Entries in My Humble Opinion (26)


The Holy Glimmers of Good-byes

When I told Christian that Patrick and I were going to hear Benjamin Britten's War Requiem at Avery Fisher Hall, he asked, "What is it—a mass?" I answered that it was a choral piece set to the traditional liturgical text, but that the composer had also included several anti-war poems written almost a century ago by Wilfred Owen.

"Wow," Christian said. "It sounds like a protest song." He studied protest songs in his freshman songwriting class and has gained a healthy appreciation for the genre.

I agreed. "The War Requiem is the ultimate protest song," I said.

Wilfred Owen was no draft dodger; his poems draw on his own harrowing experiences in the trenches of France during World War I. Hospitalized for shell shock—what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder—Owen began writing in the hope that doing so would exorcise the horrors he had witnessed. Once healed and back on the battlefield, Owen was shot through the head by a German gunman and died just a week before Armistice Day.

Britten composed his Requiem in 1962 for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral. German bombs mostly razed the 15th century cathedral during World War II, and in 1956 a new structure was begun alongside the ruins. The British government turned the old cathedral site into a memorial monument; Britten hoped his composition would also stand as a monument, a warning to future generations against the senseless waste of war.

When my friend Tina Fairweather told me that her choir would be singing the War Requiem, accompanied by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of the great Lorin Maazel, I couldn’t wait to get tickets. Benjamin Britten looms large in my pantheon of personal artistic heroes, and I knew hearing the Requiem live would be a transcendent experience. Saturday night’s concert exceeded my expectations.

The Requiem is a 20th century composition, perhaps not very accessible to the casual listener. The key to appreciating it is to let go of expectations of traditional Western melodic progression and instead glory in the way the gorgeous textures of the music highlight and underscore the poignant text.

Throughout the performance, the violins and the choral voices created almost palpable tissues of sound, great swaths of silk that arose and twined around one another. The honey-voiced tenor and baritone (Vale Rideout and Ian Greenlaw), along with some of the woodwinds, embroidered upon this rich fabric. And the brass: if I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that the brass section was manned by a corps of angels: thrilling perfection.

During the third movement, the Offertorium, a boys’ choir pleads (in Latin) that the souls of all the faithful be delivered “from the pains of hell and from the depths of the pit: deliver them from the lion’s mouth, that hell devour them not, that they fall not into darkness.” The adult chorus continues the prayer: “But let the standard bearer Saint Michael bring them into the holy light: which of old Thou didst promise unto Abraham and his seed.”

Then the tenor and baritone sing a duet that tells of Abraham and Isaac’s journey to Mount Moriah. But Owen turns the traditional Bible story on its head: “Lo! An angel called [Abraham] out of heaven, saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, neither do anything to him. Behold, a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns; Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him. But the old man would not so, but slew his son—And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”

“Half the seed of Europe, one by one.” As this refrain is repeated, the listener understands that Abraham in this telling represents government turning away from heavenly urgings of humility and peace. It’s a chilling, inspired moment, one of the high points of the piece.

The Requiem closes with another such transformative musical scene. In the sixth movement, the Libera Me, the tenor and the baritone represent two spirits of soldiers from opposing sides of a conflict. They meet in the afterlife and recognize one another.

“Strange friend,” one says, “here is no cause to mourn.”

“None,” answers the other, “save the undone years, the hopelessness….the pity of war, the pity war distilled. Now men will go content with what we spoiled….”

They dream of an end to war: “When much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels, I would go up and wash them from sweet wells, Even from wells we sunk too deep for war, Even from the sweetest wells that ever were.

“Let us sleep now,” the two sing in counterpoint as the choirs chant the traditional words “Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light eternal shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”

As the last whisper of chord died away, as we applauded madly with the rest of the audience through three curtain calls, and as we drove the long, dark road home from the City, I thought about war and peace.

