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Author Archive

A New Coat

April 10, 2015 | by

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Lanpher Furs ad, 1906.

At what age does one outgrow the belief that a new coat will change one’s life? The belief that somehow, the you who wears this costume will grow worthy of it, will stride around a rosy future with a different sound track entirely? Plenty of garments can acquire this magical allure, but because a coat is something one wears every day—something everyone sees, something that has to serve a function and therefore has moral fiber as well as fabric—gives it extra importance.

And they’re expensive. Read More »

Family Units

April 9, 2015 | by

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A poster for a production of The Bald Soprano at the Pearl.

Around 1963, my dad was in a summer-camp production of Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano. He played M. Martin. Sometimes, decades later, he would quote from it to my brother and I. We know from theatre of the absurd, but we thought the bizarre dialogue—the playwright was influenced by the stilted dialogue of the Assimil English–teaching method—was about the most hilarious thing we’d ever heard. We were especially enamored with a story one of the characters relates in the course of the evening. Read More »

New Words

April 8, 2015 | by

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Sometime in the third grade, a girl in my class began to claim she was ambidextrous. Previously, this girl had said she wanted to be a marine biologist. She also claimed to have athlete’s foot. This girl was a pretentious liar.

In fairness, marine-biology ambitions were all the rage that year. We were just moving beyond the easy descriptor stage; it was no longer enough to want an occupation you could identify from a Richard Scarry book, such as baker, doctor, or fireman. Now people wanted to be not just teachers but middle-school teachers, not just football stars but running backs—ideally, our choices conveyed an element of mystery and worldliness to the other kids. Still, generally speaking, our ideas for future careers were about as complicated as those you see in contemporary romance novels, where the heroines have easily explained jobs that seldom seem to interfere with the business of being a glamorous grown-up. Marine biology, with its vague hints of tropical waters and dolphins, seemed like a perfect career path for both the frivolous animal-lover and the committed scientist. None of us was sure what it entailed. Read More »

Party Line

April 7, 2015 | by

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Not Nabokov’s kind of place.

Reading about the parties of decades past, it sometimes seems they were all similar, and all awful—or at least that they had an intolerably high jerk quotient. Think of the celebrations in Cheever novels, or O’Hara stories: full of jerks, everyone drunk and uncouth and parochial.

It should come as no shock that Vladimir Nabokov took a jaundiced view of the midcentury American party. In fact, were I some hapless Wellesley or Ithaca hostess, you couldn’t have paid me enough to invite him to a dinner or sherry hour, even after he became a literary sensation. Imagine the appraisal you’d be in for—his curled lip, his chilly politeness, his scathing mental commentary, his careful evasion of the menu’s vulgarities. For your trouble, you’d be caricatured, at best, as some sort of composite Charlotte Haze–esque grotesque, fawning over his manners and dripping with self-assured provincialism. And that would be the good outcome. It’s hard to think of someone you’d want less at a midcentury faculty tea, save maybe a seething Shirley Jackson. 

The following comes from Nabokov’s 1951 story “The Vane Sisters.” Read More »

Don’t Hide Your Shame

April 6, 2015 | by

Photo: Steve Mays

You can learn a lot about modern mores and attitudes toward sexuality just by hanging out in the lobby of the Time Warner Center, the upscale mall at New York’s Columbus Circle. Watch how many passersby touch the tiny penis of Adam, the twelve-foot Botero sculpture who, with his distaff counterpart, greets visiting shoppers. Of course they touch it, and grab it, until it’s as golden as Saint Peter’s foot; it’s human instinct. Periodically the management needs to reapply the patina

Not long ago, I was at the Metropolitan Museum, walking behind a family. We came upon a naked kouros. While her parents were talking, a little girl of maybe three extended a small arm toward the statue’s penis, a look almost of hypnosis on her face. Her hand moved slowly, inexorably, and then—she grasped it. At that point her mother noticed and batted her hand away from the antiquity. “Stop that,” she said. Read More »

Holy Week

April 3, 2015 | by

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Chef Erik Blauberg with the enormous truffle.

This item was in Page Six yesterday: 

The world’s largest black truffle landed in Manhattan this week—and to the extreme agony of many chefs and gourmands, it may not be up for sale or eating.

The 5.5-pound truffle was guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Chef Erik Blauberg at Stanton Street Kitchen. The mighty pungent fungi was flown in, amid tight security, by his friend Federico Balestra, who owns a truffle business in Italy.

Blauberg, who threw the dinner to preview his Culinary Passport program, told us, “When a truffle this size comes into New York, all the chefs go wild. But we don’t know if we are going to cook with it, auction it for charity or preserve it.”

The world’s largest white truffle (4.16 pounds) fetched $61,250 at Sotheby’s last year.

Read More »