Monday, October 6, 2014

Poem for Annie's Curls

How strange these strands of silk, buckeye chestnut, mustang brown, not long enough to wrap your hand around, and each by itself insubstantial as dragonfly's flight to breast the wind, to guard against fire or ice, to add one dot to wisdom or peace or justice in the world-- yet each to its own, a coiling spring of joy. This single tendril a bolt of chromium steel with might to bind a strong father's heart for life. Written in dearest blood, his wish that his tiny Rapunzel will never know a tower, witch curse, careless climbing prince, that a loving dragon-father can keep her safe no matter how fierce the fanged shears of the world.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"MAXIMUS, I Want To Have Your Baby!"

We've all seen GLADIATOR, right? When you think about it, why wasn't Maximus Decimus Meridius simply chosen to be the baby-daddy of the whole world? He was a Spaniard living in Rome (hybrid vigor), could carry about 75 lbs. of fetish-y steel armor and leather with ease, kicked up a heck of a fuss in the Coliseum (energy, joie de vivre), had Alpha Hunk written all over him but had his soulful moments too, and even his furs looked noble. By contrast we have the Roman emperor Commodus (see picture), who warmed up by murdering his father--which was tradition among aristocrats of the time--but went hogwild after that, and wanted to marry all the close relatives he didn't assassinate. The photo above shows Commodus in one of his HAPPY moments. In my opinion he might possibly qualify, at a stretch, as Funny Uncle. But Baby-Daddy? No. A reader has asked me if Commodus and Maximus were the only two choices . 180 A.D., maybe.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I just learned from the delightful blog PaperandSalt that the Marquis de Sade, on top of everything else, was a chocolate fiend. He once threw a chocolate party so wild that he was put in prison. I'm surprised that he had the energy. After all, it's not as though he didn't have anything else going on. A true French aristocrat, he hardly allowed solitary confinement to slow him down. The rambunctious Marquis regally demanded of his long-suffering wife (who remained free, since she hadn't been invited to the party) that she bring him a better grade of chocolate "than the infamous rubbish you sent me last time." He also schooled her in the perfect cake, saying, "It ought to have the same taste as when you bite into a bar of chocolate. I wish it to be of a chocolate so dense that it is black, like the devil's arse is blackened by smoke."

Don't you suspect that, in the Marquis's childhood, little Donatien Alphonse was never satisfied with just ONE marshmallow in his cocoa??

Friday, November 22, 2013


I admire the old-time movie freedom fighters, especially Ingrid Bergman, who won World War II several times without ever breaking a sweat. In fact, as these scenes from CASABLANCA and NOTORIOUS show us, she saved civilization in diamond chandelier earrings,  romantic garden hats and a ruffly bolero.

We know that the Nazis will totally fail at world domination when Bergman symbolically rests her exquisitely manicured hand on the globe.
In NOTORIOUS, her fellow warrior is Cary Grant.
No reason you can't beat the Axis Powers in silk socks!
If you're Bogey, you can be sad, fight the Nazis, drink champagne and wear black tie all at the same time.
Well, maybe Sam won't ever play it again... but these thrillingly
invincible and glamorous combatants, plunging bravely through their hair-raising world-saving adventures,
will always make my heart glad. I stand, raise a glass and cheer.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


You'll rarely find a more interesting read than the memoir/cookbook/rant, EAT ME: THE FOOD AND PHILOSOPHY OF KENNY SHOPSIN. Shopsin is a tough, eccentric New York diner cook, one of the best in the city and certainly the most articulate. He says what's on his mind. Not every cookbook writer will tell you that in his youth he'd been in Freudian analysis, five days a week, for years. He sometimes uses language that would knock a buzzard off an outhouse. And you can tell that he's a strong family man. His adult children are the energetic crack crew who run the restaurant. This sometimes includes his son Danny, who is a talented artist and is also bipolar. Danny has a home with Shopsin, a job at the store and the protection of everyone in the family, whenever he wants them. You also know, reading between the lines, that Shopsin fears that Danny's mental struggles arise from his own. In Shopsin's young years he suffered intensely from what was then called manic depression.

