Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cooking is not music

First things first: Nixon in China was a wonderful experience. I'm partial to modern opera, and I flat-out love minimalism of all sorts, so this was right up my alley. The opera mixes sincere drama and farce, fitting for the occasion it depicts. In my exceedingly humble and uneducated opinion, there was one misstep: Farce overtook sincerity about halfway through the second act, when Pat Nixon can't tell the difference between play and reality during a performance of The Red Detachment of Women set against a tropical background, performers shoot each other (or maybe not), and an all-out brawl ensues as Chairman Mao's wife sings the amazing, amazing I am the wife of Mao Tse-tung (high Ds, anyone?). I read that the choreographer, Mark Morris, and the director, Peter Sellars, wished to blur the lines between performer and performance, both within the opera and between the opera and its audience. Perhaps I'm just not artistic enough to appreciate it fully, since the second act was too heavy-handed for me, despite the brilliant singing and music. For one thing, John Adams was conducting. I'm not sure how much of that act's absurdity was his writing and how much was the staging, but the orchestra was fantastic no matter what I thought about the action. The third act was much more my style. In her aria This is prophetic, Pat Nixon offers up an unusual sort of prayer. I found the line "Let routine dull the edge of mortality" particularly interesting, since I usually consider routine a harbinger of the dull creep toward death; Mrs. Nixon apparently appreciates the joys of stasis and the comforts of sameness.

I also have to admit that I got a little thrill when the Chinese rolled in a patient from the People's Clinic during Pat Nixon's tour of Peking. Mrs. Nixon pointed out that maybe bringing this patient in was a little invasive; in response, she was comforted with the knowledge that of course the patient would recover under the ministrations of the people's physicians. I had a brief reverie about patient confidentiality debates that often bring in the radically different Chinese perspective before the opera drew me back in. Stupid medical school, worming your way into my brain at every turn.

And today... Let's just say that I wish it were more socially acceptable to be totally agog. While Nixon in China is sparse on the percussion--I think there was only one percussionist in the ensemble--Inuksuit, the John Luther Adams piece I heard today at the Park Avenue Armory, was all percussion. Well, sort of. There were conch shells, and flutes at the very end, and rolled-up pieces of paper, and plastic tubes swung over the head. There were people milling around and people lying on the ground and people sitting down and holding hands. There was a huge room full of musicians, and single or double stands set up throughout the building. It was all the sort of avant-garde Kool-Aid to which we're supposed to be slightly cynically resistant, but this was amazing. Deeply, truly amazing, as represented by the fact that I can't even write about it coherently. It was the best and quickest 85 minutes I've spent in months. We'll see when the high wears off.

Oh, and listen to the piece from which I drew this post's title: Music Is Not Music, by Alvin Curran.

As far as food, I made this chocolate banana bread that was absolutely fabulous. I've got a complicated relationship with bananas. When I was young, I couldn't stand them; even now, I will only eat underripe bananas (which fortuitously have significantly more resistant starch than ripe bananas), and fake banana flavor makes me relive every bad decision I've ever made. But banana in baked goods... now that I can get behind, especially when the baked goods are as moist as this.

Dinner was a smooth and creamy red lentil and coconut milk soup. Red lentils (well, properly speaking, petite crimsons; there is a slightly larger variety of red lentil that turns sort of yellowish-orange when cooked and is a little more sturdy) have a shorter cooking time than green lentils and don't hold their shape as well.

The vegetable is Chinese broccoli, or gai lan, a rare treat for me. It's good with oyster sauce or hoisin sauce, but here I just steamed it and then seared it briefly in sesame oil with salt and pepper; oyster sauce isn't vegetarian, and hoisin sauce clearly doesn't pair well with red lentil soup.

And now, back to studying, which I swear I've been doing in between all this fun. Our current unit continues to be lightweight, affording me the time to experience the various Adamses!

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