December 25, 2012 § 3 Comments
it’s midnight; i am ending christmas with half a dozen donuts.
i don’t eat bread of any variety very often, and those of my friends who are well adjusted enough to buy bread, buy multigrain things that taste nothing like what i ate growing up. but i am now eating regular donuts, and it is an interesting experience. the pale rubbery chew, the small grain, the sharp chemical treble of the day-old ganache inside.
i also bought some donuts purporting to contain vanilla custard. do you know how much i love custard? She used to make custard when i was in college. she would bend over the hotplate every once in a while and cut a person-shaped hole in the white light coming through her window. the custard would set – a tight yellow cohesion, pulling gently away from the sides of the bowl. if you sliced into it at just the right angle and pulled back with your spoon, the plasticky skin would lift right up and make a vaguely obscene lip against the rim of the bowl.
i always expected custard to have the halfhearted mouthfeel of mousse, and it just did not. after the few two mouthfuls you could always feel the grain of custard powder. i liked it and i would chew on it. you might not like this.
i read some really fantastic books this year. for example, i read the prime of miss jean brodie, which was like playing a complex game of squash inside a very smart person’s mind. the scope of the book is very clear and very narrow. the lines are drawn and you go back and forth within them with your hands tied and your paces dictated. it is a tiny, tightly written, perfectly composed piece of writing. every sentence is intentional and every pause is gold.
i also read bringing up the bodies because i’d enjoyed wolf hall when i had not expected to. i really love tudor history-based fiction, but it’s something i sort of allow myself, like junk food for the brain. i think this is because when i started reading these things, i started with philippa gregory’s books. it’s so easy to make historical fiction camp and unsubtle – and gregory does these things in a very macro, appealing, touchable way.
it’s lovely because all of these details are new to you and she is generous with the details. you don’t notice if the prose is leaden or the construction uninspired, because you are struck by the imagery of robert dudley, the son of the duke of northumberland – a young god on his stallion, standing in the sunlight while a young girl slowly falls in love with him. these details are all a good thing because gregory’s books are excellent serving sizes of history for the memory – and you can use all of your accumulated information to prepare yourself for wolf hall, which is just beautiful. i mean, i am biased, so i’ll qualify that – wolf hall is beautifully quotable. bringing up the bodies is no less, because while it is less finely written than wolf hall, it concerns itself with the fall of anne boleyn, which is a story i will find equally compelling every time i read it. i read it many times and i read it again here, and it was still fresh, and it was still painful.
many years back i heard some music that is alleged to have been written for anne boleyn by henry tudor while he still loved her. i understand this claim is now being questioned for historical accuracy, but i like thinking it is true. most tellings of the boleyn love story seem to indicate that it was marked by obsessive extremes and was never anything as subtle as melancholic, but this is a sad, sweet tune and it’s tempting – although most likely inaccurate – to think of it as foreshadowing the loveless end.
i have been re-reading some things and some of them taste different. the real life of sebastian knight does not feel like the poor man’s nabokov. it feels just fine on its own. there is one small passage about travelling in trains; a completely descriptive passage that i think of every day on my own train. on my train it takes about five minutes to go from mumbai central to dadar, and the lights will die out in the train at some point in between. the train will continue to whistle through purple skies, but the lights will stay off for about five seconds.
then when they start coming back on – you need to be on an old train for this, not a new one – the old carriage lights will come back on. quickly they light up, small yellow explosions inside glass clouds, hanging from the ceiling like so many bulbous fireflies. the lights do not come on all at once, they come on a very quick but noticeable progression. i wait for this, then i shut my eyes.
“I tried to shut my eyes and to doze, but my eyelids were lined with floating designs and a tiny bundle of light, rather like an infusoria, swam across, starting again from the same comer. I seemed to recognize in it the shape of the station lamp which had passed by long ago”
indeed, indeed. so, this is part of a larger passage on train travel that comes to mind every time i take a train home after work.
sebastian knight is an interesting book that must not live in the shadow of lolita inside my head.
[the reading of] some other interesting books [is] in the pipeline. i have been lent milan kundera’s the joke, which is promising so far. i have bought primo levi’s truce, his sequel to if this is a man which i have already read. i am keeping an eye out for the fates to align such that i can read either or all of them at a go.
i went to a house party recently. the wine flowed freely and the chips were in abundance. the dip was poetry and the music was cheerful but unfamiliar, which i think is the best kind in these circumstances. i met some new and interesting people – i met a portly, enthusiastic fellow who is a chef and it was really wonderful to hear someone talk about their dreams and le bernardin and per se and whether a roux should be messed with or left the hell alone. i was quite high.
i woke up the next morning and took myself home. i bought two cupcakes and a milk rusk for breakfast on the way. i walked through the streets of bandra at 10 am on a sunday morning.
the sun was up, the dogs were out, there was a breeze, the rusk was fresh and all was good.