HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS — IN THE HEART


                                                                                                                   [Photo © William Gedney]

Bob Dylan’s Christmas In the Heart, track by track . . .

Imagine a bad Christmas.  You’re alone in a strange city, half drunk,
lost, wandering amongst the fake cheer, the commercial decor, the
canned holiday music oozing out over the street.



An old rummy, someone in worse shape than you’re in, comes up to you
and grabs your hand and looks you in the eye and says, “Merry
Christmas,” as though he means it, as though he really believes
Christmas is going to be a new start for him, and for you.


It’s not much, but it could be enough to get you through the night.
“What a deluded old fool,” you might think at first, but you’re a
deluded old fool, too, and what choice do you have but faith?  It’s
either that or go back to your hotel room and slit your wrists.

Christmas In the Heart, Bob Dylan’s heartbreaking Christmas album, is a
cry from that old man, a handshake from that old man, an irrational
gesture of hope from that old man.



The album opens with “Here Comes Santa Claus” — which has devolved
into “Here Comes the Holiday Shopping Season” in the popular mind.  Its
words suggest other things.


Hang your stockings, say your prayers . . .

As Dylan sings, growls, “say your prayers,” he’s speaking from a place
of desperation, from the edge of the apocalypse.  “Say your prayers” —
there’s nothing left to do but that.  The last radio is playing.



He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor
For he loves you just the same.
Santa knows that we’re God’s children
And that makes everything right.

Everything?  Yes, Dylan’s voice testifies — everything.

Peace on earth will come to all
If we just follow the light.
Let’s give thanks to the Lord above
For Santa Claus comes tonight.

The song bounces along merrily into a transcendent vision.  What’s
coming, right down Santa Claus Lane, is salvation.

Back to the Christmas In the Heart track list page.

ONE STEP BEYOND — DON'T GO THERE

Paul Zahl (of The Zahl File) offers another meditation on an extraordinary bit of American culture from days gone by, the T. V. series One Step Beyond.  If you don't remember it, or never saw it, Paul suggests that you might do well to keep it that way, just for your own peace of mind:

EXCRUCIATING — BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE . . .

by Paul F. M. Zahl


Way Out
, Roald Dahl's television show, was the ugly one, the ghoulish
one, the cruel one.



Twilight Zone
was the high end of these early television gems of the fantastic — moralistic and righteous, at times redemptive and even hopeful. 
Christ got at least two positive mentions in the Rod Serling scripts,
and the team effort showed in the artful results.



But in between, in between the cruelty of Roald Dahl and the justice of
Rod Serling, came the observing eye of . . . John Newland.



Newland is barely remembered today, but in the late 1950s and early
1960s (and even into the 1970s) he produced, directed, and acted in
scores and scores of  television shows, mostly in the supernatural or
thriller line.  Speaking of
Thriller, Newland directed “Pigeons from
Hell” for that great series, scaring us all where it counts — early
childhood — and leaving us with that tender scar forever.




Newland's big achievement was hosting three seasons of a series concerning the
paranormal.  The series was entitled
One Step Beyond.  It was created by Merwin Gerard and consisted of
thirty-minute 'docu-dramas' of supposed instances of possession,
ghostly presence, telepathy, and predictions of dreadful futures.



I have been watching
One Step Beyond since the day it was birthed, in
1959.  Almost all of the shows have been on video since the beginning,
as they were somehow in the public domain.  And now — there is a God
— Paramount has released the first season of
One Step Beyond in
splendid condition.  Oh, and the music, especially the theme called
“Fear”, written by Harry Lubin, is the ultimate science-fiction/horror
theme.  Anyone who is reading this would recognize it instantly.  (I
listen to it right before bedtime every night.  Mary loves it, too.)



But what has come to me in recent viewings, with an almost stunning
power, is a sort of personal truth about the inner spring of these
tight dramas.  It is a truth about the supernatural in general, and it
springs from its source.  These stories, with few exceptions that I can
see, are about love lost or love gone wrong.  Someone has lost someone,
and is desperate with grief.  He or she is completely naked to the
possibility of contact.  Or someone has done somebody wrong, and the
guilt is killing them.  Or, even, somebody
hates somebody else, and the
hate gets objectified, in some kind of paranormal occurrence.




