Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Garden, You, and I by Mabel Osgood Wright, 1906

Since I'd like to introduce garden writing into Pluot, we'll start with this, a small gem from years ago

This book may not be for everyone -- what book is? -- it may be most useful, and give the greatest pleasure, to today's gardener purely as a technical manual. This despite its being first published in 1906, at which time it was curiously credited only to authoress "Barbara." (It is available for free at our favorite place, Project Gutenberg).

I reason that it's still useful because I reason gardening can't have changed too much in a hundred years, and because the book amounts to such a positively encyclopedic treasure trove of actual, useful names of plants, along with precise instructions in the use of really professional methods. Consider the seed bed, for example. A seed bed is a raised bed of earth where you sow seeds on purpose so as to transplant the results somewhere else, while maintaining the plot, double-duty like, as a useful cutting garden for indoor flowers. Or, consider the hairpin. In The Garden, You, and I you'll learn to garden with hairpins. The near-professionals here take such care over their transplants that they patiently untangle every last rootlet of each one, and pin the rootlets to the earth, to be sure they will enjoy as good a start in new ground as possible.

Since I am a hideously amateur gardener, I marveled politely while reading these things, while reading too the gorgeous names of a thousand roses and a hundred ferns -- Gem of the Prairies, Felicite Perpetual, Baltimore Belle, Safrano, Perle des Jardins, Rock Rolypody. But I confess I took more interest in the book's background stories, in all the little details about life in America only a hundred years ago. The three women at the heart of The Garden, You, and I are three semi-fictitious friends who maintain a correspondence over the course of a year, during which the two better gardeners help the acolyte with her experiments and questions. They are very thorough friends -- one, Lavinia Cortright, is in a way set aside to tend and represent the seaside garden, with its sandy and salt-flecked flora all different from what her inland companions know.

All three are what used to be called "commuters' wives," women living close enough to the city for their husbands to take the train in to an office job every day, but far enough away from it to still raise chickens and transplant whole young trees from "the knoll" to their own property whenever they like. In 1906, horse and buggy were just making room for the automobile and the "macadamed" road; young middle-class couples still employed servants, the "man" often being a recent German or Irish immigrant pining for the old country. Young parents saw their toddlers through the dangerous "second summer" with real anxiety, for childhood diseases killed and there were no vaccines and no antibiotics. A little treat like a working man's being able to take a shower after a long, grimy day was a huge luxury and a gift procured for him by the combined efforts of wife and domestic staff. They rigged up some sort of outdoor shower stall and shower head all run by gravity, and they hauled up by hand the twelve buckets of water needed to make it go.

Mabel Osgood Wright must have sensed that she could not very well keep every reader's interest alive by talking about gardening only. So in addition to these little details we also have the one or two subplots that also caught my eye, plots which, to her credit, resolve (or don't resolve) in surprising ways. We don't see too much of Lavinia's seaside garden as it happens. Instead, we spend most of our time out in suburban woods and farm fields, following -- when we are not assiduously tilling the soil -- a halting romance between the visiting city public school teacher, Miss Maria Maxwell, and the mysterious local Man from Everywhere. Once, way out in the country, we meet the tragic, gentle neighbor Mrs. Markham, who went insane after her husband and son were killed in a carriage accident years before. She lives happily now in a secluded house set in a glorious scent-filled garden, attended by one understanding servant woman. Mrs. Markham dresses all in white, and tends her flowers while assuring visitors that the Doctor and their son have just gone out -- they will be so sorry to have missed you. At the very end of the book, following the technical instruction, the thousand roses and the gentle subplots, we understand that the primary author of these letters has just had a very interesting event happen to her, and that everyone is doing well. We remember that night spent in the open, after the horse and buggy got lost in the dark .... 

If you are a hideously amateur gardener like me, read the book for these daguerreotypes of Americana. If they don't strike you much,  read it for the lovely writing. Wildly obscure though the book may now be, the lovely writing reflects the lovely efforts these women made to put lovely things, every single day, into their otherwise unrecorded American lives. I may say, the surprisingly good photographs are an extra treat.

