Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Beaver's Index

I've just been reading Simone de Beauvoir's letters to Sartre. She has a January birthday. January 9, 1908, to be exact.

An index, culled from letters to Sartre written during the period of January 1930 to September 1939, which is as far as I've gotten:

Number of crosswords done in French newsweeklies: 2
Number of meals recounted: have given up counting
Number of times tempted to play pinball: 2
Number of hours spent in cafes or on strolls: as many spent placating her two female lovers, which is to say seemingly innumerable
Number of times Portrait of a Lady is termed "not at all bad": 1
Number of times Snow White viewed at the cinema and described as being of "an apalling vulgarity": 1
Number of bread soups with weevils eaten: 1
Copies of Marie-Claire read: 1
Dreams about Maurice Chevalier confusing himself with Colette: 1

Friday, January 20, 2006

This Day In Suburban Legends of the 80s

According to Q104.3, New York's Only Classic Rock Station, on this day in 1982, Ozzy Ozbourne bit the head off a bat.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Self-Indulgent and Highly Subjective Best of 2005 List

I figure if some of us are still waiting for the Village Voice's annual Pazz and Jop poll, I can still squeeze in a verbal reel of the year in transportive experience. The items will be numbered in order of their occuring to me, not necessarily in order of their importance, because I'm sure I have early-onset Alzheimer's.

1. Barcelona and its winding wet-dog smelling streets, on one of which the city's patron saint, St. Eulalia, was apparently rolled down in a barrel full of glass and nails. The more I think about it, Barcelona's gothic cathedral proper--not Gaudi's Sagrada Familia--was what moved and fascinated me. The gargoyles alone. Then there was drinking in a bar that pretty much hadn't been tampered with since the 19th century: all mirrors and wood, about a hundred old bottles covered in dust, Morris print curtains, something straight out of Degas and Renoir. The bar served absinthe--with bottled water and a sugar cube--and so was filled with tourists and young shaggy Europeans who were trying to live like Che. New York would never let a thing like that collect all the dust that it has. It would raze it to the ground and put a Diesel store in it. New York, you'll put a mall over a mass grave. Now I'm no Orwell or Gellhorn or Rough Guide staffer, so I'll just say that if anyone is thinking of going, visit the Raval neighborhood. It's like you're walking through scenes from The Conformist (if it was set in Spain, not Italy) crossed with San Francisco's welcoming hipster-slash-hippie spirit. Williamsburg wishes it could be the Raval. You will want to move there. And kill yourself with numerous plates of patatas bravas, as the Willing Companion and I almost did.

2. Sleater-Kinney in Camden, London, September, same trip. This was the second time I'd seen them in England, and both times it made me proud to be an American girl--forgive me, but I think we're living in another backlash, or maybe it never went away, and it made me think that feminism must have worked on some level, because it resulted in these three women, one of whom was a mother, being able to make a huge, idiosyncratic noise that thrilled both sexes, and for probably the same reasons. The concert hall was filled with hipster guys who looked like they had come there to rock, not to ogle. They had come there for the bottom-heavy, Who-like, wall-shaking sound. Even the Willing Companion, raised on Van Halen and Black Sabbath, acknowledged their greatness. The noise being made by these three women wasn't just pretty good for a bunch of girls, it was probably one of the better rock shows we would ever see. Even better: the inexplicable number of Bob Hoskins lookalikes drinking Foster's tallboys nodding along approvingly. Also: drinking with W., our sorely missed expat friend, and the beloved adventuress T., in various pubs, one of which was carpeted in Astroturf.

3. More music. The New Pornographers at Webster Hall, October. I've seen them a number of times, but this might have been the best. Mainly because Neko Case wore this ridiculous gown that joyfully gave the finger to good taste--it was a nearly flourescent pale lemon chiffon floor-length empire-waisted dress with long winged sleeves. You knew she was paying homage to Loretta Lynn appearing on some TV variety show circa 1968. When some band member started making fun of her for her Stevie Nicks sleeves, the band started up with "Dreams" (you know, thunder only happens when it's raining) and then it blossomed into a full-fledged cover. Also: the drummer, Kurt Dahle, came out from behind the kit, passed Pringles out into the crowd, and when he settled himself back at the drums, disclosed the flavor thusly: "Barbecue, motherfuckers!" Speaking of unspeakable epithets, why am I so annoyed by Kelefeh Sanneh's knee-jerk perverse pop music epicure's preference for Dan Bejar over Carl Newman? It's like Lennon v. McCartney, and, according to Sanneh, Newman's fronting Wings. While I'm thinking about it, My Morning Jacket, October at Webster Hall, is in a three-way tie with the above two for best live show of 2005. Keep in mind I hardly went out. And am not a professional music critic.

4. Reading Anna Karenina for the first time. Now, I realize that is shameful. I am woefully underread in the Russians, for various stupid reasons. But I am disposed toward the omniscient narrator, 19th century vintage, for various unfashionable reasons, and Tolstoy beats all--not only does he believably inhabit the conciousnesses of a sorrowfully adulterous aristocrat, a sympathetic yet comically idealistic young man, and an innocent high-strung princess, among others, he even manages, at one point, to climb inside the head of Levin's dog for a minute. And pretty much get away with it. Thanks to A. for lending me the proper translation--I started on a Mobil Masterpiece Theatre tie-in that I found on the street. Though I guess I could have gone around saying "Oh, I'm reading the Carmichael" and watched everyone nod suspiciously at me through narrowed eyes--then run out and search for my Joel Carmichael translation, only to find it is out of print, because Bantam probably just ran a few thousand off to give out to anyone who got a full tank of gas during the month that it aired in 1978.

