August 10, 2020

Of Note: Letters

I know I have posted these four letters before in various places, but I want to gather them, after a conversation on Saturday, in one single place, to serve as a reminder of their power. They are letters, wide ranging in their content, from various writers to various men, but they have all powerfully stuck in my mind in the last few years, and I reference them often. 

I have lots of favorites, and these four letters are truly four of my favorites. Many thanks to the excellent "Letters of Note" blog for publishing them all those years ago.

Advice for an Aspiring Architect, from Charles Morgan (of Frank Lloyd Wright's studio in Chicago) to Richard Crews:

An architect should, unless it is impossible, answer his mail the first thing in the morning. Then his mind is free to plan and design upon the problems of his clients. He goes to work planning from within outward just as truly as from the ground upward. There are very few real architects who get big jobs because it is only the politician who gets big jobs, and the politician never has time to be an architect. So by all means the architect should learn to do small jobs well, because of the very fact that if he is sincere he shall probably never get big ones.

The architect should always remember that Jesus was an architect and that to be entitled to the same name he should love truth and beauty above all else.

Wind the Clock, from E.B. White to Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

On The Costuming of Willy Wonka, from Gene Wilder to Mel Brooks:

I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.

The Final Letter of German Olympian Luz Long to US Olympian Jesse Owens, right before his death in North Africa during WWII:

My heart tells me, if I be honest with you, that this is the last letter I shall ever write. If it is so, I ask you something. It is a something so very important to me. It is you go to Germany when this war done, someday find my Karl, and tell him about his father. Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we not separated by war. I am saying—tell him how things can be between men on this earth.

August 12, 2019

J.R.'s Art Place

My friend John uses his leisure well: he researches obscure artists from the last century (and earlier). He always shared them on his personal facebook, but has finally started sharing on a public page called J.R.'s Art Place.

So many treasures. Here's a few that have caught my eye recently:

“Sunlight in the blue room” by Anna Ancher, 1891

Bamboo Grove by Hiroshi Yoshida, 1939

"Chicago Interior" by J. Theodore Johnson, 1934

"Honfleur in the Mist" by Félix Vallatton, 1911

Descent from the Cross by Mainie Jellett, 1939

"The War and Us" by Edward Okuń, painted between 1917 and 1923

"The two primary figures are the artist and his wife, with the dragons depicting the wars facing Poland at the time. From what I can gather online, the two are attempting to shut out the war with the cloak that they share, but the effects of war (symbolized by the old woman) still impact them. The white flower they carry between them has started to turn blood red at the tips of the petals."

That last bit is commentary form John. Check out the whole site, and enjoy!

November 27, 2018


I'm moving back to California next week -- for a few months at least. And yet, I went to get my mail yesterday, and Dad had sent me a whole big pile of clippings from the local paper. Which could have sat on the desk in the spare bedroom till I arrived. But he had to mail them. A very Perry thing to do.

Should I bring this feature back? I hate facebook more and more, but still find all sorts of interesting things I want to share with people. Here we go:

+ Charming: Bookstore sells a biography of William the Conquerer that has been on it's shelf for 27 years. Scary: 1991 was 27 years ago.

+ This chocolate cake is the cure for your over-baking during the holidays woes. So easy. So rich. So easy!

+ I loved this look at the way the Pepperdine University campus -- extremely modernist -- was built to help protect against fires. Even if you don't like the style of modernism, I think this is exactly where it's most useful: using technology and innovation to build buildings that fit in their environments. Fascinating!

+ Speaking of the CA Fires, please consider donating to the Paradise Community Fund for wildfire relief.

+ Dad's choir is doing two Lessons and Carol's services in Benicia and Napa

March 10, 2017

St. Joseph Novena

Oh glorious St Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my interest and desires. Oh, St Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanks giving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. Oh, Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss his fine head for me and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. Saint Joseph , patron of departing souls - pray for us.

March 02, 2017

Poetry: Privet

by Simon Armitage

Because I’d done wrong I was sent to hell,
down black steps to the airless tombs
of mothballed contraptions and broken tools.
Piled on a shelf every daffodil bulb
was an animal skull or shrunken head,
every drawer a seed-tray of mildew and rust.
In its alcove shrine a bottle of meths
stood corked and purple like a pickled saint.
I inched ahead, pushed the door of the furthest crypt
where starlight broke in through shuttered vents
and there were the shears, balanced on two nails,
hanging cruciform on the white-washed wall.

