“Archives” here is best treated somewhat ironically, as meaning “piles, boxes, and drawers of minimally differentiated papers.”  No neat conservationally-correct folders, no finding aids.  I recently picked up several bags of papers from my mother’s apartment-building-basement storage space and brought them to my small apartment, already clogged and afflicted with increasingly ill-controlled ephemera.*   Anyway, this particular batch of stuff seems mostly to date from my grad school period, late 80s and early 90s, and includes photocopied readings, research materials, and paper drafts as well as letters and theater tickets and old calendars and god knows what.
Photo on 2014-12-03 at 14.20
So since this period is on top, mostly, I’ll be starting with it.  I’m going to post excerpts, taken in no particular order, with more or less commentary as it suits me in the moment. Maybe they will amuse you; maybe they will teach me something.  Let’s see how long I can keep it up.

*I keep it because it proves I existed, acted, thought, and was valued in the past; I leave it in a state of disorder because I fear — something.  What I will find, perhaps? Or something else.

Breakfast life musings.

I woke up on this bright morning, came into the kitchen, and was delighted to see that (unusually) I’d done all the dishes last night and my sink was clean and empty.  I made pancakes and sat down with them, coffee, and the Internet.

An hour later the sink was full: two pans, two bowls, whisk, turner, and tongs, measuring cups and spoons, plate, fork, knife, spoons; and I had listened (via Twitter) to an extended conversation about moles and molecatching in the farmlands of England.

What, I ask myself, does it all mean?


I’ve been doing a good bit of baking: I have the time, it warms the kitchen, and a perhaps illusory sense of productiveness is inspired.  Well, not illusion exactly: the baked goods exist; but they’re not really to the point. Nevertheless, they are tasty. I’ve made several batches of the Ranger Cookies (with, variously, raisins and nuts, dried cranberries, chopped crystallized ginger, and chocolate chips) and a version of Nanaimo Bars with a brownie base, averting the need to buy graham crackers and adding, perhaps, extra deliciousness.  I’ve worked my way through some of the bananas in the freezer with a couple of loaves of banana bread.  I made lemon cornmeal shortbread cookies that came out really nicely and now I can’t figure out what recipe I used. I bring the results to my singing friends.

I’ve been baking bread every few days too.  Nothing artisanal, but various off-white sandwich loaves that have a little oil in them so they’ll keep.  One loaf had whole wheat, bread flour, and all-purpose; one had buckwheat, bread flour, and ap; another added some rye; some have had poppy, sesame, and (or) sunflower seeds; the latest has oat flour, a couple of tbs of oat bran, and all-purpose.  Sweeteners have included honey, sugar, and molasses. The first couple I made from the ancient Broccoli Forest book with its comic-book instructions.  Then I realized that (a) I had instant yeast, requiring different treatment, and (b) that recipe had led me to very dry doughs, especially in winter and using hygroscopic whole grains, difficult to knead and resistant to rising.  At the Fleishmann’s Yeast page I found instructions about the different kinds of yeasts — instant yeast doesn’t get proofed, but mixes in with the dry ingredients — a skeleton recipe calling for just one short rest and one in-pan rise, and more.  I’ve been trying out keeping the dough wetter, and remembering to add more salt.  The loaves are mostly pretty good, nothing to win a prize but modestly well-textured and tasty.

Today I used four lemon-almond cake recipes (mostly this one) to make a cake to take to dinner at my friends Eric and Sylvia’s. Haven’t tasted it yet, but it looks pretty.


They Also Serve: Maps to the Stars

“Maps to the Stars” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Bad language, bad sex, bad vibes.

A.O. Scott on Maps to the Stars.


From the Archives, 8: A View in the West

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My mother and I interrupt the view towards the Rockies. This wallet-sized print, which appeared out of nowhere identifiable last week, obviously dates from well before graduate school, so it shouldn’t really be here.  I make the rules, I break the rules.

The Kodachrome colors are better in reality than in this rephotograph, but you can tell that I really was blonde as a little kid.  My dad had a Nikkormat camera with Nikon lenses (later mine, Sherman the Tank Camera) and loved to take a photograph of me and my mother.  I can hear the clacking of the slide carousel now.  And the smell — do you agree that the slides gave off a scent as they went past the light?

