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August 31, 2007

The Last Entry

Why do I feel that I'm leaving something, when nothing is going anywhere? The only change, for me, will be no longer having to deal with MovableType, a blogging platform that I chose in 2004 precisely because it was said to be the most daunting. (And it was daunting. I discovered that I am a closet masochist.) Exchanging MovableType for WordPress is like taking off a very heavy backpack. Life is suddenly, startlingly easy. I have no regrets.

But it's true that I am leaving school. I started the Daily Blague at a strange time, right after George Bush's second victory. The Blogosphere had been hopping during the campaign and was still very lively, as the writers at political sites that I visited, such as Crooked Timber and Obsidian Wings, tried to make sense of the disaster. Eventually, I lost interest in political blogs. I lost interest in all single-issue blogs. And I really didn't know what to do with my own. For far too long, I filled it with reams of material that belonged in a different setting. I was like the bore who shows up at a cocktail party and wants to talk about the death sentence.

At some point or other, the old Daily Blague developed a serious comment-spam problem, and my Web host actually considered shutting it down, along with at least one other MoveableType site. That's when I decided to move, both to another host and to another platform. By now, I had a very clear idea of what The Daily Blague ought to look and feel like. Thanks to the heavy lifting of Searchlight Consulting, the look and feel has been realized. But as Steve Laico can tell you, I knew what I wanted.

What distinguishes a blog structurally from other Web site is, of course, its interactivity: the solicitation of comments. Most blogs don't get nearly as many comments as their creators would like, and The Daily Blague is one of them. But every comment is a lively acknowledgment that someone has been reading what I've written. I don't know why any writer doesn't keep a blog for that reason alone. (Writers who aren't celebrities, that is.) The comments that the Daily Blague has accumulated have given me a better idea of where I stand in the world than I had before blogging.

To all readers, but especially to those who were "in at the birth," I say Thank You!

August 30, 2007

The All of It

Here we are at the end of August. Tomorrow will see the last post at the old Daily Blague (www.portifex.com/DailyBlague/). Happy as I am about the new Daily Blague (www.dailyblague.com/blog) - which is what I hope you're reading - I'm stung by the old leaving-school nostalgia. It is painful to outgrow things.

For my penultimate pointer, I've chosen a book that I read because I met the author herself, in the ophthalmologist's waiting room. She was a handsome matron in tweeds who asked me if I knew what the music playing on the radio was. (They play WQXR at Dr Odell's.) I did: it was Telemann's delightful concerto for three oboes and three violins. We fell into a conversation of sorts, with her doing most of the talking. I don't know how I captured the name of her book, because the doctor's office knew her under her married name, but after my exam I walked round the corner to Lenox Hill books, which was still going, and found a copy of The All of It. The clerk told me that it is a "favorite in the neighborhood" - the neighborhood being 10021, the city's ritziest ZIP code. (It's still going, too, but in much reduced form.)

The All of It.

August 28, 2007

Indian Melon Salad

Tonight or tomorrow night, I'll be roasting a chicken. Kathleen and I will eat the legs and the wings at dinner. The breast will be stored for a few more days, to make Indian Melon Salad. I got the recipe from a lovely Irishwoman living in Chicago, and it has always represented for me a peculiarly Midwestern ingenuity: taking ordinary ingredients, adding a few unusual ones, and producing something that's both comfortable and sophisticated. The earthiness of the dressed chicken contrasts delightfully with the crisp celery and water chestnuts and with the sweet fruit (the grapes pack their own crunchy punch). The one thing I don't understand is why Kathleen invariably insists that "this time," I've done something different that had made the salad even better.

Kathleen Brady's Indian Melon Salad.

August 24, 2007

Strong Motion

The Corrections catapaulted writer Jonathan Franzen to the top of the tree, where, in the manner of literary greats, he will remain until he dies, no matter what he does or does not go on to write between now and then. He is not famous enough for me, though. He's not yet famous enough to have attracted a massive reading of his second novel, Strong Motion (1992). I've read it twice, and look forward to reading it again. It's well-matched but mismatched lover, Renée and Louis, tap into a nasty environmental hazard that gives the novel the coloration of a thriller, even though they're much too hip and well-developed (as characters) to be at home in a page-turner. Even that dissociation strengthens the book.

