Friday, April 29, 2011

Royals and Rulers, Volume Two

Yes, the bride was radiant and the dress was gorgeous, the church even more so.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Royals and Rulers

“Money and titles may be hereditary,” she would say, “but brains are not…”
The Scarlet Pimpernel

This month’s book salon topic was novels dealing with royalty. Attendance was sparse. Royal wedding fatigue? If so, C. would probably recommend Mark Helprin’s Freddy and Fredericka, a parody of the British royal family.

Otherwise, the Wars of the Roses seemed to guide much of the reading, with The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel as selections. Much was made of the two Thomases (More and Cromwell), their portrayal through time, and how history is written by the winners.

“Beneath every history, another history.”—Wolf Hall

On the lighter side, yet still somehow involving people being beheaded, I also listened to the Classic Tales Podcast audio of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Part spy novel, part romance, it’s a fun, quick read for all ages.

The complete list of suggested books can be found here.

Martini Count: 0 (Instead I tried the horribly named but absolutely delicious Strawberry D’Amour—Grey Goose vodka, strawberry purée, simple syrup, lime juice, with muddled fresh basil and a black pepper rim.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Berlioz and Being the Ball

“I’m going to give you a little advice. There's a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

What does Caddyshack have to do with a night at the symphony? Everything, apparently, when the conductor is Charles Dutoit. Although one might think I was at Davies Symphony Hall to watch the sexy French man (see below) on cello, it was Dutoit who held my attention as he conducted the Symphonie fantastique without a score, literally becoming the music in front of our eyes. Since Dutoit is known for his recordings of Berlioz and Ravel, this was not surprising, but it was an amazing experience to watch him throughout the piece, with every note written in his powerful but fluid movements as if on a score.

La Liberté guidant le peuple, 1830, Musée du Louvre
The Symphonie fantastique is such an important work in the canon that it was delightful to see it in such good hands. Groundbreaking in and of itself, it premiered during a seminal moment in the arts and literature of France: 1830 witnessed not only the political July Revolution, but also its artistic depiction in Delacroix’s La Liberté guidant le peuple, as well as the publication of Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noir and the première of Victor Hugo’s Hernani amidst public riots heralding the downfall of classicism. Yet this symphony is also one of the easiest to understand and follow, as it is essentially one long tone poem about the artist’s obsessive and unrequited love. It will always be one of my favorites, despite its use in Sleeping with the Enemy.

Gautier Capuçon
Unfortunately, the cello concerto at the beginning of the bill (Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lointain) was less interesting, despite the presence of Gautier Capuçon. While the piece requires extreme and impressive ranges of sound from the instrument, and Capuçon achieved them, the work as a whole just never captured and held my interest. To me, it sounded like the soundtrack of some sort of creepy neo-noir from the 1980s or 90s trying to be avant-garde.

Maybe that’s what they should have used in Sleeping with the Enemy?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Violets and Elderflowers

While in France last month, I noticed that many things came in violet flavor. I had never noticed this before, but brought back a bag of violet candies for the office. It was quite interesting to see people’s reactions as they tasted them, since violet is more associated with bath products here than food. Even I thought the first taste was somewhat unusual, despite loving the original aviation cocktail and currently having a bottle of crème de violette* on my bar. However, I grew to really like the candies, and I couldn’t help but notice that certain people definitely kept coming back for more. I asked a French co-worker if this abundance of violet-flavored products was something new or just something I had never noticed. She had never noticed it either, so I guess it’s a new thing.

I noticed a similar phenomenon in London with elderflowers, which I had the opportunity of tasting (via a bottle of elderflower spring water) while eating lunch at Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath. I liked the taste, and would probably buy a similar product here, but elderflower’s only presence in the U.S. seems to be in the French liqueur St. Germain (which I do not currently have on my bar, but maybe I should). Please let me know if I’m wrong about this.

This got me thinking of flavors and trends. As my co-worker observed, maybe violet is France’s answer to cinnamon—an observation that made me laugh since one French friend’s request for something from the U.S. always used to involve Big Red gum. But, while the spice obviously crops up in many items, especially baked goods, its use as a flavoring seems limited.

Seeing a bottle of green apple soda at the local burrito place made me wonder whatever happened to push that one off the shelves. When I was younger, everything seemed to come in sour green apple. I really miss it, but we seemed to have moved away from the sour to the sweet, haven’t we?

Is there a flavor you think of as distinctly American? For my international readers, is there something that you feel visitors to your country should try? Is there a product you stock up on while abroad that has a flavor you can’t get in your home country?

*For those in San Francisco, you can find crème de violette at Cask, on Third Street near Market.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Great Unread—March

Due to my recent travels, this March book challenge post was a bit delayed—much like the reading of my own challenge book, Suite Française, by Irène Némirovsky. Suite Française caught my eye in the window of BookShop West Portal when I first moved to San Francisco. At the time, I didn’t know the story of its publication (had I realized, it might have made it off my shelf a bit quicker).

Némirovsky, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, was a successful author in interwar France. When World War II broke out, she began a planned five-part epic depicting the stages of the war. Unfortunately, she had only completed two sections of the draft manuscript when she was arrested, deported, and sent to Auschwitz in 1942, where she died one month later. Thankfully, even though her husband soon suffered the same terrible fate, their two children were able to go into hiding and survived, carrying the manuscript with them. Only years later would they realize that the notebook scribblings, which they thought were a private journal, were complete enough to be published.

The work is an incredible fictional depiction of the June exodus and later German occupation of France. I can’t imagine how good this epic might have been had the author lived to finish the novel. It was one of the works that served as inspiration for Chris Bohjalian’s Skeletons at the Feast, which I read for my “War, What Is It Good For?” book salon last month, and makes a great companion piece to that novel. You can read my reviews of both at Goodreads.

I hope everyone is making good progress on this challenge. I’d love to hear about what you’ve been reading. As for April, I am still considering my selection. Either way, it is likely to be one of two books related to last year’s challenge: Shakespeare: The Tragedies (since, now that I’ve read Macbeth, I can finally appreciate this study analyzing his four major tragedies) or Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, which I began too late last year to finish before the challenge ended.