In Which We Have A Problem With Your Problem

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My fiancee Jerome and I have a lovely circle of friends. We want to include everyone in our pre-wedding preparations, but Jerome doesn’t get along with one of my college friends, a woman named Kaitlin. I honestly don’t know who to blame for the impasse, but the two seems like polar opposites in every conceivable way. Last time we all had dinner, the two got into a twenty minute debate about Christina Hoff Sommers. I cried.

I know there is a type of fighting that is kind of like flirting in a way, and I am worried this is an example of that. I mean why would they be talking about her in the first place? This has gotten out of control and I’m really worried. I have tried to avoid taking sides but being a peacemaker has officially ended its utility and I just want this resolved.

Brenda N.

Dear Brenda,

If you are picking up on some kind of sexual tension, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. It is more likely that Jerome is assigned some residual anger/upset about his committment to you on someone else, which is not exactly the worst case scenario. Christina Hoff Sommers is not really something to get upset about. She is just a person, like Meghan Daum or Carly Simon. They wake up, take shits, and go to bed; the things that everyone does.

Any argument that is not between family members, no matter how pervasive, annoying or visceral cannot keep building strength. It must either culiminate in what could very well be an exciting murder, or fizzle out into discontented silence. If you have to side with someone, side with your fiancee by excluding Kaitlin from events if necessary. Otherwise, pretend they are having some tiff akin to the feuds between seventh graders. By diminishing it in your mind, you will diminish it in theirs.

Also, I suggest you never discuss anything other than Chris Pratt at dinner parties.

Hi,

My boyfriend Hal and I were recently watching Bravo’s Married at First Sight for reasons. One couple on the show renewed their bows in Las Vegas. It was absolutely disgusting.

Hal started talking about his only trip to Vegas seven years ago, and confessed that during the trip, after some encouragement from his friends, he had sex with a prostitute in a brothel.

I guess I didn’t really know how to react at the time. Maybe I still don’t. I know STD-wise that Hal is clean, but I’m having trouble dealing with this admission. Am I right to be upset?

Joan R.

Dear Joan,

I’m more worried about Hal’s judgment. He could have lied about this and you would never know the difference until the prost in question came looking for child support. I had a friend who looked for sex on Craigslist for years before his marriage. He also patronized Asian massage parlors quite frequently.

Whether or not his wife knows about this period, I couldn’t say, but I told him what I would have told Hal. Nothing good comes from telling the truth about sex with women for money. As is, there’s no going back to the place where you did not know this information.

The bright side is this: not only do you have a get out of jail free card for anything you want, you can be sure Hal is super into you. Finding a man who can’t lie is not the worst development. Make sure this is the case by going all “Did you order the Code Red?” on him and try get him to admit to other prosts. Also, ask the woman’s name. It always helps to get all the information first.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at thisrecording.wordpress.com.

 

“Love Like That” – Jason Derulo ft. K. Michelle (mp3)

“Love Me Down” – Jason Derulo (mp3)

In Which We Don’t Believe In Perfect

Physical Thrill

by JESSICA FURSETH

There’s only a strip of canal visible across the courtyard, but that bit of canal is everything. I’m sitting at my new kitchen table with my laptop, looking up occasionally at the water: you can see the canal boats docked down there, and the ducks swimming by. Grown-up life is working out pretty well so far, I think, even though this flat that we bought is the tiniest thing. There’s no room for anything in here, meaning my husband and I are now committed to minimalism by default. But when we were looking for a place to live it soon became obvious: there’s no place like home. I wanted to go back to East London more than I wanted space, and when we found this tiny place in the perfect spot there was no turning back. Because who needs space when you’re living in the city? Everything you need is right there, outside.

I’ve been living in my new place for two weeks now, and I have to say it: I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy. Maybe when I got married, on a whim to a man I barely knew – I felt ecstatic then, the closest thing I’ve felt to a sober high. Maybe that time I went to San Francisco for a month by myself, when my jetlag would wake me early and I’d walk the streets for hours with a delirious craving for silence and forward motion I’ve never experienced before nor since. These thing stand out as the happiest I’ve been, and now this: living in my new place.