And because I’d done wrong I was sent
to the end of the garden to cut the hedge,
that dividing line between moor and lawn
gone haywire that summer, all stem and stalk
where there should have been contour and form.
The shears were a crude beast, lumpen, pre-war,
rolling-pin handles on iron-age swords,
an oiled rivet that rolled like a slow eye,
jaws that opened to the tips of its wings
then closed with an executioner’s lisp.
I snipped and prodded at first, pecked at strands,
then cropped and hacked watching spiders scuttle
for tunnels and bolt-holes of woven silk,
and found further in an abandoned nest
like a begging bowl or a pauper’s wreath,
till two hours on the hedge stood scalped
and fleeced, raw-looking, stripped of its green,
my hands blistered, my feet in a litter
of broken arrows and arrowhead leaves.

He came from the house to inspect the work,
didn’t speak, ran his eye over the levelled crown
and the shorn flanks. Then for no reason except
for the sense that comes from doing a thing
for its own sake, he lifted me up in his arms
and laid me down on the top of the hedge,
just lowered me onto that bed of twigs,
and I floated there, cushioned and buoyed
by a million matchwood fingertips,
held by nothing but needling spokes and spikes,
released to the universe, buried in sky.

February 07, 2017

Poetry: Love After Love

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

January 31, 2017

Quotable: The Perfect Critic

The vast accumulations of knowledge—or at least of information—deposited by the nineteenth century have been responsible for an equally vast ignorance. When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”
T.S. Eliot, “The Perfect Critic” (via Terry Teachout)

January 22, 2017

Who I'm Fighting For

One third of my generation has been killed by abortion. May the same not be true of these, my friend's children:

Angelica, Zita, Julia, Ronia and Ida; Edmund, James and Nora; Lucy, Alice and Robert; Montsy and Cecily; Augustine, Maximilian and Thomas; Gretta, Knox and Simone; Logan, Deagan and Perpetua; Kaedyn; Maximilian, Abigail and Charles; Xavier and Oliver; Alina; Markos, Mirabelle and Juliana; Alexander, Adaryn, and William; Madeleine, Penelope and Eloise; Noémie, Cordelia and Jonas; Hugh; Gregory and Rosemarie; Margaret, Edith, William, Alexander, and Zelie; Timmy, Henry, Zachary, and Lucy; Isaac and William; Gianna and Dominic; William, Hugh, Mattias, Raphael and Mio; Sophia, Ambrose and Viviana Rae; Timothy; Genivieve and Violette; Kathleen, Emily, John Paul and Monica; Owen; Emma, Johnny, Bella, Dominic and Samuel; Alexandra, Isaac and Victoria; Gabriel and Dominic; Ava, Avila, Maxon and Adela;  Frederick and John; Olivia, Gianna and Maria; Adelaide, Clarence and Eloise; Dairinne and Cristabel; Sarah, Grace, Emma, and Danny; Victor, Karl, Henry, Vincent, Frederick and Beatrice; Hannah and John; Natalia and Lucia; Emma, Corinne and Ambrose; Marianne; Anne; Clare; Maxwell, Cordelia, Raphael, Benedict, Simeon and Felicity; Macie; Magnus, Aerland and Hilja; Bertie, Edith, Vincent and Leo; Abigail, Cordelia, Felicity and Anastasia; Maria and Aurelia; William; Joseph, Gemma, Paul and Dominic; Kolbe, Lucia, Blaise and Clement; Sebastian, Evelyn and Cecilia; Anna, William and Michael; Philip, Molly and Nora; Nick; Patrick; Bailey, Maddy, Grant, Grace and William; Caroline; James; Alexander, Kristiana, Anne and Lucy; Claire; Eve; Luke; Liam; Ignatius; Lucy and Margaret; Gerard; Philip; Sotera; Mary Margaret, Lillian, and Vincent; Tessa and Daniel; Anne, and Dorothy; Joseph; Julian; Francis Xavier and Isaac; Alex; Michael; Caitlin and Joshua; Chloe; Hannah; Alastair and Aibhilin; Joseph, Ambrose, Gussie, and Stephen; Nate; William Augustine and Catherine; Stella and Max; Ambrose; Augustine, Peter and Bridget; Jack and Ana; Savannah and Langdon; Dorothy, Inez and Vinny; Claire and Adam; Ava; Dominic; Paul and Joan; Mark and Katherine; David; Gabriel; Gerard; Matthew; Frederick and John; Charlotte, Chase and Camden; Evangelina and Eamon; Sylvia; Timothy; Ambrose; Miriam; Cecelia; Jude; Hanna; Gabriel; Dorothy; Maria Stella and Magdalena, Adelaide, Victoria, Becket, Charlie, Rafael, Lillian, Charles, George, Rosalie, Abhilin and Cillian, Vincent, Esther and Theodore, Catherine, Luisa, Miriam, Isaac, Julia Marie, Evelyn, Jackson, Lucy, Magdalena, and Maeve, Frederick and Desmond, Esther, Grace Lynn and Peter Joseph; Belloc, Esther, Caleb and Daisy; Charlotte, Irene, Lydia; Charlie; Gerard; Abe; Bernadette;  Julia, Jacob and Alexander; Felix; Gabriel; Ella; Clara; Iris; Clare; Augustine and Jerome; Vivian and Alex; Elliot; Genevieve; Adelaide and Cecelia; Edie; Madeline and Lucy; Carmela; Lizzie and Dominic, William and Hugh, Natalia, Hanna, Serafina, Lucia, Raphael, and Giovanna, and 14 babies in utero.

