This post is more about Beethoven and less about food. As advance compensation for veering somewhat off topic, here is a photo of Jules hugging a metric ton of cheese balls that he won in a raffle on his birthday.
I will point out that his birthday was in January, and the vat remains unopened. It’s almost as if the idea of owning a metric ton of cheese balls is enough.
O.K. so for some reason, I’ve been watching a lot of political news lately. I guess politics are on everybody’s mind, and I want to be able to talk to everybody. And I noticed that I’ve been listening to a lot of Beethoven lately, too. As a sort of a antidote. Or a sort of prayer. Or both.
On the day of the bombing in Belgium, Symphony No. 9 was on repeat. Naturally.
This reminds me that I have been meaning to write about a concert I attended more than a year ago.
MORE THAN A YEAR AGO:
I am listening to the first of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” quartets while seated in the sanctuary of a stone church that looks like it was transplanted from the English countryside to Magnolia Bluff. Outside, parishioners display the results of a community art project that responds to this question: When have you felt the presence of God in your life?
When my mother died. When a stranger returned my wallet. When we ran for our lives to a foreign country with our hearts in our throats and our eyes fixed on some faint, flickering star.
I am distracted by the reverberating snores of a man who fell asleep instantaneously when the concert began. He awakens briefly between movements, then slumbers again. In the first pew, a little girl scampers back and forth. Her shoes shed a trail of silver glitter. Her mother is sitting in front of me. The mother waves her hand in the air, conductor of this peculiar, squirmy young instrument, gesturing for the child to rest. The child misses this cue.
From The Guardian:
Beethoven’s three “Razumovsky” string quartets left both their first performers and the public shocked and suspicious. The violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, whose quartet premiered the Opus 59 works, complained they were unreasonably difficult. After playing the opening solo from the second movement of the first of the three quartets, cellist Bernhard Romberg threw his music to the ground and stamped on it … Meanwhile, the violinist Felix Radicati is said to have complained these were “not music.”
“They are not for you, but for a later age,” Beethoven told his critics.
The cellist—a friend of mine—is playing one of the most feverishly complicated runs I have ever heard. Earlier she told me about this quartet’s notorious difficulty. The parts are so wholly intertwined that one wrong note from the cello sends the viola into a tailspin, and vice versa. It’s enough to make a classically trained string player go punk.
“They are not for you, but for a later age,” Beethoven told his critics.
I know this stuff moves us humans forward like a crescendo. Maybe the longest, slowest crescendo ever, but a crescendo nonetheless.
And yet part of me cannot help thinking: Well now, Ludwig. Wasn’t that just SPLENDID for the LATER AGE.
At the post-concert reception, I eat far too many miniature chocolate eclairs. I think they might have come from the frozen section at Trader Joe’s. They have not thawed completely and are still a little bit frosty on the bottom. They numb my fingers. I consider holding one to my brow.
Related: If you are in Seattle, please go see Stupid F’ing Bird, which is at the Act Theatre through May 8. I saw it last night. It’s zany and sad and hilarious, and it deeply honors our struggle with life’s unreasonableness. Funny enough, it is also full of food references.
On my birthday, by the light of a candle that stood knee-deep and proud in a slab of peanut-butter-chocolate confection, I said to Jules,
“Wow. So 35. That’s, like, halfway to 40.”
He then reminded me that 35 is halfway to 70.
(1) CURSE ENGINEERS AND THEIR LIGHTNING-QUICK MENTAL MATH. You know what I meant, right? 35 is halfway between 30 and 40!
(2) Last week I dreamed of a book* on a pedestal in a bright white room. I peered inside the book, gasped, smiled, and slammed it shut. Then I ran, but I had a feeling I would be back.
(3) Despite considerable thought devoted to the subject, I still wonder if, despite my 35 years of Earth experience, I am responsible enough to create suitable living conditions for more than a Welsh corgi. I am relieved that I am not the only person who feels this way.
(4) I remind myself that thinking other people have their acts together is a trap. I feel like someone needs to reinforce this concept for me on a daily basis. Maybe in the form of a smartphone app featuring Admiral Ackbar?
The candle smoke hung thick in the air, in the dark. It curled toward my forehead, then dissipated.
