In Which We Overcome The Sirens We Look Both Left And Right

Second Summer

by DAN CARVILLE

Leavened and unleavened bread drops from the sky. Someone, perhaps the ghost of Keith Moon, sits on the edge of the scored lake. He is breakfasting on the noodle. You know he is out of his mind because he sings to himself, but no sound comes out.

The cabin remains very cold at night. The gate shakes when the wind moves through, but mostly the reason for the noise is the people who used to live here. They want to get back in.

Letters arrive by the hundreds. The mailman gives me a snooty look. He told me that this is part time stuff while he gets his PhD in abnormal psychology. I said, “OK.” He said he measures everything in mail, and so should I.

I did meet Gabriel, who is a student at the extension. I asked him to come back to the cabin, but he made a choking gesture with his hands. “You can’t breathe up there,” I said. He doesn’t speak much English, but when have I ever let that stop me? (This is the kind of joke my mailman is not entertained by.)

Hey, you can’t connect with everyone. The closer you get, the more apart you are in your heart, because a pernicious separation is an aspect of all closeness, the same way sometimes you can see the moon when the sun is out, but it’s not the moon you know. Instead it’s a reflection, or more properly described as the Etch-A-Sketch version of what you thought was there.

I have this vision that when I go down to the convenience store to buy Cheerios, the fire department trucks have taken this opportunity to invade my person space. I told Gabriel about this paranoia, and I asked him where it comes from. “God,” he said, “everything comes from God.” He couldn’t prove it, but neither could I.

At the local church our father – the people here like him very much – is obsessed with this letter he received from an old congregant. You see, the letter began grateful to the father for assuaging the man’s doubts and all that. Predictably, something went wrong in the man’s life again, and he fell from this throne. The father said he could rise again, but maybe he wouldn’t and that would be up to him.

The next week the father reported the congregant had left a note saying he stopped by but the father wasn’t there. In his little talk he didn’t say where he was that he missed this gentleman. My second guess was a grocery store.

I want there to be people in this life who knew me the way that people in the other life knew me. I doubt it will happen. A flower never opens as fully that second summer, and that is when the flower (the flower is I) notices that even the street smells of body odor.

There is this place I go to for lunch. They only open for lunch, while tells you how completely important this meal is in their sphere of understanding. There is this guy who waits outside for them to open, OK. He wears about half a sweatshirt, and some nice enough pants, and no shoes. Dirt cakes some of his body, but you can discern a sincere effort to wash as much as you can. They are plenty of public bathrooms around here, although if you go in the grocery store you have to take the elevator down one floor, and that is not recommended. Everytime I see this guy before the place opens, he seems like he is really keen to go in, but then he doesn’t. His feet do not move, and his posture slouches. It took me three or four days of solid mail to discern his emotional reaction to the opening: he was relieved.

Some of the letters say don’t go. Others tell me to stay. To leave a place you know is what Gabriel calls a channeling, because you are going into not only a new environment, which may or may not accept you on a molecular level, but a place where none of the stimuli are familiar. In New York I had the advantage of myself; nothing above 22nd Street was threatening, and the elevator always worked.

The letters sometimes say, predictably, that we have heard your latest broadcast, and we wonder if it is still you. On the condition that it is, here is a check for seventy five dollars, and a card that says we miss you. I put it away.

In the new place, you can still see movies, but they are not the same kind of movies – they are a jaundiced, petrified version of the same, as if Reese Witherspoon is exponentially less sure of all her choices.

I could not list all the people I miss after reading their letters. Reminders contain a hopeful and a sorrowful melody, and so we must engage in them or deny ourselves. On some level I know that is exactly what I ought to do. I am so near sighted that someone when I only open one eye, in the dark, so that I can see the screen, and then I realize I have been pressing the other one shut, and I open it, I think I am seeing myself from above. It is a challenging view but the mail never stops.

She never liked it when I talked about my dreams and she will hate reading this. It’s too abstract.

This one type of person you can only find in the early morning. She dresses all in black because you can imagine some cranky executive wearing his old black clothes, but hers are too worn to merit that appraisal. She does wear socks in her black sneakers, because white socks represent the last vestiges of humanity. On some level, this is the way I remember everyone I meet, to myself.

And then one day the father says to those assembled, he finally connected with the man who wrote him all those times. Maybe the man was lost, maybe he wasn’t. Sometimes people exaggerate the depth of their despair, and he might have a very good reason for that. In a few months he might receive a check for $75.00, or that could be the low end of what proper faith bestows upon the devoted.