Before night enough Jacqueminot buds showed rich colour to justify my filling the bowl on the greeting table, fringing it with sprays of the yellow brier buds and wands of copper beech now in its velvety perfection of youth. This morning, the moment that I crossed my bedroom threshold, the Jacqueminot odour wafted up. Is there anything more like the incense of praise to the flower lover? Not less individual than the voice of friends, or the song of familiar birds, is the perfume of flowers to those who live with them, and among roses none impress this characteristic more poignantly than the crimson Jacqueminot and the silver-pink La France, equally delicious and absolutely different.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dark Lord

Yes, my fatheads, this is It. I offered to write about it for an exclusive food magazine bearing a London address, but I heard no encouragement from them. Perhaps they don't quite understand.

I'll let you know how it tastes.

Notes: the blue wax indicates 2014 bottling. Go here for some reviews of previous brews. Most geeks give this "incredibly hyped beer" about 4 and a half points out of 5. It seems to be very sweet, "diabetes in a bottle." One fellow who didn't like it much -- 2.38 points out of 5 -- said he and his tasting group had to cut the sweetness by making a White Russian cocktail out of equal parts vodka, Dark Lord, and milk, all shaken with ice. They called it the "dude lord."  

Retail, to my knowledge -- n/a.

3 Floyds Brewing Company

Dark Lord Day

About Dark Lord Day

Sunday, May 25, 2014

New cocktail? the Withheld Diploma

We begin with Roederer Brut Premier, to accompany pizza and a viewing of Shawshank Redemption, because the graduate feels getting out of high school is a lot like escaping prison. I tend to agree, if for no other reason than that high school is far too governed by middle aged women who think able bodied young men of eighteen ought to be reading decades-old middlebrow feminist shlock like Surfacing (1972). 

We progress to a new cocktail which we will stir up of, let's say, a jigger of Ole Smoky strawberry moonshine, poured into a champagne flute and topped with a careful dose of Roederer above. Perhaps garnished with a wedge of apple for the teacher? This combination may seem awful, but if so, it suits the circumstance of the graduate's diploma being withheld from him, replaced instead with a bill for an overdue book totaling $13 and some change. If the graduate returned this book two years ago, but has no proof that he did, while the school presents the bill as proof that he didn't, well -- what is one to do but look them in the eye and fix a drink? I had thought of returning the diploma case, with the bill inside, accompanied by a note to advise them to recycle the case since clearly despite all the tax revenues in the world they are desperate for cash; but I think I'll keep the thing as a document for future historians. Besides, the graduate thinks the post office probably won't deliver a package addressed to "18500 Rat Bastard Street."

Also not a bad name for a cocktail.

Roederer Brut Premier, retail, about $44.

Ole Smoky moonshine, retail, about $25.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Empty nest, part 2

Good morning. The storms were very heavy, complete with lightning and the startling popping and pinging of hail against windows, but by ten o'clock everyone was safely pulled into the driveway and then inside and behind locked doors.

So you see, even if Four or some other aggressively glossy magazine did come to my inbox and shout "We love your samples! We want to send you to Planet X for a story on the best sustainable salmonberry farms!" -- I would surely gulp and say O God. What fascinates me instead, what I think is my proper "mark," has always been old knowledge. The kind of thing you can find without fuss and marvel about in a diary. I like either the detailed knowledge of people who are almost artists in themselves of any certain branch of it, or knowledge that used to be common and quoted, and is no more. It's wondrous how both can crop up anywhere. For the one, you have only to buy a pretty spring plant at the local garden center and google the name on its tag to discover that there is such a thing as the Saxifrage Society, as well as a whole literature that saxifrage enthusiasts consider canonical on their subject. Reginald Farrar's My Rock Garden, for instance, was once hugely popular in this country, and even today is not available for free on Amazon because the book is still wanted enough that someone can make money selling it.

To get the other old knowledge, the once-common kind, again you have only, for instance, to watch Agatha Christie's Pocketful of Rye, starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. (To play this on your Kindle Fire while eating a bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich in a temporarily quiet, empty-nest house, is perfectly blissful.) About two thirds of the way through the program two great actresses, Hickson and Fabia Drake, have reason magisterially to recite, "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator." Testator is not a word one hears every day, so to google that brings up the quote no matter how quickly you have forgotten all the rest of it. It comes from [St. Paul's Letter to the] Hebrews 9:16. What a universe opens there, several whirling and nested and concentric ones in fact: the universe that Agatha Christie knew and felt it natural that her wisest characters should know. And then the Epistles. Whether or not the murdered maid Gladys should be a Christ figure is a legitimate question.