Strong Motion.

August 23, 2007

Business and Sports: Competition Misunderstood

One of the oldest pages at Portico is this one, about the strange folly of talking about business as though it had something in common with sports. Would that they did! - as I'm sure businessmen would think, if they thought. In fact, the comparison between business and sports, the overlay of sports metaphors on business situations, is specious, a real case of "whited sepulchre."

What do you think?

Business and Sports.

August 22, 2007

What I'm Reading

This week, I'm reading Indian. History: David Gilmour's The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj. It's extraordinarily well-written and full of answers to questions that you didn't know you had. I had never heard of Haileybury, for example. That was the training school that the East India Company set up in 1806; it ran for about fifty years, before the merit system was introduced. Fiction: Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games. This lively novel, centtered on a policeman in Mumbai, Sartaj Singh, is studded with local dialect; happily, there is a glossary. I haven't got very far. Backround: Dorling-Kindersley Eyewitness Travel Guide, India. It's very fat, but then the usual DK guide covers a single city, not a massive subcontinent. I've also got a map of Mumbai, largely to help me navigate what I can see at Google Maps.

As for this week's Book Review:

On the Road Again.

August 20, 2007

The Palm Beach Story


What's your favorite comedy? What a question! The Palm Beach Story, though, stands firmly within the clutch of ten or so films that answer that question at any given time. Preston Sturges does things that nobody else ever thought of trying. Surely there has never been anything as grossly transgressive as the behavior of the Ale & Quail Club members in their bar car. And the way Geraldine keeps stepping on Hackensacker's spectacles! Lots of "ouch" factor there. Just the same, there has never been a more seductive surrender scene than the one that Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrae deliver at the end.

Our favorite line:

"Don't you think garnets are a little lifeless?"

Our second favorite line:

"You're thinking of an adventurer, dear. An adventuress never goes on anything under three hundred feet - with a crew of eighty." 

The Palm Beach Story.

Up in the Air

Of the three novels by Walter Kirn that I've read, Up in the Air is the most unsettling. A contained but quietly cocky consultant flies from one Western town to another on a mission that is not entirely clear even to him. But the plot is a McGuffin. Up in the Air is a meditation on the depersonalization of the American atmosphere wherever corporations control the climate.

Up in the Air.

Death at a Funeral

Last Friday, I saw Death at a Funeral. First thing on Saturday morning, I went to a funeral. Happily, the funeral was not as funny at the movie. It wasn’t funny at all. Everything happened according to plan. There was none of the alarming, sidesplittingly funny mayhem that fills Frank Oz’s instant classic.

Death at a Funeral.

Before setting off for St Trinian's....

From the current London Review of Books, the following hilarious paragraph from John Lanchester's review of The Blair Years: Extracts From the Alistair Campbell Diaries:

One of Campbell’s foci is ‘TB’s terrible sense of style, e.g. the awful pullover he wore on his walk with Bush and the dreadful creation he wore on the plane’. This becomes a running gag. ‘TB was wearing Nicole Farhi shoes, ludicrous-looking lilac-coloured pyjama-style trousers and a blue smock. After GB left, I said he looked like Austin Powers. He said you are the second person today who’s said that.’ The next day: ‘Up to see TB in the flat. Another Austin Powers moment. Yellow/green underpants and that was it. I said what a prat he looked. He said I was just jealous – how many prime ministers have got a body like this?’ There is a flirtatious edge to this. Martin Amis, in a piece reporting on Blair’s last weeks in office, also described himself flirting with Blair. So men have that effect on other men; it’s not a gay thing exactly, but it’s not the opposite of a gay thing, and there is something faintly homoerotic about the governmental milieu described here, full of dark-haired men shouting at each other, TB and AC and PM and GB all coming to blows (Mandelson v. Campbell in the course of an argument about whether Blair should wear a tie), bursting into tears, having make-up heart-to-hearts, saying bitchy things about each other behind each others’ backs, and ruthlessly doing each other down while secretly knowing that they are mutually dependent. Anyone being sent to a girls’ boarding school would do well to prepare by reading The Blair Years. The cover photo is part of this, Blair looking up at Campbell with an expression of submissive yearning that verges on the pornographic.

