Monday, July 30, 2018

Another Aperitif



Summer again, and time for cool accompaniments to relaxing late afternoons. 

This one's composed entirely of liqueurs, with no "goods" as such. Which makes it purely an aperitif, in the European sense, suitable for college students and polite ladies, between homework sessions or shopping trips. It may be diluted as much as desired with effervescence, to vary its strength.


1 shot Aperol
1 shot grapefruit liqueur
1/2 teaspoon creme de menthe
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
topped off with unsweetened carbonated lime water

served over the rocks, with or without a garnish (orange or lemon or lime) probably in a tall glass


I think you will like this one. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Prepare to be Frustrated





The Grammar Nazi has been away for some time, but he's back again.

Actually, this post won't be about grammar, though grammar is often on his mind these days, stimulated on a regular basis by the public sins of familiar media of every persuasion.

Grammar is about practice, and rules, and different ways of doing things, in language.

But definitions of words present another set of problems.

In our hot current political climate, words are fought over, teased, tangled, twisted, turned, toppled and traded. What words mean--who owns them, how they can be used, by whom, under what conditions--is an important issue in the continuous struggle over meaning itself, and the power that is wielded through partisan usage.

I've become so very weary lately of hearing certain words, particularly by those who strive to spin them in a certain way, being used to manipulate listeners, that I've decided that whenever I hear them, I'm not going to pay attention.

Here's a few of these words:

Diverse

Whenever I hear someone say some event or condition is "diverse" I know that the user is attempting to claim the moral high ground in the interests of racial, sexual, social, political or personal bias. Diverse in this sense doesn't represent me, since I'm a white male, and therefore I must either accept my "place" as a rejected "Supremacist" or capitulate and accept my guilt with dignity and humility.

Empower

Whenever I hear someone use this word, I know that some group or interest is attempting to seize power over an authorized or existing power. Since I'm a white male, I know that the "empowering" applies only to those Other categories, whether they're sexual, racial, social or political--i.e., those who may have felt they needed more power than they thought they already had. I know that I will be asked to cede power to these formerly unempowered interests, who are more deserving. These empowerments will typically be reparations for past injustices.    

Healing

Whenever I hear the word "healing" I immediately get that sinking feeling, very like the feeling one has when one answers a knock at the front door, only to be confronted by purveyors of "Awake" or "Watchtower" pamphlets. Your first impulse is to shut the door in their faces, but it's difficult, because you don't want to offend. "Healing" in this sense has nothing to do with medicine, but is about formerly "injured" parties who now insist that in order for them (or us) to heal, society must change, or cede some space or object for their benefit, because they deserve it, having been so often, or so long, or so ruthlessly, injured, or deprived, or ignored. As a white male, I know that I've never really been injured or deprived or ignored in the way that matters. 

Freedom

Whenever I hear someone use this nearly universal word, I know what's coming. Since freedom in the purest sense is essentially meaningless, until defined and applied in context, it's completely denatured. The word freedom can belong to anyone, without its being soiled or spun out of control. Conservatives may use it to defend financial fraud, taxes, environmental devastation, private property, foreign invasions, lobbying, and corruption of all kinds--all in the name of freedom. Liberals (or "progressives") can use the word to stand for economic equality, sexual deviance, reverse discrimination, unionization, pornography, progressive taxation, etc. Whenever I hear the word "freedom" I reach for my wallet, to make sure it hasn't been stolen by a pickpocket. 

Vibrant

The root meaning of vibrant is to oscillate at a certain frequency. A bee-hive oscillates, certainly, with the rhythmic buzzing of the bees moving their wings. City planners and their ilk have come to use the word over time to describe an urban or suburban context as possessing a kind of metaphoric "vibrancy" which they describe as favorable. A city that "buzzes" with traffic, though, probably isn't what they mean today. "Vibrancy" today means pedestrian traffic, ethnic diversity, small businesses, crowded districts, noise, confusion, and the music of exchange (perhaps not all necessarily monetary). If you like crowds of people and noise and "diverse" ethnic mixes, then vibrancy is probably something you cherish. If not, you may not consider yourself on the side of history, since vibrancy (like diversity) is usually opposed to the virtues white males may prefer, like order, convenience, beauty, openness, and familiarity. Personally, I don't like to oscillate (at least in public), or I prefer to do it in private, where it doesn't disturb others. I prefer to do my shopping where access is easy, and I know I can get what I'm looking for without unnecessary fuss. I don't want some stranger (or homeless person) vibrating too close to me, or some street vender vibrating to get my attention.

