Sunday, March 31, 2013


The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
'Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest.
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.'

Painting:  Fra Bartolomeo, Noli Me Tangere, 1506, oil on panel, Louvre, Paris.

Poem:  Oscar Wilde, Easter Day, from Poems (1881).

Saturday, March 30, 2013


I suppose we all have our favourite number for a party, rather depending on how many we can comfortably seat.  I have never yet managed to own a dining-room big enough and square enough for a round table, but I will someday.  Indonesians love round tables with a Lazy-Susan turntable in the middle – you see them in some upmarket Chinese restaurants – because, like the Chinese, we have many dishes on the table together and people need to be able to help themselves frequently.  Tables like this generally seat ten or twelve, and you can talk to the person opposite you almost as easily as your neighbor, which is very civilised. 

Much as I love food, I cannot imagine a dinner without conversation.  In my first year at university, I started to read English Literature and felt immediately at home in the novels of Jane Austen, not because I had much experience of the life of a country landowner, but because in her characters’ conversation I recognised the tones of polite Javanese society:  measured, conventional, but edged with and sharpened by the enjoyment of language.

I have heard or read somewhere that the best dinner parties are inspired by malice, and though I have never maliciously invited known enemies to sit down together, I do like to see a bit of competition and some differences of opinion.  Ten or twelve people around a table that has no obvious “head” are ideal for this.  I possess a square Victorian schoolroom table (it must have come from a schoolroom because it is stained with ink, and I daresay with childrens’ tears, which leave no mark), and this seats two on a side, so for the time being I find eight a very convivial number.


I always love reading what Sri Owen has to say and this passage from her hard-to-find book Exotic Feasts, Sri Owen’s Book of Seasonal Menus (London, Kyle Cathie Limited, 1991), is one of my favorites.  I remember finding it during an unplanned stop at an unexpectedly fine bookshop on Third Street in Los Angeles on a hot day a long time ago following a pleasant, but somewhat unsettling, lunch with a man who told me the legendary story about a senior executive at my company throwing an office chair at him with such force that the chair became embedded in the meeting room wall.

The chair-victim had by that time moved on to another company and said he was fine, it was just an incident in his past, and he had let bygones be bygones.  Still he reminded me of a famous economics professor at my undergraduate college who had been the second accused and imprisoned American spy (the other one was U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers) released by the Russians in Berlin in exchange for Rudolph Abel on Glienicke Bridge, the "Bridge of Spies."  It was always said about this man, who was also quite pleasant, that he was unaffected by his rough captivity.  Still, he often looked to be on the verge of flinching under harsh threats and interrogation lights.

I am of several minds about dinner parties.  Sometimes I enjoy them and I really do like inviting people to our home and entertaining them at our own soirées (even though it can be nerve-wracking and expensive).   Other times, dinner parties are profoundly uncomfortable, weirdball experiences and I don’t blame Caroline (much) for some past painful, “let’s go” kicks under the table. 

My mother was a fine dinner party hostess and I am grateful that I own volumes containing her carefully typed menus, recipes, guest lists and timings. 
Still, it’s an odd world these days.  Manners have slipped something fierce.  Nobody invites you back and thank you notes are rare.  I remember saying something the other day about "feral."



I.  Franz Ritter von Stuck, The Dinner Party, 1913.

II. Symposium (dinner party) scene from a painted frieze from a small mausoleum (colombarium) near Porta Maggione, ca. 25-1 BC. The scenes in the painting depict the Aeneas and Romulus legends, suggesting that the mausoleum was intended to celebrate Roman identity and connect that identity with the family interred within.

III. Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper, 1495-98.

IV.  William Betts, The Dinner Party, 2011.

V.  John Singer Sargent, A Dinner Party, 1884.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013


This photo shows a female Rothschild giraffe calf (r.) alongside her mother, Petal, at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, Conn. The calf, born March 22, is the first giraffe born at the off-exhibit conservation center. The Rothschild giraffe is listed as an endangered subspecies.

