Monday, September 28, 2015

Purple Noon: Damn It, Matthew!

Just last week I made a lot of people who were not predisposed to love it watch The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Eventually they were rapt, because it is such a very good old-fashioned movie, in all its unsubtlety.

The chief asset of the film and the story as constructed is simple:  Tom Ripley is gay.

That's not strikingly clear in the Patricia Highsmith novel and is only tantalizing in (the brilliant in its own way) Purple Noon.  But here Tom is gay and the story is so much the better for it. You'd assume that Anthony Minghella (doing his best work) and Matt Damon (doing his best work) worked it out together.  But maybe not.

Damon's on a run that seems aimed at proving his ostensible liberal middle class Boston boy personality is a charm offensive shielding dumbass jock attitudes about race and sexuality circa 2015.


Monday, September 14, 2015

If Weathermen Were Better

It’s so beautiful I can’t think.  Only walking and looking and listening to music make sense, and yet not enough sense to convey what is happening in Alexandria now.  If weathermen were better, I’d plan my year around a single day like this and use it perfectly. I’d hire a personal chef to serve me espresso and sublime scrambled eggs in the shade of a tree and I’d read something droll there.  Droll and old-fashioned and spirit-lifting: the opposite of the news.

I would play tennis, and my forehand would hit the corners and I would barely break a sweat.

I’d meet you for lunch at that French place in Georgetown I just read about, and then we’d walk by the water.  No, much better than that: We’d drive up to Great Falls, Maryland side, and I would do something I haven’t done since I was 25: jump off a cliff into the Potomac.  You should jump too.

My chef is also my driver, and he’ll take us anywhere we want to go.  We should want to go to Annapolis or Middleburg, but we don’t.  We should want to look at art but we don’t.  (For one thing, there’s no such thing as indoors today.)  Instead I want to show you a couple of places that haven’t changed since 1982.  I can’t show you Mr. Henry’s or Au Pied de Cochon, but I can buy you a drink at Martin’s – outdoor table, please.  I can show you Dumbarton Oaks and Meridian Hill and the route I used to run along Rock Creek Parkway, with a loop through the zoo. 

I can show you the marina where Dad kept his boat and I played in the caterpillar tree.

But I’m not thinking big enough.  My chef/driver is a class-A sailor and ready to take us on a dusk sprint past monuments.  I’ve got two bottles of wine, a tremendously expensive Chablis and a $12 bottle of Salice Salentino.  France and Italy past the Kennedy Center and Lauinger Library, where it used to be that the best view was in the smoking lounge that was blown off, so to speak, for the benches by the reading room.  We looked inward rather than outwards at the wider world; we weren't yet 21.

There was always an end of summer day like this in Washington, and always an end of summer day like this in New York.  One of these days fell on the eleventh, when my friend Michou called from Amsterdam, waking me up and telling me to turn on the TV.  For three or four or five days, all the days were as beautiful as this, but I had to show identification to come back to my apartment on Jane Street.

If, by chance, I had wandered away to the river or met a friend for a glass of wine or taken a a German guy who couldn’t get back home to Nora’s show at Fez.

Good lord, Robert:  Stop writing!  Go out!  Or just keep the door flung open.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fall Book Preview: The First Five

In the spirit of New York Magazine, The New York Times and all enthusiastic list-makers Pro and Am, here are some of the leaves that will be scattered around my bed this autumn. If I read them in order, I’ll go from England to LA to three NYC boroughs back in the day, ending up where I truly belong in fall: deep in the woods of Victorian England.

[On the Move Oliver Sachs]
I picked this out for a friend's birthday because I knew he'd appreciate the mix of medicine and motorcycles and figured that he'd lend it to me when he was done. (Admit it: you've done the same.) No time right now to feel sad about Sachs's death; I'm too eager to learn about his life.

AAA Rating (Autumn Appropriate Assessment): 1 Leaf
Approximately a quarter of his days were spent this time of year.

[A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Betty Smith]
All I know about this famous book, more or less, is what I've gathered from the movie poster or book cover or image I made up in my mind of a sad girl in pigtails sitting on a city stoop. But I hear that it's terrific and even if it's not, I am all in on evocations of Olden Days in Brooklyn.

AAA Rating: 2 Leaves
It has tree in the title.

[Kitty Genovese: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America Kevin Cook]
I've been obsessed (from a healthy distance) with this event since I saw a fictionalized TV movie account in the '70s. Remarkable to learn after all these years that the defining narrative of 38 scared/apathetic neighbors was fabricated by Times reporters.

AAA Rating: 1 Leaf
Because fall is the time for true-life crime.

[Another Country James Baldwin]
I am embarrassed never to have read this, especially given Greenwich Village, jazz and France in all their '60s glory (cigarette smoke, bad plumbing, perfect clothes). Harlem! Also, Baldwin lived on Horatio, and I love reading writers who lived on my streets almost as much as I love reading about the streets themselves.

AAA Rating: 3 Leaves
Based on the jazz alone...

[The Woodlanders Thomas Hardy]
The best Hardy that most have missed, with all of Happy Tom's keynotes: nature as an emotional force, romantic melodrama at its somehow subtle extreme, utter fearlessness about the grand gesture (man-trap dead ahead!). This will be a re-read, but I've forgotten everything since that initial encounter ca. 1989 and expect to be stunned anew.

AAA Rating: 4 Leaves
The most autumnal book ever written!