The idea of a parent giving a thirteen year-old girl a copy of The Blair Years is asphyxiatingly funny.


August 17, 2007

Mad Men V

Being thick as a post, I had to see the show twice before I got it. Why was Don Draper so determined not to be recognized as someone called Dick, by his own half-brother Adam? Had he committed some terrible crime? I was thinking à la 2007. Watching the show a second time - bless you, AMC, for re-running these fascinating episodes the moment they're over - I got it. What's Don Draper's horrible secret, the one that inspires him to pay his half-brother 1960$5000 cash American to make him "go away"?

It's in the names. The half-brother is Adam. The step-mother is Abigail. The uncle is Max/Mac. These are the people that Dick, a/k/a "Don Draper," walked away from over ten years ago, when Adam was an eight year-old boy. Adam and Abigail are popular names today, and they were popular with English (but only English) protestants into the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. In Mid-Century USA, however, they were common only to -


Don Draper is Jewish. That's why nothing about his past is on display. That's why he can't have Seth as a half-brother. Is Matthew Wiener going to take the Sopranos formula and use it to etch the far subtler drama of bourgeois American anti-Semitism?

Jon Hamm's most amazing face - and he turned in many during this episode - is in response to Adam's pathetic question, "Did you ever miss me?" Don is paralyzed by the horror of having driven such "missing" from his mind with an iron discipline, until the Hallmark answer, "Of course I did," presents itself to his adman's brain. Don usually knows what he's supposed to say right away. The surprise of Adam, a brother whom one ends up (after the second episode, anyway) thinking that he loved, slows him down.

I may, of course, be wrong as Worcester about all of this. But when I shared my theory with Kathleen, she jumped on it. I'm suddenly wishing that I knew a few chat rooms.

August 16, 2007

My New Site

You can't imagine how difficult it is to run two sites concurrently. Problems that you've never imagined sprout like toadstools. And then, after laborious rewrites, copy is lost to mis-pushed buttons.

The whole thrust of this old-DB entry is to urge my regular readers (you know who you are) to start posting comments, in barrages if you wouldn't mind, at the new site, www.dailyblague.com/blog. Don't worry about being witty or clever; the idea is public service, and and your shopping list will do. Just post!

Seriously, guys, we're on our way to a new transport. Pack your bottles!

August 15, 2007

Tom Lutz on Doing Nothing

The perfect book for August - or so it would seem. In fact, Tom Lutz demonstrates just how much work serious loafing requires.

This jolly book got a so-so review in the Book Review, and I duly took note in these pages. Mr Lutz got hold of me to tell me that, in his opinion, the review was completely wrong. How could I doubt him?

Big Idea>Books>Tom Lutz on Doing Nothing.

What I'm Reading

What am I reading? That depends on which pile you look at. My official pile, on the bedside table, hasn't been touched in weeks, except to be dusted. I've got issues with every book in it. That's why they're still there, and that's why I've gone on to other things, such as Christian Jungersen's The Exception and Tessa Hadley's The Master Bedroom - both great reads. At the moment, I'm not committed to anything (excepting, of course, the difficult books on my bedside table). So I've plucked a couple of books from other piles around the house. As long as it's 15 August, I may as well read about India. Now is the time to get through Vikram Chandra's very thick Sacred Games. It's about a gangster in Mumbai, I believe. Or perhaps it's about a policeman. The other book is what might be called High Gossip: history at its most social. The book in question is David Gilmour's The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj.

As for the this weeks Book Review:

The Boy Who Lived.


There is reason to believe that my page on Bermuda, written several years ago, is dated in at least one respect: the major Front Street shops, one hears, have closed. Bermudians have made a very hard decision, to restrict the incursion of cruise ships, and they have also rejected gambling. Tastes in travel have certainly changed; rest and relaxation no longer seems to be an important vacation objective. Bermuda will have visitors as long as it manages to stay above sea-level, but its principal industry is not tourism but reinsurance. I love the place, even now that I understand what a fantasy-land it is.

Yorkville High Street>Travels>Bermuda.