By Allison Terry,  Correspondent / March 25, 2013 at 11:19 am EDT

  Petal, a 6-year-old endangered Rothschild giraffe, gave birth to a female calf Friday, marking the first giraffe birth for the LEO Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, Conn.

  The mother and baby giraffe have bonded “extremely well,” according to the center staff. Within 30 minutes of the birth, the calf was standing and nursing while the mother cleaned her with her 18-inch tongue.

“It's really astonishing how a huge animal like that ... how delicately and in such a nurturing way she approaches caring for her calf,” Marcelle Leone, founder and director of the center, told the Greenwich Time. "She's a great mom," Ms. Leone added.


Leone said the newborn calf is already curious and approaching humans. She joins the center’s five other giraffes, including two pregnant ones.

  The LEO Zoological Conservation Center is a 100-acre refuge that focuses on breeding at-risk species. The center houses the animals at off-site breeding centers providing large, natural habitats and an environment for the animals in which humans are not all around them. Other species that have had new births at the center include a kangaroo, an aardvark, and a white-faced Saki monkey.

  The giraffe birth is a milestone for the center, which is home to the only giraffes in Connecticut.

“This is serving our mission,” Leone said. “What we're doing is working. Being an off-exhibit facility, it means so much for the animals to live that low-impact life.”

Mother and daughter

Native to East Africa, the Rothschild giraffe is classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List – fewer than 670 are left in the wild. They are now extinct in the Sudan, but can still be found in western Kenya and eastern Uganda. They are named after Lord Walter Rothschild, a British zoologist, who encountered them on an expedition to East Africa in the early 1900s.

  After the average gestation period of 15 months, mother giraffes give birth while standing in order to guard against predators, which means baby giraffes drop six feet to the ground when born. More than half of calves born in the wild fall prey to predators.

  Rothschild giraffes are distinguished from other giraffe subspecies by their coloring and patch marks, which are less jagged than Masaii giraffes. They have light, cream-colored background and no markings below their knees, according to the Rothschild Research Project based in Kenya. No two giraffes have the same pattern on their coats – their markings can be used to identify them, like fingerprints for humans.

  The newborn giraffe will nurse for nine months, and there are currently no plans to send her to another facility.

  “The offspring will definitely be with us for the first year, if not indefinitely,” Leone told the Greenwich Time.

The LEO Zoological Conservation Center is asking people to help name the new giraffe, which now stands 6 feet tall. The average height for females is 16 to 18 feet, and for males 17 to 20 feet. Their weight ranges from 1,800 to 2,600 pounds.

Lauren Hinson, a zookeeper at the LEO Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, gives Petal, a Rothschild giraffe, a carrot at the center Tuesday, March 12, 2013.

NOTEReaders who have visited here before will remember that I live in a household populated by a large number of feral cats, whom we adopted to save them from a rough short life in the Tuxedo Park outdoors.  Webster's defines "feral" as "having escaped from domestication and become wild," and alternatively, "relating to, or suggestive of a wild beast."  

  But those of us who know feral cats think of them first as individuals -- mostly shy and gentle creatures -- who are both kind and respond to kindness.  In my experience, they are, like Petal, excellent and doting parents.  Sometimes, like our dear cat Eddie, they come all the way back to placid, even enlightened, domesticity.  Other times they continue to keep (mainly) their own counsel.

  Last night, all night, lying in bed after a very long Manhattan day, full moon shining through my window onto my pillow like a perimeter beacon in a Hollywood prison movie, I thought about this, and also about the three lunatics I encountered on consecutive city subway rides, and about  human acquaintances who were vastly more feral than any animals, wild or domestic.  In my weirdest dream that evening, I imagined the Beatles song "Yesterday," which I've always disliked, was in fact a very great work of art, not a dreary bore. 

But I was In Another Land then.  I'm back now.



In Another Land -- Rolling Stones (Link)