from CAFE MONDEGAR – A Novel

Tess and her daughter got out from the Aston Martin on Michigan Avenue outside the eleven-hundred-and-twenty-seven-foot Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, John Hancock Center, and after the valet had taken the car, they began walking along the Magnificent Mile as this beautiful stretch spanning the distance between the Chicago River and Lincoln Park is called.  With its upscale boutiques and department stores and the Water Tower designed by William Boyington, which was completed one hundred years before Big John, as the Hancock tower is locally and affectionately known.

The mother and daughter loved to take in this mid-western metropolis’s beautiful lakefront and eat lunch overlooking Lake Michigan from The Drake hotel; and then wander among the shops of Michigan Avenue and Oak Street.  Now that Tess had moved back to Chicago she realised just how much she had missed returning to this awesome stretch of oppidan splendour, and how she especially enjoyed having Monica with her.

Tess had been lonely when Monica had decided to seek dramatic prospects in Old Albion, but, as her father had mentioned, neither of the Baums would have tried to dissuade their only child from following her heart, even had they thought it was misdirected.

Moving back to Chicago from Virginia, Max had accepted positions on the boards of directors of some ten or twelve different companies and Tess had once again enjoyed the domesticity of preening and ordering the Kenilworth residence.  The home they had bought twenty-five years before and to which they had returned frequently during Max’s time in the Senate.

Tess was a daughter of Chicago’s north shore.  She had grown up in great affluence in Northbrook, the daughter of one of the city’s most redoubtable lawyers, and the relationship Monica shared with her parents was almost borrowed from the one Tess had enjoyed with hers, till their deaths, three years apart.

She had met Maxfield while they were at the University taking a Philosophy class together.  Her Kantian maturity and grace and carriage, all elements of that aristocracy, which America in its obsession with its færy-tale and delusional equality—except for that one allowance made for the Kennedy’s’ Camelot—has tried to deny the existence of.  But there was no mistaking the breeding and the refinement of Teresa Reiss, who unmistakably belonged to those rarefied beings of America’s intellectually and financially driven upper classes.  Her whole life she had been one of those people whose loveliness, like the duped British Princess’s, reached some way beyond grace’s dominion itself.  It was something even the coarsest of men, would be hard pressed not to respect or to harm.

She had fallen in love with Max, in whose brand of cleverness, in whose ambition, and his absolute conviction that he would, that he must, make a mark, bequeath a legacy, make more than a slight difference in the world, she had discerned echoes of her father.  The father whom most daughters will end up wanting to marry.  They were one of those couples, the sublimity of whose beings and depth of whose love would see them through to greatness, both personal and public and many of those moments when each would irrevocably feel that all was right with their world.

The day was beautiful.  One of those uninterruptedly bright Chicago spring days, when the air was sharp and the sun hung high in an errorless sky and the lake gleamed like a sheet of glass.  Only here at The Drake would Monica sit by the window and there, eating salads and drinking the sparkling Perugina, these two wonderful feminine creatures chatted on about things that we shall out of the fondest deference try not to overhear till we must.

—Where did Dad go?

—Do you remember his friend from Oxford, Ian Locketter?

—The mathematician?

—Yes.  Well, he’s in town for a few days and your father wanted to go and spend some time with him.  They were great friends and he only saw him briefly the other evening at the party.  They haven’t seen each other for at least ten years.

—Why didn’t you go?

—I just didn’t feel like it.  I hardly know the man.  I’ve only met him once and as charming as he was, this is your last day here.  With all that’s been going on with the anniversary we hadn’t even come down here yet.  So I decided in favour of The Drake and you.

—Is it lonely without me here?

—Yes.  And no.


—Oh!  Be quiet!  Of course I miss you.

—I should hope so.

—Your father is wonderful company, though.  Has always been.  You know so many of our friends here and in D.C. are divorced or are getting divorced—  The marital cycle is beginning again.  Anew.

—It’s amazing how you and Dad have been together so long.  I don’t think you were even with anyone before him, were you?

—Yes, there were men before him, better looking men, more romantic men, even more intelligent men, believe it or not, but I honestly couldn’t conceive of my life with anyone else.  I’ve loved him most of my life.  From the very moment I first saw him I knew completely that he was it and that’s never changed.  And not a day goes by that I don’t consider how lucky I am that he felt the same way when he first saw me.

—So was it just lucky then?  I mean to know you loved each other.  With such certainty.

—Yes I think it was.  And you will too.  When it happens.  And your father is a hard man to love, but I’ve never wanted a man who was easy to love.

—I wonder.  It seems weird.  To be that certain.  To have no questions.

—Oh, of course we had questions.  Tons of them.  But we were also able to answer them.  Even when we didn’t like the answers, at least we were sure that they were there.  I think that’s when you know you’re certain.  When you can answer them without reservations and still look at a man and love him deeply.  Accept him for what he is and what he isn’t and most importantly for what he’ll never be.  Even accept that he is not all the things you thought you wanted in a man.  I even say that about your father.

