08 March, 2007

kings and towers and a molar

First of all, it's time for another Mental Note. Have you ever dropped your child off at school and then come home to do that wicked thing you often contemplate but never do: Get Back In Bed And Pull the Covers Over Your Head? Well, take it from me: don't. I had the weirdest dreams ever. First, I dreamt that Avery was covered entirely in tartan. Not as a garment, but her actual self. I can't remember if it was the real tartan or not, but somehow that didn't seem to matter. So I woke up in a panic, turned over to go back to sleep and then I dreamt that I opened the refrigerator and huge uncontrollable heads of broccoli came spilling out. Waah. Bad. Then there was something involving the cats and spaghetti, at which point I decided the better part of valor was just to be sleepy for the rest of the day.

Anyway, last things first. Avery lost her first molar! This seems an inopportune rite of passage: I remember when she GOT the jolly thing. How can she be old enough to lose it? She explained it very poetically (after slinking into my bedroom at 10 p.m. last night holding it in her hand). "You see, babies don't really need the teeth they have, as they eat mostly mushy things. So the roots are rather fragile, and finally, when people get to be my age, the roots just... let go, and the tooth floats away." It sounds, as everything does these days, like a metaphor.

Ah well, she doesn't even believe in the tooth fairy anymore, so times are certainly changing. I remember when my beloved friend Sarah Webb, a brilliant artist, arranged the first visit of the Tooth Fairy to her daughter Eve (they were our partners in crime for our trip to Paris last October). Sarah scattered a trail of gold glitter from Eve's bedroom door to the space under her pillow where she left some tiny gift. In the morning Eve said, "Mommy, are you the Tooth Fairy?" "Now why on earth would you ask that?" "Because lots of my friends have lost teeth, and glitter has never been part of their experience."

Anyway, compared to the lost molar, my trip to the Royal Academy to see the new show, "Citizens and Kings," was positively an understatement. No, truly, my friend Susan who is a volunteer there took me through the show and it is definitely worth a visit. The iconic portraits of Napoleon, The Sun King, George Washington and so many others are really quite stunning and the rooms are arranged very cleverly by various themes, and not at all crowded, so that the viewer does not get bored. Susan was an excellent guide with lots of behind-the-scenes information that made it especially entertaining. Then we repaired to the courtyard with the statue of the first head of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds (did you know that the fountains surrounding him are in the arrangement of the constellation of stars on the day of his birth? neither did I, but Susan did). The courtyard is currently dominated by the two towers of Jericho by Anselm Kiefer, which have been the subject of such controversy in the city. I myself cannot see what the fuss is about. Of course they are references to the many scenes of social destruction about us these days, of course they bring up associations to Beirut, Afghanistan, New York, that's obvious. But the sheer scale of them, concrete, reinforcing steel, lead, combined with an eerie insubstantiality, and the changing impact they have depending on the color of the sky, all combined for me to make a very successful installation. We went on to Jay Jopling's new Piccadilly White Cube gallery, with its concurrent exhibition of other apocalyptic Kiefer pieces. Much as I hesitate to agree with Donald Kuspit about anything, the grayness of Kiefer's work and the enormity of the palm tree, lying supine in the huge gallery space, were very effective and impressive. How did he get that tree out of the ground, much less installed with such incongruity in a gallery space just yards from Christie's? Very odd, and beautiful. Susan and I puzzled over the Latin labellings but were left in ignorance, so we'll have to look it up. Tomorrow, perhaps!

We ended up having a quick lunch in Piccadilly, discussing our children, art, school, families. In the past two weeks, I think I have defined what a good friendship is, and I would like to learn something from it from the giving end, since I've received so much lately. I think a really good friendship is about having the person listen to you when you need help, really listen, and then not just nod supportively, but actually react truthfully. It has been so refreshing lately, asking for advice, telling my friends how I've reacted to something, handled something, and I don't get just a nice supportive nod. I get actual help. As in, every once in awhile, "oh, Kristen, that was really not the right way to go about that." Or, "look at it from this angle instead," or even more helpful, "when I was in that situation, I realized I was making the same mistake." I come out of these conversations feeling strangely uplifted, because I realize I am actually being listened to. And the person opposite me cares more about making the situation better than just nodding supportively and not risking anything. So I myself am going to try to listen better. And not just say what is expected, or the easiest route at the moment. Really react and say what you think would be helpful. I don't know what I would have done lately without Becky, Olimpia, Simone, Susan, Vincent, and so many other excellent companions. May I be able to do the same someday.

