At Vanda’s insistence we were even able to get an umbrella in the first row. In the shade, stretched out in the chairs facing the drowsy sea, my wife read books on scientific predictions, telling me, now and then, about the subatomic world or outer space, while I read novels and poems that I shared with her softly from time to time, not so much to read them to her but to grant myself further pleasure. After dinner, on the terrace, we both often happened to see the wake of a falling star at the same moment, and this delighted us. We admired the night sky, the fragrance of the air, and by midweek not only that beach, that sea, but the entire planet seemed a miracle. In the days that remained I felt quite wonderful. I savored the fortune of being, for a good seventy-four years, a happy transmutation of the sidereal substance that roils in the furnace of the universe, a fragment of living thinking matter, without too many aches and pains to boot, and barely scathed, purely by chance, by misfortune. The only bother was the mosquitoes that bit at night, me mostly, leaving Vanda in peace, so much so that she claimed there weren’t any. Apart from that, how wonderful it was to live, to have lived. I marveled at my own optimism, a sentiment I have little calling for.
pg. 52, Ties
Paper, I understand, was invented by the Chinese; but Western paper is to us no more than something to be used, while the texture of Chinese paper and Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose. Even the same white could as well be one color for Western paper and another for our own. Western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelop it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall. It gives off no sound when it is crumpled or folded, it is quiet and pliant to the touch as the leaf of a tree.
As a general matter we find it hard to be really at home with things that shine and glitter. The Westerner uses silver and steel and nickel tableware, and polishes it to a fine brilliance, but we object to the practice. While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters, or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it. On the contrary, we begin to enjoy it only when the luster has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina. Almost every household has had to scold an insensitive maid who has polished away the tarnish so patiently awaited for. -pgs. 9-10, In Praise of Shadows
Nietzsche foresaw a hundred years ago the plight of the cultivated mind, whom he embodied in the philosopher:
The spread of the towering sciences has grown enormous and with it the likelihood that the philosopher will grow tired, even as a learner, and will take refuge somewhere and specialize; so that he will no longer reach his proper height – his superspection, circumspection, and “despection”. Or he climbs aloft too late, when the best of his maturity and strength are gone, or when he is on the downgrade, coarsened and spoiled; so that his view of the world, his general estimate of things, is no longer of much importance. It is no doubt his intellectual conscience that makes him hesitate to be a dilettante, a centipede, a creature with a thousand antennas.
No scheme lasts forever. There will arise a generation whose “general estimate of things” will regain importance, whose intellectual conscience will impel them in the other direction, toward sensing the world through a thousand antennas. For the bearers of culture continue to be born; the desire for is innate. To reincarnate Nietzsche’s philosopher, we need only look to the touching figure of the water boy who rowed Dr. Johnson and Boswell down the Thames to Greenwich. The friends were discussing the shaping influence of classical culture. Boswell thought people got on very well without it. Johnson partly agreed. “For instance,” he said, “this boy rows us as well without learning as if he could sing the song of Orpheus to the Argonauts, who were the first sailors.” Then he interrupted himself and called to the boy: “What would you give, my lad, to know about the Argonauts?” “Sir,” said the boy, “I would give what I have.”
pg. 22, The Culture We Deserve
We often return to what we know, when ill or simply unsure of how to proceed. Familiarity breeds a certain comfort, a known amongst the unknown. In this warmth, we can sigh and let our walls down. So let me make a confession. I am a voyeur, especially when I go on evening walks, hoping to find something interesting when glancing in open windows. A sort of theatre on display, because it is new to me, and not my own.
There is one house on the way where a middle aged man prepares sandwiches without a shirt on, his kitchen at street level, curtains drawn open. The light coming through the window creates a glow on the sidewalk, which is otherwise lit by a lackluster street lamp. One wall prominently displays copies of Cooks Illustrated on each of the three magazine rows hanging up, while other titles are hidden in the background. Every time I pass by, I find him at his task, mise en place for the sandwiches.
Spaghetti is my sandwich equivalent. Every time I am thinking about dinner with a sense of panic, spaghetti emerges from the cabinet, quietly yet brilliantly. Long, frustrating days lead to spaghetti dressed simply with grated cheese. Cold weather means spaghetti with meatballs in red sauce. Warm weather means chilled spaghetti with lightly cooked vegetables. Dinner parties are spaghetti with seafood, or demanding sauces. The joys never cease. And though it seems demure, especially in the presence of showier relatives like farfalle or fusilli, simple spaghetti in a plastic bag delivers the pomp and circumstance I am looking for every single time.
This summer recipe relies on the balance of sweet and acidic tomatoes, smokey grilled corn, and peppery aromatic basil. These flavors remind me of summer, and yet make the meal light. This is by no means the stick to your ribs spaghetti reserved for winter time. The affair here is a reflection of what you want to feel when the sun is warm, shining longer into the evenings. Omit the chicken, if you’d like, but don’t forego finding the best tomatoes and a nice ear of corn for this meal. Best of all, it comes together in about twenty minutes, with plenty of time left for an after dinner stroll.