My mailman does not want to hear about such things. He is into the following: what it takes to climb over a high fence, how much gas is consumed before the day is done, how two people connect in a more meaningful way than three or four or seven, whether to carry a basket on a shoulder or under an arm, choosing the proper words for the occasion and then showing up at the proscribed time. In contrast, I display the words as they come to me, and if they never arrive on the scene, I say nothing at all.

The gate rises higher and higher, and opens at odd hours, and then only to me. Impresarios, vagabonds, milquetoasts and strangers.

In a frosted over envelope, next to one with the check, a message from the one I loved. “Come home.”

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording.

 

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In Which Nerina Pallot Rains And Also Thunders

Make It Better

by JANICE LEVENS

Stay Lucky
Nerina Pallot
producer Nerina Pallot
October 20th on Idaho Records

Beauty made my heart a liar.

Nerina Pallot’s new album, her first full length effort since 2011’s stunner Year of the Wolf, is at times a sonic sampler. Stay Lucky gives us a full and varied sense of a woman woman entering her 40s. Pallot still seems excited to dip her toes into the thrall of other artists: Fleetwood Mac (“Man Didn’t Walk on the Moon”), Spiritualized (“Bring Him Fire”) and Massive Attack (“Juno”), to name a few. Yet she provides a unity of sound within these homages to wildly divergent artists by seeking the commonality in instrumentation and melody that they share. Her compositions loop around each other so pleasantly that they never outstay their welcome. Perhaps it also Pallot’s voice that synchronizes her themes as well.

Unlike many other artists, marriage and children has not led Pallot to run out of things to say. Her lyrical insights live in the interstices of normative everyday life, and when she slows down on tracks like “Come Into My Room”, her own instrument fills any space so sweetly. “I can’t help the way I feel,” explains “I don’t care if I fall from grace.” It is rare that the helplessness of love has been more clearly explicated in any form.

On “Bird” she sings,

Tell me what it means to be free of all the misery
of the world and everything in it
As much as it hurts I know that I’m feeling something
that’s better off than feeling nothing.

Pallot decided to marry her husband on her first date, yet whatever impulsiveness she has as a person is restrained beautifully here. She must have the most astonishing perfect instincts, since every move she makes on Stay Lucky, from suddenly bringing in background vocals when you might never expect them, to reducing the soundscape to echoing tickles on a piano in the haunting intro to “Juno”, the album’s standout track, achieves a sustained and memorable effect.

The second half of the album reprises Pallot’s traditional sound, which can best be described as a jazzier, more substantial Regina Spektor. “Better” terminates in an aimless, semi-passionate saxophone solo that exemplifies the type of meaningful risk Pallot accomplishes even when her songwriting is ticking the most traditional, pleasurable pop boxes. There is something improvisational and fresh in all these songs, as if they sprung out of her in a particular state of mind and now exist more precisely in this form than they ever did while in her head.

Janice Levens is the music editor of This Recording.

 

In Which It Is Never As Intimate As We Expected

Theater of the Absurd

by DAN CARVILLE

This rough-looking, pinned back challenge. You only laughed among your friends, those you knew for longer than you knew me. That is how I knew there was something dark inside you, and the laugh was a kind of easing.

There is a castle in a place we both know. Inside the tower, spaces oscillate between cramped and open. Part of me wanders from room to room there. I just wanted you to pose for one photograph. That was all. Candids aren’t my style.

Rub a particular spot in concentric circles. Tell lies the whole time you are doing it. Tell truths afterwards.

Once I complained that you never asked me for anything. Then you demanded much that I never intended to give. You used my phone for a calculator, metaphorically. It was only good for that, I was only worthwhile to fill in some aspect of a desire. Sections of you, pieces of yourself never resemble the larger whole. I am so much more complete than you.

80, 50, 42, 10. Fold the rope so it burns at both ends. Near the castle, but not inside it, a little girl screams, “Take me with you.”

There were much worse heartbreaks than this, much more awful people. Over time you start to admire the honest ones. Now I tell what exactly it was that made me feel nothing, so that the abscess never has to wonder about its removal. This is only kind: a ghost is a vicious kind of creature, the sort that never leaves well enough alone.

