Monday, May 7, 2012

Hi sweetheart, up in the aerie on a lovely soft afternoon, starting to cloud over a bit, growing chillier, I just shut a window beside me. Dinner will be nice: I felt inspired to make a pasta primavera of sorts, with two bunches of on-the-verge asparagus that I bought for 70 cents - and so I splurged on some of the other ingredients - pristine white log of local goat cheese, grape tomatoes, parmesan. It's a colorful dish -- unfortunately I'm a bit of a maximalist -- are you surprised to learn this? -- so it wasn't enough for me to just saute the asparagus and the tiny halved tomatoes in olive oil. I thought the dish might benefit from chickpeas - but I was all out -- so small white beans it was, along with a bit of homemade broth, to finish off the bowtie pasta in, and of course parmesan. Oh, and because I realized once I combined all the ingredients in a big ceramic bowl, the goat cheese melting into it, that it was so steamy that the pasta was continuing to cook - past the point of al dente, and I didn't want mush -- so I put out the fire with half a bag of peas, frozen into a single solid mass, but I whacked the bag against the counter, and so the peas crumbled into a couple of obligingly smaller green icebergs, that I stirred into the rapidly chilling mass, morass, melange -- whatever the word, it's very delicious, the asparagus shining through despite all the doctorings.

Went for a walk this morning, stopped by the church to pick up the insert of yesterday morning's Gospel readings, which were particularly lovely, and struck a chord in me. Had a marvelous session, later did a workout, to the first hour of a filmed version of Moll Flanders, a story I'm unfamiliar with, except for the title. I wonder how it ends? I'm intrigued -- but I've shut it off, as I've sat down to write to you.

Actually, much of the day I felt quite not-terribly-coherently preoccupied with strains of one of the talks I heard the other day, at the symposium about 'fresh perspectives on the Hudson River School (i.e., the 19th century affiliated group of landscape painters, and others in the ever-widening concentric and intersecting circles of painters, writers, thinkers, male, female, some famous, some not at all).

So I just want to get it out of my system a bit, because I've been chewing on some of these thoughts, delivered by one speaker in particular, to no avail, and there's no coming to any coherent whole about it -- certainly not in my own head, and probably not, at least in a first draft form, here.

I'm not in those art-history circles, so I hadn't heard of any of these scholars, who amongst themselves seemed to be quite famous. I was particularly interested in one of them, because she happens to be a professor at my alma mater, though she started there many years after I graduated, and besides I wasn't an art-history major, though I did take the "famous" survey course. (Which reminds me, that when I first settled into my chair Saturday, in the Bard auditorium, seating was scarce, and I found myself seated next to a trim attractive woman who was furiously knitting. I said - wow, this reminds me of college - including the knitting. And she said, yes, as an art-historian I just need to keep my hands busy once the lights go down (a reference to the inevitable slide shows (once) and now sophisticated power-point presentations).

Anyway, so I noticed -- in the pre-symposium mingling in the hall over urns of coffee and trays of fresh strawberries and cookies -- the professor - recognized her name from her nametag. And felt a sense of nostalgia for her very tweedy form of dress. When I had been a student there myself, I too had absolutely coveted soft luxurious brownish tweeds such as that - a trip down memory lane simply to see an outfit such as that. Which I also recognized as being in the coded style of dress that I think of as "upholstered at the Frick" -- ah, so that's the sartorial plumage of extremely rarifiedly privileged art-history scholars!

(And there I was in my Peebles outfit -- a cobbled together tightfitting pink tee, paired with a black-and-white-with-pink-accents skirt. And lest anyone is reading this -- I am indeed fullfigured -- and in the spirit of full disclosure should say - that while toned & shapely -- I do have weight to lose, esp. from my middle -- an ongoing battle -- to counter my omnivorous, extravagant appetites -- )

Cutting to the chase. Several scholars spoke, and then this woman's turn came. And she had shed whatever staid sweater or jacket she'd had over her petite tweedy self. And there stood a lithe, extremely toned, bare-armed superwoman, in an improbable formfitting tweedy sheath dress -- upholstered, indeed -- and clearly she works out a lot, and is proud of her physique. Well -- power to her -- of course!