5. Myself and E. vs. Maureen Dowd's NYT magazine article one night in Fort Greene over drinks--magazines out and pens in hand, going through each specious, shortsighted line. E., with her wise, cool-headed algorithm with which to divine the appropriateness and meaning of male date payment, won handily.

6. That same night, watching an entire bar, bartender and barmaid included, dancing and singing to "Gold Digger". Twice.

7. "Gold Digger".

8. "Gold Digger".

9. Evenings at the ballet, courtesy of A., with peanuts smuggled in for intermission by A. It turns out that I am a Balanchine fan. It turns out that I may be a fan of Gillian Murphy of the American Ballet Theatre the way some people are a fan of [insert Major League Baseball player here], because of her performance in Swan Lake. It turns out that I may be turning into a balletomane. Which is good, because one cannot live on indie rock alone, now that I'm aging and all the bands sound like self-serious, yelping hand-clapping wolf collectives that caught fire at the arcade and borrow heavily from Built to Spill and the Flaming Lips. Also, watching Charles Askegaard, Candace Bushnell's blonde and lunky ballet dancer husband at the New York City Ballet, dance is like watching Will Ferrell pretending to be Nureyev, with none of the irony. Which is just as enjoyable as you'd imagine.

10. Mary Gaitskill's Veronica. Even though she fell prey to the JT LeRoy truck-stop-hustling mystique. She deserved the nomination for the National Book Award--for turning teenage girlhood and young womanhood, with all its idiocy and idleness, into poetry. And for rescuing the stuff of young women's lives--friendship, female rivalry, ambition, desire, beauty, family--from chick lit novelists.

11. Finally realizing that there may be such a thing as too much NPR.

12. Arrested Development. Jason Bateman! Jason Bateman! Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, Michael Cera, and David Cross, but oh, Jason Bateman! Whom my sister had a crush on in late elementary school, but because I was 10 going on 50, I dismissed as a smirky asshole. I hope he doesn't bloat up on drink and drugs now that the show is going to get axed, or get involved in any embarrassing failed movie projects that try to bank on his flinty charm and his thatch of expressive, Huck Finn hair. Speaking of which, can someone pull Mark Ruffalo out of the mediocre-romantic-comedy ghetto and give him another role like the one in We Don't Live Here Anymore?

13. Arrested Development. And Will Arnett, too. Will Arnett! Someone told me recently that they'd heard when he and Amy Poehler got married, they walked into their reception while "The Heat Is On" played.

14. Watching Ricky Gervais play the flip side of David Brent on Extras--he still drops down the rabbit hole of titanic, witless selfishness, but he's a self-aware crank with some sort of moral compass who bleeds when the David Brents of the world prick him. Oh, and hearing this euphemism for the male member, uttered on the show by Kate Winslet: purple-headed womb ferret.

15. Embarrassingly sincere high school yearbook portion of the evening in commemoration of some transportive moments in lady friendship that have not already been commemorated here and elsewhere, before my Alzheimer's gets really bad, and there's more where this came from, 2005 edition: Playing Dorothy Parker with T., various occasions. M.A., whether on phone or in person, whether indoors or out on a street with a fire hydrant exploding, alone or with J.! Afternoons of long conversation with M. and the baby W.; M. marshaling a party and cupcakes together in January. Watching Prime with L., both of us with our turtlenecks pulled up to our noses because it stunk so bad, groaning and gasping in disbelief at the bad, bad dialogue, Meryl Streep's ethnic-amulet-necklace therapist drag, and the wayward boom mikes. Cracking up at Days of Our Lives and One Life to Live one afternoon with D. P. confessing a secret love of the song "Life is a Highway" over dinner. Drinking at Passerby with E. and M.F.; when I asked the bartender if he had any nuts, because we were all starving, he shot back, smiling and gesturing at the bar patrons, "Take a look around." Anything involving my sister and a bag of chips and/or an oven range and/or cable-free television.

16. This line from Me and You and Everyone We Know: Miranda July, lying on her bed waiting for John Hawkes to call, growling at the silent phone, willing him to ring: "We have a whole life to live, you fucker!"

17. Two ways of looking at the male sad-sack: Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and James Urbaniak in Thom Pain.

18. Megan Marshall's The Peabody Sisters, which tells the story of the three New England sisters whose home was the heart of 19th century American literature and ideas; two of them romanced Hawthorne, one with her mind and the other with her feminine charm, guess who won, and they were guiding hands of Transcendentalism. Marshall worked on it for twenty years, and it reads like a novel. Why wasn't this nominated for a National Book Award?

19. Broadcast's fourth record, Tender Buttons. Laura Veirs's second, Year of Meteors. Though it's due out in March, I heard it in December: Neko Case's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood.

20. The last few sentences of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.