August 14, 2007

Based on a Totally True Story

It feels like a thousand years since I've been to the theatre. Last August, Kathleen and I went to the theatre every Friday night, and what fun we had! We meant to do the same this year, but circumstances have worked against it. There's only one play on Broadway that I'm keen to see, Old Acquaintance. A production of Pygmalion, with Clare Danes and the amazing Jefferson Mays is coming up - must order tickets.

Based on a Totally True Story is a bittersweet comedy about Hollywood's ability to rip off the heads of creative people and then to sew them on backwards. It made a permanent Kristine Nielsen fan out of me. 

Audience>MTC Diary>Based on a Totally True Story.

August 13, 2007

Morning News

What is it about the American psyche that hates maintenance? Is it the reminder that we're still where we were? We haven't moved on to some fresh paradise, haven't built sparkling new cities in the middle of nowhere? Samuel L Schwartz, New York's chief engineer for four years twenty years ago writes an understandably impatient Op-Ed piece today. "Catch Me, I'm Falling," about how much money we would save if we took care of our bridges instead of waiting for them to crack. Not to mention lives.

Rather than lubricating the bearing plates that allow the Williamsburg Bridge to slide back and forth with changes in temperature and loads, we let the bearing plates jam, which cracked the concrete pedestal the span sat on. Twice a year we needed to stop traffic, jack the bridge up and slide the pedestal back in place. Instead of coating the bridge’s steel, we allowed it to become nearly paper-thin. This required the replacement of beams, which made the repairs eligible for federal funds, instead of merely a paint job with city money.

And what is a story about the whiff of corruption, coming from programs for studying abroad, doing on the front page?


Here's a short page about a thriller that was subsequently turned into a film starring Daniel Craig. You'll also have a look at what Portico looked like a few years ago, before the blogging. I see from my database that I have given the book away. I suspect that one of these days I'll buy it in paper and read it again. What, exactly, is the pleasure that books like Archangel provide? Could it have something to do with all the hard work - the tedious preparation - that their unconsciously glamorous heroes put in, alongside the derring-do? Come to think of it, I haven't yet read the copy of The Day of the Jackal that I picked up a while back, to take the place of the lost review copy that I got at the radio station.

¶Reading Matter>Books on the Side> Archangel.

August 12, 2007

Baked Alaaska

Catching up with several days' worth of Timeses, I only just read the news about critic James Wood's move to The New Yorker. Hooray! I've missed him, having given up The New Republic because of its bellicose stance on the Iraqi misadventure. But Motoko Rich's little piece in the Times is priceless, because of a wonderfully self-regarding quote from literary lion Leon Wieseltier.

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor at The New Republic, said, “The New Republic plays many significant roles in American culture, and one of them is to find and to develop writers with whom The New Yorker can eventually staff itself.”

Jean Ruaud mentions the local station de vélib in his latest entry. I didn't really know what he talking about, but of course it's the new free bicycle service that Paris mayor Bernard Delanoë inaugurated last month. I found these snaps at Flickr.

Now, what can I point you to today? The calendar calls for something culinary. What looks good? Ah - yummy. But can there be a dish more out of favor than this:

Culinarion>Eggs>Baked Alaska?

August 11, 2007

Folle (mais contente) journée

Yesterday, I had a big day. I went to the movies in the morning and to a baseball game at night. It was a very lucky day for anyone to have. Most readers will probably be surprised about the baseball part. So am I.

2 Days in Paris.

The Cyclones at Keyspan Park.

August 10, 2007


One might well ask why I have shelved, as it were, my page about Joseph Duveen among the history books. Surely the man responsible for the greatest transfer of European art from the Old World to the New ought to be visited among artists and other creative types in the Audience branch of Portico. Perhaps. I might put a link up over there someday. But the page belongs where it is. Duveen's achievement as a top-of-the-line art dealer, working at a time when the publicity of auctions was distasteful, was acutely historical, in that it couldn't have happened much before or after his allotted term on Earth. Although a man of great culture, Duveen is best understood as a virus that found its window of opportunity. Conditions were propitious; Duveen attacked; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art itself, boasting the Bernard Altman collection that Duveen assembled, would be a far poorer place without the legacy of Duveen's opportunism.

