Summer squash and chickpeas with olives, raisins and basil

Summer squash with chickpeas, raisins, olives and basil

Summer squash with chickpeas, raisins, olives and basil

Both boys have friends over. The little ones are playing together and describing very unlikely and very funny scenarios. “What if somebody was singing ‘Let it Go’ to a guy hanging off a cliff?” or “Who wants lunch?” “Me!” “I was talking about you being my lunch!” And the bigger boys, who have phones, are staring at their phones. We got Malcolm a phone for his birthday. It’s not a fancy one, it doesn’t do much, but I think he likes having it. Of course it’s depressing to see people lost in their phones, unaware of the world around them, shut off from nature and from living human society. It makes me sad that we’re all losing the ability to sit and do nothing and receive no information from the outside world beyond what we can see and hear and smell immediately around us. I’d rather see the boys “playing with their imaginations,” as Isaac says. As a word lover I’m not a huge fan of texting with its lazy abbreviations and insipid content. However, also as a word lover I’m so happy to exchange texts with Malcolm! He’s so funny and sweet. He texts us from across the room, from up the stairs, from the back seat of the car. And he texts from his friends’ houses when he’s far from home, so we know how he’s doing.
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I can’t help thinking (again) of René Clair’s enthusiastic praise of film as a new technology, “In this era, when verbal poetry is losing the charm it exerted on the masses … a new form of poetic expression has arisen and can reach every beating heart on earth … a poetry of the people is there, seeking its way.” And there is poetry in short lines exchanged between people, when they’ve whittled their words down to express only the most important message, when they’ve tightened their language to convey the most meaning. There’s wit and poignance even in the inevitable misunderstandings and misspellings. Even the words themselves have been distilled to their essence. It reminds me of this poem by Robert Creeley:

I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, — John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

“In saying his poems, Creeley stops briefly at the end of each line, though without dropping the pitch of his voice. This gives it a jazzy, syncopated rhythm, very nervous. Thom Gunn calls it ‘a kind of eloquent stammering,'” which is how you could describe the rhythm of text conversations, although truly they are not always eloquent. Phones are here to stay, and are only going to become smarter and more engrossing as the years go along. We might as well embrace their brief rough poetry, we might as well be thankful for the way that they connect us.

It’s summer squash season! I like summer squash, but sometimes it’s hard to get excited about cooking it day after day. This was an exciting dish, though. Full of flavor and nice textures. I like the combination of jalapeños, raisins and olives, sweet and spicy and salty. I like grated zucchini and yellow squash, because they tend to melt into a dish, imparting their fresh summery flavor.

Instead of a song today, I’ll give you a video of a man using his phone to make little films that make the ordinary more interesting.

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“Mediterranean” white bean “chili” with avocado corn salsa and pesto

White bean chili with pesto and avocado corn salsa

White bean chili with pesto and avocado corn salsa

Godard’s 1967 film La Chinoise is full of words. The characters talk constantly, the walls of their apartment are painted with giant phrases and mottos, and the screen flashes with intertitles in a strange and jarring rhythm. And, of course, we don’t speak French, so we were also reading subtitles, as all of the dizzying layers of text were translated for us in rapid succession.

The film is a loose adaption of Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed, and it tells the story of five university students intent on violent revolution. They discuss ideology, they discuss art, they’re very well-read, and they talk about literature and theater and music. They discuss their plans, and for most of the film we suspect they’ll be all talk and little action. They discuss their love for one another, or their lack of love. They talk about class struggle, they talk about the workers, but they never work. Except for Yvonne, one of two women in the group, who is constantly cleaning, and tells of her part-time work as a prostitute so that she can afford things.

The film is shot mostly in the claustrophobic world of their apartment and their minds, both teeming with ideas and words so beautifully layered and confused and constant that they start to make a strange sort of sense. I think the film must have been one of Godard’s first color films, and he’s beautifully aware of color. Everything is red, white and blue, with Mao’s Little Red Book appearing in shifting stacks and patterns, becoming almost a character. The film is full of humor, it’s an affectionate satire. The students are foolish, even frighteningly so at times, but Godard loves them even as he disparages them. In one long beautiful scene, which finally breaks out into the world beyond the apartment, Veronique meets her old philosophy professor, a former revolutionary for the Algerian national liberation movement. She talks about her deeply-held political beliefs and she sounds like a child: she wants to close the universities, but she talks about how her one summer of actual work caused her to do really well on her exams. She talks about using bombs, and she says the word like a child would.