Meeting someone new feels impossible. So much of me is stuck behind somewhere. The only thing that takes my mind off the pain is reading. In one novel, a man visits the realm of Faerie. When he goes to leave, he sees the spectre of himself still resting on the beach. He says that he wishes he could spend the rest of his life there, in the dangerous and wild part of the universe. “Doesn’t part of you remain there?” his friend asks.

One thing that bothers me in all the love stories I read is that they have such definite boundaries and strictures. Moving up and down on a wet point. Bending back the focus, rough at the base. Delight.

Fading out, the softness of your hands and shoulders. Light from the kitchen, the vastness of the pillows. The city stretched out behind us, everyone else planning for a future that was bound to come. I shook nervously, too far from home, and the refractions preyed upon me. We all become too much like one another, merely through proximity.

Let’s be fully open. Even when you screamed at me in Bloomingdale’s, I blamed myself. I always loved you, but I didn’t bother saying it. You said that you loved espresso and popcorn, bedsheets and black boots. Those were all the things that can’t really love you back.

In the mornings it is so much worse.

In my sorrow I go back to these old places. It is better than being taken by surprise, casually walking onto the grounds. I need to prepare myself for the fact that you will always inhabit this New York for me. I know you will never think about me within the walls at all. You have to be warm inside to notice the cold.

Putting my fingers in someone’s mouth is never as intimate as I expect. Placing them elsewhere with the lightest touch. I try to be kind until I have a reason otherwise, but that reason usually arrives, coming up through the bedsprings.

Winter is the worst time to be alone. I received a letter from a woman I loved. Of course I never told her. It was an apology, an unneeded one really, since she at least had the courtesy to never promise me what she could not give. At the time I called her cruel, but now I think she was just being merciful to never give me a chance. She knew her heart better than I did: how small it was.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording.


 

In Which Our Tragic Effects Remain Purely Professional

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My Only Advice

In every relationship, romantic or otherwise, one of the two people feels slightly closer to the other, if only by a matter of degrees. So it was with Gustave Flaubert and his hypochrondriac, flaky friend Ivan Turgenev. These two barnacles met when Flaubert was 40 and Turgenev was three years older. From the tenor of their conversations, which Flaubert seemed to treasure above all else, we can deduce that their spirits remained substantially youthful. Flaubert’s self-professed love of literature was so all-encompassing it almost crowded out other parts of himself; Turgenev shared his friend’s basic interest but saw the underlying reality for what it was. (Turgenev called his friend, “the only man in existence really devoted to literature.”)

Turgenev would visit Flaubert at his retreat in Croisset in the summer, or in Paris during the winter season. Many of the hours they passed together consisted of Flaubert reading his novels or plays aloud, a difficult burden even for one of his most central admirers. The written correspondence between the two in the 1860s leaves the mortal plane behind; it can be classified as the first bubbles of modernity to enter the universe.

RomePriests

March 1863

 

My dear Turgenev,

Your letter was most kind and you are too modest. For I have just read your latest book. I found your essential qualities in it, and more intense, more rarified than ever.

What I admire above all is the distinguished quality of your art — a wonderful thing. You manage to ring true yet avoid banality, to be sentimental without morbidity, and comic without being at all low. Without looking for high drama, you achieve it none the less by the sheer professionalism of your tragic effects. You seem very casual, but you have great skill, ‘the skin of the fox combined with that of the lion’, as Montaigne said.

Elena’s is a fine story. I like this character, as well as Shubin and all the others. While reading you one says to oneself ‘I’ve experienced that’. Thus I believe that page 51 will be felt with greater intensity by no one than by me. What a psychologist! But I’d need many lines to express all my thoughts on that.

As for your First Love, I understand it all the better for its being the story of one of my closest friends. All old romantics (and I who slept with a dagger under my pillow am one) should be grateful to you for this little story that has so much to say about their youth! What a real live girl Zinochka is.

The creation of women is one of your strong points. They are both ideal and real. They have the attraction of saintliness. But what dominates this work, indeed the whole collection, is the two lines: “I had no bad feelings towards my father. On the contrary he had, so to speak, increased in stature in my eyes.” That strikes me as being startlingly profound. Will people pick it up? I don’t know. But for me, it is sublime.

Yes, dear colleague, I hope that our relationship will not stand still, and that our mutual sympathy will tum into friendship.

