Chantrelle Hunting and Net Cleaning

One Jack O Latern is eating the other, smaller one. They're both smiling. "Do we light another candle in the little one?" One hopes that question is anachronistic.

The icy water gives me a hollow ringing in my head, but my numb hands burn up. It shocked me at first, this feeling that my hands couldn't stand going back in the water. Not because it was surprising that cold water is cold, but because all I could say about it was that it's really cold, pause. He suggested gloves. It's a common complaint that men hear complaints as repair requests, one I am too happy to deploy, but it was a good idea. I think I haven't looked for gloves because that would be giving up the part of the job I look forward to.

Can one be blunted? At the least, one needs bluntness sometimes. "Do you enjoy these things?" No, but I need them. Is enjoyment fair to ask?

The flavor of chantrelles is hard to define, but umistakeable, maybe even a little grotesque. Raw, they're reputedly "peppery and upsetting." They're supposed to smell like apricots, which sounds like synesthesia.

The hills look golden these days, but those same oak leaves up close are a dull ochre. Looking and being might be the other way around. The leaves are all precious anyway, rotten spots and all, until they wash down into the net. Left alone, the net becomes a dam, the water overflows. Why clean the net?

Why find new ways to faint? I have forgotten to say that cleaning the net is work. The question of whether it's worth it--the degree to which work releases from work--is replaced by the fact that I have to do it. I said I look forward to it, but I try to avoid it. I'm sick of the monotony of the routine that surrounds it, but I'm sick of my routine being interrupted by scraping every leaf-clogged surface of the net.

Hunting for mushrooms is actually two things, searching and finding. It's almost annoying to have to stop looking to get down on my knees and collect the trove. Greed turns into the work of brushing off dirt and needles, plucking each mushroom and deciding if it's too damp, too dry, too moldy, too difficult to clean. Soon they're all uprooted, and I'm once again interrupted to go back to looking intently at the forest floor. It's no wonder that after only an hour of this, it's all ennui. Mushrooms as good as those jostling around in my backpack are no longer perfect enough to bother with. Even a largish patch just looks like effort.

That's the trouble with eating them, too: Given the hour-long drive on a sick-inducing road, it only makes sense to gather them in large quantitites. And what does one do with that many chantrelles? It's not a flavor I want in every meal, but there they are. Supposedly they freeze well, but freezers require trust, and I suspect them of mangling the texture of everything. The only option, really, is sharing them as widely as possible. It's not altruism it's ventriloquism. I imagine their taste is more appreciated by those who aren't stuck with them.

29 October 2013

After I wrote this I realized the fruit cake is delicious.

Eraserhead is a nightmare of fatherhood, but its problem is matter. For the moment, mine is persistence--"nothIng's more changeable than a young man's heart," as Mrs. Patmore puts it, before a cut to a young man carrying flowers. I would say that Downton Abbey's scene-to-scene cuts have gotten less subtle, but it's been pointed out to me Downton is the model of consistency. It's true, or at least, one has to get one's bearings somehow.

First let me say that Nigella's choice of fruit cake fruit are a stroke of genius. But I only realized this at first glance, and then later, when I tasted my one slapdash substitution. I convinced myself that figs might actually be better than pears. Figs are twofaced. Fresh, they are lush; they carry just the right hint of exoticism requisite for winter sweets. But dried, I can only taste fig newtons. These ones had me confused: they were a cheery yellow on the outside. How could they taste like the filling of a mealy cookie? Nigella's choices had worked all this out to arrive at a consistently sunny tone, by eschewing both the obvious tropical choices and the somber traditionals. Apricots, pears, and golden raisins (in her parlance, sultanas, which sounds as good as the figs looked).

But dried pears were nowhere to be found, and my "contribution" started to sound better, in retrospect, because it was there, because I wanted the fruit I had already bought to matter. This bizzarre aspect of my heart became apparent when I took a bite of the cake.

Fruit cake is so dense it takes more than a night to cool, so to arrive at this point involved about twenty-four hours of zig-zagging. My baking partner had her doubts and therefore I did. Making the cake was the reverse of a Sarah Waters novel: every step made me more uncertain it was a good idea, so that the end result only confirmed my suspicions. No, that's a lie, I had never smelled anything so good as dried fruit simmering in rum and butter. I was in love until I held its weight. It was one in the morning. It had been cooling for several hours and it was still hot (more evidence of its superpastry density). I suddenly felt very tired. Or maybe I had been yawning the whole time?

In any case, the evidence of one's own self-servingness, however obscure, is never very welcome.

19 October 2013

Figs

Eraserhead is a nightmare of fatherhood, but its problem is matter. For the moment, mine is persistence--"nothIng's more changeable than a young man's heart," as Mrs. Patmore puts it, before a cut to a young man carrying flowers. I would say that Downton Abbey's scene-to-scene cuts have gotten less subtle, but it's been pointed out to me Downton is the model of consistency. It's true, or at least, one has to get one's bearings somehow.