And then there's the National Gallery in Washington. The founder and principal benefactor was the unhappy Andrew Mellon, but the guy who did all the legwork was Joseph Duveen. Both men died before the museum opened its doors, in 1941, but it remains a joint monument.

I hope that this page will inspire you to seek out a remaindered copy of Meryl Secrest's flawed but impressive biography. Duveen is an ultimately unknowable man to know about. 

Dates>History Books>Duveen.

August 09, 2007


I am not a philosopher. I do not believe in systems, metaphysical or otherwise, that explain how the world works. If I believe anything, it's that we're far too unintelligent as of yet to be claiming to know how the world works. We're still working on building bridges that don't fall into the Mississippi.

In common parlance, "philosophy" denotes a way of living, an understanding of virtue. My "philosophy" is built on a single concept: decency. I believe, crazy optimist that I am, that everyone who has survived adolescence knows what decency is. I've written two pages about it; if you're interested, you'll find a link to the older page in the newer.

Big Ideas>Civil Pleasures>The Politics of Decency.

August 08, 2007

In the Book Review

I took the day off, to read Christian Jungersen's The Exception. If you can imagine a thriller set in the office of a human-rights organization - but you can't, not at least until you read this amazing novel. Marcel Theroux gave it a boost two weeks ago in the Book Review, and as you can see I couldn't wait to read it. As for writing it up, that'll be ticklish. Thrillers can difficult to cover.

Happily, there's nothing so exciting in this week's issue.

The Boy Next Door.

Rethinking Parties

Today's page isn't really old enough for pointing, but I'm full of the spirit of it. I have met so many amazing people in the past few years, all through the Internet, that I wonder if we are not on the brink of an age in which you forget about the high school classmates that you're stuck with and check in with the Trollope reading group first.

It took me a long time to grasp the central truth about parties, which is that the guest list is everything. When my parents gave parties, which was fairly often, their guest lists were virtually predetermined. In Bronxville, there were the country club friends and, less often, a circle of business people. In Houston, it was either business or St Michael's Parish. What distinguished one party from another was the occasion. In other words, the parties were virtually indistinguishable.

I live a completely different life. I belong to no groups. I know a number of interesting people who might not be expected to get along with each other. Inviting everyone I know to one big party is not a good idea, but, as I say, it took a while to figure this out.

Yorkville High Street>Curriculum Vitae>Rethinking Parties.


August 07, 2007


One of the great, unforeseen advantages of my scribal shrine is that it's a great place to hang Post-It Notes. I have a dispenser on the desk; the notes come out in fanfold. Very handy. But I never knew what to do with the notes once I'd written them.

Usually, the notes constitute a horizontal to-do list. Do this, call that. Today, there is only one Post-It in view. On it, I have written the French word affût. I don't know what this word means. Its denotation, "carriage, mount," is clearly not the sense in which it's ordinarily used. A l'affût seems to mean "in hiding." The phrase être à l'affût de means "to be lying in wait for" or "to be on the lookout for."

That's all very well, but when the word pops up in French texts, none of the foregoing makes complete sense.

What Is Art?

Have you got all day? Here's a very long page about art and art criticism. What's amazing to me is that I seem to know what I'm talking about. I read the page now with a gate-keeper's eyes (to which I'm not entitled, either): what incredible impertinence!

There's one sentence, though, that I really don't understand.

We're wired, sadly perhaps, to distinguish the things that happened before our parents' generations from the things that happened earlier. We seek a richness of detail about what's closest to us.

I think that the first sentence is missing a "not" - "We're not wired." But I'm not sure that the sentence means anything. Every once in a while, I fall into fatuity. If you can figure out what I'm trying to say, let me know.

Audience>Beaux Arts>Art and Criticism.


Like the fool that I am, I Googled myself.

Very nice that the sites show up. That was really all I wanted to know. But how peculiar that the third item on the list was our engagement announcement. Not the wedding announcement, but the engagement - Kathleen got in twice. Of course it doesn't make sense now; the Times doesn't even think of publishing engagement notices. We wouldn't make it by today's criteria.

What I "love" about the story is the absence of "previous." The way the article is written, it sounds as though my marriage to Kathleen was annulled before I left the church. The Times used to write, "Mr X's prior marriage ended in divorce," or somesuch. "Annulled" is very Catholic. I am one one of the very few men with a child from the first marriage who got to marry in the Church a second time. The marriage to C may have been canceled, but Ms G wasn't.

