Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
(Christopher Isherwood; photo from an exhibition at The Huntington)
I tape the Rachael Ray show each day because, while I vastly enjoy her quick meal preparation tips, I usually cannot abide the rest of what she airs. Taping lets me fast-forward to the EVOO section, as I think of it.
This week, however, she's had Rosie O'Donnell on a couple of times, and I've been watching them interact, thinking about how much Italian and Irish immigrants shaped American culture and g*d bless us all for their contributions. Rosie is hawking a prime time variety special tonight. I hope it works. I grew up on variety shows and miss them. I also miss Hollywood musicals. Maybe once we fix the economy, stop the wars, and get us all health care, we can outlaw most so-called reality TV and bring back intelligent TV on a grand scale.
I heard this week they've canceled Pushing Daisies. Figures, they also canceled Dead Like Me and Firefly.
Rosie glowed as she announced the opening number would be with Liza Minelli. I was glad to see Liza not treated like a joke for once. It was hard to suffer through the whole David Gest debacle. I feel a special kinship to Liza Minelli because my mother felt a special kinship for Judy Garland and I more or less inherited cutting these women some slack. When I was 14, I was present at the birth of a hyperactive puppy whom I named Liza and who became my devoted companion for 15 years. I went to more than one Liza Minelli concert, back in my stomping dyke days (on the quiet, of course). When Rosie burst out into "It's Liza with a Z, not Lisa with an S -- " I knew all the lyrics. I have every Heloise book, and when I use the word "rawther", I imagine Liza as a frantic, neglected child trying to garner adult attention with hypervolubility.
Then in 1972, my senior year in high school, Liza won the Oscar for Cabaret. I drove to Wichita Falls, an hour away, to see it with an older woman I was soon to seduce. It was my first time to see an openly gay character on screen -- even though Cliff Bradshaw, as butchered by the screenplay, was a watered-down version of gay. I was electrified. The earth's axis tilted in a new direction.
It wasn't simply the queerness. It was the entire portrayal of a so-called decadent culture (but one I would have given my eyeteeth to live among) right before Nazis commenced their slaughter. And, in particular, it was how Art could be used to comment on what was happening, to laugh in the face of fascists, with survival of ideas if not individuals. My 17-year-old self could not shut up about it.
Also, when Liza as Sally Bowles sang about her former roommate Elsie (with whom she shared four sordid rooms in Chelsea), when she talked about the death of the druggie whore and how "the neighbors came to snicker", the bitterness of her voice flooded me with the realization that Liza was defending her mother. Standing up for Judy. Of course they gave her the Oscar for that.
My closeted English teacher, Miss Duff, informed me the screenplay was based on a short novel by Christopher Isherwood, who had in fact known the real Sally Bowles and lived in Berlin as an out gay man as Hitler rose to power. She also told me Isherwood had been friends since boyhood with W.H. Auden.
I knew about Auden. My mother had read me his poetry since I was a baby, and only a couple of years earlier, I'd read an article about him in The Saturday Review which hinted strongly that he was a Homosexual. I felt something like a divine hand, leading me.
Somehow I found The Berlin Stories at a library in that exceedingly rural, exceedingly fundamentalist region of North Texas.
There are some books whose opening lines create such emotion in you, it's possible you would wipe their memory from your brain in order to experience them for the first time again. Like:
"What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You Tom!"
Or: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
Well, among those eternal openings for me is the plunge into The Berlin Stories:
“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”
I knew, in every cell of my body, what he was talking about. He was an Outsider, who accepted his exile but would not cede his dignity or his right to witness, and who was now exercising his right to tell the tale. He handed me a way to live, in that instant. I wasn't going to be Sally Bowles, and certainly not Elsie -- I was going to be the camera, the one who got out alive with a record to give the world later.
Thank you, Herr Issyvoo. Thank you, Liza, and Rosie, and Miss Duff. It's time for me to make a meal and go watch a variety show, thinking about the possibilities of cabaret and commentary. Thank you all, for not snickering.
(Christopher Isherwood, left, and Don Bachardy, a couple chronicled in "Chris and Don", in the early 1980s; photo by Jack Shear -- Zeitgeist Films)
[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]
Every year since Chimpy McFlightsuit has taken office, I've avoided watching him speak, no matter what national circumstances we find ourselves in: Too painful. This is particularly true for events like the Easter Egg Roll (a.k.a. keep the kids of dykes and faggots off the White House lawn) or meeting horrified foreign dignitaries who must wonder how low we have fallen as a nation. But they flash by on the screen as I hit mute. And this year, our local news anchor had a knowing grin on his face when he began "In what may perhaps be his last official pardon, President Bush..." as footage of two befuddled creatures rolled, one of them in a suit.
