Staff Picks: Cositas, Cosmos, and Concerts


This Week’s Reading

Carl Phillips. Photo: Reston Allen.

In the poem “Even If Sleep and Death Are Brothers,” Carl Phillips sketches an image: “Of beaten gold—gold beaten / to a thinness like that of paper—a woman’s funeral mask.” It recalls for me John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” (in which death is not a “breach, but an expansion, / Like gold to airy thinness beat”), a heartbreaking poem about loss and longing. So, too, does Phillips write poetry meant as a balm for wistfulness; in his latest collection, Pale Colors in a Tall Field, comfort and nostalgia are as closely related as sleep and death. The characters are returning to the places they came from or the places where they had been happy, and stretching briefly backward across time. This happens in small, sensually rich moments, in the titular field or during a swim at a spot from long ago. These are bittersweet poems, lovely homages to the precious penumbral moments when life seems to hang in stasis as we leave behind a past self. —Lauren Kane 

These days I find myself turning with a regularity that borders on addiction to the video of Rosalía’s performance at the 2019 MTV European Music Awards. It is, obviously, a triumph—we’re talking about La Rosalía—but more than that it seems to speak, step by step, to this strange moment and the things that have gone missing. The performance begins dark, with a drawn-out version of the hook to “Pienso en tu mirá” (“pienso en tu mirá, tu mirá clava … ”), which, if you don’t think too hard about the context, is just a song about anyone you love—missing them, worrying about them. Then the lights come up: the stage is set up to imitate a tablao, and the song shifts into “Di mi nombre,” a reminder of intimacy in a moment of distance: “Que las cosas que me dices no salgan por esta puerta.” And then everything breaks loose: it shifts into the beginning of Parrita’s “Cositas de ayer,” everyone is singing, everyone is dancing, it’s a party, a celebration, an exorcism, an incantation; it’s exactly what I needed. —Hasan Altaf


Ina Garten.


Few people have a presence more soothing than Ina Garten. The jazzy theme song of her long-running cooking show Barefoot Contessa is a balm to my soul, instantly activating those secret places in my brain that signal impending gratification and reward. Most Sundays, I roast Ina’s engagement chicken, and I’m a loyal follower of her sensible kitchen rules: always keep homemade stock and good vanilla; don’t pack the flour into the measuring cup; purchase a tarte tatin from a good patisserie rather than drudging over dessert. Ina has always felt like a personal friend, and unsurprisingly, her Instagram page has been a godsend in times of crisis. There, she leads by example, offering simple recipes with ingredients sourced from her pantry: Tuscan white bean soup, potato-bacon frittata, no-knead Irish soda bread, stewed tomatoes and lentils. At around nine thirty the morning of April Fool’s Day, she posted a video of herself making a pitcher of her signature cosmopolitans, which she serves in a single cocktail glass large enough to hold the entire batch. Taking a healthy swig, she laughs heartily, embracing the absurdity of this entire situation. As I struggle to delineate the beginnings and ends of my work days, Ina reminds me that culinary self-care is an integral part of staying well. She makes social isolation seem much more like manageable solitude. —Elinor Hitt

Kristen Millares Young’s debut novel Subduction takes as its subject a subtle clash of culture in the Pacific Northwest. The novel’s protagonist, Claudia, is an anthropologist fleeing the remains of her marriage by reengaging with her most recent research project, the songs and traditional culture of the Makah people in Neah Bay, Washington. Claudia, a Latina, is mostly blind to her own privilege within the context of the reservation and balks when she is referred to by the Makah people as “white.” Even while she blurs the boundaries between the personal and professional, the Native peoples of this novel are Claudia’s subjects, and Young is a skilled enough writer to explore the various problems inherent in that point of view. The title of the book refers to the geological phenomenon of one tectonic plate sinking under the influence of another, during which both subsumed and overriding plates are wracked by distortion and disruption. In Young’s novel, the answer to which is which is left beautifully unclear. —Christian Kiefer

I suppose an upside to being stuck inside is that I have time to listen to many hours of music every day. I’ll admit I enjoy digging things out of my collection, but gosh I miss seeing music live, which is pretty much the highlight of my life. Blessedly, it seems like many wonderful musicians miss playing live as much as I miss seeing them, including the legendary jazz pianist Fred Hersch, who has been live streaming what he’s dubbed his “Tune of the Day” from his Facebook page every afternoon at one. Hersch is part of the generation of jazz musicians who came of age in the late eighties and rose to prominence in the nineties. From a bird’s-eye view, their hallmark is reverence for tradition tensed against an experimental impulse. Hersch is on the conservative end of that spectrum, but in his approach to standards and his own originals, he digs deeper into the crannies of rhythms and melodies than anyone; he makes discoveries in every measure he plays. In these daily miniconcerts, Hersch picks a single song and explores its edges and depths for about five minutes, giving a little talk before or after he plays. He takes requests from his Facebook audience and tries to pair each new day with the right song. He’s in his living room in Pennsylvania, his partner is manning the camera, and the video is sometimes grainy and jerky thanks to the overtaxed internet. But I’m so grateful to him—he’s doing this, it seems, for no other reason than to send a little joy across the series of tubes over to my house, where it’s truly needed. —Craig Morgan Teicher


Fred Hersch. Photo: Vincent Soyez.