Roasted parsnip, pecan, and caramelized shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Pecan, parsnip and shallot pizza

Well I finally finished reading Zola’s Nana. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get through it. I enjoyed it and admired it; of course it’s  well-written, but the truth is it made me a little sad and it’s hard to spend too much time in Nana’s world. None of the characters treat her very well, and neither does Zola himself. It’s not just that he’s cruel to her with the plot, although he is. He’s not kind to her with his words, or with the words he has her speak. I don’t think it’s intentional on his part. He wanted her to be a sympathetic character, he didn’t want her to be held responsible for all of the destruction that occurs. In his notes about her, which he assembled before he wrote the novel, he describes her as “…good-natured above all else. Follows her nature, but never does harm for heart’s sake, and feels sorry for people.” But just as she becomes “…a ferment of destruction, but without meaning to, simply by means of her sex…” so she also becomes a character Zola can’t completely realize or embrace, because he knows he doesn’t understand her and he fears her power. Zola’s style of writing is very straight-forward and unadorned, almost documentary. I learned in the introduction to my version that Zola published a work called The Experimental Novel around the same time that Nana came out, in which he said that “imagination had no place in the modern world, and that the novelist, like the scientist, should simply observe and record, introducing characters with specific hereditary peculiarities into a given environment–just as the chemist places certain substances in a retort–and then noting down the progress and results of his “experiment.” So Nana reacts to the world around her, and vice versa, because of “hereditary peculiarities” and because she’s a woman. But of course a novel isn’t scientific, and relations between anybody, either real or fictional, are never predictable. Even in reality, we create the people in our life. We take notes on their character, we make decisions about them and expectations about how they’ll act. And sometimes we’re not kind about it, particularly if we don’t understand them or fear them because they’re different from us. For the most part Zola maintains the cool clinical tone of an observer. But to me the novel is most beautiful when people behave unexpectedly, and when Zola’s language bursts through with emotion and poetry. Nana has many lovers, but there’s only one person she seems to actually love, who seems to love her, Satin. Satin calls to her, “Come along! Come along!” and “Nana undressed in the dressing-room. To be quicker about it, she took her thick mass of blonde hair in both hands and began shaking it above the silver wash-basin, so that a shower of long hair-pins rang a chime on the shining metal.” What a perfect poem of anticipation! It’s a kindness, a gift, this moment and this love, no matter how short-lived. In literature, as in life, everything is more beautiful when it’s messy and unexpected and we don’t decide about it beforehand.

I’ve been making lots of pizzas lately! I always make a “normal” one for the boys, with marinara and mozzarella, and then I make a weird one. I’ve been experimenting with lots of almost-pesto sauces, which are almost more like savory frangipane. And this one was no exception. It had a pecan sauce, which I actually made earlier in the week to have with kofta. I added an egg and a little smoked gouda and topped it with roasted parsnips and caramelized shallots. Smoky, savory, a little sweet. Nice.

Here’s Nantes by Beirut, because it sounds almost like “Nana” and it’s got the French connection.

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Pizza with pecan sage pesto and roasted mushrooms and potatoes

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

Pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’m feeling a little foggy in my brain lately, and if I’m being honest I’ve been in a bad mood. A terrible bad mood. (As opposed to my usual wonderful bad mood.) I’ve been epically discouraged, and I don’t really feel like doing anything. Blame it on the hibernating weather, if you like. So today I sat down to do nothing in the form of watching the supplementary material on a DVD we watched a week or so ago. Interviews with the director and the stars. This wasn’t the usual Hollywood miasma of self-congratulatory celebrities recounting hijinks with forced jollity. This was people remembering a film they worked on fifty-two years ago, reflecting on their lives at that time and on what they had become. And I swear to god the director had a message for me. It’s an odd story. Serge Bourguignon made Sundays and Cybele in 1962. It was his first feature and he was thirty-three years old. It didn’t do very well in France, it didn’t get distribution, but it got rave reviews at the Venice film festival, a New York Times reporter called it a masterpiece, and it won the oscar for best foreign language film. Needless to say, all this attention and affection from critics and Americans meant that the film got distribution in France, and also that it earned scorn from the other French filmmakers of the New Wave. Their films were fast, unplanned, edgy. Sundays and Cybele is slow and dreamlike, and it’s finely made. I’ve always admired the collaborative nature of the French New Wave, how they made films together and talked about films together and wrote about films together. It’s always seemed like it would be fun to live in such a time, to have friends like that. Bourguignon describes the new wavers as a club of cool kids, which he wasn’t part of, and I’d never really thought of it in that light. And then I read a modern scholarly essay on the film, and the author talked about how differently the film would be received now than it was then, because we’re all so jaded and cynical now and people grow up so fast. But to hear the people talking, people were always jaded and cynical and even in 1962 they watched the film with doubt and suspicion. The film tells the story of a thirty-year-old soldier, scarred by his experiences in Vietnam, who has trouble remembering, trouble fitting in. He meets a twelve-year-old girl, abandoned by her parents, who develops a strong attachment to him. They love each other, they’re good friends, and that is all. They’re children together, and she helps him as much as he helps her. Complicated, of course, but beautiful, like most human relationships. The director and the stars describe the filmmaking process as a wonderfully serendipitous time. Everything happened exactly as it should, everyone was happy, every moment was perfectly captured just as it should be. And the film is ridiculously beautiful, gorgeously filmed, so perfectly acted it doesn’t feel like acting, with a wonderful score, and a strangely dizzyingly clear feeling of looking at the world through patterns in glass or water.