In the meantime, one thousand handshakes from your

Gustave Flaubert

 

pull head saw my heavy snow

April 1863

My dear colleague,

I don’t need, I hope, to tell you how much pleasure your second letter gave me — and more than pleasure! If I didn’t reply straightaway, it was because I had to extricate myself from a host of disagreeable little matters that made me ill-humoured and lazy at the same time. These miseries continue, but my conscience will not permit me to delay any longer. I have been counting, and still do, on your indulgence — and above all I want to thank you and shake you by the hand.

I am very glad to have your approval and you should be convinced of it: I well know that an artist and man of goodwill such as yourself reads a host of things between the lines of a book, for which he generously appreciates the author’s effort: but it doesn’t make any difference. Praise coming from you is worth gold — and I pocket it with pride and gratitude.

Shall we not see each other during the summer? An hour of good, frank conversation is worth a hundred letters. I’m leaving Paris in a week’s time to go and settle in Baden. Will you not come there? There are trees there such as I’ve seen nowhere else — and right on the tops of the mountains. The atmosphere is young and vigorous and it’s poetic and gracious at the same time. It does a power of good to your eyes and to your soul. When you sit at the foot of one of these giants, it seems as if you take in some of its sap – and it’s good and beneficial. Really, come to Baden, even if it were only for a few days. You will take away with you some wonderful colours for your palette.

Before I leave, you will receive a book by me which has just been published. I am cramming you full — but you are partly to blame.

A thousand friendly greetings, keep well, work well, and come to Baden.

Yours

I. Turgenev

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Turgenev,

Cram me full then, dear colleague! I await your book impatiently and I shall read it with delight, I am sure.

I also have had a number of little aggravations just lately. The affinity between us is complete, you see.

I don’t think I shall be able to go to Baden, because I shall have several obligations that will disturb my routine this summer. When will you be back? And send me your address.

I shall spend the whole of June or the whole of August in Paris. In any case, we shall see each other next winter.

A thousand very long and very vigorous handshakes from your

Gustave Flaubert

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May 1868

My dear friend,

I’m very grateful to you for thinking of writing to me. Your letter gave me much pleasure — for it re-established relations between us and because it showed that you liked my book.

These days every single artist has something of the critic in him.

The artist is very great in you — and you know how much I love and admire it; but I also have a high opinion of the critic and I am very happy to have his approval. I well know that your friendship for me counts for something in all this: but I have the feeling that a master has stood in front of my picture, has looked at it and has nodded his head with an air of satisfaction. Well, I’ll say again that this has given me great pleasure.

I was very sorry not to have seen you in Paris — I only stayed there three days, and I regret even more that you are not coming to Baden this year. Your novel has you in harness — that’s good — I await it with the greatest impatience — but could you not take a few days rest, to the profit of your friends here? Since the first time I saw you (you know, in a sort of inn on the other bank of the Seine) I have felt a great liking for you — there are few men, particularly French men, with whom I feel so relaxed and at ease and yet at the same time so stimulated. It seems to me that I could talk to you for weeks on end, but then we are a pair of moles burrowing away in the same direction.

All this means that I should be very glad to see you. I’m leaving for Russia in a fortnight’s time, but I shan’t stay there long, and I shall be back by the end of July — and I shall go to Paris to see my daughter who will probably have made me a grandfather by then. I shall be game enough to come and chase after you even at home — if you are there. Or will you come to Paris? But I must see you.

In the meantime I wish you good fortune. The living, human truth that you pursue indefatigably can only be captured on good days. You have had some – you will have more — and many of them.

Keep well; I also embrace you — and with true friendship.

I. Turgenev

 

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July 1868

My dear Turgenev,

This is simply to remind you of your promise. You were supposed to be in Paris at the end of July or the beginning of August. As for me, I am here, and I await you.

So as to avoid your making unnecessary arrangements, here is my programme: from 30 July (next Thursday) until August I shall be at Saint-Gratien at the Princess Mathilde’s. Then I shall return to Paris for two days. I shall then spend another two days at Dieppe at one of my nieces. Then I shall return to Croisset, to get on with my book.

We must spend a few good hours together.

I embrace you wishing you cooler weather than we’re having in Paris, and I remain yours

G. Flaubert

the xbox player

 

August 1868

My dear friend,

I have waited until now to reply to your kind little note, because Iwas still hoping to be able to announce my arrival; but my devilish gout is obstinately refusing to leave me, and I cannot yet contemplate any kind of long journey. It’s annoying — but what can I do about it? I shall come as soon as I can; and in the meantime I embrace you and beg you to present my respects to your mother, whom I shall be very happy to meet.

