hollywood to work with him on Goldwyn’s Follies(released 1938), which included a Romeo and Juliet number with a mock duel between ballet-dancing Montagues and tap-dancing Capulets. Thirty-three years later, Balanchine choreographed Who Cares? to 16 songs Gershwin composed between 1924 and 1931. Balanchine used the songs not to evoke a particular era but as a basis for a dynamic that is uniquely American and, more specifically, evocative of New York City: Balanchine’s choreography brings out the exuberance of city life.
Who Cares? is both the name of a ballet in the classical idiom by George Balanchine and an old song George and Ira Gershwin wrote in 1931 for Of Thee I Sing. The dictionary says “classic” means standard, leading, belonging to the highest rank or authority. Once it applied mainly to masterpieces from Greco-Roman antiquity; now we have boxing and horse-racing classics, classic cocktail-dresses, and classic cocktails. Among classic American composers we number Stephen Foster, John Philip Sousa, and George Gershwin (1898-1937). First heard 50 years ago, the best of Gershwin songs maintain their classic freshness, like an eternal martini – dry, frank, refreshing, tailor-made, with an invisible kick from its slightest hint of citron. Nostalgia has not syruped the songs’ sentiment nor robbed them of immediate piquancy. We associate them with time past, but when well sung or played, or preferably both at once, they not only revive but transcend their epoch.
The Gershwins’ beautiful manners and high style, their instant melange of insouciance and shrewd innocence, their just estimation of the imaginative elasticity of an elite audience that they had developed, have left a body of words and music that lives unblurred by vulgar rhetoric or machine-made sentiment. To combine an intensely personal attitude with a flagrantly popular language is a feat that few popular artists manage, and it is appropriate that Balanchine has used the songs not as facile recapitulation of a lost epoch, but simply as songs or melodies for classic, undeformed, traditional academic dances, which in their equivalence of phrasing, dynamics, and emotions find their brotherly parallel.
Young woman (25-ish) on phone: Oh my God! He was, like, your typical Jewish nerd. So Jewish looking. He had, like, black curly hair, a really big nose, and he was, you know how Jewish guys look, sort of short and stocky, and really nerdy (Ed note: You mean like Paul Newman?).
She: I know I know. And then, get this, he, like, came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder and I turned around and like I was so. scared. And he said, no no no no no, I, I, just want to say you have this whole California thing going on and I just want to say . .
She: Can you believe it? Oh. my. God.
Upon receiving an audit report from the International Association of Survey Research Scientists, Poets & Writers magazine will cease publication of the so-called ranking of MFA programs. The rankings had become a fall staple of the magazine. “We’ve come to recognize that the rankings are not just misleading, they’re harmful,” Jason Terry, a P&W senior director said. “What can I say? We have egg on our face. We regret that they may have influenced MFA program applicants to spend money on applying to programs for which they were ill-suited.”
The audit was undertaken on the IASRS’s own initiative. Senior Research Analyst Melanie Cornbluth. (PhD, JD, MBA) explained that the audit was difficult to conduct because, “Poets & Writers had none of the raw underlying data we typically examine. They could not produce the qualifications of the research team. They had no demographic information on those who responded to survey questions so it is impossible to tell how age, geographic location, marital status, income, and such may have influenced one’s reasons for applying to one program over another. We had our job cut out for us."
According to Singh, self-selected surveys by definition do not represent the target population. “There is no way that the ranking reflects the opinions of the full community of MFA hopefuls. And who made the cockamamie decision to rely solely on the opinions of those who have never set foot in an MFA classroom to evaluate MFA programs? No serious editorial enterprise should have touched this so-called research with a ten-foot pole."
For a survey to be credible, every member of the population under study must have an equal chance to participate. “To begin with,” says Singh, “It is well documented that Facebook use is in decline among the under-30 set. An already corrupt process would become more so going forward."
It’s no secret that we’ve objected to the ranking from the start. We’re delighted that P & W has come to the recognition that the ranking issue caused more harm than could possibly be justified by the wished-for publicity, even bad publicity, that helps sell copies of magazines.
In the pilot, contestants are asked to memorize and recite a soliloquy from Hamlet, to write a bad sonnet on a quotation to be disclosed from Susan Sontag's literary essays, and to take part in the "Instant Haiku" round. Veteran impresario Bob Holman and singer Stacey Kent join Franco and Lehman as hosts and judges.
Forthcoming episodes will focus on competitors representing elite colleges, corporations, and television networks. The celebrity competitors in the pilot are Kate Mara, Josh Charles, and Elisabeth Moss, pictured at left, a Los Angeles native, who will turn thirty-two on July 24.
Lehman explained that the thematic unity of the pilot derives from T. S. Eliot's characterization of April as "the cruelest month."
"That's as much as I can say right now," said Lehman.