Otherwise the day passed much like any other.
In September, during summer’s last gasp, a writer friend invited Jules and me to eat dinner in total darkness at the Seattle Blind Café.
We met in a candlelit foyer at Nalanda West—a place where, about a year earlier, I’d quit a basic meditation class because my feet kept falling asleep and I because I could not stop thinking about meditating while meditating. I was thus ever more determined to be UBER PRESENT AND MINDFUL during dinner. I directed my focus to sliding a plump strawberry off a fruit skewer without dropping it on the floor. Someone explained the timeline for the evening. There would be dinner, music, and stories from the blind individuals helping run the event.
We diners lined up single file, right hand on right shoulder of the person ahead, in a sort of Conga Line Into The Void.
The dining room was legit dark. Every window and door crevice had been blocked, every electronic device dutifully tucked away. One of the blind volunteers who led us into the room took my hand and set it on the back of a chair. “You’ll be sitting here,” he said. Later he told us his process for navigating a new city by bus every few weeks. Remarkable.
My hands were instantly all thumbs. I extended them in front of me. I discovered that the staff had taken pity on us and put our water in plastic bottles. There was a bread basket to be passed, olive oil dipping to be navigated, conversations to be started with the disembodied voices an arm’s length away.
At this point I would love to be able to say that the darkness increased my senses of taste and smell. But really, it just made me nervous. On the upside, no one knew how much bread I was taking from the basket, so I was able to soothe myself with more carbs than would ever have been socially acceptable in the light.
The food was vegan small bites.** Save for dessert, it had all been plated before we sat down. Some people started eating with their hands, licking avocado mousse from their fingers. This made me more nervous. More bread. More bread.
“Oh, there’s a fork at the top of the plate!” came the voice of Disembodied Jules.
Thank heavens, I thought. I grabbed the utensil, and yet I still couldn’t navigate my meal. I could barely get my food from plate to mouth. Everyone else seemed to have mastered this, and everyone else had moved on to discussing flavors and textures. Did you try the Brussels sprouts? That avocado mousse has a kick to it. And that ginger glaze on the carrots!***
Approximately 40 minutes later, I located the carrots. I attempted to spear one. A switch flipped in my brain.
“THIS IS A SPOON,” I said to Disembodied Jules.
“Yes,” he replied.
“YOU SAID IT WAS A FORK.”
“I know,” he said. “But it’s a spoon. Couldn’t you tell from the feel of it?”
In the end, it was not the dinner, but the music, that got me. The weirdest tears ever somehow dribbled up and out, against gravity, from a brand new part of my gut. I should have collected them in my water bottle and labeled it This This This, Remember This.
Then someone lit a candle. My eyes adjusted. And the room was ten times bigger than I thought it would be.
*It may or may not have been this book, which simultaneously delighted and terrified me as a child.
** Quite small bites. If you go, eat a snack beforehand, so you can focus on the experience sans rumbly belly.
*** Turned out that the chef who prepared said carrots was sitting across from Jules the entire time. Later we found out that his day job is cooking vegan, organic meals for a preschool.****
**** VEGAN ORGANIC PRESCHOOL. Is this amazing, or is it as annoying as the babyccino? Discuss.
The Blind Café runs in several cities and returns to Seattle from February 11-13.
In which I document that I really did try to get a jump on New Year healthy-ish eating.
In 2016, I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’m training to become a Pilates teacher.
Yes. She who online-orders pizza with one eye and watches QVC with the other. She who, at least half the time, just wants to lie in a pile of warm laundry and eat a baguette. She will, of her own volition, shimmy into a black unitard* to practice breath and precision and grace and poise.
I really do love Pilates, and the Fletcher Pilates work is my all-time favorite form of exercise. During law school, the breath work saved me from being eaten alive by the Anxiety Monster. Doing standing work with the Fletcher signature red braided towel (pictured above) has managed to pry my oft-hunched shoulders from my earlobes.
I finished the teacher training prerequisites last month, and I feel like I’m progressing nicely. I feel stronger. I feel more comfortable in my own skin. But much of the time, especially when practicing the more advanced moves, I also feel like this corgi trying to jump over a child-proof fence. Enthusiasm only carries us so far, my friends.