Thus says the LORD: 
"A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not." 

Thus says the LORD: "Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.

There is hope for your future, says the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.
- Jeremiah, 31:15-17

(With the intercession of John Walter, Freya, and Mirabelle.)

January 04, 2017

The Best Books of 2016

The Best Books I read in 2016 --  alphabetical by author, because, goodness, we must have some order in this world:

Dancers in Mourning, by Margery Allingham: I continue to read through the Edmund Campion mysteries (out of order, with lots of re-reads in between), but this was a new favorite. One of the earlier Campion stories, it has two notable threads that display the depth of Allingham's understanding of human character (and the nobility of her hero): the destruction wrought by artistic obsession and single-mindedness, and … Campion falls in love with a married woman. It is very fine. 

This Old Man, by Roger Angell: A surprise Christmas gift from Mom last Christmas, this collection of essays from the last 10 years is much like his stepfather, E. B. White's many collections of essays -- a perpetual delight. I keep a current volume of E. B. White at my bedstead year round, and tick off with a red pencil the essays I've read. This volume by Angell took White's place this year. A genteel man of letters, a lover of baseball, words, New York, humor, and those little curious details that make life worthwhile. 

The New California Wine, by John Bonne: Bonne was the first wine critic I read regularly (he was the critic in the SF Chronicle for 10 years), and like all genuinely good critics, he has very strongly held opinions that are clearly stated, so they offer a barometer for your own experience and appreciation of whatever they are critiquing. This book explores the working thesis of his time in SF: that California wine went off the rails when it became obsessed with big ABVs. He profiles a lot of the California winemakers I love -- terroir driven, obsessive explorers and historians, the dedicated farmers that make California diverse and incredible place to grow wine. I don't 100% agree with his thesis, but his natural enthusiasm for these winemakers (and his honest assessment of their wines) make this book valuable and essential for understanding this new generation of wine in California. (More on CA later…)

Interrogations at Noon, by Dana Gioia: Gioia might be my favorite living poet, and this volume is no exception. I kept it in my purse for all of May and June, reading and re-reading. It shows you how terrible a blogger I've become (as if anyone had any doubt) that I didn't post a single one on here -- though I loved so many of them. A poem for New Years, then:

Curriculum Vitae
The future shrinks 
whether the past
is well or badly spent

We shape our lives
Although their forms
Are never what we meant.

