Saturday, January 28, 2012

Once More Unto the Breach, etc.

And so here we sit (sweat, panic, work), the week-end before another rousing semester starts on Monday.  Mac (to the left) and Iris returned safely and ecstatic from Paris and Berlin (Iris has asked, presciently, "Where's the graffiti?"); my Crusades classes ended fine (world enough and time, I would bemoan a winter storm thwarting our Medieval Times spectacle - grr); and our little community is regathering unto itself.  Modern and predictable as our timetables are, I wonder if there was a "beginning of the semester" feeling when Abelard was about to teach a new class.  I rather doubt it. When I participated in Jean-Claude Schmitt's "Images" seminar at the Ecoles des Hautes Etudes in Paris, his opening remark was "In this, the tenth year of our seminar..." - and then a smile, a collective shift of the shoulders, and the whole group got back to its work, negating any pesky interruptions to the task at hand.  Here (and I think I mean America), there's a sense of a fresh start each semester - better readings, savvier assignments, a more ambitious meta-narrative, more effective means of engaging students, and (as one of my favorite colleagues says) "a moratorium on negativity."  And yet, it's all (lucky, marvelous) continuity, isn't it? I know that, but what I feel is the new, the possible (some perpetual naïveté).  Still, I like to think of Abelard hunching his shoulders right before crossing the threshold into his classroom space and saying "here we go."

And so genius friends of ours organized a Mad Men dinner party last night, based on The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook, written by a cousin of one of the friends.  At first, we were all very focused on the cocktails, truth be told, but then, without even conferring with each other, we all realized that we could actually play dress-up as well: nude hosiery was procured, heels were donned, lipstick applied, and dainty purses found.  The guys were bedecked in hats, drank second martinis rapidly after firsts, and admired each other's shoes.  It was a complete blast.  I will confess to tremulously confessing to my friends at some point "Thank God feminism happened" - how can I be so freaking humorless? (And yet it's true - charivari for us, stricture upon stricture for them).  (Having said all that, the show itself is brilliant at letting you feel the phenomenal power shift that's occurred since the early 1960s - as my friend said "The show horrifies [in its sexism and racism and bigotry], and we are eager to be horrified.")

I volunteered to make the Beef Wellington, epic in its construction and phenomenal in conception.  And so what can I do but leave you with the scene from Woody Allen's Love and Death in which Napoleon frets that Wellington will invent an eponymous dish before he will?  Onwards, friends!

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