I didn’t expect to feel like this. I don’t really understand why it’s happening either – although I do know it’s not about nesting, and it’s not about ownership. I have no strong feelings about permanence. It may not even be about moving back to East London, I’m surprise to find. While the weeks dragged on as we waited to move, time slowing down until four whole months had gone by, then all I could think about was moving back across town. East London is where this city started making sense to me, it’s where my life started making sense, I guess. I left East London for good reasons, thinking it would become part of the past, like most things do once you leave. But not this time — I missed my old patch like a lost limb.

So I thought the excitement of moving would be all about coming back to my old neighbourhood, but it seems I was wrong. Because now that I’m in my new house, all I can think about is being alone. I love living with my husband, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that after staying with family for nearly four months while waiting to move into this place, being alone feels like a drug. My husband leaves for work and I sit down to work at the kitchen table, and hours go by when all I can do is revel in the aloneness. I’m drinking it in with a desperate thirst only an introvert can understand. I’m just sitting here, quietly, and it’s a physical thrill.

Being truly, gloriously alone doesn’t mean closing the door for a while — it means having no one else in the house with you. It means, at least for me, having no music playing, just the window open and the hum of the city in the distance. A plant needs watering. I get up from my chair and wander into the bedroom, over to the kitchen, over to the sofa, and back to the computer again. I work for a while. The afternoon sun crawls across the floor, filling up the room. A text message buzzes. My husband will be back soon, and we’ll have some dinner together. In the meantime it’s just me here, by myself, surrounded by the city. I don’t believe in perfect, but if I did, this would be it.

Jessica Furseth is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about the little daylight. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

“It Can’t Rain Forever” – Oh Honey (mp3)

“A Thousand Times” – Oh Honey (mp3)

In Which This Is Not The Sex We Were Promised Gilly

You’re Hurting Me

by DICK CHENEY

I can make a short list of all the things I eagerly anticipated that did not live up to the hype:

Jurassic Park 3

The return of Arrested Development
Tidal
Wii U
heroin

and now sex between Samwell Tarly and his girlfriend Gilly. What happened, if you missed it, was terrible. She gave him one kiss (no tongue), climbed on top of him after shifting her underwear to the side, and said, “Am I hurting you?” in the voice I use when I am asking Lynne if there is any piaya left over from last night.

I really hope she has bathed in the last five months.

Sam let out a small moan. I don’t suppose the incest sex Gilly had beyond the wall consisted of her straddling Craster and asking him if her vagina gave him pain. After Sam saved her from what was at the very least looking like a menage a trois, the least she could do is tousle his hair slightly as she was riding him.

“SAM AM I HURTING YOU. AM I HURTING YOU!?!?!?!”

Undoubtedly this was Sam’s first time. I would have serious problems if my virginity was taken just as soon as I had gotten my ass kicked. It sets a really bad precedent; e.g. are we only going to get down when some dude kicks me hard in the face?

Sam wasn’t the only one not fully being pleased by his partner. Dany has to have sex with the man who is undoubtedly the worst actor in all of Mereen. He mansplains how to be a queen to her right after sex. Do you think after Lynne and I spent hours doing tantric to postpone the inevitable splashdown that Lynne was like, “You know, Dick, you should really slaughter a bunch of Iraqis?”? No. She said what any loving wife would say: “Thank you for the mess.”

Khal Drogo would have loved this little guy. RIP Khal Drogo.

Pretty soon the Dragon Queen won’t need his advice anymore. She will have Tyrion Lannister to give her the straight scoop on King’s Landing: “Where does Jon Snow like to go to for dins?” “Where are all the cutest places to shop along the Kingsroad?” “Was Aemon Targaryen a flaming homosexual and was his boyfriend Ned Stark’s dad, Tevye ‘Juniorfell’ Stark?” It’s a rich lore we are dealing with here.

Now that the books have basically been ground up in the shredder and George R.R. Martin is more focused on empanadas than writing, we can start to really enjoy not knowing what is to come. Cersei’s imprisonment in the Sept was the last thread of the novels, and it will be great fun because I am super sick of her collagen lips and frozen hair style. Margary Tyrell has never looked so good, I sort of understood why Tommen fell in love with her.

You know, irony usually takes more than ten minutes to unfold unless you’re Amy Winehouse.

Stannis’ move on Winterfell seems kind of silly now. He should have just sailed south. I mean who is actually going to mount a defense of King’s Landing — the people who committed incest or lied are in jail. The only person left over would have been Ser Podrick, but he’s not even around.