Bourguignon talks about his career after Sundays and Cybele, which went really nowhere. He doesn’t sound bitter. And he says, I have written films since, I have dreamed films, and maybe someday another little miracle will happen, and I will make another film. Well! I have dreamed films! I have written films! And the film I have written, which on my good days I know that I will make someday, has almost exactly the same plot as Sundays and Cybele. That’s why I first noticed the film! That’s why I watched the DVD as soon as it became available on DVD! It’s the strangest thing, I tell you, the strangest thing, to sit here feeling old and discouraged and watch Bourguignon, who by any account has had remarkable success in his life, sounding old and discouraged. And then sounding so hopeful! It’s discombobulating. Well, I will make my film one day, and I look forward to watching Bourguignon’s next small miracle of a film as well.

pizza with pecan sage pesto

pizza with pecan sage pesto

I’ve been making lots of cheesy crusty things lately, to set myself up for hibernation, and this was no exception. Very autumnal! It’s smoky and flavorful. It’s more of a custard than a pesto, I guess, but either way…

Here’s Marisa Anderson in a tiny desk concert for NPR. I think she’s remarkable.

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Soba noodles with arugula pecan pesto and sauteed brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives

Soba noodles with arugula-pecan pesto and sauteed brussels sprouts

Soba noodles with arugula-pecan pesto and sauteed brussels sprouts

Malcolm’s teachers talk about making “smart choices.” It’s something he needs to work on. Because I’m a terrible parent, the phrase seems to have lodged itself in my head as something almost funny, and I find myself using it in less-than-serious situations. I had to have a talk with Clio because she doesn’t make smart choices in the throes of separation anxiety, and she’s become a danger to herself and our furniture. (I’d like to state for the record, before I continue, that I agree with his teachers that “making smart choices” is something Malcolm needs to work on (as do we all!), and I respect their efforts to remind him of that!) I worry a little bit for him, because he’s my son, and I have a lifelong history of crippling indecision and poor choices. Why would a person drop out of Oxford a third of the way through? Why would a person apply to film school, get in, and then not go? Why would a person waste time and money on a second independent feature when the first was a big failure? Why would they do it? Although on paper it may seem that I have made dumb choices, I have no regrets. I think it’s impossible to harbor regrets once you’ve had children, because every single decision that you ever made your entire life–massive or minute, important or seemingly inconsequential–resulted in their creation. It boggles my easily boggled mind! It makes a person think about fate! I believe in fate in the sense that it’s the same thing as history looked at from the other end. Once something has happened, it was obviously meant to happen and it becomes part of the pattern that connects one life to every other life on the planet, as we all move inexorably in the same direction. But I also believe that we control our fate, at least in part, by the smart and dumb choices that we make. And we determine the quality of our lives, as we’re swept along on our fateful journey, by these choices as well. I’m fascinated by the word “fate,” which is closely related to the word “faith,” and to the words “fay” and “fey.” I’m comfortable with the idea that whatever we think about fate, generally, and our own fate, specifically, we have to understand that we’ll never fully understand it, and we have to accept that we’re frequently powerless to control it, as it rolls ceaselessly over us. I also believe that what may seem like a dumb choice if you’re looking at your life from a certain angle at a certain time, might seem like the smartest possible choice looked at any other way. (Hence the lifetime of indecision!) Although small choices have always rendered me a useless mass of anxiety, as I look back on my life I realize that the big choices, like being with David, were simple. There was only one option, only one wise choice. That feels like fate! That gives me faith! And I have faith that Malcolm will make good choices. They might not always be smart and practical choices, but they’ll be brave choices, and (hopefully) kind choices.

Soba with pesto, brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives

Soba with pesto, brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives

Malcolm loves soba noodles. He gets very excited about them. He likes them plain, with tamari, so that’s how we most frequently eat them. This week, I decided to augment their sweetly savory nuttiness with a pesto made from pecans and nutty arugula. I added some smoked gouda, because I thought that would be nice, too. And it was! The pesto also has a bit of sage and honey, to balance the sharp strong flavors. Brussels sprouts and castelvetrano olives are pretty together. They’re so GREEN! And this pesto was very GREEN! This whole meal had a solid-earthy-wintery-melting-into-summmery flavor. If you know what I mean.

Here’s Once in a Lifetime by The Talking Heads, because it seems to fit!

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