Every summer we head to our cabin on a remote lake in the High Sierras.
Joan Didion was one of 24 leading figures in American arts and culture who gathered on Wednesday in East Room of the White House, where President Obama made the annual presentation of the National Medals of Art and the National Humanities Medals. She looked so frail as she made her way, with a special escort, to the stage. Obama reached out to try to keep her steady.
He told the crowd in his opening remarks: “Somebody like Joan Didion, who, rightly, has earned distinction as one of most celebrated American writers of her generation. I’m surprised she hasn’t already gotten this award. But in her early years, she was in school only sporadically, basically taught herself how to read while she and her family followed her Army officer father around the country. She obviously learned quickly. She won a contest for Vogue in college; gave up her dream of being an oceanographer, writing became her world. And today, decades into her career, she remains one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture.”
I’m sure Didion would have made a fine oceanographer, if that’s what she had decided to do. But the fact that she became a writer instead gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to live a full life, complete with hurt and loss, in this world.
Happy Tuesday Everyone.
Paterson spends her weekends “fossicking” for treasures at flea markets and antique stores.
She tells Vogue Living: “I always want my home to be better on Monday than it is on Friday because of something new I’ve found.”
“I always want to pare things back so that each object has its own space
– to decorate with the lightest touch.”
Paterson says: “I love the ghosts of past owners.”
When she renovated her house, she kept a saying on a wall:
“White is not the mere absence of colour.”
…LOVE her cameo collection…
The magazine is available on Zinio.
This is how our house looks at the moment….
The file belongs to “stylist, creative consultant, visual storyteller” Sarah Prall. She bookmarks interiors…and the requisite deer photos…
Peeling fences and tattered quilts….
Colorful knits from faraway lands…
Perfectly named, Down the Lane, if you’re on a country road….Where I’d really like to be…
What are you getting? “Nomad,” 40 minutes of music by an African guitarist who’s called Bombino. It’s protein-rich: great for parties (you will come to be bored by friends asking “What is that?”), a lifesaver on rainy mornings when you don’t want to get out of bed, a good candidate for serious listening, a caffeine hit for long sessions of work when your friends are getting buzzed on Adderall, and, so far from least, an essential ingredient for ecstatic couplings at midnight.
That’s a lot of goodness: cheaper than Starbucks, not addictive like Adderall, and even more useful for a marriage than counseling with Esther Perel.
What’s so great? First the writing: it’s all hooks. Hooks upon hooks until you are locked in a groove. Then it’s Omara “Bombino” Moctar’s guitar. It slithers. It buzzes. It’s round like Knopfler, spacy like Hendrix, concise like Ali Farka Toure. And then the drums. There are a lot of them, and they range from handclaps to crisp little circles. And, finally, great sound. “Nomad” was produced by Dan Auerbach, who is half of The Black Keys, a band that proves again and again that when you’re mega-talented, a guitarist and a drummer are all you need.
Hearing is believing. Crank the volume. See if this doesn’t haul you out of your chair:
That’s not a one-off. This song also makes me nuts:
The back story: Omara Moctar was born in 1980. He’s a Tuareg. (Volkswagen named its off-road SUV after this tribe of desert nomads in Niger.) The Tuareg, who are descended from the Berbers of North Africa, are fiercely independent. Once they fought against colonialism. Now, although they’re Muslims, they resist Islamic fundamentalism. (“These invaders from Mali are not welcome in any of our lands,” Moctar says. “We reject their philosophies and their idea of Islam.”)
In the 1990s, civil war wracked Niger. The Tuaregs were declared enemies of the state. Moctar and his family fled to Algeria. Relatives brought guitars, and Moctar learned to play. Fighting subsided. Moctar’s family returned to Niger. But in 2007, when he’d launched a band, there was a second Taureg rebellion and a harsher government response. Two of Moctar’s musicians were killed; Moctar fled to Burkina Faso.
