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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Tuesday
Oct162012

In Which We Leave It In The Church

photo by Nicholas Pippins

Scenes From A New Marriage

by NATALIE ELLIOTT

Two months after your wedding, you move to Bergamo. It was part of the plan all along — your husband is becoming a Montessori teacher, and over the next ten months, will be taking what is largely considered the most demanding course for certification. At the orientation reception, at the behest of the directress, the spouses in attendance stand up and introduce themselves. A bulky Finnish man in a blazer pledges his intention to take care of his two daughters while his wife studies, and everyone coos in warm appreciation. The last in line, you demure, unnoticed. A moment later, the directress, who is a ferocious, dazzling British lady, wants to know why you didn’t, asking in front of everyone. Flushing, you gasp for a word. “Because I chickened out,” is all you can manage, eyes downcast.

Your wedding was a triumph but your marriage is not. A hasty, family-only ceremony that was planned and perfectly executed within two weeks. You both trembled before the other, languid sweat-droplets mingling with tears in the Texas heat, reading vows penned in the most humiliating privacy. Your parents, who had never met, got along graciously. Over champagne and tequila shots, everyone in attendance said it was the most moving ceremony they had ever witnessed.

Part of the understanding is that you would play housewife. “This course is so challenging,” all of your husband’s mentors say, “you really just need to be there for support.”  You nod, grinning blandly, groping for a misplaced wineglass. “Well, he did that for me, when I was at the magazine,” you assure them. They raise an eyebrow, “But this will be different.”

Neither of you speak Italian. You feel primed for the adventure, but when you arrive, everything is much harder than imagined. Internet service is bafflingly elusive. It’s a small town, so there are no Anglophones. The school arranges for you to look at some apartments. You want the first one, but your husband takes the second one. Your landlord, who lives across the hall, shares the last name of the building. His aunt, a contessa, shares one wall of your flat. It’s the kitchen wall that has a door in it with a taped-over peephole. This is where you do all of your fighting.

You’re a writer, so you’re prepared for the solitude. A friend suggests you make a reading list, maybe of classics that you’ve never gotten to — like someone might do for grad-school comps. You scrawl in your planner a new “assignment” on the Monday of each week. You sketch ideas for essays. Your favorite editor has left the magazine where you worked, so you write to him in brief, plaintive e-mails containing several exclamation points. He writes back amicably with advice, even though he doesn’t have to anymore.

photo by Nicholas Pippins

Every day you wake up too late. Your anxious sleeping issues return. Your husband buys you melatonin, lets you get out of bed at four a.m. to check your -email in the pitch-black kitchen. Your eyeballs stick in their sockets. Your husband leaves the house at quarter to eight, and you sleep until nine-thirty, ten-thirty, sometimes eleven. The bells from the church across the street gong you awake. They are echoed by another church around the corner.

At first, you would wake up and read, but now you rise so late you immediately have to make the bed. If it’s close to eleven, you have to start lunch, because your husband will be home anywhere between twelve-fifteen and twelve-thirty to eat. Usually he has to go back to school by one or one-thirty. You shuffle around in pajamas, slurping the rest of his cold coffee. Sometimes you can connect to the internet and check your e-mail. You begin cooking.

You get a job nannying for your husband’s classmate, a single mother from New Zealand. Her daughter is five, named for a Raymond Chandler character, and dresses like a typical cool Montessori child — wearing no less than nine articles of clothing at once, polka dots and plaid dresses and garlands of flowers in her hair. Work is always good for you, since you were raised culturally Protestant — the kind that wants money and to live a life of suffering that can only be alleviated by passionate toil.

The job forces you to get dressed and leave the house. The chief difference between Italian women and American women is that Italian women dress flatteringly before they go out in public. Even their sweatpants are astonishingly tailored and sported with a kind of casual aplomb. You like this, but even in Bergamo you lose the desire to dress before running to the supermarket. At your lowest point, you wear leggings and a sack dress with a blazer thrown over. You hide your sleep-damp hair under a knitted cap. Your socks don’t match. You feel feverish, pouring with sweat on a chilly morning.

The child likes to stop in churches and examine their iconography. Though areligious, she learned about Catholicism here in school. She points out Jesus and Jesus’s mother, even though she’s almost always wrong. Usually you’re looking at Saint John or Saint Peter. She asks for a coin to light a candle. You have to explain to her how a candle is like a prayer for someone you love or who needs help. She assures you that Mary isn’t real and can’t help people. “Yes,” you whisper, “but it’s a comforting thing, and that’s why people do it, to feel better and express love.” She looks at you slyly.