It is not enough to wash the chariot wheels; it is not enough to treat the symptoms of war. We must eliminate its cause altogether. War on a global scale will not end until we have cleansed hate from our hearts, until we have swept disharmony out of our homes, until we have replaced the filth of enmity with the sweet water of unconditional love in our communities.

We can march, we can petition, we can wear ribbons. But until we look inward, rooting out pride and intolerance within ourselves even when we are convinced of the correctness of our position—especially when we are convinced of the correctness of our position—we will never free ourselves from war.

Dona nobis pacem.


V3ry C00l

Okay, so I'm late to the party. Back in February, Charrette blogged about a cool project her husband was doing with his New Media class at BYU. I was slammed with deadlines, but kept promising myself I'd check it out.

I finally got to it, and it was so worth it. My big boys and I snuggled up with the laptop tonight and watched all eleven webisodes--that's all there are so far--of the new webcast series The Book of Jer3miah. It sounds like a marathon, but it wasn't; each webisode is only about five minutes long.

I'm always up for a good conspiracy theory, and Jer3miah does not disappoint. It's alternately sad, suspenseful, creepy, and funny (hint: I love the elven-dressed, RPG-playing next-door neighbor and his secret-combination-obsessed roommate). After the first three episodes, it stops going "all Cloverfield" (as Christian put it) with the handheld camera and settles down into some pretty cool cinematography.

If you find yourself wanting more (and each webisode manages to leave its audience hanging over a cliff), there are two ancillary websites offering extra clues to the mysteries surrounding Jeremiah Whitney and his fate. The Davenport Papers looks like a social networking site, and zoobynews.com is the reporting outlet set up by one of Jer3miah's characters.

Go watch it! You can get caught up in inside of an hour--less time than it takes to watch an episode of Lost or 24. You can bet the boys and I will be tuning in every Friday from now on.


2008: The Year in Review

For my 'Best of 2006' list, click here.
For my 'Best of 2007' list, click here.

Life just keeps getting better, though this year was more about quality than quantity. I didn't read nearly as many books, see as many movies, or eat at as many fabulous restaurants in 2008 as I did in previous years. I bought very little new music and saw almost no live theater. I didn't leave the the East Coast--let alone the country--except for two funerals. Despite all that, I count last year as the richest and fullest of my life.

Top Five Eating Experiences
1) Thomas Henkelman, Greenwich, CT
2) Petrossian, New York, NY
3) Grifone, New York, NY
4) Ocean House, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
5) Café Gray, New York, NY

Top Five Movies Seen
1) Wall*E
2) Quantum of Solace
3) Iron Man
4) The Dark Knight
5) Kung Fu Panda

Top Ten Books Read
1) The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
2) Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman
3) The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
4) Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link
5) Duma Key, by Stephen King
6) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan
7) Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi
8) Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
9) Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
10) Last Year's Apocalypse, by Douglas Lain

Top Five Aesthetic Inspirations
1) diana:muse
2) amybutlerdesign.com
3) whatever.com
4) wondermark.com
5) madelinetosh.com

Best Birthday Present
Barack Obama being elected the 44th President of the United States

Greatest Accomplishments

1) Producing the utterly delicious Anne Catherine Perkins, born 13 May
2) Reading through The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price by June 30th.
3) Running yet another rewarding (if streamlined) edition of Perkins Summer School
4) Successfully completing a two-year service mission leading the local women's group of my church's 12-step Addiction Recovery Program
5) Writing my cookbook Comfortably Yum, available in mere days(!) through Lulu.com
6) Querying agents and publishing houses regarding two of my novels
7) Surviving rejection and/or non-response from all parties queried
8) Writing my first-since-high-school short stories and submitting them for publication
9) Having my short story "Dodmen and the Holophusikon" produced as a podcast
10) Outdoing Patrick for the first time ever in our Christmas gift exchange
11) Putting up three fantastic batches of jam: pear, red raspberry, and peach-white raspberry
12) Creating my online Advent Calendar

Thanks to all my readers: both family and friends, lurkers and commenters. You were one of the main reasons 2008 was so fantastic. Happy New Year! Let's make sure 2009 continues the upward trend.