Subsequent episodes will follow the format similar to other "America's Top" reality programs: a large pool of aspiring poets will be winnowed down over the course of a season to one standout winning bard. Participants will be matched with poetry mentors who will advise them on developing a "voice," adhering to poetic forms while inventing new ones, writing a convincing bio note, and applying makeup for an author's photo. The winning prizes will include publication in The New Yorker "Page Turner" blog, an off-site reading at an upcoming AWP conference, and lunch with an esteemed poet of the winner's choice.
Judges will come from the ranks of former guest editors of The Best American Poetry. Rumors have circulated that Bill and Hillary Clinton will be reunited with former White House guests Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, and Robert Hass to judge the crucial fifth elimination episode. Matthew Weiner, creater of the popular Mad Men series, who recently disclosed in a Paris Review interview that from ninth grade on he "wrote poetry compulsively," is likely to anchor at least one episode as a judge.
Watch this space for more details as they come!
Anyone who visits this site knows I'm mad for ballet and am a devotee since childhood of the American Ballet Theater, which performs regularly in New York City.
Some of my favorite poets were inspired by ballet: Marianne Moore, Frank O'Hara, Hart Crane, Edwin Denby, and Denise Levertov, to name a few. The similarities between the two art forms are clear to one who loves both. To paraphrase poet and critic Jack Anderson, both seek to create something which is uniquely itself, something which can be expressed in no other terms.
Because of this love, I was sad to learn that balletomane Carley Broder, the sister of a close friend, died on February 25. I want her good works to live on in the form of support for Project Plie, an initiative to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet and diversify America’s ballet companies. Won't you join me? You can find out more about Carley Broder and make a much appreciated donation here.
Who says poetry makes nothing happen? Sharon Mesmer sends along this article by Kirby Olson about how Marianne Moore's little-known "The Camperdown Elm," pictured below, helped save Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
Am I leaving anything out? Send your highlights to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or write them in the comments below.
We first met Ross Martin through his poetry and have been thrilled to watch his career take off. Ross is an Executive Vice President at Viacom Media Networks and runs Scratch, a creative swat team driving innovation across the company. Just recently, Ross was included in Fortune Magazine's "40 Under 40" list of rising business leaders. Clearly, he's gained wisdom over the years. Here's a sampling from a recent post on his blog Something Burning: I used to say all the time that one of my biggest goals was to bring creativity and innovation to every area of an organization. Problem is, that kind of hubris presumes creativity and innovation aren't already present in those areas, and that I'm somehow the one who can bring it. Read the full post here.
With a courtly nod to the work of the Academy of American Poets, Rauan Klassnic over at HTML Giant, has begun posting what he calls a complementary series of poems that might not fit in those highlighted by the Academy. Most recently his, Academy of American Lunatics posted Your Conscript, by Danielle Pafunda (Natural History Rape Museum, bloof, December 2013). Check it out.
Gift buying time. We feel you. If you want something unique, like the linocut of Philip K. Dick pictured above for example, Reb Livingston comes to the rescue with a Pinterest board for inquisitive readers.
Sherman Alexie talks poetry, booksellers and Kobe on KUOW.org. Kobe beef or Bryant? Listen and tell.
Got something for Hump Day Highlights? Send it to me at email@example.com.
Did you miss the anniversary of The Gettysburg Address?
Two Poems for Gettysburg by Catherine Woodard
Jennifer Michael Hecht's Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It is in bookstores and receiving well deserved notice:
Against Suicide: Interview with Jennifer on To the Best of Our Knowledge.
In "Stay" writer makes a case against suicide. Jim Higgins review in the Journal Sentinel
"If you’ve ever known someone who committed suicide, or have contemplated it yourself, or have admired a personal hero who died by his or her own hand, please oh please read this." Maria Popova's in-depth review on Brain Pickings.
ps. Help me come up with a better title for this weekly series. I don't like "Hump Day."
It's been a big week for David Lehman. His New and Selected Poems launched, representing four decades of his poetry. We're over the moon. Here are a few highlights:
Interview with NPR's Camila Domonoske (November 2, 2013)
Garrison Keilor highlights David Lehman's "Radio" on the Writer's Almanac (November 7, 2013)
And that's not all . . .
David Lehman's Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man is now available at Amazon as a Chu Hartley Publishers e-book. Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times called the book, "superb" and "fascinating": "It stands as a lucid and fiercely intelligent study of the disturbing implications of deconstruction, and at the same time, as an impassioned argument for a more humane study of literature."
And there's more!
Read about the festival here:
In Whitman’s Backyard, a Salute to Poetry By Aileen Jacobson (The New York Times, November 1, 2013)
Huntington holds Walt Whitman poetry fest by Stacey Altherr (Newsday, November 1, 2013)
For his guest blogging week in September, Joshua Mehigan invited 19 translators to share their views on the qualities that readers should consider when seeking to read translations of verse in languages they don’t know. His posts were so popular that they're worth highlighting again, especially since Joshua has added new material that was unavailable in September.