Of course, you buy a rosary on holiday in Bellagio. It’s wooden, so your husband can take turns wearing it. There’s a small picture of the deformed Saint Leopold in the middle. At the end, there’s a wooden cross adorned with one of those violently gaunt silver bodies of Christ. Sometimes when you bend over it slips out of your blouse and the child points and cries, “It’s Lowd Jeesas!” Next time you go into San Bernardino, you light a candle for your mind. Your thin zealotry is so obvious; you don’t even understand what you’re doing. You wonder if you’re channeling Emma Bovary recovering from Rodolphe.

Each night over dinner, you discuss with your husband plans for the next day’s meals. You try to have some kind of meat for him at least once a day. You lose the desire to visit the supermarket with such frequency and start making lentil soups and things he didn’t ask for, but will eat obligingly anyway. Unlike other women, cooking for your beloved doesn’t comfort you, it just gives you a mindless task to keep you from feeling sorry for yourself, a thing to organize your time.

photo by Nicholas Pippins

Sometimes he calls you “Wyf,” like in Chaucerian Middle English. He means it innocently, of course. In fact, you probably gave him the idea for the nickname. Still, the more he says it, the more you feel pushed into the glib and careless form, an archetype on mottled paper, squirming between two lines of text. Less and less a thing of flesh that he admires.

Your street is at least medieval, though the landlord claims it was built by Romans. It lurches upward toward the wall of the old city, a vast partition that was erected by the Venetians in anticipation of an attack from the Milan Grand Duchy that never happened. In these parts, the roads are dangerously narrow, and paved with broken bricks laid out like chevrons. Except for the call-boxes and stray sprinklings of neon, your neighborhood looks relatively unchanged since 1910. When you step out at night, the undulating paths and hidden corners make it feel oppressively cold, Dickensian. You almost immediately get sleepy and disoriented. The opposite of Stendhal syndrome, there should be a name for this condition.

You delight in your husband’s exuberance about his studies. You’ve never known him in a moment when he loved the thing he was doing so much. He leads the reading discussion groups. He excels; he stays late to chat with the directress. A classmate jokes that they’re plotting to run away together. You’re not jealous of his experience; you’re proud. The animal of your jealousy burrows much deeper than that.

Attempts to lick your wounds often land you at the late-night bar (as opposed to day-time, coffee-serving bar) one street over. You pass by a lit storefront where college-age activists sit in meetings planning a zine. The bar is called the Caffé degli Artisti, with signage in Papyrus font, and the clientele all seem to take the name too seriously. You have variously encountered a Kosovar photographer who used the word “nigger” affectionately and a leather-jacketed Romanian with a topknot who philosophized about the artificial manufacture of the human soul in the context of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. You loudly upbraid the Kosovar in accent-less, musical English, a strange dialect you developed years ago, solely to communicate poetically with non-native speakers.

photo by Nicolas Pippins

Old patterns resurface. You come home from this bar after drinking too much cheap scotch, and hotly, like a smarted child, accuse your husband of wanting a divorce. He grabs you by your shoulders to calm you, but you end up writhing in a sobbing and wretched ball on the kitchen floor. You turn on the fan in the hood over the stove in hopes that the contessa can’t hear your spluttering. The next morning, you sit in the gray silence while your husband sleeps it off, drinking coffee alone and paralyzed at the sound of any overheard conversation in Italian. You realize you need a hobby besides reading D.H. Lawrence and making lunch.

Your vocabulary expands to about fifty words, maybe five sentences. You don’t really like Italian. It’s all of the hard parts of Latin without the familiar cadence of Spanish. And you’re too willfully Protestant to appreciate Italian culture. You give yourself pedicures in the bidet. You despise the tawdry, oversweet pastries and tire of gelato. You save all of your vegetable scraps, onion skins, pancetta fat, and cheese rinds and boil them down for greasy broth. This makes you feel equal parts the noble pauper and the resourceful wife. You’d give anything to eat food made spicy with something other than black pepper, to drink dark beer, to return to your diet, not mainly comprised of wheat and sugar and dairy.

It’s frustrating, as a writer, to have no language. It’s tremendous, as a wife, to have a distracted husband. You oscillate between quietly resenting him and wanting him too much. You weep at missing him; your plodding attempts at inspiring affection are often met with his swift recoil. Nobody wants anyone that desperate, and you know better. You can’t seem to escape the torments you’ve established for yourself. The next movie you watch is The Earrings of Madame de..., you notice she leaves those precious baubles in the church at the end. Sometimes you stare too hard at certain men, examining them, wondering if you should also have an affair. But it’s impossible, even out of boredom. Loving someone to bits is basically terrifying for that person, and that’s what you always do.

