RUMORS OF THEIR DEMISE WERE GREATLY EXAGGERATED: Giant lily pads make a comeback after nearly going extinct
Self-destruction has its charms, especially if you’re not the one doing the destructing. Let me clarify. I’m not referring to alcoholism or drug addiction, subsumed under the clinical label “substance abuse,” which evokes a vision of someone flogging an ingot of molybdenum. Exhibit A is A.J. Liebling and his lifelong over-indulgence in food. Had it stopped there, we wouldn’t be wasting our time. Food is not an inherently interesting subject. The much-ballyhooed works of M.F.K. Fisher, for instance, are almost unreadable. Food – procuring, preparing, consuming -- invites a comic treatment, and that was Liebling’s abiding gift. He is the wittiest of writers, and his masterpiece is Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris (1962). It may be the book I have read most often as an adult.
I’ve returned to it after rereading Joseph Epstein’s “An Older Dude” in Once More Around the Block: Familiar Essays(1987). The occasion of Epstein’s essay is his fiftieth birthday (in 1987 – earlier this month he turned eighty-one). As you would expect, his tone is weighty but light. Epstein takes his subject but not himself seriously. He is amusing but not joking: “While I remain as youthful and beautiful as always, why, I cannot help ask, have so many of my contemporaries grown to look so old?” Then he gets to the heart of it: “It is not always easy to distinguish between the love of life and the fear of death.” Which move him to think of friends who are “slowly but rather systematically eliminating life’s little physical pleasures: cutting out tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, red meat, cholesterol-laden food, all sugar. Soon their meals will be reduced to three dandelions and a nice cup of boiled water.” Such anxiety-driven behavior, Epstein says, seems like “greed for life, as opposed to love of life.” Ascetics, especially self-advertising ascetics, make me nervous, too. Enter Liebling, via Epstein:
“When I think of the distinction between love of life and the greed for duration, I think of the writer A.J. Liebling. With the aid of his fork, Liebling had early joined the ranks of the obese, an army he was never to leave.”
Liebling possessed the grace of the guiltless. He seldom seriously agonized over what he was doing to himself. Years ago, Tony Hiss told me he remembered walking as a young reporter beside Liebling, and barely having enough room on the sidewalk. Yet he was happy to be taking the budding writer to lunch. Here is where Epstein rises to the occasion:
“Doubtless he would have lived longer [Liebling died at fifty-eight] had he lived more carefully. But had he lived more carefully – eaten less, drunk less – he would not have been A.J. Liebling . . . My own preference would be to live like Liebling and last until age ninety-seven. There is a contradiction here, I realize, but then, fortunately, the law of contradiction is not enforced, lest the jails overflow.”
THE SEX LIVES OF OTHERS: Project Veritas: Twitter is selling your data to advertisers, you know — even your DMs. Hey, no one should be surprised they view East Germany as a how-to guide
You absolute bastard of a human being. pic.twitter.com/C7Cy862tO1— Zach (@__zach) May 28, 2017
David Ma is a food artist and director who recently made a series of four short recipe videos in the style of famous directors. There’s spaghetti and meatballs a la Quentin Tarantino ...
As a limnologist, I study how terrestrial and atmospheric changes, such as warming air temperatures or land use patterns, alter biogeochemical fluxes and aquatic processes in lakes.
Sixteen years ago, Marina Picasso, one of Pablo Picasso’s granddaughters, became the first family member to go public about how much her family had suffered under the artist’s narcissism. “No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius,” she wrote in her memoir, Picasso: My Grandfather. “He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father’s blood, my brother’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, and mine. He needed the blood of those who loved him.”After Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s second wife, barred much of the family from the artist’s funeral, the family fell fully to pieces: Pablito, Picasso’s grandson, drank a bottle of bleach and died; Paulo, Picasso’s son, died of deadly alcoholism born of depression. Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso’s young lover between his first wife, Olga Khokhlova, and his next mistress, Dora Maar, later hanged herself; even Roque eventually fatally shot herself.”Women are machines for suffering,” Picasso told Francoise Gilot, his mistress after Maar. After they embarked on their affair when he was sixty-one and she was twenty-one, he warned Gilot of his feelings once more: “For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”
Diana Widmaier-Picasso, who is the daughter of Maya Widmaier-Picasso and Pierre Widmaier, a shipping magnate, and the granddaughter of Picasso and Marie-Therese, curated the exhibition. She is well aware of the usual misanthropic, misogynistic characterizations of Picasso. “He’s a man of metamorphoses,” she tells me carefully in Paris, a few days before the vernissage of her exhibition. “A complex person to grasp.”
Achim Borchardt-Hume, the gallery’s director of exhibitions and co-curator of the 2018 show, said the challenge facing curators was: “How can you get close to Picasso as an artist and a person? How can you get beyond the myth?”Their answer was to focus on one period in Picasso’s long life. They chose 1932, a time called Picasso’s “year of wonders”.It was a year when he cemented his superstar status as the world’s most influential living artist, producing some of his greatest works of art and staging his first retrospective, which he curated. It was also a year when his passion for Walter almost boiled over.Picasso was 45 when, in 1927, he spotted the 17-year-old Walter as she exited a Paris Metro station. He approached her, grabbed her arm and declared: “I’m Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together.”
Allen’s book is a fantastic and inspiring read. The core of his philosophy is to recognize that there are more things in the world that you want to do than you could do, and that, in the absence of a deliberate approach to this conundrum, you are likely to default to doing things that are easy to scratch off your to-do list, which are also the most trivial. After a lifetime of this, you’ll have accomplished a lot of very little.Allen counsels deliberate, mindful prioritization of this list, jettisoning things on the basis that they are less satisfying or important than the other things you’d like to do - even if those other things are harder, more time consuming and less likely to result in a satisfying chance to scratch an item off the list.
The corollary of this is that it gets much, much harder to winnow out activities over time. Anything I remove from the Jenga stack of my day disturbs the whole tower.And that means that undertaking new things, speculative things that have no proven value to any of the domains where I work (let alone all of them) has gotten progressively harder, even as I’ve grown more productive. Optimization is a form of calcification.
I visited with new friends, and tooled around on the net (albeit always at 2G speeds). I watched rain fall. I cooked. I considered the shape of the buildings a lot, and looked after cats periodically. I walked to old forts and lookouts. At one point I took pictures of doors for no reason I could discern. I berated myself for being unproductive, for wasting this precious time I’d set aside to put my professional life together. I spent hours anxious to craft my time to be quantitatively better for writing. Then it all collapsed, and the only habit I fell into was depressive empty afternoons when I was alone with the cats and the rain. But I also, and wholly by accident, thought the thoughts that would take my career and life in a new and unimagined direction.