A Breath of Air, by Rumer Godden: Inspired by "The Tempest," Godden explores the themes of power and innocence, wisdom and knowledge and folly, the simple life and the life of the mind. The narrative is especially engaging as she switches between perspectives and shorelines: the wise but proud governor, his innocent, beautiful, good daughter, the adventurous and love-struck pilot who landed on the island, his co-pilot, a thoroughly modern man (Hooper, ten years after the war), the islander who mistakes knowledge for wisdom, the native islanders who love their wine, their women, their work, etc. etc. 

Setting the Table, by Danny Meyer: I might be obsessed with this book because it seems to be the only one out there: a book about the restaurant industry that is from the point of view of the Front of House -- and the business owner -- not from the chef's perspective. Danny Meyer is obsessed with the idea of hospitality, and, once I got past the requisite (and tedious) biographical chapters, I found a book that puts into words all the things I've thought but not been able to express about hospitality and service. It also made me crave Shake Shack almost constantly.

The Human Comedy, William Saroyan: Picked this little volume thanks to the next book on the list, and, I'll say the final chapter is one of the very best I've ever read. 

California, by Kevin Starr: I finally dove into this condensed version of Kevin Starr's 7 volume "Americans and the California Dream" during a super-homesick-for-California phase this winter. It took me almost all year to read it because I kept getting distracted by the things he was writing about, and had to follow all side roads and diversions and recommendations (including his treatment of agricultural communities in the Central Valley explored in The Human Comedy). For any lover of California, this is a must read. 

Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck: Can you believe that I've never read any Steinbeck till now? A huge gap, I know. Well, I didn't start with his novels: instead, I read this travelogue of a 6 month drive around the United States with his King Poodle, Charley, in 1960. Witty, observant, a little melancholic, and well worth your time. (We discussed a favorite passage on one of Sally and Zach's The Vernacular Podcast, here.) I promise to post a few quotations in the coming week.

Laughing Gas, by P.G. Wodehouse: Leant by a friend, this might be my new favorite Wodehouse novel. Set in Hollywood -- with a "Freaky Friday" scenario: our English hero, Lord Havershott, a boxing enthusiast with a face like a gorilla, switches souls with a child movie star, Joey Cooley, during a routine dental procedure. Madcap farce brightened by California sunshine. I really don't know why someone hasn't made a movie of this one. 

I tried to steer clear of re-reading too many books this year, and this marks the first year I did not read any Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene or Penelope Fitzgerald or Muriel Spark. But re-reads worth noting: Jane Austen's Lady Susan and other early and half-finished works. I read it in anticipation of Whit Stillman's film "Love & Friendship" (favorite movie of 2016, btw) -- We can get all scholarly and talk about the refinement of her wit through manners and courtesy, and how her mature novels are better for that graciousness with which she treats her characters (etc. etc.), but the fact is: these early works are a reminder that Jane Austen is, quite simply, one of the funniest writers in the English language. 

I also re-read, on Emma's wonderful recommendation, the 6 final novels of the Betsy-Tacy series, relating her highschool years, and then a tour of Europe and her first year of marriage. While Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie are marvelous and I loved them as a child, the Betsy Tacy series is, to me, the best representation of the good life. 

August 11, 2016

Climbing the Mountain of Time

We climb up the mountain of time, bearing with us the instruments of our own death. At first the goal is far distant. We do not think of it; the present is enough: the morning on the mountain, the song of the birds, the sun's brightness. We feel we do not need to know about our destination, since the way itself is enough. But the longer it grows, the more unavoidable the question becomes: Where is it going? What does it all mean? We look with apprehension at the signs of death that, up to now, we had not noticed, and the fear rises within us that perhaps the whole of life is only a variation of death; that we have been deceived and that life is actually not a gift but an imposition. Then the strange reply, “God will provide”, sounds more like an excuse than an explanation. Where this view predominates, where talk of “God” is no longer believable, humor dies. In such a case man has nothing to laugh about anymore; all that is left is cruel sarcasm or that rage against God and the world with which we are all acquainted. But the person who has seen the Lamb—Christ on the Cross—knows that God has provided... Because we see the Lamb, we can laugh and give thanks; from him we also realize what adoration is.
—Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) Images of Hope

July 28, 2016

A Perfect Scene from Raymond Chandler

A tall fine-looking man in a gray suit cut by an angel suddenly stood up from a small table by the wall and walked over to the bar and started to curse one of the barmen. He cursed him in a loud clear voice for a long minute, calling him about nine names that are not usually mentioned by tall fine-looking men in well cut gray suits. Everybody stopped talking and looked at him quietly. His voice cut through the muted rumba music like a shovel through snow.