I really hope he gets the chance to play Hitler before a Sansa Stark fangirl assassinates him in 2025.

Littlefinger’s cute scene with Dame Tyrell notwithstanding, I guess the idea is to make Jonathan Pryce a villain worth cutting down? He seems kind of morally ambiguous though. I mean, are we supposed to room for Team Thincest? I am confused by these moral boundaries, especially when Jonathan Pryce is giving speeches that are literally word-for-word articles from the pages of The Nation.

Sansa’s reaction to her wedding night was a little patronizing. Asking a man to help her, especially one as narratively impotent as Theon, will be even more annoying if he is finally the principal who ends Roose Bolton’s flaying ways. I don’t like Roose, but that old woman he skinned looked a lot better without her epidermis than with it.

He’s not going to be able to ever be pleased by a woman after this. Those Sand Snakes are just the best.


In Dorne, Bronn sang a song to a beautiful maiden. She used a poison known as The Long Farewell on him, which is actually the same potion I used to disassemble Ronald Reagan when his anti-abortion speeches started getting tone-deaf. I understand he thought a fetus was a child, but when I asked him to prove it, he just ate peanut M&Ms and watched Welcome Back, Kotter.

Provable facts are all I am interested in now. Subtlety and inneundo are completely lost in Game of Thrones, but this is simply because they have vanished in the real world. I still have questions about I, Claudius, as to what parts of the story are true. But with Game of Thrones the only question I have ever had is, “Would it be hard to bring myself to orgasm with my left hand if I lost my right in a welding accident or if Melisandre needed my blood for a potion?”

He may never have wintercourse again.

The story of Bronn settling in Dorne and having a beautiful young family with the girl who exposed herself to him is the kind of subplot Game of Thrones sorely needs. There has to be some coming together. It can’t all be constantly only falling apart.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Bronze Head” – My Brightest Diamond (mp3)

“Apparition” – My Brightest Diamond (mp3)

In Which We Attempt To Get To Higher Ground

Re: The Lists

by KENZIE BRYANT

These are things that happened: He went away and had an experience. Let’s call it a big experience. So when he came home, he packed and left again.

This is how he packed: He separated his belongings into what to keep and what to sell.

These are things that he’s keeping: Some of his clothes, bags to pack things in, some notebooks, meds, sentimentals and essentials.

These are the things he’s selling: a pair of brown dress shoes, a chocolate bunny, a fruit rollup, several pairs of pants, nedi pots that he got for free thanks to some incongruity on the internet, one earphone, a hat he found, a digital camera, a video camera, a camera camera, a trash can that will presumably be emptied, a chest of drawers, Q-tips, ethernet cords, Christmas lights, a lamp, a TV, a semi-functional but fully bumber-stickered laptop, a DVD player, a roll of fancy film tape, a hookah and seven rolls of coals we rooted out of a garbage bin outside of a storage center in Queens, shoe polish, some cords, glow sticks, a box of wet-naps, a bobble-head President Obama, a disco ball, and books.

He put each individual picture up on Craigslist along with a sales gag (“Christmas Lights: Make it Christmas ALL THE TIME. All your friends will be all like, ‘Is Santa here? This place is the jolliest’” and “Q-Tips: Tampons of the ear. Get them while they’re not thrown out or given to my roommate”) and joked that he expected to get messages from concerned friends and strangers that’ll conclude with suicide hotline referrals.

These are the ways that he left: When I kissed him, partly freed by the decision we had made and partly just trying to quench my shit before everything went dry, I tasted him for the first time again, but when I opened my eyes, his were 2,000 miles away. In Colorado, maybe, or Wyoming. I told him he had dead eyes.

My purple toothbrush, which he bought months ago so I would have one when I stayed over, stood alone in the toothbrush stand. He had been back at his apartment for three days.

He said he was sorry.