Work hard in the meantime.

I. Turgenev

ins4ed

November 1868

My dear friend,

The cheese has just arrived; I shall take it to Baden with me, and with every mouthful we shall think of Croisset and of the delightful day I spent there. Decidedly I feel that there is a real affinity between the two of us.

If all of your novel is as good as the extracts you read to me, you will have written a masterpiece, I’m telling you.

I don’t know if you’ve read the book I’m sending you; in any case, put it on one of the shelves of your library.

Present my respects to your mother — and let me embrace you.

Your

I. Turgenev

P. S. My address is: Carlsruhe, poste restante. It would be very kind if you were to send me a photograph of yourself. Here is one of me that looks very forbidding.

P.P.S. Find another title. Sentimental Education is wrong.

from baden compelte

January 1869

But I must have news of you, my dear friend. Let’s see now — in two words: where are you — and how is the novel going? I am writing to you at Croisset, and perhaps you are in Paris, sniffing out what’s new.

In any case, I don’t think you’ll stay there long.

I have not yet thanked you for the photograph, which makes you look very military and well groomed — but it’s you all right — and it’s always good to look at it. Why don’t you have some good ones taken?

I have often thought of Croisset, and I think to myself that it’s a nest to fledge songbirds in. As for me, I have done almost nothing. I have embarked on a task that I find repugnant and I am floundering about sadly in it. There’s no going back, but when it’s finished, I shall give a great sigh of relief! It’s a sort of anthology of literary reminiscences that I promised my publisher; I have never worked in that field and it’s not at all amusing. Oh! Two hours of being Sainte-Beuve! I’d like to know if he enjoys it very much.

My best greetings to your honourable mother, who seems to me the best possible of mamas one could imagine, and a good vigorous handshake to you.

Your

I. Turgenev

P. S. I am here for the whole winter because my friends the Viardotl are here. It’s not very gay, Carlsruhe, but it’s better than its reputation. I shall come to Paris towards the end of March.

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My dear friend,

Yes, people have certainly been unfair to you, but this is the time to brace yourself and hurl a masterpiece at the reading public. Your Anthony could be such a projectile. Don’t tarry too long over it, that’s my refrain. Don’t forget that people judge you according to the standards that you yourself have established, and you’re bearing the weight of your past. You have energy; el hombre debe ser feroz as the Spanish proverb says — and artists especially. Even if your book has only gripped a dozen people of any worth — then that is enough. You understand I’m saying all this not to console you, but to spur you on.

I have been here for about ten days — and my sole preoccupation is keeping warm. The houses are badly built here, and the iron stoves are useless. You’ll see a very little thing by me in the March edition of the Revue des 2 Mondes. It’s nothing very much. I’m working on something more ‘solid‘, that is, I’m getting ready to work.

I shall go to Paris before returning to Russia; that will be towards the end of April. I shall stay a good ten days — we shall see each other often.

If you see Mme Sand, give her my regards. Greetings to Du Camp and the Husson family.

I embrace you and wish you courage! You are Flaubert after all.

Your I.T.

the third rail etc

April 1870

I was very sorry to hear in your last letter that we shan’t see each other this summer, my dear friend. I had counted on a good chance to let myself go with you, before your departure for Russia. But how difficult everything in this life is!

The great sadness I’ve had this winter has been the death of my closest friend after Bouilhet, a good lad called Jules Duplan who was devoted to me. These two deaths, coming one on top of the other, have overwhelmed me. Add to that the pitiful state of two other friends (not such close friends, it’s true, but none the less they were part of my immediate circle). I’m referring to Feydeau’s paralysis and the madness of Jules de Goncourt. The loss of Sainte-Beuve, money worries, my novel’s lack of success etc., etc. even down to my manservant’s rheumatism (the one who looks like Lassouche), everything, as you can see, has conspired to aggravate me. And to do so to no mean extent.

I can easily say that the only good thing to happen to me for a long time was your last visit, which was too short. Why do we live so far away from one another? You are (I think) the only man I enjoy talking to. I can’t see that anybody else bothers about art and poetry! The plebiscite, socialism, the International and other such garbage are cluttering up everybody’s brains.

