Hippie Hill | The Curator is Selling the Museum
Son of Thornton | Pig to Lard
Little known shit from the Bible. The Three Kings weren’t kings. Probably weren’t three either. Mark, Luke and John have them at none. Matthew’s non-specific. The Aramaics say twelve. There’s no stable either. We Three Kings from Orient Aren’t. We’re with the Zoroastrians, who claim – in addition to Matthew’s gold, frankincense and myrrh – the gift of lard.
See, there’s this pig. When you first get him he’s not much bigger than a medium-sized dog. Pinker though. Bristlier; and more taut. Like a vacuum-packed duffel-bag of kinetic potential. Small enough for Dan Finn to cradle in his arms, put in the back of the truck, drive home with. But not for long.
Things soon get bonkers. Every time you turn around, he’s doubled in size. Now he’s this marble-eyed, shit-nosed, demented hippopotamus, bent on a single currency; eating. No, not eating. Devouring. Ingurgitating. Osmoting. It’s like he doesn’t want to consume food; he wants to be it. And he will. Witnessing the obscene force of his appetite is like watching some obscure and beastly genre of German pornography. All that’s missing are the uniforms and throttled screams of ‘Ja! Ja! Ja!’.
Astonishingly quickly he’s so big he blots out the sun. This is no Babe. This is anabolic Wilbur on mescaline. He’s still got that shit-eating grin and crooked-pin of menace in the tiny, black bauble of his eye; but now he’s outside, squawking blue murder in the perpetual mosh-pit of his siblings as they collectively chow their way through the neighborhood.
His time is come.
One evening you coax him into a trailer with turnips. The next, you drive North across the tundra, through frostbitten ribbons of towns that huddle beside the road like refugees. You drive home without him.
5.30 in the morning, midway through an April that makes like a January. Coffee’s on the hotplate, Tosca is hurling herself from the ramparts and the air, once again, is spiked with pig. We’re at the terminus of an overnight rendering in the locomotive of the Aga. There’s gleaming Ball jars, conical sieves and a man in his underpants. Cubed pork fat, cooked long and low with a little water makes for odorless lard as white as snow. Pour hot and golden, filter, set aside to cool. Go mash an avocado onto Marmite-smudged toast, turn back to see the ghostly apparition forming, like Hamlet’s dad, from the bottom up. Lard. A cloudy precipitate that slowly stiffens to slurry. An hour in the fridge and you have the virgin, seamless stuff itself. The opaque quintessence of Thornton Steward; in a jar.
Storm King | Collaboration | New Work
Cinghiale in agrodolce alla Romana / John Poiarkoff Makes It
Full disclosure. This is a repost from Table on Ten‘s delicious site – that outpost of all things foraged and Dutchly beautiful in the Western Catskills. The origins of the story lie in a summer sojourn in Florence, last year, with Carver Farrell from The Pines, Sara Glick, Emma Farrell, Ian Stuart and Winnie Richards. The book described below (and recipe therein) was part of a small library of classic Italian cookbooks in Elisabetta’s kitchen. The best laid plan was always to gather everybody together and cook the boar – as described at the end – and thus bring the whole tale to a plump and juicy close. But as with many such plans, the action fell foul of the impulse. The boar still haunts the woods.
Until last Monday night, that is.
With the inauguration of Salon Kitty – a twice every three month gathering of foodish luminaries and assorted freaks, each on a theme – the opportunity to rebirth the death of our tale arose once more. With the salon’s stated theme being The ides of March (and a four-course Caesar-themed menu to design) Mary Jernigan’s eponymously Roman Cinghiale in agrodolce alla Romana seemed suddenly the perfect centrepiece. The fact that John Poiarkoff – chef at The Pines – was prepared to take on three days of marination and a sauce that resembled Latini molé, added further piquancy. Supplement with unholy doses of Bell End, Andrea Gentl, Carver Farrell, Inez Valk, Kai and John from Hasbeens & Willbees, pour lashings of Roman Occhipinti Aleatico ‘Aleaviva’ from Jan D’Amore and Contrà Soarda Vespaiolo from our friend Eleonora Gottardi in Bassano, and horns were honkin’.
