Collards with artichoke hearts, olives and capers

Collards with artichoke hearts, olives and capers

Collards with artichoke hearts, olives and capers

Isaac carried his new superhero to school today. He’s made of bright pink pipe cleaners (the superhero, not Isaac.) His name is eel man. Isaac started telling me a story about how eel man made a giant ball of electricity and threw it in the ocean and then… “Is eel man a good guy or a bad guy?” I asked. Turns out he’s both. “Ah,” I said, “So he’s morally complicated.” Yeah. He’s good when he thinks it would be fun to be good. Well, we got back to the story, but it had changed a little. I could hear the little wheels whirring in Isaac’s head. “Wait, I’m talking to mom, and she’s actually listening to me.” Suddenly eel man’s exploits seemed a little too dangerous for all of the innocent bystanders who might be bobbing in the waves of eel man’s ocean. In the new ending, eel man cuts the nets of fishermen to free the fish. Which proves how well Isaac knows me, but is also morally complicated, if you think about it too much, because now what will happen to the poor fisherman and his imaginary starving family? Everything is morally complicated if you think about it too much! And I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s good to think about it too much, and try to find some sort of balance that helps you navigate waters made choppy by giant balls of electricity. I’ve been reading my new biography of Jean Vigo. His father took the nomme de guerre Miguel Almereyda, and anagram for “there’s the shit.” He had a hard life, he had plenty of reasons to be angry at the world. His family abandoned him, and as a teenager he found himself sick, alone and starving. He was imprisoned several times as a boy…once for “borrowing” money to pay rent, and once for attempting to blow up a pissoir, although he was so worried about hurting innocent people that he bungled the whole effort. He was sent to prison none-the-less, where he was kept in solitary confinement and semi-darkness and abused by sadistic warders. He found comfort and friendship amongst the anarchists, communists, socialists and syndicalists, and he found an outlet for his passionate anger at society. It’s so strange to read about this world, so morally complicated as to be contradictory–so appealing and flawed, so concerned with organizing and yet so chaotic. We meet violently angry pacifists, militant anti-militarists. They started a newspaper and words were their weapons. Their ideals changed subtly all the time as the world about them changed, and they spoke with complete certainty and passion about each changing belief. Their words were so effective that they were received with fear and distrust as if they had been actual weapons. Almereyda found himself in and out of prison, sentenced again and again for articles that questioned the system, that encouraged strikes by workers and soldiers. Everything fell apart with WWI. Everything changed in ways that were beyond Almereyda’s control. But it seems that he and his friends still struggled to make sense of it, they continued to write about it, they tried to ensure that the changes that came with the war were good for the people, for the workers, for the poor. And many years later, his son Jean would make films that celebrated revolution and anarchy, but glowed with love for all people and reverence for all life, and these would be feared and banned, too. But they would live on as a testament to the power of word and image, to the revolutionary power of art. It’s a funny old world.

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love collards! I’ve never treated them quite like this, but I thought it was delicious. Collards have a textural assertiveness that went perfectly with the bright sharp flavors of capers and olives. This was very simple to put together. If you added some beans to the dish (white would be nice!) and served it with rice or pasta, you’d have a quick meal.

Here’s Rebel Waltz from The Clash
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Baked chocolate-coated cake donuts

Chocolate covered cake donuts

Chocolate covered cake donuts

This morning was dark and gloomy, and when the rain finally came it felt like morning had never happened, we were cast right back into the night. But the sun eventually came out, and I walked to the bank and cashed a savings bond I’ve had for thirty years, and I went to the magical used book store across the street, which always has exactly what you want when you want it, to buy a biography of Jean Vigo. Jean Vigo made four films, and he died at the age of 29 in 1934. A lot has been written about Jean Vigo, and I don’t have much intelligent film criticism to add, or any revelatory biographical details, so I’ll just tell you why I’d like to meet him. Holden Caulfied said that he knew he loved a book when he wanted to write a letter to the author once he’d finished it. I know I love a film when I want to sit with the auteur over a glass of wine, and talk about film, and plan our next shoot. I feel that way about Vigo more than any other director I can think of. Vigo worked in a partnership with cinematographer Boris Kaufman (brother of Dziga Vertov). Kaufman described filming with Vigo, even in physically harsh conditions with little time and money, as “Cinematic paradise.” Apparently Vigo was demanding but kind and very funny. I love to think about their friendship. I imagine that Kaufman was precise and technically skilled, and Vigo was vague and anarchic, but somehow they inspired each other, they found a balance to shoot wild, emotionally beautiful, beautifully filmed scenes. I’d like to be friends with them, too. I believe that people have different kinds of intelligence. The other night, in a half-awake state, I aligned these with the elements. Some have a practical, earthy intelligence; some have a fiery and passionate intelligence that’s focussed and burns very bright; some have an airy and intellectual intelligence, far-reaching and dry. And some have a watery intelligence, vague, changing, emotional. Of course, most people have some combination of these, but for me, personally, it’s mostly watery. Jean Vigo’s films are beautifully watery. Literally, in most cases–A propos de Nice is set by the sea, Tari, Roi de L’eau is a portrait of a simmer, and L’atalante takes place on a barge. And they also have a fluid, luminous quality, like light through water, stylistically and emotionally. Like water, they follow exactly the path they’re supposed to follow, along the river bank or surging to the shore, but they’re riotous and unexpected, too, and spill out over anything that attempts to restrict them or tie them down. Vigo has been called one of the early advocates of poetic realism. And it’s true that his films are a delightful combination of near-documentary prosody with beautiful flights of fancy and dream-like forays into characters’ imaginations. But he shows imagination and poetry as an essential part of reality, not a departure from it, and so I believe it is. We spend at least half our lives dreaming, and we only understand the world as we filter it through the strange web of our own minds. Vigo’s very ordinary characters are fascinating and lovely because he gives us a glimpse into the beautiful chaos of their thoughts and desires. We see the every day cruelty and kindness of school children and their small moments of freedom and rebellion; we see the day-to-day life of a couple of newlyweds, and we watch as they pull apart and come together, as they lose each other and find each other, and grow to know and love one another. They’re drowning with longing, and confusion and desire have never been so beautifully rendered, or with such humor and honesty. Vigo’s films have such simplicity and grace, such sincerity and soul, but they’re also deeply political, even revolutionary. In watching them we see an uncanny representation of the world as it is, if only we’d take the time to notice–wild, unruly, unfair, mundane, magical, and deeply, abidingly beautiful.

I made donuts! I’ve been thinking about it a while–Malcolm and I had some schemes in place. Yesterday, I just made some! I wanted to bake them, because I don’t like the smell of my kitchen after I fry something. Funnily enough, I’d spilled some butter in the oven the day before, so when I baked these the kitchen filled with smoke. Sigh. I adapted the recipe from a couple of old mennonite recipes (although their donuts were fried.) The resulting donut is quite dense and sweet-biscuity, but I believe this must be how donuts were intended to turn out, because they’re absolutely perfect for dunking in coffee. The chocolate melts, the donut softens, and then, as David says, you want more! I just bought some almond essence, after resisting for years. I resisted because I was semi-obsessed with it as a child, and put it in everything. Well…I am once again putting it in everything! It was nice here, though. It made the donut interesting without adding too much texture or craziness. You could replace it with cinnamon or lemon zest or any kind of flavoring you like. Or just leave it out altogether.

Here’s the theme from L’atalante by Maurice Jaubert, another of Vigo’s lifelong collaborators.

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