First let me say that Nigella's choice of fruit cake fruit are a stroke of genius. But I only realized this at first glance, and then later, when I tasted my one slapdash substitution. I convinced myself that figs might actually be better than pears. Figs are twofaced. Fresh, they are lush; they carry just the right hint of exoticism requisite for winter sweets. But dried, I can only taste fig newtons. These ones had me confused: they were a cheery yellow on the outside. How could they taste like the filling of a mealy cookie? Nigella's choices had worked all this out to arrive at a consistently sunny tone, by eschewing both the obvious tropical choices and the somber traditionals. Apricots, pears, and golden raisins (in her parlance, sultanas, which sounds as good as the figs looked).

But dried pears were nowhere to be found, and my "contribution" started to sound better, in retrospect, because it was there, because I wanted the fruit I had already bought to matter. This bizzarre aspect of my heart became apparent when I took a bite of the cake.

Fruit cake is so dense it takes more than a night to cool, so to arrive at this point involved about twenty-four hours of zig-zagging. My baking partner had her doubts and therefore I did. Making the cake was the reverse of a Sarah Waters novel: every step made me more uncertain it was a good idea, so that the end result only confirmed my suspicions. No, that's a lie, I had never smelled anything so good as dried fruit simmering in rum and butter. I was in love until I held its weight. It was one in the morning. It had been cooling for several hours and it was still hot (more evidence of its superpastry density). I suddenly felt very tired. Or maybe I had been yawning the whole time?

In any case, the evidence of one's own self-servingness, however obscure, is never very welcome.

19 October 2013

The Heart of Robin Hood

I was asked if I wanted to go to "a super-feminist play." I went in thinking it was a rendition of Robin Hood in which Marian is the real hero. It ends with Robin Hood (he's him, it turns out) taking this moral stand: "No. I cannot marry in a castle with servants waiting on me. I will only marry in the forest among the [foresty things]." The man who narrates the play--whose transgressions of the fourth wall can't be heard by those behind it--closes triumphantly with "this is how Robin Hood found his heart." Robin found his heart, the playwright found his head, and Marian? She found Robin? I'm not sure where the twist is. The fact that for the first act she wielded a sword? What an original formulation of power: holding the thing that sticks out.

About that. She dressed up as Martin of Sherwood, donning the classic green tunic and tights. Every joke revolved around how obvious her femininity was to us, the audience, while the diegesis remained oblivious. Isn't it funny that she's--haha, this is so fresh--trying to fight a man? Listen to her shriek, watch her feebly drop her sword.

And the villain, Prince John, is a rapey man in red and black who sniffs everyone. He says that women like him--"after a while." When this is what you're up against, it's hard to do wrong. For the whole second act, Marian is married to him, and flops around in his castle, her agency consigned to switching costumes, which begins to seem a whole lot more like (needle) work.

Someone I know said she hated men for a week after blazing through all of Top of the Lake in a day. None of the men in the show are entirely redeemable. Every one is implicated in rape. If the alternative is to have our Decent Man and transform him too, please, I'll take Top of the Lake. Marian says she "knew" from the beginning that he was an okay bloke. "Even though I was heartless?" he asks. "I saw the heart within," she says.

This is after he rescues her from the castle.

Then there's Marian's older sister, who exists to be the butt of endless jokes at the expense of her femme-ness. She comes on stage after Robin and Marian have their hippie wedding in the woods--the woods is the place that unknots all double binds, didn't you know?--and asks "what about me?" Her hair's tousled and frizzy, her makeup is a mess, her clothes are disarrayed. She's shrill and vain. But Marian doesn't hate her because she makes passes at every man, no--it's for siding with Prince John. This isn't slut-shaming. It's a critique of the worship of masculine power. Yes.

But ultimately it's not about Marian or Robin. It's about Pierre--Marian's friend, the one with the internal monologues--having a transformation. He goes from being flamboyant in the city ("do I look like I'm the forest type to you?!") to wise in the woods. Along the way, he discovers he has power--again, the pointy kind--which he uses to help save Marian (who at this point is more cathex than character, so he helps save the world). His epiphany comes like so: "What could I do with a blunderbuss?"

The only intriguing part of the play, I thought, was Little John. Is he deaf? Is he dumb? He uses sign language almost all of the time, and so the merry men sign back, badly. I doubted that the deaf in the audience could make out anything but the gist. Their speech was the supplement that made the inadequacy of their gestures a comedy. They ask Little John to swear an oath, before he may join their gang. What is an oath when it's not at all clear what each party understands? Personally, I imagined John laughing inside.

In fact the play is preoccupied with muteness. At one point Prince John cuts out the tongue of a court servant because "you try to please everyone with it."

But isn't it possible to have a golden inarticulacy, too? Marian is silenced for the second act--her transformation narrative transmuted into romance--because the playwright wanted to please everyone. Yet Brave derailed a princess marriage plot with followthrough, and it was a crowd-pleaser.

7 October 2013