And now: the story.
It all begins on the fifth floor of a pre-war building overlooking the Arno with a view of San Miniato al Monte and the steps of Giardino Bardini; the family home of Elisabetta, an actress in her unplaceable 60’s. The rambling apartment inherits the easy grace of a woman who cut her style-chops in the twilight years of Pasolini and Visconti: family photographs in mismatched frames (naked children the colour of hazelnuts and shirtless men who look like Marcello Mastroianni on boats off Stromboli), the 70’s record player, Bill Evans albums, dubious abstract nudes (hung crookedly). And the classic cookbook Il Talismano della Felicità, its pages tanned to parchment, open on the counter to some indecipherable flurry of pictureless Italiano: like the best textbook you ever saw.
In the republic of taste, property is theft; and this was one of those crystalline amalgams of poise, weight and beauty that can drive a person to burglary. But you can’t just run off with somebody’s book: that’d be rude, right? Also, it’s fucking huge. Plan B involved a quick sortie around the internet, a late-50’s edition languishing a few hundred feet away in a Santa Croce antiquarian bookshop. Bit of deft mousework and the deed was done: we’d plucked a magic bean from Elisabetta’s stalk to take home and bury in Bloomville’s flinty soil. With love and water it will germinate into La Dolce Vita on the Delaware.
Once home, Il Talismano succumbed to the fate of stuff that seems an absolute imperative when the amber light is refracting off the Duomo, but slightly less so when somebody locked the cat in the bedroom for four days and your tempurpedic smells like the triage at the Humane Society. It took a few days for our resident half-Italian/half-Scottish Ingrid Bergman – Paola Ambrosi de Magistris (try that on a half-litre of lambrusco) – to stumble upon an old letter whilst thumbing through the pages. On Air Mail vellum, yellowed with age, hand-typed on official Foreign Service letterhead, it’s a recipe from the book – Cinghiale in Agrodolce alla Romana - translated into English with personal annotations from the correspondent: substituting bacon for smoked ham, celery seed for celery.
Sweet and sour wild boar, Roman style. The writer – Mary Jernegan – signs off with a footnote: ‘this is a classic Italian recipe, from people who love to hunt and eat well … wish I were there to help cook and eat it!’. Seems the book was a gift from somebody connected to the US Embassy in Rome, probably around the time of publication (1957). The letter suggests a diplomatic blend of official and personal: wife to wife, maybe? Well … we don’t personally hunt (maybe spear the occasional mushroom) but plenty of good people here do. And we eat well. And while we don’t have wild boars snouting our forests (at least not of that spelling), we have plenty of local, barely domesticated pork. So why not celebrate the appearance of this wormhole to a different dimension; fulfill Mary Jernegan’s wish to help cook and eat the meal by making it, right here, right now, 4300 miles and how ever many years from where the impulse originated? Ride the space-time continuum, squeeze the universe into a ball.
But the question remains; who was Mary Jernegan, our guide to all things agrodolce?
In 1955, John Durnford Jernegan – a career US diplomat – was assigned the post of Minister-Counselor at the American Embassy in Rome, under Clare Boothe Luce (first ever US woman ambassador and author of The Women). Jernegan’s previous service included spells in Mexico, Tunisia and Spain (during the Spanish Civil War); but, most notably, he served in Iran during WWII, where he would have been present at the 1943 Tehran Conference attended by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. This meeting – the first ever between Stalin and Roosevelt – initiated tripartite commitment to simultaneous 1944 offensives against Nazi Germany (the Normandy landings) and forged the template for Soviet domination of post-war Eastern Europe; the satellite states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany. The Cold War and Berlin Wall. Thus Jernegan was quietly – repeatedly – present at meridian of world history. It was whilst serving in Iran that he met Mary Margaret Brownrigg, 11 years his junior, the future Mrs Mary Jernegan and author of our letter.