They Also Serve: BALLET 422

A long time ago I was doing a series quoting witty additions to the movie ratings in New York Times reviews.  I know there was a reason I called it “They also serve” (who merely stand and wait), but I can’t recall what it was.  Anyway, I liked this one, from A. O. Scott’s review of Ballet 422, a documentary following the choreographing of a new piece by Justin Peck for the New York City Ballet:

“Ballet 422” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). Brutal treatment of toes and toenails.


From the Archives, 7: Critique

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Jeff’s generous letter. “There’s something uneven about the paper.”

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Dwarf Postilion from Hell, Inigo Jones.

April 1989. I sent my big paper on theatrical perspective to my former professor, Jeff Merrick, an early-modern historian who was then at Barnard but moved the next year to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.  (It’s disconcerting but not surprising to read that he’s now professor emeritus.) Jeff was good enough to read and respond to the paper.

Oh, I was all about perspective in those days, I loved writing this paper and still think about the ideas I came across then.  Just the other day in this odd little theater at the Queens Museum, where the projection “booth” takes up the whole center spine of the auditorium, so there are no central seats at all, I recalled the story of James I’s rejection of a new style of seating putting the King’s box down in the front of the hall, cited in the paper from Orgel and Strong’s book on Inigo Jones.

I used to email Jeff once a year or so, often with a mention of Baroque opera. Back in my day he headed a short-lived interdisciplinary program called History, the Arts, and Letters, and it was for the class he led on “The Baroque and the Enlightenment” that we came to New York for Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the City Opera.  That production was antiquated by the time we saw it, which I guess was just at the edge of the contemporary explosion in Baroque opera production, and we enjoyed it but laughed at the attempts at Baroque gesture.  Jeff drove us in his little red car, Robespierre.  I should drop him a note now.


It’s about time that I showed you something from perhaps my two most faithful correspondents over the years.  I want to stick to the late 80s period, and by coincidence (but not at random) I find cards from them both in the same year on the same theme.

FLW x 2

FLW x 2

Fallingwater, Oct. 18, 1989, from Zach, cancelled in Normalville, PA (really).  I visited this justly famous house with a different boyfriend, Corey, the year I went to Pittsburgh with him at Christmastime.  Though not for Christmas, as his parents were kosher-keeping Jews.  I saw it in snow, rather than autumn colors.  Anyway, Z writes, “These laurel hills remind me of my Blue Ridge.”  We had by then visited the North Carolina mountains together, I guess, although I find it so hard to remember the order and  timing of events.  Z is from South Carolina; I met him in criticism graduate school, same place I met Jeff (vid Architêtes in Episode 4).

Frank Lloyd Wright with students, Taliesin West, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1937; photo by Bill Hedrich.  May 9, 1989, from Nicole in Brooklyn.  N writes, “Thanks for François and that 2 timing Ken.  Here’s Frank L. and the serious young men.” I can neither remember nor guess what “François and that 2 timing Ken” might have been. Maybe I’ll ask Nicole.  N is my oldest friend in the world and I’ve relied on her often to remind me what I was doing in those many parts of our lives we’ve lived together.  The correspondence between us goes back to the depths of childhood.  N mostly grew up in Arlington, VA, but in 1989 she was living in Park Slope (one reason I moved there a year or so later) and either still in film school or working as a film editor.  See above for my difficulty in getting times and dates right. And I trained as a historian! I knew I wasn’t good enough, though.

FROM THE ARCHIVES, 5. Promissory.

Promise kept

Dear Customer:
We are pleased to enclose the Promissory Note(s) for the above referenced satisfied loan.

I paid off my college loan.  There were a few stubs left in the book, which I had in my hand yesterday but which seems to have vanished back into the heap.  It wasn’t very much, but at something like 85 dollars a month it took quite a while to make go away.  I remember my amazement at how long after leaving college I’d still be tearing out those stubs.  I never took out any loans for grad school, as I was working and could pay for one or two classes a term as I went.

Actually, I can’t figure out why it took so long to pay off.  Maybe if I find that stub book again.