I fear I shan’t be able to accept your invitation this summer. Here’s why. In four or five days’ time I shall return to Croisset, where I’m going to write the preface to the volume of Bouilhet’s verse straightaway. It will take me two or three months — after which, I shall tackle St Anthony which will be interrupted in October by the rehearsals for Aisse. They will rob me of a good two months. So between now and next New Year I shall have barely six weeks to devote to the good hermit. I would like to spend not more than two years on that fellow. So you see how pressed for time I am. I must get on with that work, as quickly as possible, as I’m already starting to feel I’ve had enough of it. I have consumed too many books, one on top of the other — but it was in order to make myself numb to my personal sorrows.

Send me your news when you’re at home in Russia — and think of me often, because I often think of you, and I embrace you, ex imo

G. Flaubert

My mother was, as they say, very touched by your kind regards.

1863-1870

 

In Which It Is Just The Christmas You Lost To Cocaine

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Workshop Blues

by JANICE LEVENS

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 5.46.18 PMEveryday Is Christmas
Sia
producers Sia Furler and Greg Kurstin
November 17th on Atlantic Records

I have no idea why Sia recorded Everyday Is Christmas, but it is best to not look this particular gift horse in the mouth or face. Some artists make jokes and others are sincere, but Sia occupies a discursive space between those two norms, and what a space it is. This metaphysical area is full of the following:

* puppies (Sia loves dogs, because they only judge people based on physical presence and * potential as a food source)
* nature (on “Snowflake” Sia deals with the traditional version of term. She is not so crass)
* elves (in the metaphorical sense)
* mistletoe (there is a positive aspect to touch)

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Parsing the lyrics is sometimes a challenge. On “Sunshine”, Furler suggests, “Tell me your secrets tonight and I’ll get the elves working on them.” She adds, “Got the elves working so hard, make your pain stop.” I honestly never know when to laugh or cry on this album, and the preternaturally talented producer of Everyday Is Christmas, Greg Kurstin, doesn’t seem to either. This unexpected album is such a songwriting tour de force that even the most nonsensical lyrics land completely in the Santa’s Workshop of orchestration woven by Furler.

On the album’s most formal and nearly devout track, “Snowman”, Furler manages a touching and deeply beautiful ballad that proves that almost any simile she writes can encompass anguish and joy at the same time. She warbles

Don’t cry snowman, don’t you fear the sun
Who’ll carry me without legs to run?
Don’t cry snowman, don’t you shed a tear
Who’ll hear my secrets if you don’t have ears?

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Mostly Everyday Is Christmas seems to be making the point that words are mere shells, and the underlying arrangements are Furler’s actual voice. She is one of the most magnetic and intuitive musical talents ever to work in this genre, and if it feels like very few risks are being taken here, there is also the pervasive feeling that Sia is closing a door on a certain sound embodied by her 2014 masterpiece 1000 Forms of Fear.

On “Puppies Are Forever”, Furler sings, “Cause they’re so cute and fluffy with shiny coats. But will you love ’em when they’re old and slow?” This should not have affected me as much as it did either. But for some of us, the end of the year is when we are at our most vulnerable and plaintive. Timing is everything in life, and I am happy Sia made Everyday is Christmas for us this year.

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Janice Levens is the music editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Careened About A Dray Loaded With Sand

False Notes

The letters of Henry James from Italy paint a disturbing and often contradictory picture. On one hand you have an educated observer open to a variety of impressions and situations detailing events. On the other, Henry seems oblivious to much of what he experiences, so much so that you have to wonder what percentage of the world he encounters on even footing. In the following selections, James details his view of Italy — it is the view of Englishman, granted, but an appreciative one.

The first month I was in Florence I had a villa at Bellosguardo, kindly sublet to me by a friend (Constance Fenimore Woolson the novelist—an excellent woman, of whom I am very fond, though she is almost impracticably deaf), who had taken it for three years and was not yet ready to go into it, having another on her hands.

A cook went with it—a venerable—and veritable chef—so that I was very comfortable—and blissfully lifted out of that little simmering social pot—a not very savoury human broth—into which Florence resolves itself today.

It is a pity it is personally so tiresome, for (allowing for the comparative ugliness of its winter phase, with hard cold and dusty tramontana) it had never seemed to me, naturally and artistically, more delightful. And the views from the villas on the hills (I was at a good many) are as beautiful—really—as your memory must tell you. On January 1st my friend came into her villa and I descended into Florence—where (I am told) I went “out” a good deal. Why, I don’t know—as it was very exactly what I had left London not to do.