The restaurant is Shopsin's kingdom, and he makes sure you know it. There are rules. For example, a party of more than four will not be seated. He doesn't want larger parties hogging space in his diner, and he also feels that conversation becomes inferior when the group is big. Don't try to sneak in extra friends a few minutes later. He'll throw you all out, and remember it forever. Shopsin remembers things the elephant has forgotten. Another rule is that he refuses to do substitutions in a listed dish. He figures that with 900 items on the menu, you should be able to find something you'd fancy. He will also sometimes take a dislike to new prospective diners and refuse to seat them, saying, "They're nothing but strangers."

But if you happen to be a very longtime friend, or if he likes your face, or if he just feels like it that day, he might suspend the rules for once. And although he never makes home deliveries, friends who become seriously ill will often find vessels of delicious hot food at their door.

The book is a headlong gallop of Shopsin's redhot opinions and fearless recipes, but there is a peaceful spot for your eyes on rest on, if you need one. This is the portrait of Shopsin's late wife, Eve, on page 100. She has a gentle, kind, dark-eyed face and rich, reddish-brown hair. Apparently she put up with her proudly impossible husband with patience and grace. Shopsin does not wear his heart on his sleeve, but you know that he has one. The book is dedicated to Eve, her name is huge type. And you sense his tenderness for her in his description of a meal they often shared when they were young and poor:

"Around that time Eve and I were in the habit of going to a restaurant on Bleecker Street," where they always ordered a dish called the Brown Rice Special. Kenny goes on, "It was hot rice and melted cheese drizzled with soy sauce and with a bunch of crunchy vegetables and walnuts strewn throughout. They served it on a cake stand: a big gooey mound of stuff all piled there on top of the pedestal."

The hungry young couple would sit on opposite sides of the Brown Rice Special and attack it with forks, stabbing and securing the luscious nuts and vegetables, digging in with such passion that every time, "we'd end up tipping the freaking cake stand over."

Shopsin's advice on how to eat this meal has to be told. It's not much of a stretch to see that he's also giving his opinion about how to savor your life.

"The rice is what I call 'mouth food' get a bite you stick your fork through the rice and cheese. You then take your fork and stab through a vegetable, and you score a little lettuce along with it. You now have a bite of every ingredient in your mouth at the same time, and when you chew, all those flavors and texures transform into something that didn't exist until that moment. If you pick at it and separate the ingredience like a persnickety ass, you are not going to have the same experience, and the experience you do have will be inferior."

Shopsin has not been a "persnickety ass" in the way he lived his life. He found relief from severe depression when he bought an old grocery store. He worked incredible hours to revive it, and this seems to have dovetailed with a manic phase which was useful for once. He and Eve developed the store into Shopsin's diner. He found that he could keep his demons at bay by working hard at tasks he loved, projects which made sense to him, every day. And that is what he still does.

And the Brown Rice Special? Shopsin perfected his own recipe as a tribute to Eve. Many a fine valentine is not made out of chocolate. You can figure out on your own how to make a good version of Kenny and Eve's Brown Rice Special, or you can buy Shopsin's book. And when you eat this food, keep in mind all the meals shared by struggling young lovers in their early days--including, no matter how many years ago it was, or how it turned out, your own.

Friday, April 26, 2013

THE ACE OF FACE, and The Other Cards They Were Dealt....

I've heard that if you told Tuscans or Romans that beauty was only skin deep, they'd be totally baffled. They would think you were babbling nonsense. Of course they believe in beauty of character (especially in their mammas), but as to the exterior, they think that skin deep is just right.They don't see a thing the matter with worshipping good looks.  It's sort of like in France, where they're only gradually beginning to understand the concept of sexual harrassment.