I was sorry too. I did the requisite shower cry after we’d spent the night launching clichés at each other, trying to make the other feel more. The cry was kind where you don’t want to be in the shower anymore but can’t imagine getting out of it and having to hear the degree of your misery measured in pitch. I held the tiled wall, washed my face, and got out. I went to his room and took the towel from my body and wrapped it around my head, then continued to cry. Surrounded not by him, but by his “save” pile and the “discard” pile, the posters on his wall, pictures, et al., I let the sobs shake as I went to the window and fingered the initials E.T.W—probably his grandfather’s — imprinted on a leather box. I stared out the glass, through a screen to the wall across the ally. I even said out loud, why is everything created to make us believe in lasting love? Artists and copywriters are assholes, except it came out, why…why…do they doooo that? Asses. Then I got dressed and blew snot rockets into the trash.

After a relationship is over, and especially if that relationship was a mutually good one, the dam that you define yourself against breaks down and the rest of the world comes flooding in. The only survival tactic I knew was to get to high ground and let it come. So I went to the park in Sunset Park for the sunset, allowing myself the torrent of the sentimental and the sincere, unfiltered. This is the flood:

Everyone was happy on top of the hill. Even the children were, and the most genuinely unhappy people I’ve ever met are children.

The book I read, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, wouldn’t let up. This wasn’t a hard one, since every word feels like tripping on a rock and falling into understanding. But I was absolutely sure I was getting it wrong, superimposing my own mental state over the philosophical whose-its and whats-its allowed by Czechoslovakian repression by a totalitarian regime a long time ago. I wasn’t trying not to.

There were butterflies. One landed on my foot. That wasn’t even fair.

The wind got me good. One day when I was ten, I went into my backyard on some errand for my mother, and as I was going back inside, I looked at the wind blowing through the trees that were the woods that were my everything as a kid. I said to God, “Blow through the trees again if you exist.” It was probably a Sunday and I had probably just gotten home from church. I searched through the trees that were the woods that were my everything as a kid, but they refused to move. I repeated it again just to be polite, in case He didn’t hear me, and got nothing. I understood later that that’s a common command of the selfish but that didn’t stop the tumble through atheism, agnosticism, and ambivalence that filled me up to yea high until now. But as the wind rocked the tree to my left and line of them directly in front of where I sat in Sunset Park, I realized what a jerk I was then. The wind doesn’t blow for me. It seems that only after the dam floods does fishing for comfort lead to humility.

Everyone paused as the sun set. Even the kid in the oversized sweatshirt and hood and massive earphones moved to a better vantage above the tree line. I stared into the sun as it started down, but it started to eclipse everything else, and the purplish splotchy bits, like bruises on my point of view, took over if I blinked away for a moment. My head had exercised its metaphor muscle for about two hours already, so it couldn’t help itself. The sun was a source of beauty, but gaze too long and fully, and the rest gets lost. Blue Manhattan far away, light on the buildings, light on the grass, light on the harbor, the way the city got more saturated, definitive in receding light, all gone.

There was a father and son blowing bubbles with a $2 bubble machine. The soap spheres bowed up the hill towards me, and the child screeched, chased them and then barrel-rolled back down to start again. I tried to take a video of it: the bubbles’ collective trajectory up the hill, the clear sky, Manhattan in the far right almost entirely out of frame, the child, the father, the $2 bubble machine. I couldn’t tell if I had pushed record because of the light’s glare, but as a fresh swarm floated past me, one popped on the corner of my phone as if to say, “Don’t try it. This — not the mini-movie — is it.

You got me there, Bubble. My phone lost power in the next moment, and I gained my breath.

In the weeks after I sought out anyone who could help me prove that I didn’t move to this city for him, that my decision was my own and that it was a good one. Also, a heat wave descended on New York and trolling for air conditioning units in the better-ventilated apartments than mine became a mode of survival. When the proxy dam I propped up in the mean time can’t withstand the torrent, I reconsider the materials. When that doesn’t work I get to higher ground and I let it come, resolved that there are worse things than personal revelations folding over one another. And I’ll keep returning to the lists until I can fill the spaces in between.

Kenzie Bryant is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Queens.

kenzie bryant author photo

“Fine and Mellow” – Jose James (mp3)

“I Thought About You” – Jose James (mp3)

In Which Matt Dillon Was More Of A Figure Of Speech

Come Back To Us

by DICK CHENEY

Wayward Pines
creator Chad Hodge

When he breathes out, Matt Dillon’s face resembles a puffy blowfish. Matt should have been on Lost. As Secret Service agent Ethan Burke, Dillon is fantastic at the only thing ever required of him on Fox’s Wayward Pines, which is to bristle at unexpected developments in his life. When you think about it, Matt Dillon, 51, could have been much better than Matthew Fox or Henry Ian Cusick in their respective roles. By the way, I still wonder what happened to Matthew Fox. Did he die from remorse after his creative involvement with Damon Lindelof?

