in the archives

November 4, 2008

I’m fortunate that I have so far generally enjoyed research towards my PhD, to the extent that more than three years in I’m still happy with what I’m doing and enjoy both the reading and writing. I suppose this is in large part due to the fact that I spend most of my time reading and thinking about things that I find interesting. Which I imagine is a reflection of the fact that I chose a topic that matters to me, and that is substantial enough to warrant more than three years of full-time research.

Sometimes, however, there arise tasks that aren’t exactly pleasurable. I’ve spent the last few days reading through the 6592 titles of books in Adorno’s personal library in the online catalogue to the archive, looking for books in which it might potentially be interesting to read Adorno’s marginalia.

I suppose I should be pleased at the fact that more than three years into a PhD, I’m surprised by the fact that I find the occasional task somewhat dull. That didn’t make it any less tedious. And now I’m faced by the dubious pleasure that is the attempt do decipher Teddie’s handwriting.

Perhaps the most ringing endorsement I’d seen in quite a while of the condemnation of the audience with which Debord begins In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni came from a wanker who turned up to a screening of The Society of the Spectacle in a makeshift cinema in a Berlin squat. Not exactly svelte, he plonked himself on the largest of sofas, making it clear that it was not to be shared, despite the relatively large turnout in a small room. On hearing that the film was going to be shown in French (with English subtitles), he commented ‘Almost a genuine language’. Before I could stop myself, I asked him what would count as a genuine language. ‘Oxford English’, he replied. On discovering that my Oxford English is passable, even though I studied at another place, he seemed reluctant to switch out of German.

He then proceeded to fall asleep on the sofa which he had monopolised, snoring gently for most of the final hour. As film finished and the lights were switched on, he stood up, rubbed his hands together and proclaimed his satisfaction that he had ‘made it’ to the end. He then tried to insist that we watch a film he’d brought with him. Fortunately, he was successfully palmed off with the organiser’s email address to which he could send his suggestions.

kidneys

December 12, 2007

another one from Pomiane. And more proof, were it needed, that I’m really not very good at being vegan.

I’d gone to the organic meat-stall at the market at Lausitzer Platz to pick up a joint of lamb to roast for the Lion-Tamer and the Ethnologe, who’d said that he wanted to try mint sauce (the lamb doesn’t really merit a post in its own right: I marinated it overnight, roasted it till was nicely cooked on the outside but still very pink in the middle, then let it rest for 20 minutes while I crisped up the potatoes and parsnips (in some goose-fat that was leftover from the Lion-Tamer’s dinner party a couple of nights before), and served with steamed courgettes and leeks, mint sauce and gravy made by adding flour and then the liquid from the vegetables to the roasting dish, over a gentle heat). While at the market, I noticed that they had beef kidneys available, at the entirely tolerable price of €6 a kilo. I bought half a kilo, and put them in the freezer for a rainy day.

That evening, Josef Swoboda came over for a drink. At some point over a beer we pondered whether we were going to cook anything. I mentioned the kidneys, and my intention to do them roughly according to a Pomiane-recipe to which my maternal grandfather had introduced me, involving butter, brandy, mushrooms and cream. We didn’t have any mushrooms in the house, but that was rectifiable as Josef had some at home. But our brandy-supply had been exhausted the previous day, so that put paid to that idea, for that evening, at least, and we feasted on toast and Leberwurst instead.

But Josef was keen to try the recipe. So a couple of days later, after I’d bought mushrooms and replenished the brandy-supply, he came over. I’d boiled some potatoes, intending to prurée them with a bit of milk and some butter, made a salad, and sliced the mushrooms thinly. We were all ready to start, so I went to get the butter from the fridge, to discover we’d run out. Fortunately, the shop round the corner was still open, so that was rectifiable.

Josef suggested that what would really improve the potatoes would be some Speck and onions. So we chopped them finely, rendered the fat from the former, then crisped them together, before stirring them into the potatoes with a little milk and a lot of butter.

So we set to work preparing the kidneys. Pomiane’s recipe begins

Get the butcher, if he is amiable, to cut the kidney into pieces the size of a walnut.