For the space of this post, I want us all to be a little Italian and to enjoy studying the faces of people who are known for looking fine. But in every case, the mind behind the beautiful face is interesting...and some of them deserve our admiration.  Let's begin with:
This is our own Gena Rowlands, who grew up in our state and went to our university...and who is a brilliant actress. See her in FACES, or in GLORIA, or even the recent HOPE FLOATS. She has a rare quality that she shares with Michael Caine: even in piece-of-crap movies, their talent and distinction shine. In Rowland's case, the piece-of-crap movie was often directed by her husband, John Cassavetes.  And whether the film was good, so-so or a real stinker,  she loyally showed up and shone. Friends told her she was damaging her career. She didn't care. Her main thought was for the man she loved to look good.
This is the passport photo of a young nobody named Hemingway, at the very beginning of everything.  His mother feared he was a bum who would never amount to anything. But when she looked at those eyes and that jaw, it seems to me she should have said to herself, "My son the black sheep is one determined SOB. He wants to be a writer.  He is going to do what he sets out to do. And if I have a brain in my head, he will set forth with my blessing."
This is Francoise Gilot, the only woman who ever told Pablo Picasso to go to hell. In the past, when Picasso mistreated his former lovers,  they were like meek animals who'd been gutted.He abandoned them, and they spent the rest of their lives wailing and shriveling away.  In Gilot's case, when he attempted to mistreat her, she  fought him toe to toe, then left with their children. Later she had a successful career as a painter, and a long, happy marriage with Jonas Salk. Picasso never forgave her, and he never stopped missing her. 
Rudolph Valentino, in THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE film that made him famous. In the beginning  his character is a dissolute Argentinian playboy. Valentino's  career was made in the instant that "Julio" entered a lowlife saloon and danced a blazing tango. Valentino was a brilliant dancer, so he didn't have to fake it. Women swooned over the strength with which he threw around his little monkey-woman partner. Wow. Or even Wowwowwow! A stud, right? No. An idealist and a romantic. A few years later, in real life, he was breaking his heart over the one woman he couldn't keep: his wife, Natacha Rambova (real name: Winifred Hudnut). He died soon after.
The term Rock Star hadn't yet been invented in the 20's and 30's, but if a poet could qualify, Edna St. Vincent Millay would have been it. Critics raved over her books. She won the Pulitzer Prize.   She also translated ancient Latin and Greek for fun. A chilly intellectual, a bluestocking, right? Well, not completely. She wrote the famous poem about burning the candle at both ends, and that is what she did.  When she died, her sister went through her papers and found over a thousand love letters that men and women had written her...
Eric Schweig went through the most abusive childhood that anyone could, and survived. Slowly he found his way to the life that he was meant for.   At first he was given movie roles because of his handsome looks, but gradually, directors noticed what a good actor he was. And he kept getting better. His portrayal of Uncas in THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS is unforgettable, but my personal favorite is his lovelorn, conflicted, heartbreakingly closeted, and finally very brave Pike in BIG EDEN. And that kiss at the end? You'll cheer! Schweig is also a respected artist whose beautiful traditional Inuit carvings are displayed in museums. But he is happiest when he gives them to friends.
Carolina Otero, a gypsy adventuress (her own description) became a famous dancer, and the toast of La Belle Epoque in Paris. Otero was also famous for a notorious remark. A friend of hers once spoke with horror of the hideous ugliness of Otero's current lover. Otero gently responded, "My dear, a man of the baron's tremendous wealth can hardly be described as 'ugly.'" Even in old age, Otero's favorite activity was to have a huge Argentinian feast with friends, to empty two, three or four plates, and  then to dance the flamenco all night long, just for fun and because she loved it. Does she look like she knows how to have an adventure, or what??!!
I've added Jeremy Irons, because---well, just because. He's a fine actor (DAMAGE, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN, SWANN'S WAY) but I have a soft spot in my heart for him because, apparently, he's one of those innocent people with no filter. I once heard a radio interview in which the news guy raved about Irons' and Meryl Streep's performances in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. "Yes," Irons answered in his distinctive voice, which is both plummy-plush and eager, "and we loved the roles so much, and we adored the director, and when the scenes were coming up for our characters to be lovers, Meryl and I decided to give it EVERYTHING WE'D GOT and to become real lovers for a day. And so we did. It was marvellous!"  There was a long, long silence in air time as the gobsmacked news guy absorbed this. Of course he knew Streep and Irons were married, but not to each other.  When he finally spoke again, it was about something else entirely and he kind of stuttered. You can't really blame him.
The Ace of Face, if anybody ever was. But also a loving, brave, warm-hearted woman who steadfastly supported friends with AIDS at a time when everybody else shunned them.   She gave generously to AIDS research, long before it was fashionable, and also twisted the arms of wealthy colleagues good and hard so they gave generously too.  You know her name. Enough said.