Her hair looks like Play-Doh.

Matt’s wife Theresa Burke is played by Shannyn Sossamon. She seems an unlikely choice for a long suffering wife, but director M. Night Shyamalan finds something in her androgyny. Wayward Pines is, I am not sorry to say, better acted, better cast and better performed than anything J.J. Abrama has been involved with. Matt is drawn to the town of Wayward Pines searching for his missing partner Kate (Carla Gugino). One day he wakes up into an idyllic and charming town. Naturally, the only thing he can think of to do is leave.

Carla became a little too close to Matt Dillon on the job. It is a bit too soon for another adulterous hero, but Dillon is also perfect at conveying the properties of mistakes. He is no more responsible for their occurence than God is responsible for the tragedy of The Mindy Project‘s cancellation. Unlike other actors, his errors all come across as feckless, guiltless.

The Rock is very sorry for how he acted last night. She’s very lucky her husband was a helicopter pilot.

Things manifest differently for a woman. Dressed up in the style of decades earlier, Gugino looks like a strumpet even when she is Taylor Swifting about how conflicted she is about having sex/intercourse with another man’s wife. Gugino, 43, is finally beginning to look like a woman in middle age, but her girlish appeal is still intact. Wayward Pines wins you over with its perfect casting and pace more than any actual substance.

It’s nice to see a Scientologist can still get work.

In a bar in this mysterious, final town Matt Dillon meets Juliette Lewis. It feels like Lewis has been around for so long; the shocking news is that she is only 41. Her chief talent consists in making manufactured surprise look completely genuine. The fun comes when we simply watch her react to Matt’s loopy questions. She gives him her address if he needs somewhere to stay, and it is at that address where he finds the body of a  missing cisgender federal agent.

Terence has trouble juggling multiple roles because of his utter devotion to the Stanislavsky Method.

Looking for answers — as well as his wallet and firearm — Dillon heads over to the sheriff’s office. There Terence Howard is quietly fulfilling his contract with Fox, the same way Nucky’s brother on Boardwalk Empire has magically been cast on every single HBO show since. Matt eventually has a breakdown and winds up in the hospital, where his real troubles begin. He cannot drive out of the town of Wayward Pines, since there is a massive electric fence circling the habitat.

Say what you want about M. Night’s questionable taste in material/Scientologist actors, but he is fantastically talented at atmosphere and tension. Wayward Pines is incredibly fun for this reason. Here Chad Hodge (The Playboy Club) has an actual mystery that will deliver according to the novels it is based upon, rather than the strategery of Carlton Cuse taking notes for Lost‘s direction from message boards.

He has the best back of the head in television today. I want that hair as a wig.

Mr. Cuse recently bestowed upon us the rather dull third season finale of Bates Motel. The prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho succeeds entirely on the charisma of its star, the brilliant Vera Farmiga. In contrast, Cuse’s newest show The Returned, also airing on A&E, is about as exciting as Lost-Jin flashback episode. You will not be surprised that The Returned concerns a massive cast of people all returning to a locale after they are believed to be dead.

In what is a major step forward for Carlton, there is barely anyone from Lost on the show, not even Nestor Carbonell. (Michelle Forbes was too good to exclude on this basis.) In what is not a major step forward for Carlton, The Returned concerns a group of white people from very different backgrounds and circumstances struggling with a mystery that has left them in an isolated place. Apparations and figments of their imagination recur, and they cannot make sense of the specifics of their lives. Lost should have died a long time ago.

Michelle Forbes should be on every show.

There is actually something deeply wrong about these many reincarnations of Twin Peaks. For all its perfection in mood and atmosphere, Twin Peaks was actually tongue-in-cheek, which many of these projects seem to ignore entirely. There is not really even one joke in Wayward Pines or The Returned — like Lost, they are utterly sincere interpretations of the same basic theme: understanding human beings at the level of a community rather than at the level of a person is a waste of time.