I am also told I was “lionized”—and the wherefore of this I know still less. On reflection, in fact, I greatly doubt it. But I did see a great many people; too many, for what they were. I won’t tell you their names, or more than that they were members of the queer, promiscuous polyglot (most polyglot in the world) Florentine society.

+

Venice is wintry yet and so little terne, in consequence; also the calles and campos impress the sense with a kind of glutinous, malodorous damp. But it is Venice, none the less, and it is a ravishment to be here and to think that every week, at this season, will bring out a little more of the colour. I have a hope, if I stay in Italy late enough, of going down to Rome for ten days in May—when the damaging crowd shall have taken itself off. I dream then of also taking a little tour of old towns in Tuscany. If I am able to do this I shall certainly give you news of Rome.

+

I enjoyed my absence, and I shall endeavour to repeat it every year, for the future, on a smaller scale: that is, to leave London, not at the beginning of the winter but at the end, by the mid-April, and take the period of the insufferable Season regularly in Italy. It was a great satisfaction to me to find that I am as fond of that dear country as I ever was—and that its infinite charm and interest are one of the things in life to be most relied upon. I was afraid that the dryness of age—which drains us of so many sentiments—had reduced my old tendresse to a mere memory. But no—it is really so much in my pocket, as it were, to feel that Italy is always there.

+

De Vere Gardens always follows me.

+

There are many things I must ask you to excuse. One of them is this paper from the village grocer of an unsophisticated Bavarian valley. The others I will tell you when we next meet. Not that they matter much; for you won’t excuse them—you never do. But I have your commands to write and tell you “all about” something or other—I think it was Venice—and at any rate Venice will do. Venice always does.

+

This is a delightful moment to be in Italy, and really nowadays, the only right one—for the herd of tourists has departed, the scramble at the stations is no more, and one seems alone with the dear old land, who at the same time, seems alone with herself. I am happy to say that I am as fond as ever of this tender little Florence, where it doesn’t seem a false note even to be staying with an “American doctor.” My friend Baldwin is a charming and glowing little man, who, coming here eight or ten years ago, has made himself a first place, and who seems to consider it a blessing to him that I should abide a few days in his house.

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+

When, three mornings ago, I rose early, to take the train for Florence, and in the cool, fresh 7 o’clock light, was rowed through the delicious half-stirred place and the imbroglio of little silent plashing waterways to the station, it was really heartbreaking to come away—to come out into the dust and banalité of the rest of the world. (Venice clings closer to one by its dustlessness than perhaps by any other one charm.) But already the sweetness of Florence tastes. I am, however, seriously thinking, or rather dreaming, of putting my hand on some little cheap permanent refuge in Venice—some little perch over the water, with a bed and a table in it, to call one’s own and come away to, without the interposition of luggage and hotels, whenever the weight of London, at certain times, is no longer to be borne.

+

At Verona I collapsed upon my old hotel—which, however, this time I found excellent and not exceptionally dear.

Some day you might do worse than try it—the woods, the walks, the views, the excursions, the places to stroll in, and sit, and spend the day in the open air, all being, apparently, exquisite and extremely numerous. The only blot is that one has to make sure of quarters a long time in advance—unless one stays with Mme Peruzzi: a privilege that I am actually engaged in wriggling out of.

+

Italy is already a dream and Venice a superstition.

I have been here (in this particular desolation,) since yesterday noon, intently occupied in realizing that I am an uncle. It is very serious—but I am fully taking it in. I don’t see as yet, how long I shall remain one—but sufficient unto the day are the nephews thereof.

I can only, for all sorts of practical reasons, live in London, and must always keep an habitation “mounted” there. But whenever I have been in Venice (especially the last two or three times), I have felt the all but irresistible desire to put my hand on some modest pied-à-terre there—modest enough to be compatible with the retention of my London place, which is rather expensive; and such as I might leave standing empty for months together—without scruple—in my absence, and deposit superfluous luggage in, when I wished to “visit” Italy. This humble dream I still cherish—but it is most vivid when I’m on the spot—i.e. Venice; it fades a little when I’m not there.

I rejoice in everything that may be comfortable in your situation or interesting in your adventures.

1869-1890

 

In Which This Is Not The Greatest News For Him

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.

Last March I had a brief relationship with a co-worker, who I will call Sam. The relationship ended when Sam was transferred to another part of the company – it’s about an two hours drive away. I never heard that it was because another employee found out about us, and transfers are frequent. 