I don't think that my gay friends truly appreciate my hardships! They never take me to lunch.

Billy Hurt

It's past midnight, but I've just watched a film that turned out to be extraordinarily interesting. It's not the best-made movie ever, even though it stars two pluperfect luminaries, Susan Sarandon and Sam Neill, and has even more firepower thanks to Emily Blunt, whom we finally get to see without the ridiculous eye shadow that was forced upon her face in The Devil Wears Prada. My lord, she's lovely! And equal to sicko roles, too. I think she learned the local posh dialect for this movie. Born in London and raised in Roehampton (which is still London), Ms Blunt softens certain syllables in a way that made me wonder. Mind you, when Nicole and I run off together we are going to talk totally Yankee prep.

You laugh. Kathleen just discovered that William Hurt, a/k/ka Billy Hurt, was a camper at Timanous, the brother camp of Kathleen's Wohelo. I always feel sorry for those guys, because they were stuck on Panther Pond, while the girls had Lake Sebago. On second thought, it was probably best that the boys had Panther Pond - a manageable lake - to themselves. Sebago is big. Lots of camps on Sebago, if you get my drift.

Truly fascinating. Billy Hurt, so to speak, is two years younger than I am and three years older than Kathleen. And what does Kathleen say? She tells me that I'm lucky she didn't meet him back in the day. Her fervor for the star of Broadcast News is such that I once protested that when I came back again in another life, I'll be William Hurt. Good! she pronounced.

I suppose that that means that she still wants me. Even if I look better.


The other day, I finished reading Alexander Waugh's Fathers and Sons, and came away thinking that the Waughs are almost as interesting a dynasty as the Mitfords - although with the Mitfords the magic was confined to a single brilliant generation of sisters. As it happens, Evelyn was a good friend of Diana's right at the beginning of his career; he dedicated his masterpiece, Vile Bodies, to her - having read sheets of it to her during her confinement (in the West End, while she was pregnant; not at Holloway). Later, he got to be good friends with Diana's older sister, Nancy. and their correspondence, which has been published, is great fun to read. So politically incorrect! Worse than Mad Men, even!

My Mitford page is getting to be too lengthy, and undoubtedly the current file will one day be reduced to a menu leading to many others.

Reading Matter>Reading Matter>Shrieks (Pavillon Mitford).


August 06, 2007

Coming Attractions

Coming next month, The Daily Blague will have a new address. Don't worry about it just yet, because I'll be here for a while. But if you're interested in watching an out-of-the-box blog theme become personalized, you may find the new site amusing. I'll be posting concurrently for the rest of August. It's also part of my plan to host Portico at one server, and The Daily Blague at another. You'll always be able to reach me: aren't you lucky.

This is probably a good moment to applaud the man who is making everything happen:

Steve Laico

Searchlight Consulting


I know how difficult it is to be a friendly and/but effective professional. (I used to be a lawyer!) Steve not only delivers but he also makes it look easy. As the client from Hell, I'm not fooled.

Morning News

Reading The New York Times this morning was very strange. The paper is now a column narrower than it was yesterday (and forever before). The Times says that it's a purely pragmatic move that will have no effect upon content, but that's manifestly impossible. The paper certainly isn't going to reduce its ad space. I'm not really complaining, though. The Times has lost so much of my respect in the past seven years that I consider dropping it at least once a week. "The paper of record" - hah!

There's an interesting editorial about language: is it a uniquely human thing, or can animals talk, too? All right, what's interesting is that the Times is editorializing about it. It seems to me to be a totally religious issue, where "religious" means "believing that human beings are not animals."

In a new book called “The First Word,” Christine Kenneally catalogs the complex debate over language and includes one particularly revealing experiment in which scientists put two male apes who knew sign language together. One might have expected these guys to start grousing about their keepers, to wonder at beings that are all thumbs and actually seem to enjoy giving away bananas. But, no, they started madly signing at each other, a manual shouting match, and in the end, neither appeared to actually listen to the other.

So, are two creatures actually conversing if they’re both talking and nobody is listening? Where does talking-without-listening put one in the animal brain chain?