The barman stood perfectly still, looking at the man. The barman had curly hair and a clear warm skin and wide-set careful eyes. He didn't move or speak. The tall man stopped talking and stalked out of the bar. Everybody watched him out except the barman. The barman moved slowly along the bar to the end where I sat and stood looking away from me, with nothing in his face but pallor. Then he turned to me and said: "Yes, sir?"

"I want to talk to a fellow named Eddie Prue."


"He works here," I said.

"Works here doing want?" His voice was perfectly level and as dry as dry sand.

"I understand he's the guy that walks behind the boss. If you know what I mean."

"Oh. Eddie Prue." He moved one lip slowly over the other and made small tight circles on the bar with his bar cloth.

"Your name?"


"Marlowe. Drink while waiting?"

"A dry martini will do."

"A martini. Dry. Veddy, veddy dry."


"Will you eat it with a spoon or a knife and fork?"

"Cut it in strips," I said. "I'll just nibble it."

"On your way to school," he said. "Should I put the olive in a bag for you?"

"Sock me on the nose with it," I said. "If it will make you feel any better."

"Thank you, sir," he said. "A dry martini."

He took three steps away from me, and then came back and leaned across the bar and said: "I made a mistake in a drink. The gentleman was telling me about it."

"I heard him."

"He was telling me about it as gentlemen tell you about things like that. As big shot directors like to point out to you your little errors. And you heard him."

"Yeah," I said, wondering how long this was going to go on.

"He made himself heard -- the gentleman did. So I came over here and practically insult you."

"I got the idea," I said.

He held up one of his fingers and looked at it thoughtfully. "Just like that," he said. "A perfect stranger."

"It's my big brown eyes," I said. "They have that gentle look."

"Thanks, chum," he said, and quietly went away.

I saw him talking into a phone at the end of the bar. Then I saw him working with a shaker. When he came back with the drink he was all right again.

(Chapter 17, The High Window, by Raymond Chandler)

July 05, 2016

Cinnamon Toast

The Ultimate Best Cinnamon Toast Recipe

This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy about food culture today -- and I say this fully self-aware, as a member of this industry, always seeking a new or improved way to do something and wow people with food -- but cinnamon toast! We don't need to glamorize this dish . It is perfect in its simplicity: toast, butter, cinnamon, sugar. 

If you're obsessed with it, then maybe you already have a jar of cinnamon sugar in your cabinet. But that's the only improvement acceptable. Everything else is overkill.

May 31, 2016

C Minor by Richard Wilbur

by Richard Wilbur

Beethoven during breakfast? The human soul,
Though stalked by hollow pluckings, winning out
(While bran flakes crackle in the cereal bowl)
Over despair and doubt?

You are right to switch it off and let the day
Begin at hazard, perhaps with pecker-knocks
In the sugar-bush, the rancor of a jay,
Or in the letter box

Something that makes you pause and with fixed shadow
Stand on the driveway gravel, your bent head
Scanning the snatched pages until the sad
Or fortunate news is read.

The day's work will be disappointing or not,
Giving at least some pleasure in taking pains.
One of us, hoeing in the garden plot
(Unless, of course, it rains)

May rejoice at the knitting of light in fennel plumes
And dew like mercury on cabbage hide,
Or rise and pace through too familiar rooms,
Balked and dissatisfied.

Shall a plate be broken? A new thing understood?
Shall we be lonely, and by love consoled?
What shall I whistle, splitting the kindling wood?
Shall the night-wind be cold?

How should I know? And even if we were fated
Hugely to suffer, grandly to endure,
It would not help to hear it all fore-stated
As in an overture.

There is nothing to do with a day except to live it.
Let us have music again when the light dies
(Sullenly, or in glory) and we can give it
Something to organize.

(via Image Journal)