This didn’t seem a particularly reasonable thing to request of the organic meat-vendor at the market, particularly since the kidneys were already packaged. So we set about cutting them up ourselves, removing the white parts, of which I know neither the culinary nor the biological name. Neither of us being experts in this task, it took a fair while. Josef said he hoped that the smell of piss would disappear in the cooking. I didn’t quite feel able to reassure him, but did promise that the combination of brandy, cream and mustard would change it beyond recognition.

In a frying pan, we brought the butter to smoking-point, then added the kidney-pieces, cooked until they had all turned beige. Then turned the heat up and added the mushrooms, which promptly – and as promised by Pomiane – exuded a lot of liquid, which took about five minutes to evaporate. In went a generous glass of the cheapest brandy I’d been able to find at the discount supermarket. At this point I quote the master:

Add the cognac, stir, and taste. The raw flavour of the cognac spoils the sauce. Let it cook for another minute. Now it is better. Two more minutes, and it is delicious.

He wasn’t wrong. We stirred in about 100ml of cream, mixed with a teaspoon of dijon mustard, cooked for a few more seconds, and served, with the potatoes and salad. And a bottle of red wine.

Josef was pleased with the result. The obnoxious smell of piss had given way to what might be termed a fine tang of faintly-scented urine, which when combined with the brandy, the cream and the mustard was sumptuous. The texture of the mushrooms complemented the kidney-pieces perfectly, and there was just enough to go round. The Lion-Tamer and the Ethnologe were equally well-pleased; the Lion sat on a chair, apparently none too pleased that he was deprived of attention for the time it took us to eat. Which wasn’t long at all.

Memories of New York 1

December 11, 2007

I’d spent the day on a bus back to NYC from Ithaca, where I’d been at a conference that refreshingly was both engaged and engaging, where papers were discussed as if what was at stake mattered. Mostly because it did, to the bunch of graduate students who were there if not to anyone else.

Then I met up with the Loft-Dweller, a cutie, queer boy (his choice of words) based in Brooklyn. We’d met online, where he had possibly the most attractive profile I’ve ever read. Setting out his commitment to non-monogamy, but including a wonderful paragraph setting out his aversion to such words as ‘poly’ and ‘polyamorous’ on the grounds that they bring to mind pagan Star Treck fans who hang around at the Society for Creative Anachronism. Suffice it to say that he isn’t one.

Plus the obligatory references to feminist and anti-authoritarian politics, and some amusing ideas for inventions born of his personal malingering. Such as vitamin-fortified cigarettes and a back-dated postal service for late applications and bill-payments.

He suggested we meet at a converted fast food place in Flatbush: it used to be a White Castle (which is apparently the US’s oldest food chain of burger bars) and was taken over by Rastafarians who converted it into a place serving almost entirely vegan (they also sell bee-products) West Indian-style ersatz meat, and a fantastic range of juices.

We got there around six, ordered what turned out to be far more food than we could eat, and started chatting. About the usual topics: anti-authoritarian politics and the dangers of obsessive newspaper-vendors (the ISO may have been thrown out of the IST, but they’re apparently no less pushy than their British former co-thinkers), radical tech collectives, militant cycling. He was feeling ill from a party the previous night, at which a combination of mojitos and dodgy food hadn’t seem to have done him a great deal of good, but was relaxed and chatty enough.

After what felt like maybe three quarters of an hour, we were told that we had to leave, as the restaurant was closing. It turned out we’d been there for about five hours, talking about things we both found interesting. It hadn’t been particularly flirty (admittedly, during the couple of weeks I spent in New York it seemed that being cute and having a British accent rendered flirting unnecessary), just (just?) friendly and interesting.

We left, taking about half the food we’d ordered in a doggy bag (the portions are huge), and walked in the direction of the subway station. As we got there, I was conscious that I had no idea what was going to happen, or if he had any sort of plan. So I asked:

Well, is there a plan?
Well, the Sewer said to bring you home.

So that settled that. Apparently, he’d been about to use the same line if I hadn’t asked. And deeply romantically, he explained that the aftermath of his previous night would probably mean he had to take some not-so-romantic breaks.