Treading over this ground might seem a little dull, but as long as Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly remain on the outskirts of employment and general good will, I suppose I can accomodate this trend.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is most known for his disgust with the ending of Lost and being the former vice president of the United States.

This should have been what was in the hatch.

“Just Saying” – Jamie xx (mp3)

“Stranger in a Room” – Jamie xx ft. Oliver Sim (mp3)

In Which We Cannot Keep You Off Of Our Feet

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hey,

I went abroad for the fall semester in Paris. My boyfriend Tom and I talked and facetimed every day and I was missing him a lot. When I came back he cried and confessed that he had a emotional relationship with a girl in his dorm, but that they never touched or even kissed. I didn’t really know what to say as the context of their thing seems kind of unclear to me.

Since we talked a lot while I was in France, I’m actually kind of amazed he would even have time or need to make a connection like this. On the other hand, since I was not actually there and nothing happened, there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not something dealbreaking occured. He says that he doesn’t want to talk to her anymore and only wants to be with me, and I believe him. I’m tempted to just forgive him considering the situation, but am I being too accomodating?

Raina C.

Dear Raina,

Some people are very good at telling lies, and others are not so good at it. You can work out for yourself which kind of person you would rather be with. What you need to know is that among those who are good at telling lies, many have learned the utility of telling half-truths.

The advantage of the half-truth is that is lessens a guilt compulsion that many people feel when they do something wrong, without exposing the liar to the reprecussions of the actual truth. Again, not all of want to hear the full truth all the time. If Tiger Woods’ wife Elin did, she would most likely have run him over with that car, and his half-lie spared her decades in prison.

Now she’s dating a great guy who is also rich, so his half-lie was the best thing that ever could have happened to both of them.

I don’t know what kind of person Tom is. It’s possible that he is telling you the whole truth, in which case you can forgive him and see where things go from there. Connections in college are unavoidable, and it can be very lonely to be by yourself when the person you love is away in the romance capital of the universe. But it might be best to dig deeper. Out of nowhere, shout at him, “DID YOU ORDER THE CODE RED?” and when he looks puzzled, whisper to yourself, “You’re goddamned right I did.”

Find out if what you are hearing is the whole truth, and get the full story from the other woman if you must. You might save yourself a lot of heartbreak later on.

Hey,

My cousin Jeff is planning to propose to a woman he met on a dating website. (Not Christian Mingle.) A little bit about her:

– Her name is Sandy.
– She loves to surf, sunbathe and she is always cold indoors, no matter the actual temperature.
– She calls bicyclists “flappy nerds” and joggers “pinwheels.” Sometimes my mom can’t understand what she is saying.

Given everything, she doesn’t feel like the best fit for Jeff. If she makes him happy I feel like I shouldn’t interfere, but I think marrying this woman would be a tragic misstep. What should I do?

Anna S.

hard to say mia nguyen

Dear Anna,

The vagaries of American slang are only of practical use to those who use the appallations, or if you are in a long term relationship with John McWhorter or Noam Chomsky. At least she doesn’t ride a bicycle, because our experience is that almost everyone who does thinks their poop smells like a delicatessen.

The phrase “if she makes him happy” has lost all meaning at this point. Charles Manson is currently making a woman happy. Happiness is just a brain imbalance — too much serotonin — and is not attributable to one person, unless that one person makes cat sounds while eating. I would, theoretically, find that very amusing.

You need to find out what things are like between Jeff and Sandy when you or your mom is not around. Asssuming she can bring him to completion and is able to tolerate his very basic first name, you may not have a leg to stand on. Everyone is annoying to someone.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Worried Mind” – Eilen Jewell (mp3)

“Hallelujah Band” – Eilen Jewell (mp3)

In Which We Capture And Imprison Joan Of Arc

The Good

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Arnolfini Double Portrait is the most mysterious painting in modern art. Jan van Eyck’s oil canvas ostensibly concerned a couple trying to get pregnant. A convex mirror in the back of the room and a Bolognese dog at the couple’s feet draw attention away from the faces of the individuals involved. Two gargoyles sit in repose, representing death. Or do they?

For most of his life, Van Eyck’s patron and employer was Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. It was the Duke’s forces which would capture Joan of Arc and deliver her to be tried by the English. Philip was always doing one of three things: partying, waging war against other nations and having sex with women other than his wife. Philip was definitely good at all of these things; he even found the time to father 18 children with his many mistresses.