A brief glimpse into the lives of John and Mary Jernegan constitutes a peek behind the curtain of mid-century Graham Greene-style diplomacy. The balance of world power was undergoing seismic changes and these people were at the eye of the hurricane, struggling to retain discreet good manners and politesse against a background of chaos and blood-letting. Kingdoms were vanishing, dynasties crumbling, empires collapsing. The Middle East in particular was a shitstorm of lurid immolation: republican coups d’état in Egypt and Syria, civil war in Jordan and Lebanon, a CIA-backed coup in Iran. And then in 1958, a particularly grisly revolution in Iraq, involving the execution of the Royal Family and the Crown Prince’s mutilated body being dragged through the streets of Baghdad and strung up outside the Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister escaped dressed as a woman. This was the Theatre of Blood into which John and Mary Jernegan were inserted, first US Ambassadorial family to Abd al-Karim Qasim’s fledgling Republic of Iraq. The descriptions of crafts bazaars and people falling into the ponds at parties in the embassy gardens are in stark contrast to the harsh realities of history being enacted beyond the compound walls. The Jernegans remained in Baghdad until their expulsion in 1962, when the Kennedy Administration objected to Qasim claiming the Sheikhdom of Kuwait as de facto territory of Iraq – a gesture eerily similar to the one three decades later that precipitated the first Bush-era Iraq War. A US-backed coup (involving poisoned handkerchiefs and other Kennedy-era goofiness) endorsed Qasim’s assassination, installing the Ba’athist regime which ultimately sanctioned the twenty-seven year reign of Saddam Hussein. Two wars, eight years of US occupation and the rise of the Islamic State brings us to the present. But Mary Jernegan was right there in the crucible of the past.
And though her husband died in 1980, Mary Jernegan may still be alive, in her 90’s, living in California. More than half a century of febrile history has elapsed since she sat at a typewriter in Rome and translated the recipe which now sits on our kitchen table in upstate New York. The same table that will soon be set for Cinghiale in Agrodolce alla Romana, along with friends, gelato alla nocciola and (at the letter’s suggestion) several bottles of good red wine.
Birth of a Nation
Estremità della Campana | Phase One | The Ruin
Ever bitten off more brick than you can chew?
Ciao, Ca’ Selwyn.
Smouldering Venetian sibling to big brother Bell End, her hand-dipped genealogy evidenced by her name: Estremità della Campana. She squats daintily two-thirds of the way down Calle Degolin, sneaking a girlish pee in the shadows. The calle is itself a capillary of Calle Lunga San Barnaba which connects the traghetto at San Samuele with Veronese’s church at San Sebastiano. Long referred to by locals as Passaggio Posteriore della Vecchia Suora (The Old Nun’s Back Passage), it was perhaps a short cut for the Holy Sisters between Chiesa di San Barnaba and the convent at Santa Maria dei Carmini? Or the murky setting for vestal encounters of a non-progenitive nature, all under the cover of a crusty wimple? The extremities of these antique thoroughfares dribble on across Dorsoduro to the very steps of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, where in 1973 Donald Sutherland dangled from the the frescoes dreaming of Julie Christie’s tits and dwarves.
Over the course of a chilly January, every fleck of plaster and lath from every wall and ceiling was burnt and purged away. Every toilet bowl, tile, rusty boiler, stove, fridge, wardrobe, sink, faucet, fitting, pipe, pole, plug and plunger torn from its socket, hand carted down the alleyway to a waiting boat on Rio del Malpaga. Thence a thicket of waterways, the Giudecca Canal and on, on, me hearties, all the way to mainland Italy.
And now he sits, Selwyn, like Jonah in the belly of the whale. Munching frittelle alla crema from Tonolo, swigging from the Campari bottle and singing all four parts of the quartet from Rigoletto. On his own, yearning, yearning, with a heart full of shards and old Kleenex. Same old shit.
Bucharest to Timisoara by Visual Tapestry
Seeking 60’s Romanian editions of world classics with which to decorate the putative shelves of Estremita della Campana, Selwyn decided, on a whim, to board the Bucharest to Budapest Express, following the graceful undulations of the Danube, the succubic peaks of the Transylvanian Alps. As far as Timişoara, at least.
Nine hours, it turned out, with nary a drop of water nor nibble of repast. Outrun by fat, stick-burdened peasants who might have graced the cover of Led Zeppelin’s seminal fourth album, and feral dogs munching used diapers. But plenty of time to gaze out of the window and see …