Friday, July 13, 2012

It's...Musical Friday!

Pardon the lack of alliteration. I would've waited until Monday, but I hate waiting. So "Musical Friday" it is. 

As a follow-up to my last post about jazz, I'd like to post a song I frequently forget about and then remember that I love it and loop it until everyone else is sick of it: Blossom Dearie's version of "Someone to Watch Over Me." 

Blossom Dearie is awesome. First of all, it's the name. How do you get a name like that?? (If you find out it's just a stage name, please don't tell me. I've been avoiding knowing anything at all about her for about 8 years now so I can live in this delusional world where parents actually name their future-famous children "Blossom Dearie").

Second of all, it's her voice--which is weird. Very lispy and obnoxious. Actually I hated her for about a year, but she kept appearing on my jazz Pandora station in high school and I developed this bizarre love/hate relationship with her. I finally surrendered: Her diction is perfect; her interpretations are stunningly crisp and spot on with this fantastic seductive innocence she cultivates. "Someone to Watch Over Me" is one of her best songs, in my opinion. While I was in NYC with the girls, I heard a few other covers, among them Amy Winehouse's--and I just didn't buy them. I mean, you just don't believe that Amy Winehouse wants to be watched over (pardon me for speaking ill of the dead). She's too brassy, too brash. You just don't don't buy her schtick there, you know?

So this weekend, tun on some Blossom Dearie, imagine you're in some metropolitan, posh flat drinking a dry white wine--or possibly a great champagne, because you're extravagant--all by yourself while a summer wind blows in the window and curls around your cheek, promising cooler weather.

As for me, I'm off to pick blueberries. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


When I was sixteen, my father gave me a ripped copy of Getz/Gilberto and I fell in love.  This week "The Girl from Ipanema" is turning 50, NPR informs me as stomp up to my little kitchen and punch on my Sony boombox. I have to adjust the antenna because some irresponsible past apprentice broke off the end, and the silly contraption likes to gargle and waver as I walk to and fro making dinner. I'm flattered that it sounds clearest when I'm standing near. Yes, I'm so starved for attention, living by myself on the fringe of the pinewoods, that I anthropomorphize an archaic hunk of electrical wiring and plastic. I call him Phil. We have a great time.

But I digress.

My father, as I said, gave me a copy of the CD, title scrawled in Sharpie when I was sixteen and even though I know it's one of the best selling jazz albums ever and you're a total philistine if you don't know "Girl from Ipanema," I still feel like it's my little secret when I slip it into the stereo and pad around kitchen like I did when I was sixteen and enamored with Chinese cuisine and jazz. In an alternate universe, I would either be a theoretical physicist of a jazz singer. In this universe, an unfortunate lack of mathematic or vocal talent has limited me to the world of the written word. At sixteen, I fell in love with jazz for its paradoxical boldness and interiority, its smallness, its nuance, its texture, its brassy and seductive keen. It's my personal soundtrack to solitude. "The Girl from Ipanema" by Getz and Gilberto does all of that with a flair which may be matched but certainly not surpassed, and as I listen to it crackle through my radio tonight, it still holds me.

At its best, jazz a celebration of the mundane and in a world of high def, I still think its heard best of the cantankerous crackle of a jacked-up radio, the way I'd listen to it during late-night car trips home, dizzy with sleep and the heavy stutter of the radio host--That*shuffle shuffle*...Astrud Gilberto on vocals. That voice crooned my eyes shut at six, and then sixteen, and now again at twenty because even though I have the CDs (yes, I know: I'm a technological cavewoman) and I can have whatever music I want instantly, I still love the radio best.

Here on the farm, I wake up to the news, I eat lunch to "Afternoon Classics," and I make dinner to the tune of "Evening Edition" and the growl of Terry Gross. Some days I can count the number of words I speak on my fingers (maybe throw in a couple of toes), but my Sony boombox is a faithful and chatty companion. Sometimes I get annoyed with it because I flip it on halfway through my favorite show and my little PowerBook G4 won't play podcasts so I know I'll never hear the beginning of that fascinating interview with some film director. But I like to think that you can have a conversation with a radio precisely because you can't control it. It plays what it plays, and you can switch stations but the archipelago of clarity between the static waves is limited. Limitation is the space where love happens.

What I'm Reading: Jhumpa Lahiri

I was hot, but not in a sexy way. I was tired, and also grumpy. I wanted a milkshake. Instead of luxuriating in the burger joint across the way, however, I found myself stomping up and down the aisle ways of The Strand. Poor mortal, I am, alas, but human, and in the great battle between appetite and intellect too often the gut wins.

The Strand: that great New York monument to cheap books, a reader's paradise, the book glutton's delight. And all I wanted was a chocolate milkshake.

Instead, I discovered Jhumpa Lahiri.

I had first heard of her while interning at Mars Hill Audio three summers ago, but her name languished in a dark file titled "Books to Read" which I never open on principle; the sheer number of titles and authors is more depressing than impressive and I'm afraid of being too intimidated to ever flip open a title page again.

But as I looked over copies of Aristotle's Ethics, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (more on Marquez some other night), and dozens of other cheery covers stacked in intelligent little piles on the browsing tables, this book caught my eye:

In a fit of impulsiveness, I tossed it in my $1 red Strand totebag and marched up to the counter. 

I started reading it last night and I finished it today. Perhaps the highest praise I can give Lahiri's enchanting collection of stories is that it's the first book I've read in two sittings in a long time. 

Published in 1999, Interpreter of Maladies was Jhumpa Lahiri's first book and won her a Pulitzer. The back cover tells me that Lahiri "was born in 1967 in London, England and raised in Rhode Island." Most of her stories unravel the mundane and colorful difficulties of life as an Indian ex-pat, usually from a domestic point of view. While her prose style isn't exactly the brightest I've stumbled across, her characters and their little dilemmas are engrossing. It's a quick book; the plots are sparse and snappy, sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, but always thought-provoking. 

I give Interpreter of Maladies 4 stars out of 5 as a great summer read. If you're looking for something to read on the subway or beach this July, check out Jhumpa Lahiri and tell me what you think. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

We're back

Sorry for the silence. For the last week, we, the Writinators, have been too busy enjoying each other's company in person to bother with the interwebs. For me, it was a great hiatus from farm life--though around 5am every morning, the suffocating heat of Harlem blowing into Betsy's unairconditioned apartment made me remember fondly my little cabin on the hill and the cool night breeze which never fails to tickle down from the high country of Floyd County.

But the heat aside, my first trip to New York was fantastic. Some highlights in no particular order:

  • Camping out like a hobo behind an elementary school hiding from the sun and waiting for the megabus
  • The Hungarian Bakery two blocks from Betsy's apartment at which I almost made myself sick on baklava and rum balls. #noregrets
  • Late-night walks down to Fancy Fare or Fine Fare or whatever the corner grocery was called, watching Harlemites livin' up their 4th of July holidays with sidewalk fireworks and carrying on life as usual over the pound of the boombox plugged into a street lamp.
  • Spending our 4th at the Apollo Theater Amateur Night in Harlem where the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Jackson were discovered. 
  • We also saw some fantastic urban art:

Spending time together was the best part, of course.