For Part I, Joshua asked contributors to list up to five things readers should consider before reading a collection of poetry in translation. Read the answers here.
For Part II, Joshua asked contributors to list up to five contemporary translations of poetry that they think work as English-language poetry while also faithfully conveying the semantic content and something of the original’s greatness or importance. He also asked them to cite the most successful translation they've done. Read the responses here.
We are grateful to the following poets and translators who generously contributed to Joshua's posts: Geoffrey Brock, Bill Coyle, Dick Davis, Rhina Espaillat, David Ferry, Christophe Fricker, Jonathan Galassi, Rachel Hadas, Len Krisak, David Lehman, Charles Martin, Robert Mezey, Michael Palma, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody, Roger Sedarat, Alicia Stallings, Rimas Uzgiris, and Philip White.
Daniel Nester's Incredible Sestina Anthology is out and to go along with it, he's posting a series of interviews with contributors to the volume. They discuss their own introduction to the form along with the spark that inspired their poem. If you've never attempted a sestina, reading these interviews just might motivate you to pick six and get going.
I love Joy Katz's essay on poetry and grief over at the Poetry Foundation website. It's lovely and moving both for her observations and her elegant language.
Anyone who has been visiting here knows I'm absolutely mad about ballet, especially as performed by the New York City Ballet company. When I was a child, my parents subscribed to the NYCB's Sunday matinees. We traveled by car to the city from our suburban home and had a pre-performance picnic at the 79th Street Boat Basin, where Roy Cohn docked his 95 ft yacht.
Our seats were in the Fifth Ring of the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch theater). They cost $1.00 and were arranged one behind the other along the railing. From that vantage point, the dancers were mere dots on the stage below. My father justified the seats by telling us that from this height we would take in the entire stage and be able to observe the architecture of the ballet. Apparently, he was onto something.
When I was finally able to afford better seats, watching a ballet up close was a revelation, in ways both good and bad. On the one hand, you could see the dancers' faces, their lightening quick footwork, the grace of their arms, the beauty of the partnering, but you also saw them working. Hard. Sweat would fly off their bodies, their costumes could become soaked through. There were occasional grunts and after an especially grueling sequence, you could see the dancer fighting to keep his or her heavy breathing in check. Still, one of my favorite sounds is the pad of ballet shoes across the stage as the dancers assume their places.
It wasn't until many years later that I came to appreciate the gift of ballet that my parents gave me. We were witness to the finest choreography of the twentieth century. We saw Balanchine and Jerome Robbins ballets performed by the very dancers on which they were made. I sometimes imagine that Frank O'Hara and Edwin Denby were in the audience for some of the same performances.
The world of ballet is endlessly fascinating. It is a closed world with its own hierarchy and culture. Ballet dancers give their all to their art. Their careers are usually over by the time they reach forty. If they're lucky and manage to be injury-free, they may eke out a few more years in the less demanding roles.They are not wealthy when they retire.
I'm always surprised that more young people do not attend the ballet. While tickets can be expensive, there are usually discount programs available. Who wouldn't want to see young highly trained individuals executing difficult moves to beautiful music? Beats me.
Perhaps this new series, launched by AOL and produced by Sarah Jessica Parker, will change minds and influence how young people spend their money. Instead of blowing $100 on a few fancy cocktails, why not take in a ballet? The Nutcracker Suite begins on November 29. And I'm happy to make recommendations for the 2014 season. Won't you join me?
kitchen vixen: These were delicious. I made them over the weekend for my husband’s game night. I made them the day before, then skimmed the fat before reheating. Then I served them with a big bowl of white rice and some spicy greens. For dessert, I made chocolate chip cookies. Everything was yummy and my husband was really happy. Plus, his team won. Can I take credit for that?
Alison: Awesome recipe! Can’t wait to try it.
Lusty_locavore I made this too and it turned out great although I had to hit three stores before I could find the chestnuts. (Thank you Trader Joes!) Plus after I served it I realized I had forgotten the garnish but nobody noticed. Deeeeelish!
MessyKitchen I followed the recipe exactly but for some reason the sauce was disappointingly thin even after letting it reduce for an hour so I mixed some arrowroot with water and added it and that seemed to help a lot but there were lumps so I put it in the blender. It was OK but I don’t think I’ll make it again.
Grill king That’s too bad MessyKitchen. I wonder what you did wrong. Maybe you added too much water at the beginning or didn’t have enough bones for collagen to thicken it up. I’m just sayin’. Mine were great.
LuvinSpoonful I went to that restaurant on my honeymoon!!!
LuvinSpoonful I went to that restaurant on my honeymoon!!!
LuvinSpoonful I went to that restaurant on my honeymoon!!!CreativeCookie My ribs are braising as I write this and my hole house is fragrant with the smell of all of the lovely . . . Continue reading here.
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.