This is still not what I'm trying to say, I am so circling and circling about what was unbiddenly invidiously insinuating my thoughts today --

Her talk was on a book that I gather that she has a book contract to write. Because she hasn't written it but Princeton U. Press already has an image of its forthcomingness up of it, when one googles. And she quite charmingly, as she took the podium, in her robust accented (Canadian?) -- horsey, hockey -- fashion -- allowed that she was presenting ideas that haven't yet been published (as in the companion volume related to the symposium I was attending), but that she was just fleshing out.

The subject of her next book is about the concept of 'sentimentality' and a backlash to it - 'anti-sentimentality' - in American art, in the 19th century, reaching into the 20th. For her lecture this weekend, she made a presentation focusing on the "sentimental" aspects of Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-52), a very influential - thinker, writer, architect, landscape designer -- a highly influential tastemaker of his day. (His years are short -- he was killed in a horrible inflagration in a steamship boatrace down the Hudson.)

I noticed in at least one of the other presenters, perhaps unsurprisingly, a very youngish (to my 52 year old eye) pre-eminent scholar from Yale. Well, I have a hard time with that institution, I think -- I find it suspect. And he, in his presentation, had taken great pains (amusing, quick, eloquent 'speaking in paragraphs' pains) - to compare, rather mischievously perhaps, it seems to me -- the background of the Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole, who'd been born in England, and before he migrated over here, saw the conflagrations of a rapidly changing industrializing landscape of the wild moors above, rapidly industrialized valley before, displacing traditional milliners and their ways of life --

oh sweetheart, I am so trying to finish this piece

so this professor, the other one, talking about Alexander Jackson Downing, assumes this highly facetious, sardonic tone --

Downing espoused --- sentimentally!! -- that house & home might have beneficial grounding aspects that would be helpful to a civil society (I'm totally typing here, in unscholarly fashion --- here's a link to what he actually said)

And this professor's tone in describing his ideas, was very facetious, sarcastic, disdainful. And -- from where I was seated, just so unverifiable. For example,one of her threads was that - supposedly - Downing felt that vines should be planted about a house by women -- that that was their job.

Now, I realize that I'm not getting the story straight, but whatever "chase" this professor was getting to -- yeah, I think she did say just that.

And moreover, that the planting of such vines are "sentimental." And risible -- that is, laughable, and worthy of such disdain as to hardly pass beyond comment.

And I'm sitting there, thinking -- how is planting a vine - a strictly feminine thing? And how is it "sentimentalized" that an Andrew Jackson Downing sketch (which the professor showed) of a couple on a front porch, the structure of which entirely greenly entwined with vinery --- thus softening the hard indifferent surface -- that two humans -- husband and wife (but they're could be others, as the professor herself had shown in her presentation -- all kinds of combinations of humans)

Anyway, none of this - above- might have merited a post

except that it's so interesting to me, now, that I attend church, since I'm the organist there

and I listen to the Gospel, and to the Reverend's sermon, and to all else that transpires about me as I sit there, truly raptly paying attention as I sit there between hymns

Ah -- and so - coincidentally -- the them yesterday - I was astonished

"I am the True Vine"

So -- truly --

well, it's not 'sentimentalized' -- whatever the definition of the word, or how that scholar chooses to define it

She said that supposedly A.J. Downing recommended (in her spin) that women plant vines?

I did the teeniest bit of googling today, and the idea I got was that what A.J. Downing said was that - women, in his day, might benefit from planting orchards, that might bear fruit - in a way that needlework doesn't

And completely coincidentally - my eyes widened as I heard the Rev Mother read that particular Gospel -- because I couldn't help but connect it with the sarkily dismissive tone as to the complete beneficence of vines ---

oh and we have a terrible outbuilding here -- that we're stuck with -- on which we've trained from either end, grape vines, that absolutely save & rescue us before the night does

Typing from the paper insert that I stepped into the church this morning, specifically to retrieve...

Jesus said to his disciples (John 15:1-8), I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.


okay sweetheart -- the above? - a rough draft, I felt a need to try to put my thoughts down

but here -- well - who knows
oh very many kisses
& well wishes
and the biggest hugs ever

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