Friday, July 12, 2013


I went on a little trip last week through New Mexico, down to El Paso to visit my parents. The three best things I ate were these chilaquiles with green chile and poached eggs at Tia's, the restaurant in our hotel:

And these blue corn enchiladas, Christmas-style (half red, half green) at Casa Chimayo:

And grilled steak off my parents' grill with garden tomatoes, garden chard, and fried potatoes.

We finished off the meal with a champagne toast. Because I recently got married, and my mom recently won a $25,000 teaching award (which kind of trumps the marriage, really).

Sitting in their kitchen, I learned that John doesn't like Audrey Hepburn. He finds her to be intolerably precious, and not a good actress. The preciousness, okay, but her acting seems rather beside the point. Jack Nicholson isn't a particularly good actor either; he is always and ever simply Jack Nicholson. But my god, what fun to watch him being Jack Nicholson! And so it is with Audrey: incandescent charisma trumps "talent" every time. Or charisma itself is a talent (Teju Cole believes beauty is).

I mean, how can you quibble with that neck? Like those huge Murakami murals, she challenges the idea that the cute and the sublime are antithetical.


  1. There are actors, and then there stars.

    1. A great many of the well-known movie actors of the first half of the 20th century (and lingering into later years) seem to have played, mostly, variations of themselves in the movies they were in. Their acting was good, and they played their characters believably, but they were always clearly themselves playing the characters. Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, William Holden, Gregory Peck, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, to name a few, were always unmistakeably themselves, no matter who the characters they played.

      There were exceptions. Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando are two examples who come to mind -- they could both dissolve into the characters they were playing, so that you might not realize at first who the actors were. Also Orson Welles sometimes (though his physical presence was so dominating that he could swallow a scene just by walking on camera). In the later half of the 20th century, Jane Fonda and Dustin Hoffman have sometimes brought this quality. and Charlize Theron.

      I haven't seen Audrey Hepburn in enough things to have an opinion about her as an actor. I kind of enjoyed her in "My Fair Lady," though I first saw it when I was a kid and went with my parents to see it, and (with a couple of exceptions) musicals aren't my favorite. And she didn't actually sing -- the singer Marnie Nixon did the singing and was dubbed in for the songs.

    2. I like Charade -- it has the feel of a Hitchcock movie but it's not. And if BaT's is on I'll always stop and watch a bit of it.

  2. I love Audrey. And with the addition of Green Chili Stew to your food foto line-up, this would be perfect!

    1. My mother has a good recipe for that!

    2. Cymbaline, you know the Pink Floyd song "Cymbaline"? A blonde Audrey Hepburn (I love her too) could play Mimsy Farmer's role in More, in which you hear that song.

      "The lines converging where you stand they must have moved the picture plane
      The leaves are heavy around your feet you hear the thunder of the train
      Suddenly it strikes you that they're moving into range
      Doctor Strange is always changing size
      And it's high time
      It's high time
      Please wake me"

    3. Yes, I do know the song and it is where my name came from. I added it, legally, about 20 years ago and have only met three people - including you - who know the song.

    4. Interesting.
      I like the early Floyd, especially the Syd Barrett years.

  3. Elisa Gabbert's second effort, The Elf Unstable, fits into a burgeoning new genre: novels featuring stark emotional realism in a fantastical setting. Call it "realist fantasy."

    The book follows a group of DC professionals - lawyers, lobbyists, politicians - who lead separate lives during the day, but who meet up at night for marathon sessions of a Dungeons & Dragons-like role-playing game. In less capable hands, this conceit could be twee, but Gabbert doesn't shy away from the inescapable cruelties of real life, and the parallels come across as subtle and haunting, never cloying.

    In the fantasy world of the role-playing game, a band of humans, elves, and dwarves sets out to investigate the mysterious decay of the realm's gold coins, which are strangely rusting away. Commerce is at a standstill, inflation is rampant, and the King's soldiers are powerless to do anything about it. Rumors are circulating about an evil mage who is operating from a base in the misty Galladrien Mountains, and tensions are flaring up between the neighboring kingdoms.

    The band of misfits setting off for the Galladrien Mountains is an ad-hoc assortment of fighters, clerics, and petty thieves. Their alliance is strictly temporary, and the banter and DC-style back-biting (filtered through a layer of fantasy tropes, but still raw at times) provide a fantastic opportunity for Gabbert to sharpen her wit. As one character quips, "If you want a friend in this town, get a blue-scaled Bynerian half-dragon."

    But back in the the real world, Ben Bernanke (whose avatar, a lithe elvish princess named Bagehot, suspects that the mage in the mountains may be innocent) must grapple with inflation hawks and ranting politicians as he floods the economy with liquidity in the wake of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Awkwardly, one of those politicians plays in the role-playing game as a self-righteous paladin who joined the quest to the Galladrien Mountains after his lover, a dwarf married to the lord-regent of Hunter's Keep, committed suicide. Unlike Bernanke, he does not have to keep track too closely of whether he is in real life or in character - in both locations, he rants continuously about the debasing of the currency.

    The Elf Unstable is a book of ideas. Gabbert is uninterested in re-litigating Keynesian macroeconomics (though, inevitably, Bernanke's intellectual commitments drive the real-world plot). Instead Gabbert focuses on the extent to which any monetary system - indeed, any economy - is a shared illusion, a sort of social convention. But if the dollar is a mercantile fiction, Gabbert forces us to ask, then aren't the tools of the storyteller as important as those of the economist?

    I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether Bernanke/Bagehot's triumphant introduction of fiat money to the fantasy world answers the question. More interesting to me is the way that Gabbert sheds light on the question by creating little windows into the characters' lives. When Bernanke and Jean-Claude Trichet part for the last time as central bankers (as Trichet's term at the European Central Bank comes to a close), Trichet quietly says, "The world will never know how much it owes you for what you have done." Gabbert moves on quickly, but when the elven princess Bagehot destroys the bridge at Camh-un-Rah, forever sealing the fate of the mage in the mountains, she repeats the words verbatim, and we realize how much they meant to Bernanke. And so it is that our lives reverberate in the stories we tell, and our stories reverberate in our lives, forming a delicate shared fiction that guides us through a lonely world.

    1. Well, I'm a LITTLE interested in re-litigating Keynesian macroeconomics...