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from Sunday, May10th of the year2009.

I had a life-changing dish of snails the other day: a piece of toasted bread, with some sautéed nettles atop, with snails nestled next to, topped with alarmingly gooey strips of pork fat. It’s one of those things that tastes way, way, way, way better than it looks:


I am in England, having just played a show at Union Chapel in London and another at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Minehead. Union Chapel is one of these funny flexible church-and-concert-venue spaces. I really like playing in these things because the acoustic is so perfect for what I’m up to:

Photo via LondonConstant

The only sad thing, for me, about the show was that the piano was one of the most insane pianos I have ever heard. This piano exists at the apogee of that whole, like, CocoRosie aesthetic where the piano has been left to rot in a barn in France for six months and then given a coat of paint and a fare-thee-well. The shit was Honky, as they say, Tonk. I always get sad because my initial instinct is to turn into a white princess of rage and then my second instinct is to take a nap in my bed in New York, or in Vermont, or Iceland, or anywhere cold. Then I go through this period of horrible self-doubt where I think that I’m a lousy musician because I don’t know how to play the viola or the ostrich_head_in_ground_fulloboe or something portable and useful and how if I had just stuck with the baroque recorder I wouldn’t be having these issues. And by the time the adrenaline and despair has left my system (usually through either over- or de-hydration) it’s showtime. Anything you play on a piano like that sounds like the dance break from Shipoopi or something, which is usually how I save myself from hiding like an ostrich in the backstage ladies’ toilets.

Anyway, aside from that she show was Fabulous. Helgi Hrafn sang Wonders, which is a piece I rarely get the chance to do live, and he tore it up. Thrilling, insane, extreme. Valgeir made loud noises and Thomas and I played synth celestes in Unison.

Last night, at ATP, Thomas and I played with Grizzly Bear on their song Two Weeks. They decided to turn it into an “Arpeggio Walkoff” wherein we would duel for favor:


Speaking of Honky Tonk, one of the various venues at ATP (which is held at a Butlins Resort during an off-season. I am hiding this comment in the safety of these parentheses so I can hypothesize for just a moment. This thing appears to be a hold-over from a period in time when England people didn’t have low cost airlines so basically anybody could afford to go to Portugal for, like, $10. So, instead of flying to Portugal and getting crunk on pink wine, they would get in the car and drive to one of these all-inclusive family horror shows at which point the teens would sneak into town, buy white rum and then frot one another in the shrubbery, while their parents drank themselves into a stupor on fruity cocktails in themed bars…?) was a western US themed bar. Now, from where Thomas and I were standing, we could see what we could only assume was the men’s room:


We were like, “Okay. Now. We think that we know what the natural conclusion for the sign above the ladies’ should be, but like, would they really? in this day and age? Would that really happen?” So, we walked around the corner like timid llamas, sort of hoping that we wouldn’t see it, but lo and behold:


Now. The last time I even thought about the word Squaw, aside from as a solfège syllable, was during that insane Anna Nicole Smith Might Have Had A Tohono O’odham Love Child situation, remember that? You also may remember that she wrote her alleged man a note that read:

Oh, my brave Injun-man, how I long to be with you and feel your red manhood. Look after my little paapoosie [sic], and soon I’ll be your squaw again. I love you, kemosabe, Anna.

Awesome. Also, I love the idea of an Icelandic person arriving at that particular crossroads. I wonder which word looks, to a non-native English speaker, like a Menzroom or a Ladiezroom. Icelandic: Karlar and Konur is mildly scary for foreigners, but they helpfully provide diagrams. Thank god nobody happens to be Two-Spirit up in Butlins or who knows what they’d do.

Moving back stateside, I had an amazing experience the other day in the brand new Alice Tully Hall. First of all, before I get into my rant, the Brand New Alice Tully Hall is a Beautiful Space and it sounds amazing and it looks divine and I love it. However. They have installed a café. And this café has a bunch of really quickly identifiable problems. It starts with the Officious Homosexual they have hired to run the door. Y’all. In this day and age, an Officious Homosexual bears the same comedic currency as having a Stuffy French Maitre D’. Nobody does it anymore because it is hopelessly old-school and functionally useless. Even DANIEL BOULUD fired his! Remember Bruno Jamais? Mm. Anyway, Thomas and I walked up in there, dressed, I might add, quite well, and the conversation went like this here:

ME: Hi! So what’s the deal, can we just sit wherever? (gesturing to the sixty empty tables)
HIM: No, you can’t just sit anywhere.