In the meantime, I tread through the days making so many mistakes! I went to the grocery and came home without a single thing that was on my list. Granted, they were unusual, and yet boring things like dishwasher rinse aid, and matches. I'm sorry, those are things that occur to the human mind only at the precise moment of loading the dishwasher or lighting the dinner candles. I cannot carry the need for them in my mind at any other time. Oh, and I was sitting virtuously reading with my little Form Two gulls, little Emilie to be precise, when even littler Ellie walked in with her coat and briefcase, looked me up and down and said, deadpan, "You're not supposed to be here until Thursday, Miss Kristen. You're supposed to be with Form Three right now." Holy *&%, she was right. Up I got and trudged across the passage where the Form Three teacher just said patiently, "That's all right, Mrs Curran, it's hard to keep the days straight." Especially the ones that require me to be sentient at 8:20 a.m.

And I have been a dead loss as far as cooking. It's not that Avery isn't rewarding to cook for. Actually, yes, that's what it is. She would always prefer noodles and butter to anything else, although she happily eats whatever I put in front of her. But somehow dinner conversation palls for me, when it centers almost exclusively on the atmosphere left in one's mouth once a molar has been lost, or the relative merits of the songs that will be sung today by the various school houses for the interschool singing competition, or the incredible cuteness of the 18-hand horse (yes, 18 hands, I reacted exactly the same way, what is my tiny child doing on the biggest horse in the stable!?) she rode that afternoon. So I have been tremendously lazy and made dull but reliable tomato sauce, eating it with spaghetti, and followed by putting the leftovers in an oven-proof dish the next night topped with mozzarella and baked in a slow oven for half an hour. Not Lucullan delights. That can wait till John gets home.

Easy Tomato Sauce
(serves four)

1/2 stick butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 soup-size cans whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes
1/2 cup light cream
salt and pepper to taste
lots of grated pecorino

Now what? Here's what. Put it all in a saucepan, except the cheese, and mash the tomatoes a bit with a potato masher. Simmer for about half an hour. That's it.


Last night I succumbed to total slugness and we went out to a local Italian place that I can't name because the last time I did, the owner contacted me about my complaints (in this space!) and said he hoped we would come back. Well, we did and nothing has changed. A total lack of comprehension as to what we were ordering, combined with a mind-numbing acoustic situation which mean that I lost fully half of Avery's monologue on the theme of the 18-hand horse (not that I minded). As Avery finally observed, when we had ordered our drinks YET another time, "sometimes restaurants being full of real Italians is authentic and sometimes it's just... impractical." Sigh. And she's a quarter Italian, what can I say.

At least there is my comedy class. Yesterday the teacher looked around the room at us and said, "James is going to be late. He says he has to meet up with somebody who owes him money." Immediately everyone began speculating about the bloody baseball bat, the Irish thugs in Bermondsey, etc. All the things that come up when you put several would-be writers in a room together all trying to be funny. It was very refreshing. And several of my cohorts have been reading the blog and enjoying it, which was extremely gratifying. Real writers like it! That's a good sign. We went on to analyze part of another episode of "Extras," which I find funny for about five minutes and then I want to turn it off. I asked the tutor why Ricky Gervais would write a show with only two main characters, and he said, "Well, he plays one of them and he gets a lot more airtime!" Exactly. I can't take that much Ricky Gervais. Then we talked about the motivations of the characters in the sitcom we're trying to write (set in a health club owned by a petrochemical company, don't ask: that's what comes of writing as a team). There is a villainous female character that we have to decide if the audience is meant to like, or not. We were debating how ugly to make her, and how far to push her evilness, when the tutor objected, "Wait, we're not making her into someone who's dismembering other people's children!" and I murmured, "Season Two," which got a laugh. But I don't think I'm a sitcom writer at heart.

In any case, TGIF. Not so much as if John were here, but it does mean that if Avery and her beloved best friend Anna, who's sleeping over, will permit, tomorrow I can spend a bit more time with my head under the covers. Dreamless, one hopes.

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