So, whenever I hear any of these words on the radio, or the television, or in conversation, I immediately turn off, tune out, and take my leave, because I know what's coming, and I just don't want to hear it. 


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

On a Photograph of Philip Hyde



Philip Hyde [1921-2006] was among the first photographers to feature and promote photographic imagery in support of environmental ideals. Beginning in the early 1950's, he along with Ansel Adams, and Eliot Porter, contributed to the growing body of work that came to be called the Western Landscape Tradition. Hyde was closely associated with the Sierra Club, and many of his photographs were used in various of its publications, as well as its books. Hyde was also among the first photographers to move to color, at a time when that technology was undergoing change. 

This image is from the cover of the Sierra Club Bulletin of October 1951. It's a vertical study taken in Yosemite National Park, and is labeled "Tree and shadow near Peeler Lake." 

What immediately strikes me about this image is its mystery of scale. Disjunctions of scale may seem like trick photography, if the eye doesn't perceive adequate context to determine size, position or relationship. 

Is the "tree" 20 feet high, the image taken from a considerable height? Or is it a foot or two high, just a little seedling sprouting between boulders? The shadow suggests the latter, and the grain of the rock also confirms that. 

I've actually witnessed this rock surface, known as "glacier polish" which one sees along the main roadway through the park. The big smooth granitic boulders are scored by sharply defined creases. It can make a very interesting visual image. 

What I respond to is the delicacy of the twigs and the feathery shadow contrasted across the white mass of hard rock. Also, there's considerable tension created by the triangular intersection of divisions near the top of the frame. It's a classic black and white study, a moment caught near dawn or dusk when the light is tilting towards horizontal. 

I was never a big fan of Hyde's color work. Perhaps it's because it always seems too staid and settled, predictable and flat. This image, however, explores another dimension. 

It's also rather nostalgic. The Sierra Club was more militant and crusading in those days, as it spearheaded the campaign against environmental devastation. David Brower was its controversial crusader, and he believed in photography as a tool in rallying the troops (and the public) against the developers and engineers and exploiters who wanted to rip up the American outback for gain. 

This photograph seems an innocent footnote to that noble history.  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Apropos of New Chips


Apropos of nothing in particular, here's a tequila recipe.

Actually, to be frank, the idea popped up when I discovered a new "chip" in the grocery this afternoon.

One of the local Mexican restaurant chains, Chevys, specializes in freshly baked chips, familiar to devotees of that establishment, by its glorious greasy shine and texture, nothing like the dry, dull, oversalted variety so often encountered these days in Gringo country.  

They are "Have'a Corn Chips" of Laguna Beach CA 92651, whose makers have perfected the trick of packaging their chips with the oil still on them.




I put them in the oven to heat them up to warm, and paired them with a half pint of fresh guacamole. 

Wow, almost as good as Chevys!

It's all about the oil, I think. They come in small packages, about enough for 2-3 people to consume in one sitting. I suspect that they'd quickly go rancid once exposed to air, even in the ice-box. Perishable. 




In the Bay Area, tequila drinks have shoved most other goods aside, but I'm no more partial to tequila than I would be if I lived in Seattle, or Portland, Maine. I've mixed plenty of tequila concoctions, and the variety is endless. 

Here's a nice sort of variation on the margarita formula, though you could skip the salt around the rim, since the chips carry enough salt by themselves.    

The biscuit amaretto liqueur is proprietary, but it's close enough to regular Amaretto liqueur that you could substitute that. The cachaca is also proprietary, but again, I think various brands could be used. Cachaca has a sort of "hot" quality, which the sweet ingredients temper.  


1 1/2 parts tequila silver
1/2 part cachaca
1/2 part amaretto biscuit liqueur
1/2 part pineapple juice
squeeze of wedge of lime

served stirred over ice into chilled short glasses







Summer is coming. I'll say no more.



Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Come Spring





It's been an odd year.

The predicted droughts of Global Warming haven't quite materialized, though the winter rains weren't quite enough to reassure Californians. As anyone knows, the crucial factor is the Sierra snowpack, which is what feeds the dams and reservoirs that irrigate our region. 

