Monday, January 31, 2011

2010 Recap: Books, pt. 1

Here is my catalogue of books completed in 2010. As you can see I had a healthy dose of British mysteries mixed in with everything else. I have a tendency to try and read everything an author has written, in chronological order (as far as I can), if I really like the author. Last year I was making my way through Margery Allingham, Martha Grimes (both of which I have already done once before), and Penelope Fitzgerald. I'll post again on a couple of the highlights.

The Medici Conspiracy, Peter Watson
Museums and American Intellectual Life 1876-1926, Steve Conn
Alice and Wonderland, Lewis Carol
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carol
The Glass Room, Simon Mawer
The Crime at the Black Dudley, Margery Allingham
Mystery Mile, Margery Allingham
At Freddie's, Penelope Fitzgerald
So I have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald
Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald
The Golden Child, Penelope Fitzgerald
Jamie's Dinners, Jamie Oliver
Morning & Evening, Charles Spurgeon
Babywise, Ezzo
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins, Weisbluth
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Weisbluth
Baby Sleep Solution, Suzy Glordand
Mothering Multiples, Le Leche League
Rainbow's End, Martha Grimes
The Horse You Came in On, Martha Grimes
The Defector, Daniel Silva
Look to the Lady, Margery Allingham
Police at the Funeral, Margery Allingham
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
Super Baby Food, Ruth Yaron
Super Foods for Children, Michael Van Straton & Barbara Griggs
Sweet Danger, Margery Allingham
Death of a Ghost, Margery Allingham
The Black Cat, Martha Grimes
The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald
The Rembrandt Affair, Daniel Silva
Flowers for the Judge, Margery Allingham
The Means of Escape, Penelope Fitzgerald

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bucket List

This is not a joke. I really want to go to the British Homing Show of the Year at the Winter Gardens at Blackpool. And I want to wear tweed while I am there.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Condo Living

I'm not a huge fan of pets. And there are plenty of reasons that I won't go into here, but I do like fish. I like them because they are cool to watch swim, you can't get super attached to them (they pretty much have one awesome dazed expression), they don't shed, and they won't beg for food while you are sitting at the table.

So if we end up getting a pet ever, it'll definitely be a fish. And that fish will live here: The Fish Condo. The benefits of living small are touted in all sorts of places these days: The Not So Big House, New Urbanism, the housing crisis--all making people rethink their attachment to football field size family rooms. Our philosophical fish will take this to heart, and dream big dreams in his tiny pond.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Victorians, Pt. 2

"Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man."
-- Henry Adams

On collection and museums:

A contemporary view of the Victorian is mainly derived from Lytton Strachey's morally anachronistic condemnation of the Victorians as well as from publications such as Victoria Magazine. Such hideous recreations via antiqued envelope potpourri sachets really do an injustice to the delightful clutter of the Victorians. Not only that, these sorts of associations really do an injustice to the intellectually engaged notion of collection (and clutter) of the Victorians.

In Steven Conn's fascinating Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926, he records "cousin"of the rise of museums in the 19th century as the "bourgeois acquisitiveness" of the middle class. "As members of the American middle class expanded in tandem with the industrial economy, they had increasing mounts of disposable income that they disposed of by buying the newly available products of that industrial economy--furniture, photographs, ceramics, an almost endless array of gewgaws. The objects that filled middle-class parlors gave physical and visual manifestation to the aspirations of this class. According to Miles Orvell, 'individuals sought an elevation of status through the purchase and display of goods whose appearance counted more than their substance.'" (This, of course has implications for us, as true inheritors of a material culture.)

Conn goes on to expand on the collection of objects not necessarily or inherently valuable in themselves ("objects whose value lay in some transcendent aesthetic"), but rather in "objects invested with knowledge".  The challenge for a new crop of museums lay in distinguishing their collections from a mere assortment of curiosities (see the Mutter Museum versus the Wagner Free Institute--both amazing Retronaut experiences), but rather a collection that would provide a perfectly comprehensible argument for a positivist understanding of the natural world. They assumed "that careful examination of specimens would produce useful educational results" to anyone who looked at them. (The Victoria and Albert Museum was, indeed, created for craftsmen to be able to access and study the applied decorative arts of earlier cultures--thus the organization by object type, rather than geographical specificity or timeline).

Museums were not in fact merely mausoleums of ancient cultures and natural history. Nor were they primarily for the education of children or "popular inspection". Rather they were supposed to be "suitably furnished to answer the requirements of the original investigator." The Victorians believed that "[k]nowledge derived from the direct inspection of objects was gained without mediation and therefore was more genuine." Furthermore Conn states, "If the pursuit of science was predicated on the careful examination and study of objects, then anyone with access to the specimens could be trained to the task. Museums would provide democratic access to that knowledge and thus they would be places where new knowledge was created within the context of American democratic aspirations."

"Having collected, described, and classified the constituent parts of the natural world, what remained finally for natural scientists was to create orderly, systematic displays of representative specimens. As a final flourish to the work of natural history, museums dazzled with public with science's ability to control and order the world, to put it under glass, to put it literally on the end of a pin."