Below are some examples of what I am talking about.  (“The Dead Part Of
the House” is available on the official Paramount DVD release (above), the
rest are available for download or viewing through YouTube or related
sites.)



Season One, Episode Nine:  “The Dead Part of the House”



A widower hates his nine-year-old daughter because she survived an
accident that killed her mother.


He resents his little girl.  And she knows it, and the child is
perishing for love, in front of his eyes.


She develops three ghostly friends, and in a benign move, these
supernatural friends are able to bring her father to his senses.




Phillip Abbott plays the father and conveys an irrational paternal
hatred, based on a love for his wife gone awry, that is painful to
watch,
in the extreme.  The little girl is entirely sympathetic, and so
completely shaken.  Moreover, the child's kind aunt is powerless over
her brother.



It is Tennessee Williams, as far as I am concerned, on a claustrophobic
'50s television set, yet completely unself-conscious.



Season Two, Episode Seven: “The Open Window”



A painter of fashion models — his current model is played by Louise Fletcher —
observes a woman in an apartment across the way preparing to commit
suicide.  She has been rejected romantically and her little
black-and-white four-walled world is killing her.  Her disconcerting
monologue and preparations, overheard and observed, have several
antecedents in theater and movies.  But the television camera closes in
on her, with dissection.  It is impossible to watch.  And it's only
1960!


As for the denouement, you'll have to see it yourself.  But it's not
really about the genre, it's about human attachment severed and love
torn to shreds.  How did Newland, who produced and directed, get this
out at an early hour Friday night?  I don't think anybody at the
network or the sponsor must have seen it as serious, because it was
about, uh, ESP.  But it was very serious.



Season Two, Episode 20: “Who Are You?”



A little girl wakes up in her bed and doesn't recognize her parents. 
Her parents are loving, devoted, and dear.
  She runs away and finds the people she believes to be her parents.  They, for their part, are living in a total darkness of grief, having
lost their own little girl recently.

The little girl we are watching is possessed of the spirit of the
other, dead little girl.  And she is horrified by the attentions of her natural parents.  And her grief-stricken 'real' parents are horrified by
her.

This child is totally lost, but alive and real, a whole self of
yearning.


When “Who Are You?” is over and the implications of the first 20
minutes — these shows are all 29 minutes long — begin to sink in, the
situation becomes excruciating.


In short, don't watch this.



Just two more examples, but they can be multiplied by a score of others:



Season Two, Episode 32: “Delia”



Here is a humdinger, which begins so quietly and prosaically that the
middle section takes you completely by surprise.


A vacationing American man is trying to recover from a second lousy
marriage, and is drinking in a bar on a quiet island off Mexico.
  Another American, a sexy divorcée, at a table nearby, invites him
over.  She is beautiful and the kind of woman most men would love to
meet under such circumstances.  But he turns her down.  He is
impossible.


He takes a self-pitying walk down to the beach, and half way down,
meets an extremely beautiful, refined, and quite un-sexy woman sitting
alone by a tree.  She knows all about him, connects with him instantly
— as he with her — and they are completely and in a single minute one
in love forever.  She is the lost and final love eternal, with eternal
eyes and never-ending smile. 


He exits for a moment, comes back — and she is gone.


He spends the rest of his life searching for her, and ends up back on
the island, where he awaits her return, and drinks himself to  death. 
I won't give away the ending.


This little parable is the ultimate dream of romance between a man and
a woman.  Drink to me only with thine eyes.  I will spend my life
awaiting your return.  And die in the process.


After you see “Delia” once, it becomes impossible to watch it again. 
Get thee behind me.  (Get thee to a nunnery) 


He should have stayed with the giving brunette. 
Hélas, he didn't.