On his first, under-the-radar America tour, Moctar met Dan Auerbach. They had no common language, but a short session of music made it clear they could collaborate.
Auerbach: “He would triple his guitar leads, and he’d do it note-for-note, first take. It sounds massive. His guitar’s running through fuzz pedals, with double drummers playing at the same time — lots of percussion.”
Translation: This is desert music, but it’s been processed in a Nashville studio. Not to trick it up, but to make it stronger. And it is. There are no English lyrics; because they’re in a language you don’t speak, the words have power only as sounds. Which I prefer.
Maybe more music will come along that delivers both novelty and creativity. I’m not holding my breath. I see “Nomad” as I once saw SMOD -– as the most exciting World music of the year.
At some point — like in 2015 — I expect Bombino to get a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Well, he won’t be new to you. Or to all the people you’re going to give this to when it’s really Christmas.
Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, serving you excellent tea.
Alice Waters drinks Pu-erh tea. And swears by it. “My cholesterol went down 100 points since I started drinking this,” she says. ”It was extreme.
That’s not a small endorsement. I ordered some. And opened it while we were having dinner with a friend from Texas.
It is rude to ask Texans how many acres they own or how many head of cattle are grazing there. Anyway, they don’t own acres. They own “sections.” My friend shared that her family owned … many.
My wife also has a rural childhood. She grew up on a game farm in Minnesota. Raised pigs. Prize pigs. Has a row of 4-H Club purple ribbons to prove it.
Both women took one look at the brick of tea and said the same thing.
Just so. This tea has been fermented, aged, then pressed into an inch-thick circle. It has an earthy aroma. But not unpleasantly so.
It turns out that lower cholesterol isn’t everything – it might be the smallest health claim for this tea. Pu-erh is said to promote weight loss (the health claim is that it dissolves fat cells) lower blood pressure, and calm the nerves.
“A Chinese study performed on rats and published in 2009 showed lowering of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels after the animals were fed a pu-erh tea extract, along with an increase in HDL (“good” cholesterol),” writes Andrew Weil. “We know that tea, in general, is protective against heart disease and cancer. It’s likely that pu-erh tea has similar effects.”
An Amazon reviewer finds another benefit: “I needed it for is the Theanine that is in this tea, I have an autoimmune disease that causes inner tremors and I take L-theanine to calm me down but this tea is doing that in a more natural way.
Pu-erh is one of the higher grades of tea grown in Yunnan province. A round pound costs $16.95 at Amazon, which may sound dear but is actually a terrific bargain. You break off the leaves you need, crumble them into a pot, douse them in very hot water for 30 seconds, pour off that first steep, and then brew your tea. Not for long. Three minutes will more than suffice; I prefer a minute. Bonus: you can use the leaves for as many as eight steeps. [In a Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Mug, you have a day’s supply.]
Good to the last drop? Astonishingly good. Pu-erh is never bitter. Milk and sweetener are superfluous — this is a rich brew that delivers an unusually modest caffeine hit along with a welcome hint of natural sweetness. Some Pu-erh fans say the last drop is actually the best, that the last infusions taste richer and sweeter than the first. [To order Pu-erh tea from Amazon, click here.]
Pu-erh has been around forever — in China. Here it’s just starting to be the new cool thing. Six months from now I expect Jimmy Fallon to be making cowpie jokes. Millions will laugh. Thousands will start to drink it. The last laugh? Yours.
Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, here to praise one of his favorite writers.
“A major literary event.”
That’s the phrase for any novel by James Salter, and especially “All That Is.” First, because Salter is known in the trade as a “writer’s writer” — underappreciated by the public but revered by those in the know. Then, because this is his first full-length novel since 1979. And, not least, because he is now 87 and by any sane measure it’s likely that “All That Is” will be all there is — his final book.