But Spring is always a time for renewal, and the poets have to perform their task to celebrate it. 

Embarking upon my seventh decade, as, more and more, my life begins to take on a familiar shape, my memories consolidate into a design that feels, increasingly, inevitable. My genetic inheritance, my early tendencies, my upbringing--the "country of my consciousness"--all appear to coagulate around something called Curtis, which I accept or regret according to my mood.

Meeting new friends, while old ones drift away. Saving what's valuable, and cleaning out the clutter. Coming to terms. Resolving. 

Here are three new recipes from the stainless steel counter, which doubtless bear my personal stamp, though there may be bartenders somewhere in the world simultaneously duplicating them, unbeknownst to me. If I've inadvertently imitated someone else's concoction, my apologies. 

The first two were designed to be served up, the last over ice. The first two are for two drinks, the last for one.        

3 parts gin
1 part apple liqueur
1/2 part maraschino liqueur
1/2 part sugar syrup
1 part fresh lemon juice


2 parts aquavit
2 parts dry vermouth
1 part Berenjaeger liqueur
1 part limoncello
1 part lime juice


1 1/2 parts white rum
1/2 part cachaca
1/2 part banana liqueur
1/2 part lime juice


May all your Springs be rejuvenating, and all your toasts come true. 


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Bach's Italy thru the Eyes of an Hungarian Exile Jew





Bach's keyboard piece Italian Concerto (originally title Concerto in the Italian Taste), was published in 1735. 

It was conceived as an emulation or adaptation of Italian chamber music to the double-keyboard manual harpsichord. Perhaps its intensely, seductively lyrical aspect reflects the Italian spirit.   

As with many other of Bach's (and other composers in the pre-piano era) keyboard compositions, it has been successfully adapted to the modern piano repertoire, and is a concert favorite. 

I came late to it, however. I had known and played some parts of the Well-Tempered Clavier, as well as the Little Preludes and Fugues. (Don't get me wrong; I've never been more than a fascinated amateur!) 

I had heard parts of it over the years, perhaps on the radio, but until last week I hadn't heard the whole three-piece composition. 

As it happened, my first hearing was by Andras Schiff, a world-class classical concert pianist, with Hungarian roots. Schiff plays the full range of the classical canon, from Bach and Scarlatti to Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, etc. His Bach has been a specialty. The YouTube version of his recording is here

For comparison, I also listened to Glenn Gould's version, here.   

Schiff's interpretation has all of the precision and discrete voicings one wants of Bach's intricate interlacings, and captures the joy and intellectual vigor as well. His mastery of technique releases the listener from all apprehensions of uncertainty, and frees one to fly into the empyrean.  

Gould's version, in contrast, is typical of his approach, with a mathematical tempo and a slightly dogmatic approach, often emphasizing the harmonic accompaniment over the melodic line. This is an important aspect seldom brought out by typical interpreters, but it can become predictable and slightly overbearing, especially with composers other than Bach, who was clearly the genius at it. It can in Gould's hands, be made to seem as if the right hand is fluttering mindlessly above the main theme. And, of course, we have his usual humming in the background. (I suppose, with modern sound technology, this humming could be removed, though I doubt anyone would think it worth the effort.) 

Schiff has had a conflicted relationship with his native Hungary, specifically because of anti-Roma (Gypsy), anti-Semiticism, and homophobia, and this has led to his being persona non grata in that country. 

Art can transcend political, ethnic, racial and cultural barriers, but occasionally artists must choose, or go into exile, in order to endure. 

Schiff is a gift to humanity.   


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Manet's pre-Modernist Challenge


Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe [The Luncheon on the Grass 1863] is a painting by Edouard Manet [1832-1883]. It is a familiar painting, now recognized as among the most important pre-Modernist paintings. 

The history of painting over the last 500 years is a record of a succession of styles, a development both of technique and of subject matter. The gradual emancipation of the artist from the limitations of formal strictures, as well as of the range of acceptable narrative, during the 19th Century, is an account of challenge and defiance of cultural norms, with each stage setting a higher bar of permission, for those who would follow. The idea of revolution in art, is born in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, and to a large extent, we're still carrying on this struggle of resistance and renewal through invention and discovery. 

How must the public have felt, in 1863, upon first seeing this large [about 7x12 feet!] canvas at the Salon des Refuses? Clearly intended to shock, the picture is also a commentary upon classical subject matter, updating and placing it in ironic contrast to its putative historical models. 

Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe of Manet

Its immediate impression is of a sort of metaphorical tromp l'oeil, of a classical nude placed inside a contemporary setting, without any clear connections to context--rather as if a Renaissance nude from a mythic vignette had been plopped down in the middle of a Paris suburb. Nudity or semi-nudity in classical painting had long been a proper subject of painting and sculpture, but nearly always in the context of a remote reference, either from classical myth, Biblical scenes, or legend. This familiar distancing of the profane from its public allowed artists to explore raw human form without straying into obscenity or vulgarity. 

Manet's painting clearly intends that we should see this scene in just that way, as a sin against good taste and as a reaction to its classical models. The stark contrast of the cool, pale-skinned nude with the dark tones of the sylvan background, and the clothing of the two male figures, the harsh lighting and staged positioning of the limbs--all suggest defiance, and prurient disregard. There's clearly something pornographic about the presentation, as a challenge to propriety as well as to the canons of doctrinaire taste. 

Comparing Manet's version to the later one by Claude Monet--which seems tame and impressionistically calm by comparison--will give some sense of the huge contrast of intention.     


Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe of Monet [1866]

Manet's canvas functions on several levels. There's the contradiction of spatial perspective, in which a second female figure, behind the first group, seems to float in a kind of separate sphere, almost as a commentary or adjunct to the picnic. What is she doing there? What is her relation to the narrative? Is she a kind of foil for the foregrounded nude? 

Though the figures are drawn in a realistic manner, they seem stiff and posed, as if in imitation of some formal, theatrical posture. This rigidity would be normative in a lot of classical scenes, but here it seems completely out of place. We have difficulty inventing a narrative that would explain the nude's disrobing, or her presence between the two conversing men. Is her nudity a violation of her sex, or is she a projection of the aesthetic preoccupation of the figures, who seem to be stand-ins for the painter himself. Or is she just a piece of furniture in a satirical cartoon? 

It's the incongruousness of the nude's presence which determines our reaction. She clearly doesn't belong in the painting, in the same way that she doesn't belong in a real picnic in the France of the 1880's. It's like a temporal displacement, a forced enjambment of contradictory contexts. This incongruousness has more connection to later artistic movements--Surrealism or Dadaism--than to any discernible tendency of its time. The painting may seem shocking, or humorous, or defiant, but it doesn't strike one as "beautiful" or graceful or cheerful, or even melancholy or moving. It's an aesthetic statement, one intended to draw a line in the sand, either an end or a beginning, depending upon your point of view. In a way, it's more typical of how Warhol or Lichtenstein might conceptualize it, than how any critic or viewer would have in the 19th Century.   

Outside the area of the figures, the painting seems pretty sketchy, an afterthought, the brush strokes casual, even careless. This contrast between the hard clarity of the foreground figures against the pictorially drab background also underscores the sense of imposition, of a truncation of the historically separate modes. Manet seems to be emphasizing the disjunction, without making any overt attempt to connect the opposing contexts. This kind of deliberate exaggeration and disjunction has much more in common with later absurdist depictions than anything else of its time. 

Unless, of course, we are willing to apply the same Modernist or Post-Modernist criteria to earlier, classical works such as those of Giorgione, whose two pictures here are commonly accepted precursors of the Manet work, both of which display much of the same kind of accepted "techniques"--the skewed perspectives, the incongruous nudes, the staged quality of the narrative, and the sketchy metaphorical landscapes which form the backdrop of the drama. If we think in a relaxed way about these earlier efforts, it's easy to see how naive, absurd and unreal they are. That we should, on the one hand, see these 16th Century canvases as typical masterpieces employing standard mythical subject matter, while viewing the Manet as a shocking challenge, tells us much about how later developments and critical accommodations of the emancipation of art from the clich├ęs of previous dogma have altered how we view works within the progression of historical development. 

Were audiences in the 16th Century as offended by the nudity of such canvases as these by Giorgione, as audiences in the 1880's must have been by Manet's? Did they see art in the same way we now tend to do, as natural reflections of the spirit of the time, rather than as evidences of a kind of divine inspiration whose purpose was to inspire them to imagine another kind of (ideal) reality?        


The Pastoral Concert of Giorgione


La Tempesta of Giorgone