Season Two, Episode 33: “The Visitor”



This one is a celebrated episode.  It starred Joan Fontaine, with Warren
Beatty, in either his first or second appearance ever.


It concerns a woman in older middle-age who has left her husband,
against his will, for the bottle; and has pulled herself completely
within herself at their cozy mountain get-away.  A nice fire is burning
on a snowy night, there's plenty of money, and there's a bar full of
whisky.  But a young man knocks at the door, his car having broken down
in the snow, and he is trying to get to the hospital where his young
wife is having a baby.  He cannot get there.


Who he is and why he is there and what he has come to do?  All is
revealed, neatly and affectingly. 


Again, this is about love gone wrong, about malice as the consequence of hurt,
about grief causing people to go mad — and all on a minuscule set, with one
camera, two actors, and dread, with heart. 


Don't see this one either.




I watch these episodes of
One Step Beyond and have to tell myself not
to watch any more.
  They are saturated with grief.  They are fistfuls of loss and love that
is separated, by the curtain of death, from fulfillment, even promise. 
Yes, there is compassion — and none whatever of the ghoulish joy in
karma that
Way Out featured every time.  I would call these instances
of Baby-Boomer television masterpieces of wrecked emotion, and love's
attachment snapped forever.



How come these are so powerful — if “excruciating” means powerful?
  I would like to finish this article by trying to say why.


In the first place these are completely uncompromised one-act plays. 
The camera prowls around — I honestly think of Rossellini and the
inquiring camera, maybe even the camera as protagonist, though I fear
that sounds pretentious.  (I invoked Tolstoy once in a conversation
with Joe Dante, and he suddenly started to look at me coolly.  I sure
wanted to withdraw that particular comment.)  Yet it is true that John
Newland's camera moves around a lot, in interior spaces about the size
of a closet most of the time.  In addition, his close-ups, which are
numerous, completely fill the screen.  These are intimate dramas —
they are about one or two, or at the most three, characters.  The
people's faces are tortured.  They are anguished.  The unflinching
close-ups mostly record grief and separation.  What are ghosts
in these stories other than objectified presences of love become
unattainable?  Thus the excruciating atmosphere of
One Step Beyond.


There is one other thing:


When  I was eight and nine years old and saw shows like this, I
definitely connected with the fear and dread. But


I didn't really get the truth.  The psychology was completely at the
edges, or rather,
out of the question. 

I just knew, to my bones and my nerve ends, that something serious was
going on.


Too serious.
 


Twilight Zone
, which saved the day, was more distanced somehow.  It
didn't raise the resistance that was raised by
One Step Beyond
Neither could I have appreciated
The Glass Menagerie.  (Still can't
watch the last act.)



My advice to you, dear reader, is Skip This One.  Sit It Out.


It's too close to home.  Take away the supernatural part of it, and
there is only human loss.


Oder — and I truly wish I had done this when I was president of a
theological seminary — show “Delia'”and “The Dead Part of the House”
to a class for future ministers on . . . pastoral care.  In the church,
and in the frayed and hungry world around us, you're going to encounter
quite a few Delias and a whole directory full of The Dead Parts of
Houses.

THE NATIONAL TREE

Corey and Rock are father and son, with all that that entails.  They're hauling the National Christmas Tree across the country, to its rendezvous with a lighting ceremony in front of the White House — but something happens to it along the way.  The giant Sitka Spruce captures hearts and repairs old wounds, in people and in the nation itself.

It will be rolling through your hometown tonight, wherever you happen to live, on the Hallmark Channel, at 8 o'clock, in a movie written by my friend J. B. White, with a slight assist by yours truly, based on the novel of the same name by another friend, David Kranes, and produced by a third friend of very long standing indeed, Cotty Chubb.

If you have a taste for some old-fashioned Christmas sentiment, check it out.

TURKEY SANDWICH DAYS

My friend Jae and I concocted yet another stupendous Thanksgiving feast . . .

. . . turkey with chorizo stuffing, Jae's famous mashed potatoes with pumpkin beer gravy.