12/31/15, 9 AM. Surely the at-home version of Juice Generation‘s green açai breakfast bowl will strengthen and lengthen my wee corgi legs, I thought. I tried one of their smoothies the last time I was in New York. It was so delicious and nourishing, it sent me skipping into traffic. In their cookbook, which I recently bought as a “Christmas present for Jules” in a fit of health planning, an Alvin Ailey Dance Company member says she starts every day with said açai bowl. INSTANT GRACE AND POISE UPON CONSUMING.
So the thing was like granola and milk, basically. The granola was hemp granola, and it was surprisingly tasty. But the “milk” was an epic fail, possibly due, at least in part, to user error. A blend of high-dollar frozen açai packet and kale and spinach and almond milk, it looked and tasted like I was eating a very expensive mud mask with a spoon.
(As I reflect on my outfit choice for that morning, I see defeat was inevitable.)
Not three hours later, Jules and I arrived at General Porpoise, a new Capitol Hill doughnut shop from the glorious Renee Erickson. I tried a doughnut filled with huckleberry cream, and Jules had the one filled with quince and autumn-olive jam. I washed mine down with an apple-cardamom soda, while Jules stuck with coffee.
“This certainly tastes like a $4 doughnut, ” Jules said between greedy bites, sugar shining on his lips and chin. I concurred. Oh, that dough. The pillowy chew of baguette innards, now deep fried and sweetened.
Naturally, Jules ate his while wearing a Marathon Finisher Sweatshirt.
Also, autumn olives, as it turns out, do not taste at all briny, and Wikipedia says they contain more lycopene than tomatoes. Cheeky Healthy Monkey.
But perhaps we shall, at least for today, measure health in endorphins stockpiled? If so:
(1) For crying out loud, the place is called General Porpoise, which is the best sea-animal pun I have heard in a long time.
(2) Inside, they have a hot-pink espresso machine.
(3) Outside, I saw a Pomeranian dressed in a (possibly cashmere?) grey hoodie layered under a doggie-sized leather jacket.
So, you know. JOY TO ME and I WIN.
Happy New Year!
*QUICK SURVEY: How would you feel if your Pilates teacher showed up to class in a gold lamé unitard?
A. Terrified. Nauseated. Some things cannot be unseen.
C. It depends. Is it 1982?
D. It depends. Am I also wearing gold lamé?
Is it really time to abandon the covers? I have an unopened pint of Stumptown Winter Cheer Cold Brew with Milk and Mulling Spices in the fridge, which I’m thinking could be enough to lure me out of bed. It promises the chocolately brew that’s my absolute favorite in summer, now spiked with cloves and cinnamon and allspice. I’m hoping that it will be like my own private pumpkin spice latte, minus the cloying sweetness and social stigma.
But said coffee is, as the name suggests, cold. Stumptown’s web copy likens sipping it to “a swim in a snowglobe.” WHO IN HER RIGHT MIND WANTS TO SWIM IN A SNOWGLOBE?
Ooooh, mixed with rum, perhaps? Breakfast drink of champions! But that would entail locating the rum while in my current chilly, non-caffeinated state. Microwave it? Expeditious but crass. And forget about brewing and infusing my own.
This is a veritable Rubik’s Cube of beverage selection.
Our electric heater kicks on, inducing a Cirque du Soleil of Dust Bunnies. Our leaky aluminum windows fog and drip and fog again. I know Jules wants to wait until November 1 to begin our futile resistance against the dampness that will make us feel like we are camping outside all winter.
Battling water with water and soaking in a scalding-hot tub will be my only relief. Oooh … iced coffee and rum IN THE BATH?
He might as well surrender, you know. QVC has been selling cozy and cheer and autodelivery butter croissants and pre-lit everything all year, but the pace has really quickened of late. Last night, they nearly convinced me that a mix of purple and blue LED firefly lights would spruce up our little winter campsite quite nicely.
Back to bed, then.
:: 45 minutes later ::
The Stumptown cold brew contains milk, which means that I can use it as creamer for hot coffee! Yaaaaaaasssssss!
MIC DROP and SCENE.