The Duke was significantly lacking in appreciation of painting, however. Jan van Eyck was such a prodigy that he could not fail to be recognized by Philip. Van Eyck’s aesthetic eye was put to work decorating the Duke’s various venues in Bruges, Brussels and Lille. Decorations for ceremonies and dinners were well within his sphere, like having Michelangelo design a dinner party. Artists in the Burgundy court were sometimes tasked with finding the best way for a person to jump out of a cake.

Philip was a lot more interested in what were called ‘illuminated manuscripts'; basically engraved and designed books more likely to stand the test of time due to the effort placed in their creation. As Duke he commissioned over 600 of them. This left Jan Van Eyck time to freelance his skills to other individuals or even work outside of the Duke’s immediate requests, which normally consisted of small portraits.

The search for the ghostly man in the Arnolfini double portrait has gone back and forth betwen art historians over the years. Records of the fifteenth century are hard to come by, and it is a great deal of guesswork going into the idea that the man in the portrait is Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, a merchant from Lucca. Since Arnolfini was not married in 1434, critics like Craig Harvison and Margaret Koster have speculated the woman is Arnolfini’s first wife Constanza Trent, who died before the Arnolfini Double Portrait ever took shape.

A later portrait by Van Eyck of di Nicolao confirms the identity of the man but not the woman. The face’s ghastly repose is the frightening apex of the Arnolfini Double Portrait, even more so today when di Nicalao’s androgynous looks and pale features appear utterly out of place in a warmed over setting.

The two men appraising the couple in the convex mirror have been considered attendants at the Arnolfini wedding, and the painting itself has been described as a secret wedding portrait, most prominently by German art historian Edwin Panofsky.

The small gargoyles coyly mocking the couple undermine the ceremony. Appearing above and below the couple’s weirdly chaste hand-holding, their inclusion is the best indication that van Eyck is painting a scene which never existed. In fact, van Eyck never painted scenes exactly as they appeared in a model or real event. All his oil paintings are constructed versions of reality, a movement towards obfuscation that made van Eyck a man out of his own time.

Panofsky theorized that one of the men in the convex mirror was van Eyck himself. Edwin was a professor at the University of Hamburg for over a decade until he was fired for being  a Jew. He moved his work to Princeton, where he became friendly with Albert Einstein. He strangely writes that the singular burning candle in the chandelier looming ominously above the couple is “the all-seeing eye of God.”

After picking apart the various religious symbolism of the Arnolfini Double Portrait, Panofsky engages in a bizarre about-face. Like any critic who has delved too deeply into signification, a part of him is seriously ashamed by what he has done. He writes, “The supreme charm of the picture — and this applies to the creations of van Eyck in general — is essentially based on the fact that the spectator is not irritated by the mass of complicated hieroglyphs, but instead is allowed to abandon himself to the quiet fascination of what may be called a transfigured reality.” After explicating the real life symbols behind the portrait, Panofsky essentially concludes it is something like a fake. Just enjoy it.

The Arnolfini dog represented “the personification of nature” for Panofsky, fidelity for older critics. The text above the mirror subverts all: Johannes de Eyck fuit hic, it reads.

Through his work for the Duke, van Eyck was able to purchase a large home in Bruges for he and his wife Margaret to live in. Material goods loom large for van Eyck; they are an alternative, equally useful way that people explain themselves to each other. The attention paid to each object in the Arnolfini Double Portrait exemplifes van Eyck’s obsession with the material world, and his drive to construct surfaces and textures as close to reality as possible. In this effort his objects achieve an otherworldliness not possible through different means.

Jan van Eyck had a personal motto: Als il kan, which means ‘As best I can’. This prosaic view of affairs could have been useful in coming to terms with his patron the Duke, who outlived van Eyck by two decades. Van Eyck was settled in a cushy place in the Duke’s court, but he may have resented trips he made as Philip’s emissary, including one to Lisbon to arrange the Duke’s marriage with Isabella of Portugal. (He also painted the bride.)

The cunning resemblance between di Nicalao and van Eyck’s patron is subtle, but why not another symbol? At times van Eyck had to beg for back pay, and in canvases like the Arnolfini Double Portrait, he took his revenge.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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