Monday, January 24, 2011

Severely Miscellaneous

Franz Kine, Painting Number 2
 This appears to be the sort of blog post where I end up quoting dead white guys and philosophizing.  You probably ought to practice your omelet making technique instead. 

It has not been a week wherein I felt like writing about food.  I do need to write up and post the banana upside down cake recipe.  I think I need to tweak a couple of things first though.   Unfortunately I'm short on excuses to make a banana cake at the moment.  So, by way of apology, have a link to a recipe for a plum upside down cake.  I have never made it (and if I did, I would probably make one cake rather than individual ramekin cakes), but it looks delicious.  I'm mad for upside down cakes and have been for years.  Last year I started experimenting with not-pineapple cakes and so far my favorite is rhubarb -- although wild blueberry comes a close second.  Which reminds me that I have seen new rhubarb shoots coming up in gardens around Cap Hill.  This climate!  I live in the tropics!

I spent most of last week in a sleep deprived fog, because the occult operations of my hind brain decreed it to be a week of not sleeping.  That meant a lot of things out of boxes for meals (including a moment of weakness that saddled me with a box of breaded fish filets: a trial served to prove that growing up in Alaska has probably ruined Van De Camps for me for life*).  There was one problematic exception, a pot of squash soup.  I left it out on the counter overnight.  I blame the bad sleep brain fog.

Unfortunately I love squash soup the way many people love chocolate -- not wisely, but too well.    I find it irresistible, especially when made with homemade chicken stock (which this is).  So after some internal struggle, I decided not to pitch it.  Tonight I heated it to a rolling boil for twenty minutes and am now eating it.  Hopefully I won't wake up puking tonight.  If I do, it's all because of love.** 

None of this was really what I was thinking about when I began this post.  Perhaps you're wondering about that spare painting that heads off this blog entry.  I am too.  Franz Kline always resisted the comparison of his work to Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, but I find the parallel hard to resist.  To some degree, a work of art exists between the intention of its creator and the understanding of its viewer.  Despite Kline's protests, I cannot help seeing his austere black and white compositions as the calligraphy of his soul.  Of course, it is in a language I don't speak. Do we remain largely unintelligible to each other?  If the calligraphy of my soul were written, it would have more colors and maybe some gold and silver leaf, but the meanings would be equally obscure.

However even as I was thinking these isolated thoughts,  I was walking home carrying a rather large and heavy care package from Alaska.  This tangible burden of love did not feel like the product of a careful truce and years of fraught translation even if there were occasional moments of incomprehension in the friendship.  I walked on.  I considered turning the mute calligraphic image of the soul into poetry to send off to another friend, one more email in a friendship that has been almost entirely conducted by email for six years.***  This friendship ought to feel more tenuous than it does.  Thousands of words arguing about books and critiquing each other's writing creates a density and heft to a relationship that inspires confidence.   If my soul's calligraphy could be translated, those two friends (with the help of a few others) have a better than average chance of producing a useful lexicon.  Likewise, I flatter myself that I could contribute a word or two to their own dictionaries.  It's both comforting and discomfiting to be so well known. -- decidedly more the former than the latter.  Although at times more privacy to dissemble seems a luxury,  these friends who read me so well can do so because they love me.  There is an alarming sort of safety in that. 

Maddeningly John Donne appears to have got here before me in Meditation XVII from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.****  Or at least he anticipated my conceit of the soul as a book in some strange language. 
...all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.
Or possibly, because it's an image I love, I subconsciously remembered it when confronted with Kline's expressive yet unspeaking austerity.  John Donne's measured words incorporated into the calligraphy of my soul (if I am going to insist on the metaphor). 

Meanwhile, although I am not throwing up, there is some internal unrest that suggests that the best course of action is pitching out the rest of the soup and fetching some ginger ale.  Alas.  (With the caveat that boiling the soup resulted in some significant scorching, rendering it less delightsome than it might otherwise be.) 

*What's even weirder?  I claim not to like fish with some very carefully circumscribed exceptions (which mostly involve smoked salmon† or fried rock fish).  I have no idea why the frozen fish fillets suddenly seemed like a good idea, except that it was on sale and I'm temporarily sick of eggs as my primary protein source. 

**A survey of world literature clearly demonstrates that love is at the bottom of many a plot complication.  

***What wouldn't I give to have all the people who matter within fifty miles of me?

**** Despite various misinformed web based idiocies this is neither a poem nor in Old English††.  It's definitely prose, and the language while archaic is distinctly Modern English (Early Modern English if you want to nitpick).  I'm even using a text with regularized and modernized spelling.

†I get alarmingly enthusiastic about homemade smoked salmon, especially if belly meat is involved. 

†† Entirely unintelligible to modern English speakers. 


  1. "What wouldn't I give to have all the people who matter within fifty miles of me?"

    This is, as you know, one of the greatest desires of my heart (but unfortunately not one that is ever likely to be fulfilled). I probably should have planned better somehow.

  2. My planning is equally imperfect. But hey, for once we're within fifty miles of each other.