These had been done before.  But challenge is what we live for, so Jae decided to make an apple pie, his first pie of any kind ever.  I myself have never even thought about baking a pie.

On the advice of the guy in the produce section at the grocery store where we were shopping, we used a variety of apples — two Granny Smiths for tartness, two Jazz for sweetness, two Red Delicious for tradition.  Plunging deeper into tradition, Jae followed the recipe for apple pie given in the 1953 edition of The Joy Of Cooking.

It can't be improved upon — it prescribes just the right amount of sugar, of nutmeg, of cinnamon.  It results in a pie that summons back Eisenhower's America . . . kitchens in brand-new suburban housing developments, school cafeterias, coffee shops, truck stops, all-night diners in noirish neon-flooded cities.



It's a pie that makes you say, “Gee whiz!”

You're probably asking yourself, “How do they do it — two unskilled, unpracticed cooks with only the dimmest notions of kitchen procedures?”

We can do it for one reason and one reason only — we are awesome.

Now the days of turkey sandwiches begin, washed down with Mexican Coca-Colas, still made with real sugar, as they were made in America in Eisenhower's time, while Christmas music plays on the stereo.

Gee whiz.

GRATEFUL LAYS

I went to a prep school once upon a time — just me and five hundred other bewildered boys off in the woods of New Hampshire.  We were required to attend chapel eight times a week in the building above.

On the last night of every term, “The Last Night Hymn” was sung there.  These are some of the words:

Saviour source of every blessing,
Tune my heart to grateful lays:
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for ceaseless songs of praise.

It's a song for Thanksgiving, too.  The phrase “count your blessings” has never had much resonance for me.  With streams of mercy never ceasing, you might as well count the drops of water in a river flowing past you.

The image of the streams of mercy was called into my consciousness three times a year from the time I was thirteen to the time I was eighteen.  It's taken all the rest of my life to begin to understand what it means.

PARIS: DOUBLE VISION — LE POLIDOR

There has been a restaurant at the site of the Polidor since 1845, though it did not get its present name until the beginning of the last century.  Its decor has not changed since then, and it still serves hearty 19th-Century food.

Diners sit mostly at long communal tables, and used to be able to store private wine bottles in numbered cabinet drawers.  It has always been and remains popular with students from the nearby Sorbonne, and with struggling artists.  James Joyce was an habitué — Hemingway and Kerouac dined there.  It is a place one goes to commune with literary ghosts, and with the Paris of an earlier time.  I can't remember what I ate when I went there, but it's the sort of place where you would want to try the cassoulet.

My friend Coralie visited Le Polidor recently, and took wonderful photographs of it.  She arrived after the lunch hours and before the dinner hours — the place was deserted but charged with expectancy.  It reminded her of visiting a theater before the arrival of the audience.  Here is her report about it:

Le Polidor — Dans Sa Loge


Il n'est pas encore 19 heures, lorsque je remonte la rue Monsieur Le
Prince.  Je me trouve arrivée devant Le Polidor sans l'avoir remarqué
car l'enseigne indique une ancienne crèmerie.  Je pousse la porte du
bistrot.  La salle est vide, pleine d'absence.  Mais en regardant de
plus près, je réalise que je me trouve dans l'intimité de sa loge.  Je
m'assieds sans bruit aucun, me fondant dans le décor.

Je ne suis pas
sensée être là, et pourtant chaque objet, les tables dressées où
tiennent quelques dizaines de couverts, dès lors que mon regard
s'approche, me susurrent à voix basse leur texte respectif.  Il me
semble saisir des fragments de conversation traversées par des rires
enthousiastes, tandis que les mets, petites oeuvres picturales
s'apprêtent à vivre leur éphémérité.  La chaleur humaine m'enveloppe
dans un bain de lumière, — de ce côté de la rampe.  Fouillant du regard
l'espace environnant, je pénètre le sombre du fond de la salle.  Une
pièce massive de bois tachée de mosaïques me rappelle la cuirasse de
l'armure des samouraï.