Uh-oh, trouble already!

ME: [!]
HIM: Are you going to be eating?
ME: Oh, no we were just hoping to grab a drink.

Mind, it’s 4:00 PM on a Sunday and all that I, and anybody else, wants at that time is a campari and soda. You eat AFTERWARDS. 4 PM on a Sunday talking about, “are you going to be eating.” Anyway moving on:

HIM: Well, you can sit over there [gestures to a weird solarium-like space with a bunch of really high stools and rickety tables] or at the bar. But the tables are just for people who are eating.

This is, like, my Least Favorite Thing In The World Ever. And the fact that it’s happening at Lincoln Center, which is trying so hard to reinvent itself “” it is neither convenient nor fancy to have these nonsensical rules and the fact that the law was being read to me buy some collageny man with linen pants and a boat shoe was almost too much to handle. But, chastised, we wandered over to the tables next to bar. The following exchange then took place:

ME: Hi, could I have two camparis and soda, please?
LADY: Yes, that’ll be $22.
ME: [start getting cash out of my pocket. at this time, I notice that she is starting to pour the campari into plastic cups. I see that there are real glasses just behind her.]
ME: Excuse me, would you mind if I had those in real glasses?
HER: [deadpan] Why?


ME: Because you just charged me $11 for a glass of campari, and because I’m not at a baseball game?
HER: It’s against the rules. Unless you’re sitting at a table, I have to use the plastic cups.
ME: But I am sitting at a table! [gestures to the table where my computer and bag and book are at]
HER: Well, I already poured it. And it’s not my rules.

Ugh, it’s not my rules. I quote this thing all the time, but this little paragraph is, I think, the singlemost fantastic piece of thinking by Gayatri Spivak ever:

“”¦ I was supposed to take the airplane from Heathrow on Sunday. Air Canada says to me: “˜we can’t accept you.’ I said: “˜why?’ and she said: “˜You need a visa to go to Canada.’ I said: “˜look here, I am the same person, the same passport”¦ “˜ Indian cultural identity right? But you become different. When it is from London, Indians can very well want to jump ship to Canada; I need a visa to travel from London to Canada on the same passport, but not from the United States. To cut a long story short,[…] I had to stay another day, and telephone Canada and tell them that I could not give my seminar. I said to the woman finally before I left, in some bitterness: “˜Just let me tell you one small thing: Don’t say “we can’t accept you” that sounds very bad from one human being to another; next time you should say: “The regulations are against it”; then we are both victims.’

Ô, Svetlana from the Alice Tully Café! Now We Are Both Victims! It’s more just the idea of asking somebody from whom you have just taken $22 “Why.” Between adults, you almost never use that word as a stand-alone, because usually people’s motives are clear enough, or, if they aren’t, one is too polite to interrogate it with a W-word. For instance, if Stephen Petronio called my house up talking about, “Can you give me another minute of music between section 4 and section 5” I would say to him, “yes, absolutely. Can you tell me anything specific about it, is it an extension of this or an extension of that.” I would not say, “Why,” because can you imagine how aggressive?


  • Oops. Out go my linen pants!

  • They should replace the Officious Homosexual with an Officious Two-Spirit.

  • Finer Ropes Nanny
    May 10th, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I just wanted to use a nickname that rhymes with the comment above it. That is all.

  • Hokítonkpíanó from that church:

    As Like How You Like.

  • Graham Anderson
    May 11th, 2009 at 1:26 am

    Honky-tonk joanna or no, the gig at Union Chapel was AMAZING, bravo and all that.

    When I saw you were playing Butlins the same day I thought it was a typo on – I had visions of you turning up to Union Chapel at midnight having disastrously misjudged how long our creaky transport system might take to get you hither from thither. But all was good.

    While you were at Butlins, did you see any Red Coats? I’m not sure any equivalent exists in American culture, circa 1958 or not. They are uniformed ‘entertainment officers’ who patrol the ‘camp’ and engender ‘variety entertainment’.