Summer Spaghetti with Corn and Tomatoes
Ingredients (serves two – with plenty of leftovers, or four, accompanied by a salad):
half a pound of spaghetti
one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
half of a large onion (white or yellow), diced
a hefty garlic clove, diced or sliced
dried basil, if fresh is not available (though I advocate for fresh whenever possible)
five small tomatoes
an ear of corn, with husk
6 ounces of rotisserie or pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite size pieces
one tablespoon + heavy cream, at room temperature
lemon juice from half of a small lemon
salt & pepper
fresh basil, five to six leaves, if you are using it
1) Start cooking the spaghetti by following the directions on the package. Since half a pound is usually half the package, simply cut the water needed in half, and add a palmful (about a tablespoon) of salt. While the water is boiling, place the olive oil in a pan or pot on medium heat, and once heated add your onion. Leave the onion alone for a couple of minutes, and once it starts becoming translucent, add the garlic, and stirring often so that the garlic does not burn. Lower the heat if needed.
2) Once the water has come to a rolling boil, add the spaghetti. Make sure to cook al dente, meaning a minute or two less than the directions on the package (i.e. 7 minutes if it says ready in 9 minutes). If using dried basil, grind it lightly between your palms, over the pot, and stir it into your onion mixture. Lower the heat.
3) Cross the bottom of your tomatoes, and cover them with water in a bowl or container. Place the tomatoes and corn in the microwave for two minutes. Yes, the corn with the husk in place. After about two minutes, the corn should be ready, but your tomatoes might need more time to blanch, so give them thirty second in intervals until you can begin to see the skin on the bottom peeling back slightly. Take out the tomatoes, and place them in an ice water bath, or simply on the counter, to cool down. Let the corn cool down if it is too hot to handle, but otherwise remove the husk and silk.
4) If your pasta is done by now, drain it, reserving about a quarter cup of water. Leave it to the side, while you work on peeling the tomatoes, and chopping them. Add the tomatoes and juices to the onion mixture. Cut the corn in half, and place one half on the stove top to grill (alternatively, a grill would be helpful here). Aim for slightly grilled, so that the kernels are blistered, but not blackened all the way. Once the corn is grilled, cut off the kernels by slicing down with a knife. Add these to the pot or pan as well. Add the chicken, and let everything cook for about five to six minutes, so that the water content of the tomatoes is almost gone. Don’t stir too often.
5) Once the mixture seems as if it drying, add the heavy cream. Stir, then squeeze the lemon juice into the pan. Stir until incorporated, and if everything seems dry still, add some pasta water that you reserved. Start with one tablespoon at a time, adding as needed. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes, while you chiffonade the fresh basil. Add the spaghetti to the pot, grind some pepper, taste for salt (and adjust as needed), and toss to make sure the spaghetti is evenly covered in the sauce and chicken. Add the basil at the end, or simply on top when plating.
Then, she did not hear them any more. What a glare there was in the room. She hated blinds pulled up to the top at any time, but in the morning it was intolerable. She turned over to the wall and idly, with one finger, she traced a poppy on the wallpaper with a leaf and stem and a fat bursting bud. In the quiet, and under her tracing finger, the poppy seemed to come alive. She could feel the sticky, silky petals, the stem, hairy like a gooseberry skin, the rough leaf and the tight glazed bud. Things had a habit of coming alive like that. Only only large substantial things like furniture, but curtains and the patterns of stuffs and fringes of quilts and cushions. How often she had seen the tassel priests attending… For there were some tassels that did not dance at all but walked stately, bent forward as if praying or chanting. How often the medicine bottles had turned into a row of little men with brown top-hats on; and the washstand jug had a way of sitting in the basin like a fat bird in a round nest. – pg. 66, Prelude, Stories
Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at – nothing – at nothing, simply.
What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss – absolute bliss! – as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?…
Oh, is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly?” How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle? -pg. 143, Bliss, Stories
I had gone back again to my little house and stood up on its roof and wanted to see a good end in all that and to find a good beginning in myself. And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious, and great things.
Rainer Maria Rilke to his wife Clara Rilke on January 1, 1907 from Villa Discopoli (Capri)
He was very busy anyway, disoriented and discombobulated, having typical adolescent experiences without knowing they were typical. Making long speeches to distracted eighteen-year-olds who were thoroughly occupied washing down fish sticks with Pepsi, feeling that they, despite their inattention, were understanding every word. Watching them stand up and wander off as though he did not exist. The invisible man. He was not used to seeing the faintest trace of comprehension dawn on the face of anyone other than his mother, Karen, Meg, the occasional teacher, and other predisposed to be nice to him – mostly Meg – so he had naturally assumed that anyone smart enough to understand him would find him fascinating. It was a shock to discover that suburban kids could follow his argumentation and find it hopelessly dull. “Pale Fire is so overwritten,” they would say, yawning. He began to talk less, shortening his speeches to make them more efficient and effective. -pgs. 163-164, Mislaid
He sighed again. “Here is my final offer, Tiffany. Stop following orders. Do what you want. Work selfishly. Without the experience of control, you will never have the experience of creativity. Stop giving yourself away, and you will have more to offer than your body and soul. Keep them and cultivate them. Learn, learn, and once again learn!” He said that last bit in Russian, quoting Lenin: Uchit se, uchit se, uchit se. I said I would take it under advisement.
–pg. 192, The Wallcreeper
“Women are all the same,” he said. “Inscrutable guardians of inexpressible passions, and sentimental about money.” -pg. 103, The Wallcreeper