M'enfonçant dans l'effet magique du
clair-obscur, je découvre un coffre plein de trésors, avec sa myriade
de petites pièces d'or incrustées.  Délicatement je fais glisser un
petit tiroir afin de ne pas déranger le script. Jacques Lacan, le
célèbre psychanalyste décrivait cette métamorphose… lorsque l'objet
devient une chose.  Je respire à peine, afin que du fond des cuisines,
ma présence ne soit pas soupçonnée.  Soudainement, je suis frappée
d'enchantement.

Dans chaque tiroir loge un petit monde qui fait fi du
temps. L'âme de son hôte y séjourne toujours.  Je suis comblée par
cette découverte : Nowhere… Now Here. Maintenant je dois vite quitter
ce petit théâtre du monde, et laisser la représentation se donner.



Me dirigeant vers la sortie du Polidor, je sers précieusement tout
contre moi, la richesse du trésor qui désormais, m'anime.  Plus que
quelques mètre de carrelage et je suis dans la rue.  Tirant doucement
la porte derrière moi d'un geste assuré, j'efface ma traversée des
lieux.  Afin de marquer ce vécu du sceau de la spatialité, je me rends
attentive au seuil qui me sépare de l'autre réalité.  Ce dernier acte
se livre comme une sacralisation de ce qui m'a éprouvée.



Je prends deux ou trois clichés 'du dehors'.  La pénombre a l'épaisseur
du rêve.

[All photographs © 2009 Coralie Chappat.]

BEEF BURGUNDY MACQUEEN

This legendary recipe, long sought-after in culinary circles, passionately admired by icons of the silver screen, dismissed as a myth, decried as hype, is now revealed for public scrutiny.  Two days ago, scientific cooks convened in the ultra-moderne mardecortesbaja test kitchen to put it through its paces and to report on the results without fear or favor.

Finally, the truth can be told.  This is not the simplest recipe I have ever posted on this site.  It requires some hard work and some precise timing.  But here is the bottom line — if you follow Scott MacQueen's rule below, as I did, religiously, you will find you have concocted something miraculous.  It is to stew what Margaux is to vin ordinaire.  It is a testament to the fantastical delicacy and complexity of French culture, and makes for a meal both hearty and sublime, an experience both sensual and spiritual.  Scott writes:

You will need:
 
6 slice of bacon —
must be nice fat marbled bacon, nothing lean.  Oscar Mayer works well.

3 pounds stewing beef

Olive oil

4 cups burgundy or other dry red: I usually buy a minimum of 2 bottles of the same vintage for cooking, and if I have been tony that week and am flush I try to use a better wine so I can serve the same
with the meal.  This is not necessary, as a basic $8 bottle of burgundy or Cabernet Sauvignon from a reputable vintner works well when reduced by cooking

2 cups beef stock (commercial brands like Swansons A-OK)

2 tablespoons tomato paste (a pain and a waste if you open a small can and have no other use for the remaining paste; to be frugal you can do without, but I think it adds a bit to the body.  If you elect to do without it, add about 1/4 cup of ketchup to approximate the tomato flavor)

3 crushed garlic cloves (only use fresh)

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 bay leaf

Salt

1 pounds mushrooms, browned in butter (I am a pig on mushrooms, and have been known to sometimes increase this by 50% to 100%)

2 large yellow onions (chopped & browned in butter)

Roux: 1/2 cup white flour browned in 1/2 cup melted salted butter



Be sure to wear a good apron that covers shirt to thighs as this can be messy. 
[Editor's Note: The risk-taking scientific chefs worked in casual clothes without protection.]
 
Peel and dice your onions and place aside in bowl.  Clean and slice your mushrooms and place aside in bowl.
 
Get a nice large stove-top stew pot.  Fill it with the wine, beef stock, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, tomato paste, salt to taste (I use a teaspoon but shouldn't — your mileage may vary, based on the blood pressure needs of you and those you love).  Put on low flame on the burner.
 