  • I thought that (knowing how you like to record pianos/celestas with all the mechanical creaks and whatnot) you had set up the piano and mikes to have a honky-tonk kinda effect.
    How interesting. How curious. How Nico. I thought.
    How wrong I could be?
    Great gig despite all vicissitudes.

  • God, I have missed you. Do not ask why.

  • I’ve racked up two run-ins with that same Officious Homosexual. In the course of the first one, he explained to me that I could not sit at a table and use the free Lincoln Center WiFi connection unless I was ordering a meal. I surveyed the vast tundra of empty tables with drama hoping that he would become reasonable but his officiousness was ferrous. I was relegated to a nearby row of backless banquettes with low tables (well outside the cafe) over which I hunched until the pain made me pack up the laptop and go home.

    On the second occasion, husband and I had acquired pastry at the good muffin shop further up on Columbus Ave and had taken a seat at one of the (again many empty) tables in the cafe area. Husband then purchased one of the cafe’s pricey precious little Lincoln Center paper-cupped espressi. (I had snagged a larger (butcher) Red Eye at a Starbuck’s on the way.) Said Officious Homosexual swooped down on our table ( having arrived late to work, due, no doubt, to a protracted corporal work of mercy elsewhere) and explained that we could not eat food that we had not purchased at the cafe itself. He went on to explain that there was a clear, obvious and logical reason for this: were we to choke on the food we had “smuggled” into the Lincoln Center Cafe, or, were we to become ill because of having eaten said contraband on their premises, we could sue Lincoln Center, and the defendant would be hard pressed to prove that our misfortune was not caused by their food. I wish you could have seen the sincere delight on his face as he stooped over our table but proclaimed these secrets loud enough to be heard in echoes by the three other people in the cafe.
    When I asked him if Lincoln Center’s liability phobia extended to the Starbuck’s coffee I held, or was that exempt because it was a beverage, he benevolently assured me that foreign beverages were acceptable. It was obvious to me that he did not see the humor in this, and Husband and I did our best not to play him any further although we were sorely tempted.
    Like many others who live in that neighborhood, we like using the public spaces (or we’d live in spacious and cheaper Ohio for Chrissakes). What you’ve got here in the form of this cafe is a hybrid of a for-profit lessee in a for-public space presided over by that doltish O.H. Ah, the fine Lincoln Central acoustics of irritation.

  • The comments on the Tully vafe were amusing.

  • $11? What is this place?

    I don’t understand why you or Father T didn’t leave. There are few things you can’t get anywhere else.

  • Excuse me, did you buzz your, as they say, head?

  • Don’t tell Thomas he look like Jeremy Sisto in that fótó up there.

  • This reminds me of a run-in my mother had with a despicable Walgreen’s manager a few years ago:
    Irma: You are the most officious young man I’ve ever met!
    Manager: Thank you.
    He apparently though it was a combination of “official” and “efficient.”

  • thank you, valgeir.

  • The incident brings to mind that old axiom — “There are no bad pianos, only bad pianists.”

  • Officious Homosexual is my favorite new phrase, although according to Father Tony you may have The Very Perfect Modern Archetype at your fingertips right there in Lincoln Center. Everyone needs to act out Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty routines with him in person (with photos, please) since he sounds like a master of horror and irritation.

  • that’s fking hilarious. i’m glad that it wasn’t me because i’m way too ghetto to handle that. the uppity waiter’s david barton membership would have come in handy when he carried my ass outta there.

  • do re mi squaw so la squee do

  • gin soaked girl
    May 18th, 2009 at 6:59 am

    WhenI heard your opening piece at the Union Chapel I thought that perhaps the piano had been ‘prepared’ beforehand. Or not.

    Nevertheless, the concert was wonderful. Especially the piece based on The Two Sisters, by which I was also mortified as a child.

  • Thank you many times over for the mention of the precious AND sloppy cafe at Alice Tully. Last night, a “waiter” dropped off a bottle of wine for my table, UNOPENED, and it took 15 minutes and 3 (dumbass) hostesses to get it poured. Just the worst of pretty much every sad, gay, 90’s, classical music, overpriced, manhattan-y trope you could describe. Never again! There’s Barcibo at 69th and B’way. Not great, but better than the bs over at Lincoln Center.