Top o' the Pops

As I mentioned in this post almost exactly a year ago, every December I make a list of The Best of Everything Important to Me. The categories change somewhat from year to year depending on how I've spent my time and energy. After considering what follows, I have to say that 2007 was my best year ever. That's saying a lot, since 2006 was pretty great.

Top Ten Books (new or re-read):
10. Alfred Lansing, Endurance
9. D.E. Stevenson, Anna and Her Daughters
8. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
7. Dave Duncan, A Man of His Word (series)
6. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris
5. M.T. Anderson, Octavian Nothing
4. Yann Martel, Life of Pi
3. Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
2. Henry Eyring, Because He First Loved Us
1. Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners*

* So very brilliant, especially the title story and "Stone Animals," but dark, disturbing, and emphatically not recommended to my teen readers

Worst Book of the Year:
Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club

Top Ten Movies:
10. Enchanted
9. Premonition
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. The Simpsons Movie
6. Ocean's 13
5. Disturbia
4. Dan in Real Life
3. 1408
2. Sicko
1. I Am Legend

Still waiting to see:
Amazing Grace
August Rush
Becoming Jane
Elizabeth 2: The Golden Age
National Treasure 2

Top Ten iPod Downloads:
10. The Veronicas, "4ever"
9. A Fine Frenzy, "You Picked Me"
8. The Innocence Mission, "The Lakes of Canada"
7. The Bobs, "Synaesthesia"
6. The Dukes of the Stratosphear, "Vanishing Girl"
5. Saint-Privat, "Oh-La-La"
4. The Fratellis, "For the Girl"
3. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
2. The Shins, "Australia"
1. The Killers, "Can You Read My Mind?"

Top Eating Experiences:
6. "Steam Roasted Goose with Gravy," Our House
5. "Jamesie's Jambalaya," Our House
4. "Southwestern Shrimp, Teriyaki Chicken, and Grilled Corn on the Cob," Our House
3. "Szechuan Dumplings," Shun Lee, NYC
2. "Frogs' Legs and Foie Gras Tempura," Picholine, NYC
1. "Poulet en Demi-Deuil," Chanterelle, NYC

Best Theatre Experience of the Year:
Richard III, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Best Concert of the Year:
The Wailin' Jennys, Tarrytown Music Hall

Garden Produce of the Year:
Patissons Panache Squash

Yarn of the Year:
Tofutsies Sock Yarn (It's made out of crab shells and soy!)

2008? Bring it on, Grandpa! It's go-time!


Our Family Motto

A couple of years ago, Patrick went to a workshop for men at our church which focused on sharing ways for fathers to create and enhance family unity. One featured speaker had brought his teenage son; together they disclosed the steps they had taken in this regard. They had made a poetic Family Creed, memorializing in verse their values. They had a Family Song that they sang together which expressed why their family is great. And they had made up a Family Motto: "H______s Make It Happen." Father and son agreed that these simple things had strengthened the loving bonds in their home.

Now, I think this is very sweet. Good for them. But earnestness sometimes brings out the smart alec* in my good husband, and this incident was no exception. During the workshop, he texted his awesomely brilliant smart alecky friend (not me, a guy friend), writing, "Our motto is 'Perkinses Eat a Lot.'" Whereupon his friend responded, "Ours is 'F_______s Blow Stuff Up.'" (His boys had had many an explosive adventure in the basement slop sink when they were teenagers.)

Our little circle of friends now has mottos like "There's No Problem Ice Cream Can't Cure," "The Fewer, the Merrier," and "S______s Never Ask for Directions." I'm sure these fall beyond the scope of the H_____ family's intent, but they have created bonds of their own.