—So questions are good?

—You cannot love without questions, Monica.  You cannot love without tests.  Love deepens on the other side of every test you come through together.  And the bigger the test, the deeper the love.


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Claire Denis & Tindersticks

There is wonderful meaning to be found in the films of Claire Denis. They are stories simply told by an extremely observant director, who doesn’t lecture or moralize. It is all beautifully done and with a delicacy that marks her films indelibly. She lends, rather than thrusts, her directorial voice to them, and allows her actors room to dream and by so doing allows her audiences complete freedom as well. She nudges and implies with great subtlety.
It is hard for a Tindersticks fan like me to imagine music by the band without the plaintive lyrics and haunting voice of Stuart Staples, but in films by Clair Denis, that is mostly what the original compositions by the band are. In the films as well, there is usually very little dialogue and the original music which Tindersticks has composed, allows the audience to put their own words to the films and to say what the actors, the director and Tindersticks mastefully leave unsaid.
For the fist six and a half minutes of 35 Rhums (35 Shots Of Rum) there is no dialogue only the melancholy of piano, oboe and the sound of a train running on tracks as we are introduced to the characters in the film. It really is about as good as a collaboration between the visual and aural mediums can be. It is artistic craftsmanship of an exceptional degree; full of warmth, sad smiles and ultimately wisdom.


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from An Interview with John Updike in The Paris Review

I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to. The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.


My first thought about art, as a child, was that the artist brings something into the world that didn’t exist before, and that he does it without destroying something else. A kind of refutation of the conservation of matter. That still seems to me its central magic, its core of joy.



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The United Nations Discusses Corporate Human Rights Abuses

Let us hope that the discussion this month in New York — click on link below for more information — will not only establish a standard, but will also lead to corporations and those who run them, being held accountable for their human rights abuses.


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from HITCH-22 by Christopher Hitchens

Yvonne, then, was the exotic and the sunlit when I could easily have had a boyhood of stern and dutiful English gray. She was the cream in the coffee, the gin in the Campari, the offer of wine or champagne instead of beer, the laugh in the face of bores and purse-mouths and skinflints, the insurance against bigots and prudes. Her defeat and despair were also mine for a long time, but I have reason to know that she wanted me to withstand the woe, and when I once heard myself telling someone that she had allowed me “a second identity” I quickly checked myself and thought, no, perhaps with luck she had represented my first and truest one.

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from PIGEON FEATHERS by John Updike

A woman’s beauty lies, not in any exaggeration of the specialized zones, nor in any general harmony that could be worked out by means of the sectio aurea or a similar aesthetic superstition; but in the arabesque of the spine. The curve by which the back modulates into the buttocks. It is here that grace sits and rides a woman’s body.