Regular readers of this site know that I have been an admirer of Salter’s work ever since I read A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years as a pup, and that I have had the privilege of knowing Salter for three decades. The length of our friendship and his four score and seven years seem like fiction; for me, my friends are always the age they were when I met them. So I have trouble with the valedictory tone that’s more or less expected in any assessment of “All That Is.” In my head, I see Salter at his desk, surrounded by notebooks, turning words this way and that, struggling to write not his final book but his best one.
But ”All That Is” does invite us to read it as a summing up. It has that heft: 300 pages, for Salter a thick book indeed. In form, the novel is surprisingly traditional. Salter, known for books that are short and terse because his sentences seem more carved than written, follows Philip Bowman, a smart, sensitive World War II vet who stumbles into the book business and has a long, almost distinguished career as an editor. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Publishing, even in New York, does not lend itself to heroics; Bowman “liked to read with the silence and the golden color of the whiskey as his companions. He liked food, people, talk, but reading was an inexhaustible pleasure.” I’m down with that, but I live in New York, I’ve known that man. His work and joy are interior; a book about such a man requires a second engine.
That engine is Bowman’s parallel career with women. When we meet him, Bowman is not exactly surging with testosterone. His first marriage — his only marriage — is to the wrong woman. How could it be otherwise? “He loved her for not only what she was but what she might be, the idea that she might be otherwise did not occur to him or did not matter. Why would it occur? When you love you see a future according to your dreams.” That’s an interesting idea. It is not, however, an idea that leads to high drama.
That marriage is followed by a promising affair with a woman in London: “It seemed his manhood had suddenly caught up with him, as if it had been waiting somewhere in the wings.” No kidding:
In the bedroom she stepped from her skirt. She stood for a moment, hugging herself, and then slipped off the rest. The glory of her. England stood before him, naked in the darkness. She had been, in fact, lonely, she was ready to be loved. He was never more sure of his knowledge. He kissed her bare shoulders….
He slipped the dress straps from her shoulders. You could never have anyone like this. His old, fettered life was behind him, it had been transformed as if by some revelation. They made love as if it were a violent crime…
Her blond hair, her lean style. He saw himself now to be another kind of man, the kind he had hoped, fully a man, used to the wonder. Enid smoked cigarettes, she did it only now and again, and breathed out the rich fragrance slowly. The light in the Ritz made her beautiful. The sound of her high heels. There is no other; there will never be another.
But that great love fades.
Who’s next? A woman he meets in a cab. If you read the excerpt of Bowman’s meeting with this woman, you may hope she’ll be his great love. I won’t spoil what follows with her and then with her daughter, but by now I cared enough about Bowman to despair for him. I saw his end as the fate of Viri, in “Light Years.”
Not so. Again, no spoilers, but “All There Is” ends with water. And not the dark water of “Light Years.” Here there is the pulse of life, the province of hope. It is just magnificent. Salter, who has the gift of writing sentences that exactly reproduce what we feel and think in the moment we feel and think it, moves beyond that incomparable skill and does something even more difficult: He gives us his heart.
For all that, if you have never read Salter, don’t start with this book. Work up to it. Read “A Sport and a Pastime.” Read “Light Years.” Read Burning the Days, his memoir, which tells the story of a West Point graduate and Air Force fighter pilot (more than 100 missions in Korea) and his transformation into a writer. Read the stories in Dusk and Last Night. And only then…
Sounds like a project? Oh no. Dear friend, I have just handed you a gift beyond price.
Hello, English Musers!
It’s Hannah B. again from Secrets of a Belle. This past weekend, while the rain pitter-pattered on the window, I spent some time curled up on the couch lost in a new favorite book. This got me to thinking. Where do you other people read? Do you curl up on the couch too? Do you read in bed before you drift off to sleep? Personally, my dream is to eventually have a room devoted just to reading… you know, like the Duke!
But it doesn’t have to be that fancy! After all, in the words of Billy Baldwin…
Here are some other reading spaces I really dig.
What about you? Where do you do your best reading?