Archive for September, 2004
Claire and I disgraced ourselves at Seth’s birthday party. First, she threw herself off her booster seat and roared the restaurant down; next I accidentally shut her fingers in a window; finally, she pushed the mosquito screen all the way out and into the flowerpots beyond, causing an immense clatter. We feigned nonchalance, but not well. Still, I had a wonderful time because so many of Seth’s friends are great fun to talk to, despite being supergeniuses who are half my age. Claire had a wonderful time because that’s just the kind of gal she is.
It wasn’t all being intimidated by the highly evolved youth of today; in fact I had a mama-fu moment as I was on the way out of the apartment. I had all the bags packed and Claire dressed in candy-colours under one arm, and at the bottom of the stairs I leaned down and slung the stroller over the other shoulder in a single graceful swoop. Whee! as Claire would say.
(Jeremy has a new camera.)
So I finished the Roth. Actually, I skipped a lot of it. Longtime readers will know of, if not actually care about, my unease with the American masters Bellow, Roth and Updike – ie, my suspicion that they suck. I thought The Dean’s December must have been an embarrasingly inferior Bellow until someone told me it was his masterpiece.
American Pastoral has long, long passages on bewildered grief and frustration so precisely tuned to my current underlying mood that I could have underlined them and written in the margins “It’s so true!” if the previous owner of the book hadn’t already done that for me, at least for the first five chapters. Trouble is, I don’t really see this as artful. The word that comes to mind is lugubrious: woeful to the point of ridiculousness. The phrase that comes to mind is Yeah, and so?
On the one hand I could argue that I want my fiction to be transcendent: shot through with wit and irreverence and embodying the ability to distance oneself from the grey muck of despair, not to wallow in it. On the other hand I remember Professor Brown disagreeing with my preference for Paul Muldoon over Seamus Heaney: “I like Muldoon very much,” he said, “but compared with Heaney he’s just clever for cleverness’s sake.”
Professor Brown made a lot of unshowy but very deep comments like that, to my lasting benefit, and I now think he was absolutely right about Muldoon and Heaney. But Heaney still has wit and transcendence in abundance, especially compared to Roth; it’s just used in the service of the work, not as the point of it. Heaney lets the gesture speak for itself. Roth spells every damn thing out, leaves nothing to the imagination, suggests nothing, hints at nothing, leaves absolutely nothing unsaid. I feel bludgeoned.
I think my favourite moment in American fiction is still that scene in Nabokov where Pnin is doing the washing up and thinks he has broken his crystal bowl, but he hasn’t. Although I like Alex’s favourite moment too, in White Noise, where the father sees his little daughter whispering in her sleep, and leans close to hear what she’s saying, and it is “Toyota Corolla”, and his heart breaks with love.
Another one of these lazy Indian-summer weekends where we do lots and lots of cool stuff and hang out with friends. Moved furniture all Friday afternoon with Carole; had wickedly delicious Cambodian that night with Shannon, Cian, Morrisa, Miranda, Salome and Milodora in utero; it’s so cool that Salome wants to hang out with our mom’s-club now.
Saturday we kept Rowan all day to find out what it would like to have twins. Answer: exhausting. Ten thousand cheers and commiserations for all parents of twins. Matters improved greatly when we zoomed across the bay to see Jonathan and Re and Knoa and Avi and the neighbors and the neighbors’ kids Jack and Daphne. The toddlers ran around the Jaffe-Tsang mansion and ate dip by the fistful and fought over toys and plotted against one another and danced to electronic music and generally had a high old time of it. Us old folk sat in the sun and drank beer and tequila and argued over which was woollier, Episcopalianism or Unitarianism, and laughed a lot. It was jolly nice.
Sunday I yearned for fried plaintains, so we summoned Kat and hiked down to a particularly nice Honduran hole-in-the-wall that I can never remember the name of, where the plaintains are crisp as toffee and the hot chocolate is a poem. I spent three hours at 826 reading American Pastoral and waiting in vain for someone to tutor, picked up groceries on the way home, summoned Kat once again and roasted a chicken with bread-and-parsley stuffing and caramelized potatoes and carrots: mmm. Tonight, leftovers. And pie!
Kat: Oh, and the other thing I did this morning was spray-paint my ugg boots silver.
Carole’s art opening was the sort of party where we had conversations like “Oh, you’re that Gail, we’ve already talked on the phone about Bernal Heights history!” and “Of course you must know Barney at NASA then…” “Yes, Barney, of course!”
Carole’s paintings looked spectacular; the zabaglione was to die for. When we got home Claire opened her package, which turned out to contain two gorgeous sweaters my mother had knitted for her in beautiful pale green wool.
Another good night, then.
Oh, and the third and very best piece of good news from back in July was this adorable little tadpole for Salome and Jack.
On Friday I rode a little bay Crabbet- and Polish-bred Arabian on a fire trail under eucalyptus trees, and felt like I was thirteen again. When I got home Salome proved the old adage: friends drive you crazy, but real friends drive you to your psychologist. Shannon and Cian brought dinner, and Carole and Rowan brought chocolate eclairs from Tartine for dessert.
Brunch on Saturday with Peter the rocket scientist, who is moving back to Sydney to work at NICTA and who will be sorely missed. We discussed anaerobic digestive systems for household waste disposal and biogas generation at the Bernal sustainable homes.
Roy, Courtney, Kat, Salome and Jack came over for dinner. Jeremy made rack of lamb with coriander and cumin; grouper fillets in chili, ginger and soy; sprouts a la Jeremy, which he prefers to call Bernal spheres; brown rice in coconut milk and steamed broccoli. It was a sensational meal. We drank a couple of bottles of the Honig sauvignon blanc, watched the Murgisteads’ first home video, built a crystal set radio and told endless jokes about turtles and pie.
On Sunday we had all three kids swarming through Claire’s toys. Shannon and I abandoned the boys and got manicures and spa pedicures together. I’ve always been painfully self-conscious about my feet; it turns out, to my surprise, that with shiny purple nail polish, they’re actually quite pretty. Off to 826 Valencia for tutoring with a side-trip for coffee from Tartine, where there were two babies in the Rolls-Royce of strollers, the Bugaboo Frog; home for an afternoon fling with Jeremy while Claire napped; delicious leftovers for dinner; and so to bed.
Me (winding up a phone call): Okay, I have to go now. Hey Claire, do you want to get out of the bath, and eat the brussels sprouts Daddy cooked, and watch Simon Schama’s History of Britain? Because Mummy and Daddy are total nerds?
Other end of phone: much laughter
Brussels sprouts a la Jeremy
Cut cross-sections in ends of sprouts. Blanche for eight minutes in salted water. Allow to dry in single layer on paper towel. Saute in peanut oil with the juice of a lemon and a dash of nutmeg.
(many thanks to Julia Ellingson)
(oh, and many happy returns to my darling Dad)