Once again, my longing for Josiah Bartlet to be REAL stirred my viscera. And I was reminded of my favorite West Wing character, Claudia Jean Cregg, when she had to handle turkey pardoning in the Bartlet White House. For your early holiday pleasure, below are three videos from an era when we still believed in a Presidency that was not tainted by fanaticism and greed (restoration underway, giving thanks early I am):
C.J. meets the turkeys to be pardoned (poor quality video)
C.J. must ask the President to pardon another turkey
President Bartlet on the Butterball hotline
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
(Sunlight and stones on Canadian river bottom; photograph by Paul Nicklen)
So. Here's the scoop. (Part of the scoop.)
I can't pay my rent in ten days. The only reason I'm not evicted yet is because others have paid my rent. And phone bill, and utilities. The only reason I have food for Thanksgiving is because someone else at this blog sent me money to buy groceries. I went almost five days without a solid meal last week. I'm out of most of my medications, and I don't have health insurance. And my good, generous friends are tapped out.
I'm trying to get emergency help, but it's unbelievably complicated. Hard to do when you're hungry and freaked out.
It's so hard to admit all this. I grew up in poverty, and I'm back there again.
I have a job but the hours have been slashed because people aren't going to the hospital if they can possibly help it, aren't seeking medical care that can be postponed (I hear that). I have no family to lean on, no means of leaving my house for assistance. Scary shit.
The most I can manage at the moment, aside from what I'm already doing, is to share this with you. An act of faith, and going against shame. The only way through some things is through it.
Thanks for being here.
A few years ago, I watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen that gave me a recipe for cooking sweet potatoes which I've used ever since, producing the kind of dish people rave about. I'm sharing it on here. I won't be giving exact quantities because it's the technique that works, not amounts. This will NOT involve marshmallows, by the way, if you're from that school of sweet potato eaterology.
Note: Most of what we call "yams" in this country are another variety of sweet potato. Real yams don't show up in our supermarkets and are not as nutritious as sweet potatoes anyhow.
Use at least one large sweet potato per person who will be eating. Peel or don't peel, depending on your preference. Cut them into thin uniform slices. Place them in a saucepan with a lid, along with at least half an inch of half and half, cream, or milk to cover the bottom of the pan. Add butter to your preference. (Note: I always use unsalted butter, not just for baking -- control of salt is important to good cooking.) Turn the heat on low and allow them to simmer for a long time -- the sweet potatoes will release their liquid, and that combined with the milk will steam them, but they'll take in flavor as they lose moisture. If you are the type to add sweetening, add it now -- brown sugar, maple syrup or molasses. Plus a dash of vanilla, if you want. After at least half an hour, check the potatoes, and add more liquid to keep the bottom of the pan covered. When they are completely tender, add salt, pepper and other spices to taste, plus more butter if you want. Mash them. They'll be unbelievably creamy, full of flavor, and have retained all their excellent nutrition. You can make these in advance and refrigerate them.
A trick I learned from cooking with Julia and Jacques is to keep mashed potatoes (and sweet potatoes) tasting "fresh" and non-oxidized when made in advance of a meal, hold back a little on the milk or cream you add when you mash them. Spread them in a deep bowl and pour a thin layer of milk on the top, enough to cover all the exposed potatoes. Cover and refrigerate up to a day in advance. When it's time to serve, mash the milk back into the potatoes and warm them in the microwave. You'll be surprised at the retention of flavor.
One year my partner and I hosted a potluck Thanksgiving where we demanded that our guests bring dishes using only foods native to the New World. Turkey, pumpkin, cranberries and corn were easy choices. However, grains, eggs and milk necessary for some dishes proved problematic. We bought a few Native American cookbooks and spent several days experimenting. We discovered that filberts ground into meal and then boiled produced a nutty "cream" that was heavenly when used in place of milk. We allowed wild rice, sunflower and corn oil, manioc flour, and duck eggs (the latter was stretching it a bit). The resultant menu was staggeringly good. It's impossible to imagine world cuisine without maize, tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, and the wide variety of beans and spices which have fed the globe for centuries now. Here's a list of crops given to the rest of the world by the Americas.
Feel free to use this thread to share tried-and-true Thanksgiving recipes, your planned menu, etc. Are you of the stuffing-in-the-bird school or stuffing in a separate pan? Do you brine your turkey? Here's my planned line-up: Brisket (much preferred by me to turkey), sweet potatoes as above, cornbread stuffing outside the bird with hazelnuts and blueberries, whole-wheat rolls, green bean casserole, spinach, and peach cobbler (I prefer pumpkin as a vegetable).
(Cross-posted at Group News Blog.)