In time I suppose stinging nettle recipes and the life of sustainable salmonberry farms will also be a part of a corpus of "old knowledge" which will appeal to the diarists of the future, all looking out their private windows and drumming fingers on desks. But for the moment, there is something rather fragile-seeming, rather contrived, about our endless modern fresh bits of information which are, you might say, pared like thin vegetal coins off a very old and true carrot. Bright and bursting with juices are these novelties to be sure, but nothing in comparison with the parent carrot, in all its bumpy long dirty glory, dragging along its lashing feathery old abundant green top .... At any rate no diarist is likely to be the sort of writer who wants or gets assignments to go out and report excitedly on that freshest new coin. You must go to Four, or anyplace else run by adventurous People, for that.

Then you must go to my backyard for a look at, well, the kinds of things you see in my backyard. It is alive with anonymous creatures, doing what they should, living for the gods I suppose. This being spring, I imagine Turdus migratorius is not yet an empty-nester. 


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Empty nest, part 1

Good evening. Two adult children are at work; the third is out shopping for a new shirt and tie for his high school graduation tomorrow.

Imagine that. Me, with the windows open and the green grass outside, and the humid spring breeze blowing in. The forecast calls for storms. 

I must tell you I've just been introduced to Four, a publication which calls itself "the world's best food magazine" and looks to be the most sophisticated piece of literature I've ever seen. Where else will you gasp at photography that is beyond merely delicious looking, that is art, and where else will you learn about exclusive restaurants that are beyond exclusive? -- restaurants like "Blaine Wetzel's Willows Inn on Lummi Island, which is giving the Pacific’s San Juan Islands archipelago a name as the home of one of the best, and most remote, destination restaurants in the world"?

The information makes me smile ruefully, after my gasp, because it so happens that on my recent road trip I reconnected with a dear cousin who, through her young daughter, knows People in the publishing industry. She gave me names to drop. I emailed People with Manhattan addresses, and I dropped the name. One Manhattanite emailed me right back to say Well, I don't do that anymore, but I will forward your specs to other People. A week later when an entirely new name subsequently showed up in my inbox I thought, ah! Possibly? 

Of course not. It turns out these adventurous People are from Four. They are traveling to the San Juan islands, which are not as remote as all that, for dinner, or exploring gustatory Lima, or touring the villas of famed Mexico City architects, or eating deconstructed rhubarb crumble as part of a special tasting menu devised for London's Chelsea Flower Show. (The magazine does four of everything.) They just wanted me to know all that. Also the magazine now has an American edition, to follow upon its four existing titles, German, Italian, international, and British.

Now in that big book of Jacques Barzun's, From Dawn to Decadence, which I dip into during lunch breaks at work -- "who does he give hell to?" my friend asked, and I sort of stumbled and said, "it's more of a cultural history" -- I see that he writes, a propos of the Renaissance, "a good artist knows he is aiming at the right mark." I wonder if a good artist only knows it after the fact. I wonder if he knows, upon completing some project, that he has aimed at the right mark. He has done what was natural and best for him to do, and is satisfied. Perhaps it's what Marcus Aurelius called living for the gods. 

In that case, after looking at Four with its recipes for stinging nettles and photos of flower salads and its stories of Michelin-star chefs who think nothing of opening new restaurants in San Francisco when life in Jakarta becomes untenable, I must in turn look at myself (and at my calm and reposeful inbox) and admit: I am fundamentally a diarist. A chronicler of my little everyday. And that's that.

Monday, May 19, 2014

2007 David Hill Estate pinot noir

This was one of those rare finds from a small-time distributor which you allow one chance and that's all  -- a good wine, defiantly pricey considering its lack of reputation. I managed to sell it off at $17.99 a bottle but certainly I can't "reload" it into the store.

Earthy, sophisticated, interesting. Good luck finding it anywhere.

Tudor history geeks know that today is a special day in our remembrance. It is May 19, the anniversary of the death of Anne Boleyn. She seems to be the hinge on which the whole Tudor door, so to speak, swings. So this makes four hundred and seventy-eight years since her execution. One wonders: just because the earth has revolved around the sun 478 times since May 19, 1536, -- why has that made "time" pass? Or, as this short story puts it:

 "I fail to understand how it is that your Earth, revolving around its Sun, six times, six hundred times" -- she looked at him sharply -- "causes you to age."
The stars glittered outside the window, incomprehensible depths of them. Yet the ship itself also seemed to be at the bottom of an incomprehensible depth of retreating stars.
He gaped at her, her wings and her eyes. "I suppose it's not the fact of the planet's orbit that causes it. It's that all living creatures age. They wear out."
"Even other creatures? The grasses you have told me about? The fish?"
"Yes. Unless they are diseased or killed in some other way. Otherwise, they die of aging."
"But not from the planet going about its orbit."
"Not as such, no. However, observing the Sun and its cycles enables us to count time. Our most ancient civilizations noticed that a circle has 360 degrees of arc, and it takes about 365 days for the earth to revolve around the sun -- but then -- "
"Oh yes, we know about that. But -- traveling in this ship -- you are not aging normally, correct?"
"Not in 'years,' no."
"Then when will you die?"
He looked off. "In practical terms, I suppose I already won't."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Food & Wine's beef ricotta meatballs, and more Road Trip (!)

I will give you this meatball recipe from Food & Wine's March 2014 issue, as long as you come along with me on a little more of my road trip to Iowa City. Meatballs are sort of hearty and American, aren't they, just as road trips are hearty and American? Did I mention that on a simple walk around my nice cousin's block -- all my cousins are nice of course, I did not mean to distinguish -- I found Grant Wood's home? He bought it thanks to the fortune he earned from painting American Gothic. The address is 1142 Court Street.

The house had belonged to a wealthy family who made their money in brickmaking. Across Court Street, the land slopes noticeably down; this is where the clay was dug to make the bricks that built the Oakes' fortune and the house. In spring the old clay pits are all flowering groundcover, and the trees in other people's backyards.

Now we will start our dinner, chopping, measuring, and braising as we travel. The recipe is "Beef ricotta meatballs with braised beet greens," but we will adapt it because it was a bit fussy and because it included anchovies, which I am sorry I cannot abide. If you have the inner strength to open a can of what looks like red earthworms and then cook with them, I salute you. For my part when a recipe calls for anchovies I substitute a drop or two of Worcestershire sauce, which I believe gives much the same flavor.

To begin, you will heat in a large skillet
1/2 cup olive oil 
and saute
1 carrot
1 onion
1 celery rib
all diced, until they begin to soften. Add 3 anchovy fillets (or not) diced, and some whisper of a tomato -- half a cup of tomato paste, a fresh chopped tomato, a ladleful of canned stewed tomatoes or what have you. Heat this little sauce to bubbling, then remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

Might this humble blue house date from the Civil War? Did women in long skirts and men in suits and neckties sit on this porch on hot summer evenings, anxiously scanning the newspapers for word on the 28th Iowa infantry? My walk around the block also took me past the site of this "Camp Pope," where the 28th mustered and drilled before setting out for war in December, 1862. The sign below,

standing on the lawn, explains that while most of Camp Pope's buildings were taken down and the materials re-used by local people immediately the men left, the house's location and construction do match a Civil War era date. So, I would think, do the massive overhanging trees, which look a lot like the massive overhanging junipers outside 1142 Court. Grant Wood planted those himself.

There are lots of interesting and mostly huge and well-to-do homes in Iowa City. The unkempt mansions are student lodging for the University of Iowa -- as may be the humble blue Civil War house with the styrofoam cooler and red couch on the porch. The gorgeous, very kempt mansions, many perched up on modest hills with gardens spilling down to the sidewalks, belong to University professors, especially those specializing in medical research.

Some people paint their houses yellow.

Three storeys seem to have been de rigueur for home building here in the -- 1880s?

Having made your sauce, now to your meatballs.

In a bowl, soak a thick slice of bread in 1/4 cup milk. In another bowl, combine
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 egg
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp finely diced parsley
1/2 Tablespoon ground fennel (seeds will do)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Combine all this with the soaked bread. Mix well, roll into balls, and brown them briefly, half the batch at a time, in heated olive oil.

Return all the underdone meatballs to the browning skillet and add the reserved vegetable and tomato mixture, which serves as your braising sauce. Simmer everything over medium-low heat until the meatballs are cooked through, about twenty minutes. Serve sprinkled with chopped oregano, sea salt, and more parmesan.

Our recipe calls for beef, but I see no reason why we may not substitute pork. Which reminds us to take a look at this.