Fry the bacon gently until nice light golden brown, with all fatty parts crisped. 
Save the fat in the pan, put the bacon aside and either nibble on it as you cook (if you are a pig like me) or, thoughtfully, keep it aside to crumble later on a tossed green salad.

[Editor's note: The mardecortesbaja chefs nibbled on the bacon, eventually consuming it all.]


 

In a new pan, brown up the onions in butter until they are transparent and golden brown, keep on the side. Brown up the sliced mushrooms in same sauté pan.  Add the mushrooms to the onions, keeping all of the extruded water juice.  Place to the side.
 
Add about 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to the bacon fat, get it to a medium-high heat before slowly adding the beef to the pan.  If you add it too fast, the meat cools the hot fat and doesn't sear the face quickly.  Brown the meat quickly on all sides, raising the heat as needed but being careful not to burn it (the fat & olive oil have low smoking points).  Watch out for splatter; a splatter screen is helpful if you have one to reduce spitting as you will otherwise get hot spots on your forearms as well as a greasy stove top.  Add beef to the pot when browned.  I usually need 2 or 3 batches to complete all browning.
 
Use some of the red wine to de-glaze your pan with a wooden spoon and add the residue to the pot.
 
Cover the stew pot with a lid, leaving it just slightly ajar for minimum venting to prevent steam build-up.  Place the flame on low.  Let it cook for 3 hours.
 
This is a good time to make your roux.  You know how — melt butter, drizzle in flour slowly to the hot butter and stir with wooden spoon, letting it get a nice golden brown in color.  When all the flour is browned & integrated (no lumps), put aside in a bowl.


 
Within 30 minutes your house will take on the most intoxicating aroma which you might not notice immediately as it gathers — but someone walking in at this point will begin to salivate and make loud remarks about it. 
[Editor's Note: No visitors entered the mardecortesbaja test kitchen during the preparation of this dish, but the experts at work there became semi-intoxicated by the aroma.]
 
At the 3-hour mark, stir again and put the onions & mushrooms into the pot, stirring thoroughly.  The mix should now have a nice lumpy stew-like consistency, but still be viscous. If there is no fluid (i. e., if it has boiled away because you had your heat too high), carefully add 1/2 to 1 cup of water until the stew is free flowing (but you shouldn't have to do this.)
 
Let it cook for another half hour, then slowly add the roux, stirring with a wooden spoon to distribute it evenly.  It should have the consistency of a thick, viscous stew.


 
[Editor's Note: Above, the first roux ever made in the mardecortesbaja test kitchen, a stunning success, is added to the pot.]

I always serve this over egg noodles, with a tossed green salad (only a light vinaigrette, or preferably oil & vinegar dressing, so as not to fight the flavors), a good burgundy or Sauvignon
comme boisson, and — essential — fresh crusty French bread with whipped sweet butter.

[Editor's Note: The scientific chefs had secured the makings of a salad but were too excited about eating the main dish to bother with it.  They also forgot the bread but didn't care -- the Beef Burgundy engaged all their senses with its subtle blend of flavors, each somehow distinct after all the simmering.]
 
If you find that you like this, it is a perfect dish to make in a double batch and freeze.  It reheats beautifully in minutes in a microwave (though I prefer to do it on the stove top) and makes for fragrant, elegant cooking on a time budget.


 
TIPS:
 

I actually like it better
day 2, when it has 24 hours to marinate after cooking.  It is more tender and aromatic.  Each time I reheat it for re-serving, I put a few shots of red wine into it to “freshen” the wine flavor.

[Editor's Note: What he said.]

STEPLADDERS!

They lurk in closets, utility rooms, sheds and garages — seemingly innocent, ordinary home implements . . . and yet they hold the potential for doom, sudden and ghastly.

Do we take the warning labels on them seriously?  No!  We laugh at them — until we tumble backwards into nightmare, into injuries, multiple, grievous injuries . . . or death!