I miss Sam a lot, and I have thought about asking for a transfer or leaving my job so that this would not be an obstacle to us being together. When I talk to him about it, he is mostly focused on the repercussions for his career. He does say he wants to be together, but it seems impossible right now. Can you suggest any course of action?

Nadine A.

Hiqfo2C

Dear Nadine,

A man is a beautiful thing. He smells of musk and Raisinets, and he always has a kind word for a tourniquet or bedfellow. A hour is not too far to conduct any relationship, but two can make it rather difficult on both of you.

The facts seem to be these, though: if you did not tell someone about your relationship, then it is quite possible Sam did, which means he may not exactly want this relationship as much as it seems. It’s a great cop-out, and we can add to the fact that if he wanted to see you on a regular basis, he probably would.

It can be tricky to get out of a work relationship, and Sam most likely felt trapped. This is through no fault of your own, but the fact that you are still pursuing this even when he has been transferred indicates the momentum in the relationship is entirely on your side.

Let me tell you a story. A man (Joseph Cotten) loved a woman (Ginger Rogers). When he found out that she had to serve three years in prison for murdering her boss when the man tried to drunkenly r her, he was like, “I will wait for you my darling.” He was there outside the prison when she got out, and they had three wonderful children together, two of them addressed by their peers and parents as “Monsignor.”

Instead of Joseph Cotten, who was also a war hero in this particular instance, you have targeted a mid-level functionary at your organization who has a lot of excuses that he can’t be with you. He sounds like Scar from The Lion King, and while Scar’s phallus was shaped like a can of tuna, Scar also had some pretty attractive qualities. Every single person in the universe can be the love of your life. Sam doesn’t want to be.

You can probably turn this around. Cut off all contact with Sam and start dating someone named Davidson LeGrue. Problem partially solved.

Hi,

My friend Ashley has a boyfriend named Johnny. A few nights ago she got a call from him: he was in the hospital. He had woken up there without any knowledge of how he had gotten there other than that he had drinks with a female friend. There was some kind of drug in his system that indicated one of his drinks was spiked; he has no idea by who.

She was comforting, but I was pretty aghast at this entire story and the idea that she believed him without verifying any of the information. Then again, he did not have to call her from the hospital at all or provide any of this, to me, weird story.

What do you think actually happened here, and what should I tell Ashley to do about it?

Raina N.

Dear Raina,

It is disturbingly serious what Bill Cosby did to all these women. And to offer them a muffin afterwards and send them on their way after the rape is just disgusting. I don’t know how that relates to your question, but I must admit it has been on my mind.

I was reading this Robert Heinlein book about life on the moon the other day. Any crime is punishable by death, if it is bad enough. The idea that rape is a crime worse than murder only makes sense in that it is more difficult to prosecute. I don’t know how that relates to your question either.

Or maybe I do, since your friend’s boyfriend is and isn’t having a reaction that indicates this may have happened to him. If he simply drank too much, the only reason not to say so if he did something so out of character it might be revealed to Ashley by a third party. Then, his excuse is built into the original story.

For a second let’s assume everything he said is true. It is possible to be drugged by someone we know, or drink from someone else’s glass. (This happened in The Princess Bride as I recall.) There would be no reason not to tell Ashley the truth in this scenario, and it would explain most everything in the story.

Unfortunately, pathological exaggerators seek to play up stories, and people often feel humiliated and embarrassed when their drinking leads them to medical care. I don’t know if there is much to be gained by checking up on this story however. You should be only able to find out whether Johnny was a patient at the hospital. If he was, then that is the likely limit of your investigation.

It would be beneficial for you yourself to quiz Johnny about this incident, but Ashley is likely going to have to do this on her own. Here is some advice for follow-up that you can provide here.

* Questions will keep coming up. Do not ask them randomly, as they come to mind, or constantly hint or make suggestions about her doubts. This is easy to deflect. Most people can only tell one lie at a time.

* The key is to really find a specific moment, preferably in public, to talk at length to Johnny about this incident. If he really is a pathological liar, he will want to do this in private.

* Ask a series of noncombative questions, and then suddenly turn nasty, but only for a moment, to gauge his reaction. Then back off — this isn’t Guantanamo.

* If he becomes flustered or upset, this is not the greatest news for him. If he cries, this is not the greatest news for him. If he calmly tries to reassure you, this is the best news for him.

* Pray