Let’s see, talking without listening. Many wives can think of someone who might qualify. Teenagers do, easily. And parents of teenagers. Also, a lot of successful politicians and talk show hosts.

Whoever wrote the editorial left out Woody Allen's movies. Have you ever noticed how rarely his characters listen to one another?

The narrower broadsheets are really unsettling.

August 05, 2007


As I was rounding up pages for August, I decided that there were two that deserved to be re-presented every year. On the last day of the month, I'll point to what is essentially the "About Me" page at Portico, just to be sure that everyone sees how handsome I used to be. And on the fifth, I will point to Fossil Darling's signature contribution to the enterprise: his recipe for a ghastly stew that he aptly calls "Depresseganza." The idea is that the mix of chili, corn, rice, and crushed tortilla chips is just the thing when you're feeling low - the ultimate comfort food. To me, it sounds about as comfortable as the upholstery that lines a coffin.


Lazy Sunday

There's little or no incentive to post an entry today, because a sizable contingent of readers isn't going to check in. They're the people who like to know what Kathleen's up to, and today they can do that without my help, because she's right there with them, in Raymond, Maine, where her old summer camp sits on Lake Sebago, and where a couple of fellow counselors have weekend houses. Kathleen flew up this morning, on an eight-o'clock plane. I made the mistake of getting up with her. Twilight is far off, but I can hardly keep my eyes open.


How about all those crazy people, sitting out in the sun! Sheer madness.

In the distance is the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. It looks deserted when we drive by on the Triboro Bridge, but apparently it's still in operation. Ha! It's address is a very misleading "600 East 125th Street." What kind of a joke is that? Although within the Borough of Manhattan, the center is not on Manhattan Island, but on Ward Island, across the Harlem River. You can tell that I was visiting in the middle of the day, because the shadows projected by the wings are so thin. About now, the shadows will make the building look like the enormous sundial that, come to think of it, it is.

The weather is so beautiful that I supplemented a trip to the grocery store with a walk to Carl Schurz Park. I looked across the East River at the Astoria Houses, with, just beyond them, the much swankier Pot Cove Tower. I'm pretty sure that that's not what the luxury building, visible from our balcony, is called, but Pot Cove is what it stands over. I took pictures, but my hand wasn't steady enough. When are they going to make cameras without push buttons?

August 04, 2007

Broken English

I'm a fan of Parker Posey, but I went to see Broken English primarily to see Melvil Poupaud. I seen him in only two other movies. In one, Le Divorce, he plays a finky husband who walks out on his family, much to the chagrin of his aristocratic family. Then, in Le temps qui reste, he plays a snotty fashion photographer who is humanized by the process of dying from cancer. He is tall, but so lean that he seems not quite filled out, and accordingly vulnerable. When he composes his mouth just so and opens his big brown eyes, he erases the difference between thinking and feeling. The stillness of his motion suggests that everything needing to be worked out has been worked out. He is a very interesting actor, and he is suited down to the ground for a film by anyone with the name "Cassavetes." 

You think that the fumes of a movie set in downtown Manhattan and the center of Paris would follow me to my favorite NoLIta bistro on Prince Street (the film was showing at the Sunshine), but I was so engrossed by Alexander Waugh's Fathers and Sons at lunch that I was transported to Somerset - a county that I have yet to visit in person. 

Broken English.

August 03, 2007


When I was a boy, there was something amazingly rectifying about Good Queen Bess - Elizabeth I. She was a Marie-Antoinette who knew how to rule. Both women understood the power of attire, but of course only one of them was the sovereign. I was terribly sad about MA when I was young, but I was correspondingly keen about Elizabeth. She invented Shakespeare!

As one grows up, the story becomes complicated. Elizabeth was a terrible procrastinator who hated making decisions, not because she was lazy but because she doubted her own abilities. She was, after all, a woman, in her own mind, a weak vessel. But she always rallied, and her people loved her. She was the first female sovereign to claim widespread appeal. I liked the idea of a woman in charge, even before I knew that Elizabeth was madly seeking the best advice of her male advisors.