CELEBRATING CARLA

In a recent post I noted the 100th birthday of horror movie and Baja California icon Carla Laemmle.  Imagine my delight and surprise when I heard from Scott MacQueen, a reader and friend of mardecortesbaja, that he knew the great lady and had hosted her birthday party in his own home, doing the cooking for it himself.  (Scott's recipe for Beef Burgundy will appear on this site in the not too distant future, as soon as I have a chance to try it out in the world-famous mardecortesbaja test kitchen.)

Scott also sent along a picture of the festivities, above — with Carla flanked by David Skal (author of Hollywood Gothic) on the left and by Rick Atkins (co-author of Among the Rugged Peaks, Carla's biography) on the right.  (Click on the titles of the books to buy them!)

Ms. Laemmle looks — there's just no other word for it — adorable.

REPORT FROM PARIS: HOUDON

Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1848) was the greatest of French sculptors — indeed, one of the greatest of all sculptors.  His marble portrait busts represent the pinnacle of his art, with their startling realism and feeling of life, deep psychological insight and sublime treatment of the marble itself.

He did famous portraits of most of the leaders of the Enlightenment and standing before these portraits today you feel yourself in the presence of these extraordinary men — closer than even their writings bring you.  Voltaire's smile, Benjamin Franklin's genial intellect, Thomas Jefferson's emotional reserve are things you experience directly though Houdon's art.  If I recall correctly, the portrait above is of an actress — her dramatic expression is not Houdon's but her own.

Franklin sent Houdon to America in 1785 to make a portrait of George Washington at Mount Vernon, where the hero of the American Revolution sat for a life mask and wet clay models, which became the basis for many subsequent commissions of busts and statues of the great man.  In all of them, Washington looks both severe and modest, grand and simple — he could be a teamster or a king, which I guess made him such a perfect candidate for first President of the United States.  His mystery, impenetrable even by his contemporaries, remains intact in Houdon's portrait.

My friend Coralie sent me the picture of the bust at the head of this report, which I think she took in the Louvre, from her iPhone just as her plane was about to take off from Paris for her return to Geneva.  She said she wanted to share it in case the plane crashed.  This makes perfect sense to me.  With all of Houdon's portraits, you get a feeling they might change their expression, might leave the room, at any moment.  Houdon's work doesn't seem to have been made for the ages, but in the now for the now, whenever that now might be.  They have the immediacy of ancient Greek sculpture, of real life coursing through stone — pure miracle.

REPORT FROM PARIS: LE PETIT BAR

The mardecortesbaja sentimental tour of Paris continues . . .

Last night, the indefatigable Coralie had a drink at Le Petit Bar at the Ritz, where Hemingway liked to drink when he was staying at that sublime hotel.  (When American troops entered Paris in 1944, Hemingway, a war correspondent, was in the vanguard and headed straight for the Ritz to liberate it — he then went to visit Picasso, to see if he was all right, and finding him out, left him a crate of grenades as a calling card.)

Coralie informs me that Le Petit Bar was originally the ladies' bar at the Ritz, when mixed drinking was frowned upon.  Today, it is restored to what it looked like in Hemingway's time, with the addition of photographs of Papa on the walls, one of which, with the big fish, can be partially seen in her photograph above.

Cheers!

REPORT FROM PARIS: LE GRAND VÉFOUR

My friend Coralie had lunch today at Le Grand Véfour, and sends the picture above to prove it.  Envy her!

The first “grand restaurant” in Paris, Le Grand Véfour opened in 1784 as the Café de Chartres.  Napoleon is said to have dined there.  In 1820 it was bought by Jean Véfour and renamed.  Between then and 1905, when it closed for 42 years, every famous French person you've ever heard of, like Victor Hugo, and many you haven't heard of, dined there.  It was reopened in 1948, and became a favorite hang-out of Colette, who lived nearby.

Its decor doesn't seem to have changed much since its Café de Chartres days — the food is more variable.  From time to time it will lose its third Michelin star, then regain it.  Each development in the ongoing drama is headline news in France.

Coralie describes the experience of dining there today as “'si raffiné'!  C'est un pur moment esthétique.