FROM THE ARCHIVES, 4. Some cards.

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Four cards, rough shot

Archi-têtes (July 1989) is from Jeff, a grad school colleague and (still) friend.  It’s a drawing by Michael Graves.  Jeff says, “Thanks for a fabulous evening, dinner, and performance of Pygmalion — do you really think they done her in for the hat?”  I don’t have any memory of this.  Jeff signed for himself and his then-partner Nick.  Jeff’s now married to Alan and lives in London, Nick lives with Carlos in Boerum Hill, and we all celebrated Jeff’s birthday last month in Tribeca. The water lily (Lutcher-Moore Swamp, St. James Parish, Lutcher, Louisiana, August 1989) is from my freshman-year college roommate Pamela.  Pam was fiercely driven; she graduated early and had her MA a week before I had my BA.  She’s a scholar of the Reformation, with an early focus on Zwingli; she herself converted from Judaism. She says, “I am teaching a survey course and a . . . course called the Modern Experience. Lots of juicy 19c. stuff in the latter.  For the former I will have to get a grip on the French Revolution, something I have managed to avoid until now.  Keep in touch.”  Pam and I haven’t spoken for probably two decades, but I was just thinking about her, maybe because I was up in New Haven this weekend.  — Pause while I run a search.  I don’t see a second book for Pam after her 1991 publication. It looks like she’s living in Berlin and working as a translator.  My singing friend Anne is in Berlin translating this year; I’ll ask her if they have crossed paths.  I went to Pam’s wedding at St Paul’s Chapel at Columbia; it appears she’s no longer married, at least not to the same person, as he’s in Pennsylvania with a different wife (and children). The collage is from a little later, 1996, the Rubberstamp Period.  It’s from a woman I wrote about for Rubberstampmadness. And in a segue I hadn’t noticed, the camels with artichoke et al, are a holiday card from my college friend Remie, I suppose from the late 80s or early 90s as Remie says “I am writing chapters of my dissertation and job applications for positions in medieval history.”  Remie and Alice and Tory and Nicole and I were all part of JEB’s gang of mini-medievalists; Remie and Tory both went on to history grad school; Tory quit ABD but Remie finished and went on to teach at Notre Dame.  Remie died this past spring, and though I hadn’t been in touch except exiguously (thanks, John Summerson) for years, it still gives me pain to see her picture and birth and death dates on the card her husband Matthew sent me.  The world is worse off without her in it.


I won’t claim randomness, something often claimed and seldom achieved, but I will say there’s not a lot of system behind these choices.  This is from a letter from Malcolm dated August 29, 1989.  Malcolm was my first serious boyfriend, and after he moved to London in 1986 I lived with him for about six months in the winter and spring of 1987, taking classes at the Architectural Association, and visited for another month in the summer of 1988.  By 1989 we both had new relationships.  But we still wrote to one another.

Dear Nancy

The tree behind the flat,* a sycamore I think, has had half its branches trimmed off.  Whether it is in preparation of being felled (or dismantled, which is a more appropriate expression given the number of garden fences that would be crushed by chopping it down Paul Bunyan style) or simply to let more light into the garden below, I do not know.

The net result to me is that I can see the church steeple behind more clearly.  Its clangy bells have not rung for several months now — I wonder why.  I can also see more clearly the wood pigeons who like to roost in the tree — they sit about now on the remaining branches looking embarrassed, very exposed, and confused.  They’ve taken to hanging about in the jungle garden next door, ambling around through the overgrown grass and weeds.  If anyone in the triangle bangs a window or makes some other loud noise, they swoosh up into the bare tree with a great flap-flap-flap of their wings.  The cats also like the garden next door, I suppose because they can smooch about there and do those feline things, and no one will disturb them.  The cats and the wood pigeons seem to have established some rota or agreement on use of the garden.  The big birds would be a good match for any cat, even the big tom-cats that sometimes hang about, and they certainly win on numbers . . .

*This would be the flat on Bolingbroke Road, Brook Green, London, where I’d stayed with M the year before.  Why didn’t I want to watch the day the piano was swung into the second-floor windows?  I was difficult.


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