Museums were to be the place of cutting edge scientific investigation. Since this time (and more fully described by Conn) the museum has evolved into a repository of knowledge, an interpretation of the experience of objects, and now into a reinterpretation of historical understanding in view of contemporary values (see the National Museum of the American Indian). Blake Gopnik even recently claimed that the museum was now the cathedral of cultural artifacts, reminiscent of the sacramentalization of the everyday object by collector Peter H. Schweitzer. Phillip Kennicott writes about the changing perspective of the museum's role in his article on the proposed Latino museum. And all this because of the enthusiastic engagement and expectation of the common man by the Victorians, and subsequent embrace of these institutions by those same people. Thank the Victorians for providing the basis for this piece of our cultural fabric.

So when I look at my shelves full of books and carefully curated curious I smile and think of the Victorians.

For more on museum theory read Steven Conn's book, AS Byatt's The Children's Book, any of Byron Farwell's excellent books, and visit the Mutter Museum and the Wagner Free Institute in Philadelphia.

Litte Gray...


For my birthday J gave me a six month subscription to Persephone Books. I have been reading through the paper catalogue of their books for the past several days marking books that seem interesting, ones that I just can't live without, and ones that I can wait for.

In reading the various descriptions, I came across this description of Persephone, and thought it delightfully fit--both with my new-found obsession with these little gray tomes, and also with my recent confession on the Victorians.

"'Some of the smartest lessons in how we live now are to be found not in government speeches or fashionable film releases, but in small grey-covered books published by Pershepone Books' wrote Andrew O'Hagan in the Daily Telegraph. 'The volumes are usually lost classics of female writing; they promote the notion that understanding the past is a reasonable way to go about identifying the present and the I have been looking at their newest release as a way of getting a handle on the idea of British domestic bliss.'"

The book to which O'Hagan was referring is How to Run Your Home Without Help (1949).

My selections for the 6 month subscription are:

+ Little Lost Boy
+ Every Eye
+ The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow
+ A House in the Country
+ Greenery Street
+ House-Bound

Not only are these lovelies published with gorgeous reproductions of early 20th C. textiles as their endpapers, each is given a preface or afterward by a famous contemporary author.

I will endeavor to write a brief review of each.

My secondary list includes:

+ The Far Cry
+ High Wages
+ Making Conversation
+ William--An Englishman
+ Mariana
+ Bricks and Mortar

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pre-Raphealite Photography

For my review of the Pre-Raphealite Photography exhibit at the National Gallery, please visit 12. Here's a taste! 

Thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. and J. I was able to finally get down to the National Gallery of Art to see the Pre-Raphealite Photography exhibit with MP and JQC.

A brief explanation of my interest in the exhibit is, I think, appropriate here. I am fascinated by Victorian culture, specially in England, mostly because of what follows it. I was asked by a dear friend recently, in a completely bewildered way, and after over 10 years of friendship--"What do you like about the Victorians?!" So here's a round about way of answering her!

Restaurant Week 2011

For the past three years MP and I have been going out to lunch during Restaurant Week in DC. Neither of us can remember the first place that we went to, but since then we have enjoyed sampling the three course prix fixe menus that would otherwise not be included in our budgets!

This year we went to La Taberna Del Alabardero with JQC as well. The Taberna is an authentic Spanish restaurant. Feeling adventurous, we decided this was the place, if there ever was a place, to try the exotic dishes on their menu--so we each chose a different item from each of the three courses available, and then passed them around so that we could all try them.

Crema Tibia de Lentejas Mollejas Y Curry
Warm Cream of Lentils with a Curry Emulsion topped with Sweetbread

Lasagna de Rabo de Toro, Bechamel de Comino y Queso Mahon
Braised Oxtail Lasagna with Cumin Bechamel Sauce and Mahon Cheese

Huevos Rellenos de Bacalao y Gambas, Hortalizas Tiernas y Cebolla Morada
Egg stuffed with Codfish Brandade and Shrimp served with Fresh Vegetables and Sweet Onion

Main Course
Pargo a la Bilbaina con dos Texturas de Setas al Ajillo y Pan Crujiente
Red Snapper served Bilbania style with Wild Mushrooms and Bread Crust

Manitas de Cerdo Estofadas sobre Cremoso de Cebollino y Ropa Vieja de Garbanzos
Braised Pig's Trotters with Vegetables over a Creamy Scallions topped with "Ropa Vieja"

Osobuco Asado en salsa se Pedro Ximenez, Chips de Patata y Alcachofas Estofadas
Braised Veal Shank in a PX Sauce, Homemade Potato Chips and Artichokes

Tarta de Queso Cremoso con Helado De Passas y Anis
Cheesecake with Raisins and Anise Ice Cream

Estofado de Frutos Rojos, Togue de Modena, Helado de Yogurt y Chocolate
Mixed Berries in a Light Syrup soup topped with Yogurt Ice cream and a Chocolate Cookie

Arroz con Leche Emperatriz con Helado de Mandarina
Homemade Rice Pudding with Clementine Ice Cream

A brief review. Trying sweetbreads and pig's trotters was an adventure--surely made nicer by trying it together with friends--but then again even war is better if you are not alone. The sweetbreads tasted great and the texture was fine, but just the thought of it, finally got the best of all of us. The trotters on the other hand were seriously foul from start to finish. All of the other dishes were delightful. Of particular note were the stuffed eggs--so light, and subtle and lovely, and the veal. The veal was amazing--if you took one bite with just the meat it tasted one way, and then a combination of veal and artichoke--it was altogether transformed, like wine changes with food. It was a real treat.

I will also mention that the service was impeccable. I did not even notice the water being filled, plates and silver being set down or replaced, and we were not pressured to leave as soon as we were finished eating. We were able to eat in the room which has windows into the kitchen, so that was an additional treat.