It's utterly impudent of me to say so, but I wonder what the Virgin Queen and I would talk about were we to have a lunch date. Elizabeth is second only to Mme de Pompadour as my Fly on the Wall candidate, but when it comes to guts of actually meeting somebody, I think I'd be more comfortable with Elizabeth than with La Pomp. Elizabeth would size me up in a minute and declare me ignorant of Latin (she'd get to Greek later), and then say something perfectly anodyne: "I hope that you have been made comfortable." Ach, what have I said. That's Elizabeth Two. The first queen would have said, "I'm glad you can dance, Mr Keefe."

Dates>History Books>Elizabeth: the Young Gloriana.

Mad Men III

Any doubts that I might have had about the excellence of Mad Men - is it genius or is it just stylishly cool - were put to rest during a part of the long birthday party sequence that took up the final third of the episode. Betty has asked Don to pick up the cake, but also to film the party, something that it seems he forgets to do without prodding. Getting the cake turns out to be a very big deal, but before Don leaves, he gets out his camera and takes some - what? - 16 millimeter? Super Eight? - footage of the kids running around. It is silent, of course, as home movies inevitably were in 1960. But here's the payoff. The music playing in the background is "Voi che sapete," certainly the best-known aria from Mozart's  The Marriage of Figaro. It's so well known, in fact, that most people won't hear it. But it reflects Don's innocence about love. Like Cherubino (who sings the aria) he doesn't know what it is. By the time you hear the aria, Don is filming adults. First, he captures two people who are playing a sex game that's frankly acknowledged by the woman - much to the man's discomfort. Then he pans to a married couple still very much in love; their unguarded kiss is a gift. And then we see Don, the master of every situation but this. He still doesn't know what love is. Che cosa è amor.

Watching Mad Men has been a touchy experience. As it happens, I'm a half-generation away from Don and his children. My parents were ten years older (or more) than he is and I am ten years older than they. Our experience of the upheaval of the Sixties was different. But Don Draper is certainly more of a younger father than an older brother. There are moments in this show when I feel that I am invading the parental sanctum. As it happens, Jon Hamm is something like a year older than my daughter. But when I see him with his hair slicked down, and his five-o'clock shadow (which is how I'm sure he got the part - although he's great), and his wonderfully guarded impatience with everything, I see someone's dad, and I don't want to piss him off.

What an amazing show.

August 02, 2007

Business & Sports

Here's a page from the very beginning - l'an deux mille. Inspired by a Malcolm Gladwell review in The New York Review of Books, I argue that business, which actually resembles warfare, has nothing to learn from sports or athletics, which take the "war" out of warfare. Even I had to struggle to follow the discussion, but in every particular I managed to do so. Although the writing is suitably crisp, the thinking can be very dense, and, frankly, I was impressed by the amount of thought that the writer had put into these issues. I couldn't have written it.

Except I did.

Big Ideas>Civil Pleasures>Business & Sports: Character & Motivation.

August 01, 2007


Following a custom inaugurated last year, I'm pointing visitors to older pages at Portico this month. In theory, this is a way of taking the month off. In practice, I don't get the month off at all. I still write the Book Review review, I still go to the movies. But there won't be any new book coverage, nor any Friday Fronts.

I'm going to start off with a page that went up in 2006, but it's a collation of the blog entries that I posted in January 2005, when the Daily Blague was in its third month. In essence, then, I'm cannibalizing old blog entries! But every time I read "A Week in Istanbul," I feel as though I'm walking down Istiklal Street on a red carpet that's being rolled out just for me. Past the "Luvr" apartment house and the "Markiz" pastry shop. Not to mention Robinson Crusoe Books.

¶ Yorkville High Street>Travels>A Week in Istanbul.

In the Book Review

Phew! There's nothing that I've got to have in this week's issue. I may already have a copy of Last Harvest tucked away somewhere.

It occurs to me that there's a feature that the Book Review ought to create: a survey of current paperback editions of literary classics. Each week, a different title. The only requirements would be that the author be dead and that there be at least two editions in print. When foreign or ancient classics are newly translated, they get coverage, but there's currently no way for Middlemarch to be featured. Now, that's curious, don't you think?

Samantha Power's essay, which gives this issue its title, is so concise and quietly powerful that I'm throwing you a link straight to the Times.

Our War on Terror.