We took the subway back to the Sewer’s place in Crown Heights. Which from Flatbush, lateish on a Sunday involved what seemed to necessitate a relatively complicated route. We continued chatting about queer politics and alternative sex-parties while waiting for the various trains we needed. On one of them he seemed to recognise someone. Rather, he did recognise someone, but I couldn’t quite work out what was going on. As we got onto the train, he walked purposively towards an youngish (early 20s, I guess), attractive-looking woman, and said ‘you’re Heather Holliday’. She nodded. The Loft-Dweller went and sat elsewhere. I mumbled something to Heather about how nice it was not to have met her, and followed my date to a seat.

It turns out that she is a sword-swallower at the Coney Island freakshow, and that the Sewer had a substantial crush on her. I suggested inviting her back with us, but she’d got off the train before we’d summoned up the courage to do anything about it.

We got to the Sewer’s place, scrambled about in the dark to put our take-away rice, noodles and fake meat in the fridge, then while he rushed off to the loo to tend to his stomach, I found my way upstairs to find her doubly occupied with updating various online profiles and tidying her room. The Loft-Dweller contritely explained what had happened on the train, and we were mildly berated for not having taken the initiative. Apparently, the fact that I have a British accent would have guaranteed our success, to the extent that the Loft-Dweller suggested that we go out cruising together so he could hit on people with the line ‘will you sleep with me? he’s got a British accent.’ It might be fun trying.

We smoked some weed, laughed and chatted about online dating, kink, sex and life in general. And then, without any semblance of a rush, started fucking. He and I were kissing, slowly, gently, stroking our tongues across each other, playfully nibbling each other’s lips. Meanwhile,he stroked her face, as she manoeuvred herself into a position where we could all kiss together, which we did, working our way out of our clothes as we did so. I enjoyed the way our tongues and teeth combined, never certain of what was a reaction to what, enjoying the unpredictability of feeling three mouths together.

He had to excuse himself again. She and I fucked, her lying flat on her back, knees bent considerably, me more in front of her than on top. He returned and looked on happily, kissing and nibbling her right nipple as we moved together. We came together. I don’t know which of us set the other off, but we enjoyed a lot of grins as we did. The three of us relaxed together, her lying on her back in the middle of the bed in what she called the princess-position, with one of us on either side, on our sides, our outside legs meeting between her still-bent knees.

We kissed some more. Then he and I started kissing her nipples. Apparently she can come from having her nipples played with. But not, so I was told, when she couldn’t bring her legs together. At which point, the lovely scene consisting of the Loft-Dweller and me, kissing the Sewer’s nipples, our feet stroking each other between her legs, morphed into the Sewer, writhing as we kissed her, trying to extricate her legs from under ours. We smiled and chatted as we kissed her. Then relented, and she came again, noisily.

Someone rolled another joint. I took the Loft-Dweller’s cock in my mouth, sitting on the floor in front of the bed as he sat up, stroking his inner thigh while I licked him. They leaned back and started chatting. Eventually I discovered that joining in a conversation with a mouthful of cock was more difficult than it was worth, and joined them on the bed. We chatted a bit more, then slept, grateful that the bed was wide enough for three.

The following morning we dragged ourselves out of bed, them to go and work, me to head to MOMA. He and I took the subway onto Manhatten, gently kissing goodbye as he left the train, agreeing to meet later in the week.

On (not) writing about sex.

November 30, 2007

Since I started this blog partly as part of a show-and-tell exchange with Charmaine, I ought at some point before long to write about sex. Otherwise the exchange would be far too one-sided, and that’s not generally something I enjoy.

And it’s not just that I feel as if I ought to – I want to. But it’s not necessarily that easy.

For a start, there’s the danger of writing something awful. This not being literary fiction, I’m in no danger of being shortlisted for the Bad Sex awards, but their shortlist certainly flags up some of the dangers. (Really, though, this paragraph was little more than an excuse to share the following wonderful piece by Giles Coren, which won him the 2005 award.)

And he came hard in her mouth and his dick jumped around and rattled on her teeth and he blacked out and she took his dick out of her mouth and lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air, and he came again so hard that his dick wrenched out of her hand and a shot of it hit him straight in the eye and stung like nothing he’d ever had in there, and he yelled with the pain, but the yell could have been anything, and as she grabbed at his dick, which was leaping around like a shower dropped in an empty bath, she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times, in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro.