All this is a very lengthy prelude to telling you that I was musing ecstatically upon our treasured Family Motto just last night. Patrick and I went to dinner in the City with two lovely friends from our congregation after visiting the temple, and our meal was exquisite.

We went to Picholine, where Terrance Brennan's cuisine reigns supreme. We've been there several times before; this sublime restaurant features a cheese cave tended by a full-time fromager, Max McCalman. At Picholine, our turophilia can be indulged to the fullest extent allowed by law. The other food has always been lovely as well. But I wouldn't have rated it as highly as that of, say, Chanterelle or Bouley--until last night. I don't know what Terry's been up to, but he has kicked it up a notch.

Patrick's aunt says that you can tell how nice a restaurant is by how much extra stuff they bring you; Picholine excels in this area. The waiter brought us a plate with a shot glass full of a chilled Cucumber Cumin Soup, a tiny 'tot' of Brandade, and a Mushroom Panna Cotta Tartlet with a Parmesan Cracker. The Brandade was like tasting God's recipe for fish sticks.

After these amuse-bouches, my appetizer came: Frog Leg Tempura with Foie Gras and a Curried Mayonnaise. I will confess that I'd never eaten frog's legs before, but I'll eat just about anything with foie gras in or on or near it. Guess what? Frog's legs don't taste like chicken. They have a sweet, smoky, tender flavor all their own, and I was wishing for about 24 more when I was done. Patrick had a Sea Urchin Panna Cotta topped with Caviar--sweet cream o' the sea.

Oh, have mercy. My main course was Lamb Saddle with Artichoke Hearts Barigoule and Garlic. Succulent, with perfectly balanced, complex flavors. I tell you, Terrance Brennan is a chef like Monet was a painter. Patrick had Veal Medallions with Morels, Peas, and this gorgeous cheese called Brescianella Stagionata. I can't tell you how his was, because at this point we weren't even offering tastes to each other the way we usually do. But it looked fantastic.

Ahhh, the cheeses. We told the fromager that we love all cheeses and asked him to make a tasting plate for the table. He did not disappoint. My favorite of the eight was the Fium' Orbu, a sheep's milk cheese made by a little old man on the island of Corsica. The fromager told us this cheese might die with its maker, which I fervently hope will not happen. All the cheeses were lovely.

Dessert. Folks, I make really good apple pie. My apple crisp rocks (the secrets are to use local apples and to double the topping). So when I tell you that the Warm Caramel Apple Brioche with Apple Salad and Salted Caramel Ice Cream was the best apple dessert I've ever consumed, know that I do not speak lightly. I'm serious; I almost broke down crying at the first bite. My lemon verbena tisane was the perfect complement to the brioche's light richness. Or rich lightness. As you can see, it defied my pathetic attempts at description.

More extras: little trays of truffles, nougats, and fruit gums followed the dessert. Call it 'second dessert.' The grapefruit fruit gum was like a rarified Sour Patch Kid. It tasted like real grapefruit, but it had a big, sweet-sour intensity that belied its baby size.

We left the restaurant pleasantly full, still mulling it all over as we drove home. Our two friends also enjoyed the meal very much, but I don't want to double the length of this post describing their great choices.

Perkinses Eat a Lot. And they love their food, be it a Sloppy Joe or an evening's bounty like last night's. I don't hold with demonizing food, or feeling guilty about it, or talking about how unhealthy or sinful it is to indulge in it. Food is a blessing, a gift from God.

I do not believe food makes us sick or fat. I believe that what is going on in our minds and spirits has far more to do with metabolism or the body's other functions than science can yet measure.

All I am saying is, give peace a chance. End your war with food. Don't worship it, but do savor it with thanks and praise to its Creator. Share it with as many people as you can; let's take the energy we used to spend on ambivalence over food and use it to find ways to feed the world. And if you ever get a chance, go to Picholine and raise a glass in memory of me.

*The fact that P is sometimes a smart alec makes him exponentially more attractive to me.