As in Masculin/Feminin, the violence is off-screen, botched, dreamlike. It’s hard to know if it really happened or if it’s all in their heads. The whole film is like a dream, floating away with humor and words and sixties pop style, but grounded with the idea that these students are discussing real people and real problems that continue to affect people around the world.

avocado corn salsa and pesto

avocado corn salsa and pesto

Do you like all the quotation marks in the title?!? It’s because this isn’t really mediterranean, and it’s not really chili. It seemed mediterranean because it has olives and beans and rosemary and pesto and harissa. It’s like chili because it has chili paste and beans and it’s a spicy sort of stew. Whatever you call it, it was very tasty. The chili is warm and rich and savory, and the salsa is light and sweet, and the pesto adds a real kick of flavor. We ate this with zucchini corn bread, but you could warm up some tortillas and eat it as tacos instead.

White bean chili

White bean chili

Here’s Mao Mao, a poppy punky song by Claude Channes from La Chinoise, which pretty much sums up the whole film.

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Tacos with chickpeas, black beans and pumpkinseed basil sauce

Chickpea & black bean tacos with pumpkinseed basil sauce

I’ve moaned many times about the death of American Independent cinema. The way I see it, the thrilling golden era of the seventies and eighties (Jarmusch! Lee! Sayles! Hartley!) gave way to an era of derivative, overblown hollywood-wannabes. American independent cinema is dead – killed off by two clever young men who made flashy little hollywood movies, and by the generation of filmmakers following them, whose knowledge of film history went back no farther than these clever young men. Independent filmmaking became an industry – the films were products, the filmmakers wanted to be stars. But the films were like fast food, at once too much and too little – insubstantial and unsatisfying. Rather than carry on with this cantankerous whinge, I’ll tell you that lately I’ve been very excited to discover that American independent cinema is alive and well – it’s just not living in North America.

We’ve watched a number of films lately from Latin America that give me so much hope – engagingly human, unforgettable, and inspiring. Despite being low-budget, and not containing celebrities, each of them achieve some level of perfection of production that I find thrilling. Acting, camera work, music, writing – all carefully combine to make films that glow on the screen, and in your memory. All of the films share a quality that made them especially dear to me. They are ordinary – stories of ordinary people, of their day-to-day-life, of the food they make, their mundane jobs, but they are so beautifully presented that they become extraordinary and compelling. Like a well-made meal, the films are simple, but the ingredients are exactly as they should be, and they’re sustaining and memorable.

I’ll tell you about a few! Duck Season has become one of my favorite films of all time. It’s the first feature by director Fernando Eimbcke, and it tells the story of two boys in a high-rise in Mexico. It’s Sunday, they’re stuck in their apartment, and the power is out. It’s a really ecstatic film, and we watched it twice in two days!

From Brazil, we have The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, by director Cao Hamburger, about a boy who goes to stay with his grandfather and develops an unlikely friendship with his neighbor. A perfect example of how attention to every detail of production can make a simple film resonate.

I’ve already mentioned Adrian Biniez’ Gigante, from Uraguay, because it inspired me to make pizza with faina! A lovely movie with an underwater glow about the lighting and the pacing. And Whisky, a disarmingly dry, touching, and funny movie from Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll. The same directors made 25 Watts, a day in the life of three friends that’s low key, funny, thoughtful, and that you’ll think about long after you’ve seen it.

One more! From Argentina, the tale of a housekeeper and her over-bearing employer – Live in Maid, by Jorge Gaggero. It’s a quiet film, but the small telling details, which examine the routines that shape these two women’s lives, make them alive for us. The film is a very human and immediate way of describing what’s happening in the larger world of politics and economics.

All of these films are like little gems – it’s so wonderful to discover them. They allow you to travel to another part of the world, and give you such an intimate glimpse of the people that live there, and do so with such generosity, humor, and subtlety, that you feel fortunate to spend some with them.

Your song for today is from Lake Tahoe, another remarkable movie by Fernando Eimbcke. The song is La Lloroncita by Los Parientes de Playa Vicente, and it’s gorgeous.

And your meal for today is tacos made with black beans, chickpeas, yellow squash and corn. Everything is combined in a sauce of pumpkinseeds and fresh basil – a sort of pumpkinseed pesto, but lighter. We ate it with warm tortillas, chopped tomatoes, avocado, romaine, and grated sharp cheddar. I have to admit that it’s a little funny-looking (David laughed when I brought it to the table) but look beyond that! Because it tastes very good! Sweet, savory, a little smoky, a little spicy.

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