One thing’s relatively clear, though, namely that I’m not going to get over this difficulty by not writing about sex.

The procedure for resolving the second is perhaps less obvious. As I said to Charmaine,

I suspect that before I get round to posting about sex I might well end up having to write something about the gender-related difficulties of writing in semi-public about enjoying sex with multiple partners without (a) being and (b) seeming misogynistic. I guess the solution is to spend more time getting fucked by men.

Living in Berlin, there are plenty of opportunities for the latter. But experiences with women form an important part of my sexuality, a part about which I want to (be able to) write. But I’m not yet confident that I’ve found or developed the right voice in which to do so. And I suspect that doing so might involve some work.

Lasagne

November 29, 2007

I suspect that writing this up is just showing off. But since there was also not an inconsiderable element of showing off to the Ethonologe and the Lion-Tamer in my making it, i don’t see any additional problems.

Your author (who is currently suffering from TPS) started by making a ragu. This involved softening two large onions in a mixture of butter and vegetable oil, then adding about a kilo of meat, a third pork, two thirds beef, and cooking until no longer pink. Then half a litre or so of milk, which bubbled away until dry. Then the same with the best part of a bottle of white wine. Once dry (the process had been going on for a few hours by now, long enough to finish the bottle of wine and drink most of another), he added a couple of kilos of chopped plum tomatoes, along with a little salt and pepper, brought to the boil, and then put the casserole, uncovered, into a cool oven. This was stirred occasionally, a glass of water being added on the occasions it got too dry, and cooked for a further 7 hours in total, not stopping until it was dry and the fat separated from the sauce. At this point it was seasoned more liberally.

The following morning, the Lion-Tamer decided it looked good enough to steal some for her lunch. Reports were that it tasted very good. Your author, being a model of restraint, of course hadn’t tasted any at this point. In any case, the compliments were appreciated.

Then dough, using about 3 eggs, 150g lightly cooked leaf-spinach, and as much pasta flour as it took to stop it sticking to a clean finger pressed into the middle. And the fun part, since none of us has yet got round to buying a machine, was stretching it as thinly as possible, using a combination of a rolling pin and the edge of our work-surface.

Meanwhile, the Ethnologe made a béchamel sauce with about 50g each of butter and flour, and the best part of a litre of milk, which we combined with the ragu. A thin layer of this combination went into a well-buttered lasagne dish, to be covered with pasta, then more meat, then grated parmesan. Then another five layers of pasta, with meat-sauce and parmesan on top of each one, the thinnest possible spreading covering the top.

Once the Lion-Tamer came home, it went into a very hot oven for 15 minutes. And was served with a bottle of something more than adequately drinkable. Received with what your author took to be satisfied and appreciative silence.

It was the the first savoury thing I’d cooked without garlic in quite a while.

Restraint

November 29, 2007

Sorry, you’ll have to wait for this one.

Gratin dauphinoise

November 13, 2007

Given my blog’s title, it would be rude not to start with a recipe. This one is adapted (as so many of mine are) from Pomiane.

I first dotted a casserole dish with butter, thankful that the Ethnologe with whom I share my WG owns a lovely piece of enamelled cast-iron le creuset. Orange, of course. I then peeled and crushed a large head of garlic, and ground rather more black pepper than I needed.

Unable to find a mandoline in our kitchen, I then scrubbed and sliced a bit less than a kilo of potatoes (I used desirée) as thinly as possible. This was somewhat tedious, particularly as the potatoes were relatively small, with the result that once I had enough to cover the bottom of the dish, I stopped cutting, and did so, spreading over it a couple of teaspoons of garlic, and adding a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Then back to the slicing, repeating the above process once there were enough potato-slices to do so.

There were about 6 layers in total, and no garlic or seasoning on top of the last. I then brought a scant half-litre of milk to the boil, while the Ethnologe stirred a teaspoon of flour into a pot of cream. The hot milk went over the potatoes, and the cream on top. Then into the oven for 45 minutes or so at about 200°c. We ate it with steamed savoy cabbage and leftover beetroot and beef soup.

(Differences from Pomiane’s recipe: he suggests peeling the potatoes, and using only 4 cloves of garlic and no butter)