27 September 2007

Menus Plaisirs

A gal a day is enough for any man.

I’ve had the blues lately, and my friend Karen suggested that I borrow a page from Woody Allen, and make a list of the things that make my life worth living. I am willing to give it a try.

Hitherto, my patented, guaranteed method of cheering myself up was to sing love songs to myself. This method works for others, as well. Try it yourself sometime with an old show tune: “If Ever I Would Leave Me.” “We Could Make-Believe (I Loved Me).” “They Can’t Take Me Away from Me.” “The Street Where I Live”:
And, oh, the towering feeling
Just to know
Somehow I am near
The overpowering feeling
That any second I may suddenly appear.
People stop and stare.
They don’t bother me,
For there’s no one else on earth
That I would rather be.
Let the time go by!
I don’t care if I
Can be me
On the street where I live.

The Beatles provide lots of good material, too: “I Want to Hold My Hand.” “I Saw Me Standing There.” “Something in the way I move / Moves me like no other lover.”

You get the idea. But now back to my list. What indeed are the things that make life worthwhile?

Just give me a minute to think, will ya?

Family and friends, yes, but especially those in either camp who manage to become both friend and family to me.

My favorite teachers, who were neither friends nor family, yet more.

My godchildren. A more astonishing collection of people never existed. They exalt me. And I never had to change a single diaper.

Justice, liberty, reason, and compassion.

Opera, that mortal miracle in which all the arts come together to tell a story.

Opera singers, listening to them and knowing them. They aren’t like other people. And that’s a good thing.

Dead French pop singers: Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Barbara, Georges Brassens. Nobody among the living French moves me as they do, hélas.

Broadway show tunes, because they make me think of my childhood.

Jazz singers, because they take those same Broadway show tunes and pop standards, and make me rethink everything I ever took for granted.

Teresa Stratas, who just by existing makes me rethink everything I ever took for granted.

Rock songs from the Sixties and Eighties, because they make me dance and recall a youth I never quite had.

Embarrassing boy bands (and, lately, Mika), because they make me dance and recall a youth I definitely never had.

Relics from the youth I did have: Julie Andrews, Bewitched, Star Trek, Beverly Sills, Disney movies. Okay, so I was a weird kid.

Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist paintings, medieval French architecture, and Greek sculpture. Plus Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya, and Turner.

Handsome men and beautiful women, who are God’s sculpture. But it’s helpful when He remembers to put in brains.

Smart, interesting actresses: Katharine Hepburn, Simone Signoret, Gena Rowlands, Billie Whitelaw, Geraldine McEwan, Miranda Richardson, Emma Thompson, Anne Bancroft, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, Isabelle Huppert. Meryl Streep and Catherine Frot, when they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Crafty character actors: Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton, Burgess Meredith, Jack Gilford, Steve Buscemi, Jean Rochefort. Preston Sturges’ whole repertory company of oddballs and screwballs, especially the Weenie King. Daniel Auteuil, Fabrice Luchini, Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart are character actors even when they’re leading men.

French movies, because I understand them.

French novels, because they understand me.

Mark Twain and Henry James, because they understand America, and Europe, and most of everything else.

The Marx Brothers and Monty Python, because they make me laugh no matter how many times I hear the jokes.

Television shows that create a world I can inhabit: Upstairs, Downstairs, thirtysomething, The Simpsons.

Theater, especially Shakespeare and Molière who connect me to something bigger than myself.

People who tell me stories.

People who feed me well.

People who have sex with me.

People who should have sex with me.

People who put up with me, and people who put me up.

People who believe in Something, yet who tolerate the fact that I don’t.

Knowing the right answer.

Knowing any answer.

Traveling — not getting there, which is a hassle, but being in a different place, especially if it’s old and beautiful and strange. Not being a tourist, but exploring on my own, and getting a sense of what the people are really like.

Riding through the French countryside and seeing the fields awash with bright yellow canola blossoms in spring, and sunflowers in summer.

The red tile roofs of the houses on the hilltops of Tuscany.

Cuisine française and cucina italiana.

Wine, especially Champagne.

Going to the market. Cooking, when I get it right, but not when I have to wash dishes or clean the oven.

Seeing results when I work out.

Other people seeing results when I work out.

The “Marseillaise,” which makes me cry, mainly because of that scene in Casablanca.

The English language.

The French language, because it feels so good when I manage to say something not just correctly but well.

The Italian language, because it feels so good, even when I say it badly.

Punning in French.

The ocean, when it’s warm. The moon, when it’s full. Summer, and its freedom. Autumn, and the places that have one.

The way Denise Boutrit put her hand to my face the last time I visited her, and didn’t want to let go of my hand when it was time for me to leave.

The scent of violet water my grandmother used to wear.

Bessie’s fried chicken and Tisha’s squash.

Going to Sunday lunch at a Mexican restaurant with my parents and giving my dad the lemon slice from my iced tea.

Being remembered when I go back to a restaurant I like.

Beating Mark Dennis to the check.

Napping, and falling asleep over a book at bedtime.

Writing, and reading over what I’ve written and thinking, “Yep. That’s it.”

Writing, and seeing what I’ve written in print. Or on a blog.