It's a part of a little sculpture park outside the Hoover/West Branch truck stop and rest area on I-80 near West Branch, Iowa. Products that the state is known for emerge from decorative flanges at the tops of a set of steel columns. An ear of corn, an acorn, a fish, some things hard to identify. And a pig. In  From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present -- 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, Jacques Barzun writes,
All styles of art are 'realistic.' They point to varied aspects and conceivings of experience, all of which possess reality, or they would not command the artist's interest in the first place and would not spark any response in the beholder.
Maybe there is the key to understanding what, really, is art. Look at it and decide if you get any response as a beholder.

Finally, home across the River -- people seem to call it only that, not the Mississippi -- which the 28th Iowa also had to cross a hundred and fifty years ago, without benefit of this bridge. 

Until next time, and the next recipe. My nice cousins fed us very well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Road trip! Iowa, Grant Wood, "Calisay"

Some people scoff at a trip to Iowa. They have not been paying attention to this.

Or this. Doesn't it just look as though Miss Marple lives here, and will set out in a moment to investigate some horrid village crime? The house happens to be for sale.

The view down the village street. I am not sure Chipping Cleghorn, or even Miss Marple's St. Mary Mead, has crabapple trees quite so beautiful as these in Iowa City.

Nor lilacs.

And here is the house you buy, when you are the famous painter Grant Wood and you have just made your fortune off American Gothic. The address is 1142 Court Street, just four doors down from my cousin's house. A local lawyer owns it now, and has willed it to the University of Iowa for an artists' residence after his death. I hope the kids in future don't trash the place.

And, not an hour away, pelicans fly over the Mississippi River. On the way home we finally doubled back to stop and look at that huge expanse of water.

We also had a cocktail or two. First, in honor of the drive through farmlands just going under the discs before planting, the Country Life:

1 part dark rum
2 parts whiskey
3 dashes bitters
1 dash orange bitters 

Shake well with ice, strain into a cocktail glass.

And, because everybody in Iowa City practically owns a well-behaved dog which they take out walking on well-behaved, flowery streets, the Barking Dog.

1 part gin
1 part dry vermouth
1 part sweet vermouth
2 dashes Caliday*

Stir well with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

*I assume this is the Calvert Party Encyclopedia's misprint for Calisay, a Spanish brand of herbal-bitter liqueur. Herbal-bitter-cinnamon, to be precise. Sounds delicious. "Rarely exported." 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ah, ...

Every once in a while I get the urge to make jewelry. Though there are few things more awkward to look at, and to be expected to admire, than a woman wearing her own entirely homemade parure, still occasionally to string a few baubles on a cord and then wear them, a la the earnest and natural 1970s, seems a harmless habit. What you see below is one of my nicer attempts.

The peacock charm has been in my jewelry-making kit for I don't know how long. I like peacocks and once thought I might raise them someday. The hobby seems so Garbo-esque. Remember in Grand Hotel when Garbo's character despairingly muses she might "grow orchids ... or raise white peacocks" when her ballet career is at an end? But then the charming rakehell nobleman John Barrymore comes out of the shadows and gives her a new interest in life.

A friend of mine is packing up and heading to tropical climes tonight. He laughs at me when we emerge from the restaurant and I admire the lovely blue sky of a chilly spring evening. "That's not blue sky," he says. He points to a travel poster in a shop window. Palm trees, and so on. "That's blue sky."  "Yeah, yeah, yeah," I reply. And he can venture off to this tropical clime which has rather a reputation for violence, but wags his head at the idea of my going on my own to a little cottage on a Michigan lake. Unsafe, he says. Isolated. Anything can happen anywhere. "I don't want to be worried about you."

If anything can happen anywhere, perhaps I had better not stay home, either? Ah, men. Taking care they don't worry so often would involve doing whatever they say.

Here is the latest wine I have been enjoying. It's "new in the market."

"Chloe," Red No. 249. Delicious, of course. Ah, the California red blend. The marketing is excellent, too -- just a black and white photo of an elegant woman with her dark hair in a chignon, seen from behind as if she were a movie star on a red carpet calmly going out to meet a horde of oddly distant paparazzi. And who chose the name Chloe? A committee? One person brainstorming in a cubicle at The Wine Group? These are the good people, incidentally, who bring us Franzia and Cupcake. With Chloe they've gone superpremium, i.e. $16.99 a bottle.  Anyway the name seems just right, perfectly modern, not empty of meaning like Logan or Bailey, yet not burdened with simply being the ancient name of your grandmothers, aunts, friends, and neighbors -- Elizabeth, Fran, Debbie. I would just like to know what other names were on the short list. Zoe, Jane, Anna? Sophia, Becca, Meredith? Robin? -- talking of birds, and spring. Robin was actually on Margaret Mitchell's short list of names for Scarlett O'Hara, along with Storm, Pansy, and Angel. Garbo's character in Grand Hotel was called Grusinskaya, which simply won't do at all.

