Day 130: shake it up

Some mornings, you wake up early, you drink your coffee, you banter with your children, you take your flipping meds, you read the younger child The BF blooming G, which is surely the silliest book you can possibly read, you get out in the sodding sunshine, you listen to Pharrell bloody Williams, which is surely the fizziest pop music you can possibly listen to, and you STILL end up sobbing in the parking lot, to the clear discomfort of the woman unlucky enough to be parked in the car facing yours.

What a spectacle, a great Anatid-leporid like you, crying in such undignified fashion! [1]

Fighting pain with sweetness and light was clearly highly ineffective. By this afternoon, I had a plan B: fighting pain with more pain.

What happened in the interim to inspire this strategy? I went to listen to two undergraduates talk about their theses at our annual honors thesis showcase, in which seniors who have written a thesis present their research to their peers and faculty.

One of these students had visited my undergraduate seminar last week, after I sent out a last-minute plea for former thesis-writers to come share their wisdom and experiences with my students, who are all in the beginning stages of researching their theses.

She walked into the room during our mid-seminar break, quietly introduced herself to me, and slipped into the seat next to me. She was quite strikingly dressed: most noticeable, at first glance, was her pale pink hijab, which was made of a very fine linen, and was elegantly arrayed. She also wore a quite lovely blue wool blazer, which I immediately coveted, black skinny jeans, and leather ankle boots. When she spoke, she immediately commanded the room’s attention. Her thesis was about capitalism, violence, and temporality in a recent and critically acclaimed television series. It became clear to me, and I think, to the room, pretty quickly, that this was not your average thesis. Her argument was complex and profound, and her learning was deep. She talked about the challenges of writing the thesis—both intellectual: struggling to get to grips with Fredric Jameson—and practical: struggling to find the motivation to keep writing when she felt stuck.

“How did you make it through?” one of my students asked her. Love the pain, she answered, laughing but also serious. She got up at 5am to write, she explained. And she wrote while listening to music, the bleaker the better (she recommended Radiohead specifically for this purpose).

When she stopped talking the room was silent for a couple of seconds, still spellbound. Then one student broke the silence: “by any chance are you this year’s commencement speaker?” she asked, in a star struck tone. “Because you could be.”

Seeing this same extraordinarily self-possessed student speak again this morning reminded me of her mantra, love the pain. When I got home, still unable to stop crying, I went out to run. Not for fun. Please! No, I ran for the pain. I ran hard, at a pace I knew full well I could not sustain, until my heart thumped painfully in my chest, until I was going fast enough that I was flying across the cracks in the sidewalk like the BFG leaping across hedgerows, until my breathing was loud and ragged, until I felt nauseous. I stopped and caught my breath. And then I ran again. I was probably only outside for 15 minutes – the elder was coming home from school and I needed to get back. When I unlocked the door, panting, and stretched in my living room, sweat stung my eyes as it poured down my face.

So: did it work? Yes, it did. It feels like I took myself and quite sternly and severely gave myself a good shake. And afterwards, everything, all the cells and feelings and gunk, to use the technical term, had been sort of re-distributed. I didn’t shake anything off; rather, I shook everything up, in the manner of a snow globe, or, I suppose, a well-mixed vesper.

Like a vesper, it’s only a temporary fix; but it’ll do for now.



[1] N.B. Wikipedia tells me that anatids are generally “monogamous breeders” whereas leporids are “typically polygynandrous.” IS THIS THE KEY TO ALL THAT AILS ME???



Day 129: vespers

Vespers, Vespas.

Ester’s, Aestus.

In my accent, each member of this pair is pronounced identically; to my ear, the four words rhyme perfectly.

It’s a mystical correspondence, if ever there was one.

A beloved colleague bought me my first vesper at a bar in Santa Monica called Ester’s a couple of months ago. When she told me that it was a drink devised by Ian Fleming and named for the character of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, I was immediately intrigued and, also, surprised that I’d never heard of it.

I read a lot of Ian Fleming as a teenager; I also adored the David Niven / Peter Sellars / Woody Allen Casino Royale when I was a teenager; in that exuberantly silly Bond parody, Ursula Andress vamps it up as Vesper Lynd – but I don’t believe that there is any mention of the cocktail. In the 2006 version, Eva Green plays Vesper Lynd with stunning elegance. That version of Casino Royale features the cocktail prominently, but I’d forgotten all about it.

I always loved both the character and, especially, the name “Vesper,” which, with its echo of both viper and whisper, perfectly captures Ms. Lynd’s ability to so gently yet devastatingly get under 007’s skin.

Obviously, then, I was smitten with the vesper before I even had the chance to put the glass to my lips.

While I was nursing my first vesper at Ester’s, my colleague mentioned to me that there was one other bar in Santa Monica that had a vesper on the menu: Aestus.

I’d been to Aestus, but I’d never ordered their vesper. We decided there and then that we must make a pilgrimage to Aestus together to compare vespers.

Cut to today. I text my colleague, “we must plan a time for our vespas!” only realizing later when she sends out an email with the subject line: vespers, that I had confused the cocktail with the Italian motorcycle. My colleague ventured that it was the James Bond association that had triggered my confusion. That seemed right: there really ought to be a chase scene in a Bond film through Rome with 007 on a vespa, oughtn’t there? In my mind I have totally seen this sequence (I can just see the girl on the back of the vespa and the upset fruit cart that they surely crash into, leaving an irate Italian fruit seller in their wake). And yet, I’m not sure that there is such a chase scene in the Bond oeuvre. (Let me know if you can think of one …)

The plot to drink vespers at Aestus was hatched. And for some reason the very long thread of emails with the subject line: vespers, and the lengthy discussion of just which evening would suit, amused me because it brought to mind the idea that we might easily be nuns in The Sound of Music making plans to attend Vespers.

We are told in the novel of Casino Royale that Vesper Lynd is named for the Latin for evening – so the name of the cocktail and the religious service is, in fact, the same word.

That led me to think: the cocktail hour is, is it not, a kind of secular evening prayer? With that in mind, I hereby move that the “cocktail hour” be renamed, simply, “Vespers,” with “see you at Vespers” synonymous with, “see you at happy hour.”

After much to-ing and fro-ing, our plan for vespers at Aestus was finally made. But, alas! Perfidious fate intervened. Aestus, befitting its Latin name (passion, agitation, seething) had, doubtless in some fit of fury, elected to close this very Sunday, i.e. tomorrow, dear readers – close, that is, forever!

I very much regret to say that I shan’t be able to visit Aestus before Sunday. It feels grossly unfair that I will be denied the chance to compare Aestus’ vespers with Ester’s. More selflessly, it seems extremely thoughtless of Aestus to close its doors mere weeks before both KJ Rabbit and Dr. Lake are due to grace Santa Monica with their presence.

But: so be it. Aestus may close its doors forever this Sunday, but I will commemorate its vespers (undrunk as they are: tasted cocktails are sweet, but those untasted are sweeter, etc.) in my evensong chant that I think of as a blasphemous hybrid of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and Psalm 51, and which I shall l recite devotedly evermore:

Vespers, Vespas, Ester’s, Aestus;

Oh, Lord, open thou our lips;

And our mouths shall sing thy praises,

In between our grateful sips.