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from LADDIE – A Novel

The house wasn’t as he remembered, and his mind, clouded now by the fogs of a Montepulciano and several drinks from a Macallan seventeen year old, tried to remember what it had been when he had it with her. He tried to remember the laughter. There was nothing left by which he could trace what they had been in happy times, when the house had first been bought.
He married her after his first book had been published, when there was money in the bank, not much, but there was money in the bank and he took most of it and bought her a ring, which he gave to her in an empty apartment on the Upper East Side as they drank wine and ate food bought from the bodega at the corner.
They were married in the chapel near Talley Abbey and later when the book kept selling, they bought a house in Tally which had been built from the stones which were used to build the Abbey after the fat king dissolved the Canon monastery there.
In the beginning, with success, came talk shows and invitations to literary parties at which he couldn’t take his eyes from her. When he used to look at her across the beautiful fabrics and the glasses of champagne held in manicured hands and feel the elation that comes with the shared rhythm of love. These were the days, when they used the house in Talley as a sort of escape from the crowds of New York and Chicago, where they cooked and danced and read and made love and shunned people sometimes for days on end.
And now he had returned to Talley – the return now more arduous than the leaving had ever been – to this desolation on the moors, to the Welsh country, where as a boy they called him Laddie. The colloquiums notwithstanding – Laddie was short for Ladbroke, not the Grove, but the name. Just Ladbroke, the family name. His name, Barris, was from his mother’s side of the family, from the good Welsh stock. Barris Ladbroke. They could have called him Barrie, or even just Barris, but the surname was the one, because of its Englishness, that set him apart from the others in the valley, and which they addressed him by. And on some cold Carmarthenshire moor, he managed at the beginning to have them call him Laddie. And those whom he loved, still called him Laddie. His daughter Bronwen called him Laddie.
“Give it all to her, Stefan. All of it. I worked for it and lost my marriage because of it. Those fucking words. The money made the words dry up. Made them just so much black ink on a page. There are none left anymore, but somehow I’ve got to find them again. I have to find them or the pistol will be far too much of a temptation, especially when the demons of the Lord God Macallan come calling. I just want to write again, Stefan, like I used to. But this time, I’ll write for me. Not as I did before, so that I could give it all to her. To them. Even to the faggot. I want nothing that came from it, so that I can feel the need to do it again. To write a first book again. I want just the house in Wales. It’s elemental, Stefan. I want nothing but the stone. Nothing but the stone. Take out the stoves and the heaters. I don’t want to return to her interiors. To her linen. To the traces of even her perfume. Have them disinfect it with naphthalene. I just want to go back to what it was when it was built. Stone. I want to return to my papers and my scotch. I’ll write again on pads with a pencil. I’ll write the way I want. I’ll go back to the way I was when I wrote The Dolphins Tears.”
Stefan had hired the lads from the pub to go to the house and strip it of everything that would remind Barris of America and of the woman he had after all the years of destruction, left behind there. Of her, and of his daughter who was in India and his son in Chicago. Stefan had even gone himself to Talley. Taken all of it upon himself because he remembered Barris Ladbroke, when Barris Ladbroke was still writing his books on pads with a pencil. When Barris Ladbroke had fallen in love with his American. Stefan had been a witness at the wedding and he had been a witness to all Barris’s destiny since that day. Had been at his side through the Pulitzer and the short list for the Nobel. The honorary doctorates. The Legion d’honneur. And Barris had made him a rich man. They had made each other rich men. So Stefan owed it to him to go to the house in Wales and reduce it to what Laddie wanted it to be. Reduce it to stone.
“Is this okay? There is nothing left of it, only the stone as you asked. It will be cold here. Where will you sleep?”
“I’ll sleep on the floor. I’ll put down a mattress and sleep on it. I’ll write my book sitting on the mattress or outside on the grass. My coat will keep me warm. This is a good coat. It will shield me from the world’s censure and scorn. I’ll need a supply of Macallan, Stefan, and cases of thin-rimmed crystal glasses. I hate thick rims on a glass about as much as I hate think ankles on a woman. And you know I like to break the crystal when the words won’t come. I’ll take my evening meal from the pub. Can you arrange for Mrs. Istans to have one of the lads bring it up to me every evening. I’ll pay them well. I like those lads. They don’t talk. They are not inane. I’ll drink Macallan with them every evening. I know I’m old and maybe there will be no more books and if the words won’t come then at least I’ll have the solitude and this little corner of the world which I can call my own. I don’t want to do fucking speaking engagements and silly political talk shows like those cunts who pretend that a published book confers professorship on a man, so don’t start with that again.”
“I wasn’t talking about a speaking engagement, Laddie. This man is rich, very rich. All he wants is for you to write a book about him. About his life. He’s offering you fifty million dollars if you will do it. Fifty million dollars for one book. Plus whatever it makes, you get to keep. He says that The Dolphin’s Tears was the best book he’s ever read. He called me himself to make this offer. Men like him don’t call literary agents themselves. But he did.”
“It’s probably the only book the cunt has read. And what does a man who owns half the world know about books? If The Dolphin’s Tears was a bucket load of treacle I wrote so I could get laid by the cunts who thought it meant something, he wouldn’t know the difference. Is this guy a faggot? Because if he is, I’ll gladly sell Dylan to him for the fifty million. My words will only ever be my own. What I want to say. You know that. And what would I make from his fifty million after the whore took it all? I would have sold my soul so that she can buy palaces in Cannes and indulge the faggot’s penchant for nigger arse!”
“You’re the one who wanted to give her everything when you divorced her, against the advice of everyone. Think about it, Laddie. He’s offering you an advance of close to twenty million if you’ll only think about it. Consider it. He’s throwing the money at you. All you have to do is call him and listen to what he has to say.”
“I’ve known you too long Stefan for me to believe that you’re not concerned about losing the money. I respect that, but don’t insult me by asking me to consider his offer. I’m Barris Ladbroke. You should know that. You made me. And I’ll write for no one but myself. I write about the lives I make up, the circumstances I have lived. Now fuck off, Stef. I just want to be alone.”
“You’re almost out of Macallan and there’s no electricity here. Let us go down to the pub and eat something. You can sleep there tonight.”
“I’m not out of Macallan. I have another bottle in my bag. Why don’t you stop off at the pub and get drunk and while you’re there, tell Mrs. Istans to have one of the lads bring me as many candles as she can spare. Now go, please. Fuck off you Yankee cunt, or the words will never come!”
Barris got up and taking Stefan by the elbow, walked him to the door of the old house and shouted after him as he made his way down the hill to the pub, “Fuck off, you Yankee cunt!”

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Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’…

Yes, Florence, you can tell us what to do whenever you’d like to!


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from ABSALOM ABSALOM by William Faulkner

…and your grandfather said, ‘Suffer little children to come unto Me’: and what did He mean by that? how, if He meant that little children should need to be suffered to approach Him, what sort of earth had He created; that if they had to suffer in order to approach Him, what sort of heaven did He have?

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But if heaven is a place upon your skin
That I may have touched from without to within
Well then dust yourself of fingerprints and grin.

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