I type while the dear young folks are out, either working or seeing movies. Ah, the temporarily empty nest. The seared salmon with tarragon and wine reduction for one, the buttered potato, the glass of Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie for one, maker, Chateau la Berrière. Most interesting. The robins outside cheep their last loud throaty cheeps in the dark.

These are indigo-black storm clouds, not blue sky.Couldn't quite capture the color.

Recently, you know, I've treated myself again to those fine old Miss Marple television shows from the mid '80s that starred the great Joan Hickson. It may be their influence that leads me to usages such as "simply won't do at all." But, ah, speaking of birds and spring -- ah, the English garden (set), and ah! the English vicarage interior (set). The long lawns, the rose borders, the perfectly placed trees; within doors, the huge rooms, the abundant comfortable furniture, the gleaming wood and steaming teapots. And all the people sitting around with Miss Marple while she is so very firmly aware of good and evil, and of facts, and what does and does not "do." I am reminded a little of our friend Jacques Barzun, who wrote quite a few books on the slipping of Miss Marple's civilization down into our own. From Darwin, Marx, and Wagner, 1941, 1958:
I do say that the ideas, the methods, the triumph of materialistic mechanism over the flexible and humane pragmatism of the Romantics has been a source of real woe in our day. ...Romanticism valued individual freedom, subjective feeling, human reason, social purpose, and above all art. 
 By "materialistic mechanism" he means our modern way of looking at all things as simply caused and bound by scientific (to mean infallible, we trust) laws blindly governing matter, movement, development, decay. There is nothing else. "Denial of purpose," that is, denial of any Intelligent Design, God, was Darwin's prime goal, just as the denigration of the individual and and his will and purpose was Marx's goal. Miss Marple on the contrary, pre-Great War relic, brought up by German governesses who taught one the language of flowers, is humanely pragmatic when she tells this little story.
"Now I must just mention my maid Ethel -- a very good-looking girl and obliging in every way. Now I realized as soon as I saw her that she was the same type as Annie Webb and poor Mrs. Bruitt's girl. If the opportunity arose mine and thine would mean nothing to her. So I let her go at the end of the month and I gave her a written reference saying she was honest and sober, but privately I warned old Mrs. Edwards against taking her, and my nephew, Raymond, was exceedingly angry and said he had never heard anything so wicked -- yes wicked. Well, she went to Lady Ashton, whom I felt no obligation to warn -- and what happened? All the lace cut off her underclothes and two diamond brooches taken -- and the girl departed in the middle of the night and never heard of since!" ("A Christmas Tragedy")
What is that but a tale of subjective feeling, individual freedom, and human reason, as opposed to the nephew's up-to-date, rigid objectivity (and his "terribly innocent" mind)? I adore Miss Marple because I think she provides almost as good a look back into a different world and another, freer way of habitually thinking, as Barzun does. We need that, in a time uniquely  governed by insanity. "The replacement," he says -- in 1941 --  "of this productive Romanticism by the materialism of the mid-[19th] century was in fact a regression we are now paying for in the form of private neuroses and public massacres." Miss Marple agrees, in the  same story "A Christmas Tragedy" (1930). "Young people nowadays," she says, "believe in everyone and everything. And if one tries to warn them, ever so gently, they tell one that one has a Victorian mind -- and that, they say, is like a sink. Well, what is wrong with a sink? It's the most necessary thing in any house."

Finally I must tell you that I have learned a marvelous new word. Farouche. Meaning wild or savage, or "unsociable in a fierce or surly way." From the French forasche, ill-tamed, and ultimately the Latin forasticus, out of doors. To use it in a sentence you must be Angela Thirkell, writing The Duke's Daughter (1951). "She had observed Lord Lufton during lunch tall, so lanky, so farouche yet eating confidingly from a hand that he trusted...."

Ah, Thirkell. If you are going to attempt her, my advice is don't even try to figure out who everyone is and what is going on. You are being plunged into Barsetshire, you are a fly on the wall of the cowsheds there; if you are privileged to learn a word like farouche, your attention will have been well rewarded.


2011 Château la Berrière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur lie. Retail, about $10.

Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, b...