Your husband finally decides you can’t hide in your reading and movie-watching anymore. After all, he was around for the week last spring you plowed through three volumes of Richard Yates. You were so despondent — thank god you weren’t married then; you probably wouldn’t have survived. On weekends, your husband sits on the foot of the bed while you read, like a house cat. You stubbornly ignore him, even though he thinks he’s withering inside. You two are constantly battling for the other’s attention. It’s never delivered at the right time.

This new marriage is somehow the greatest challenge to yourself you’ve ever accepted. It’s the arduous chemical breakdown of two blazing, demonstrative people who must dissolve, piece by piece, into the bigger entity that they have asked to become. You were never ready to be a housewife, even though the act of completely absorbing yourself with someone you love feels, in the abstract, like an attractive idea. The reality is as lonely as it has been in novels for two hundred years. But the thing itself, the institution, is a true and assenting agony you never expected, and you begin to understand that no authority you looked to as a guide has perhaps ever portrayed it accurately.

Natalie Elliott is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She writes the column Miss On Scene for The Oxford American. You can find her twitter here.

photo by Nicholas Pippins

"The Truth" - Story's End (mp3)

"Fading" - Story's End (mp3)

Monday
Oct152012

In Which Homeland Renews Our Interest In Living

The Fifth Column

by HELEN SCHUMACHER

Homeland
creator Gideon Raff

Both last night’s episode of Homeland and the previous week’s ended with the playback of Congressman Nicholas Brody’s black-and-white avowal to hold the United States, namely the Vice President and members of his national security team, responsible for the deaths of 82 children. Still, throughout both episodes, Brody’s earlier commitment to the terrorist cause, or as he calls it, “fulfilling my oath of defending the country from threats both foreign and domestic as a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps,” seems to have become flimsy motivation since rejoining his family in Virginia. Rather he seems a man lost.

I had a hard time believing in such naiveté from a grown man. I would have thought that if eight years of being held prisoner by an al-Qaeda terrorist cell hadn’t jaded a person, than six months in politics would have. And here Brody is, still failing to grasp the fact that once you join the dark side, there’s no turning back. The man is in some serious denial to think he’s not bound for the rest of his life to do the dirty work of both Abu Nazir and Washington D.C. Yet every time Roya Hammad begins a sentence with “Need I remind you...” or Vice President Walden whispers a favor in his ear, he’s incredulous. Did he really think he was going to be able to renege on a deal with the CIA’s most wanted? You’re the fifth column, Brody!


Brody was also foolish to ever believe there was honor in his cause — that before those drone strikes, the soul of America was lily-white (I’m pretty sure that purity was lost the moment we stepped onto this continent and claimed it as our own) — and for thinking that Nazir wasn’t aware from the start that his family would be likely collateral damage in his crusade against America.

I guess that’s always been one of Brody’s biggest flaws — an aw-shucks belief in a binary good and evil. He thinks he knows better than anyone else the difference between the two and that he’s the last moral man on the Eastern seaboard. Look at the disgust in his treatment of former military buddies Mike and Lauder. Sleeping with your friend’s wife and developing a taste for booze both seem forgivable in comparison to Nazir’s nefarious agenda. The veneer on Brody’s fantasy may be finally wearing thin. Apparently power washing the blood of another man out of your clothing at a carwash late at night will elicit some soul searching.

Brody is also still figuring out how to lie. His wife Jessica accuses that they roll off the tongue, but really they more sputter. He wasn’t able to come up with a plausible cover for his day attempting to take the tailor to a safe house that entire drive to Gettysburg and back. The only thing that makes me believe Brody was ever a marine is his ability to improvise in the field. The carjack he jerry-rigged out of firewood seems like the work of a man who has had to repair a Humvee in an Iraqi battlefield.


There are a couple other ways Brody is still adapting to life stateside. He’s still getting the knack of contemporary cell phone usage. Texting mayday messages to Beirut using a Blackberry presumably paid for with tax dollars seems like the kind of thing that could be uncovered by any citizen that knows how to file a FOIA request. Also, your smartphone is a tracking device and if anyone was ever to question his story about attending union meetings in Culpeper, you’re busted. This one seems the most obvious, but if your wife calls you while you are in the middle of chasing down a fellow subversive, let it go to voicemail lest she hear you break his neck.

While Brody is having second thoughts about what is driving his life, Carrie Mathison is as obsessive as ever. I love the way she can hardly contain her excitement each time Abu Nazir’s name is mentioned.

As Saul shared the footage recovered from Beirut at the close of last night’s show, Carrie got the validation for her work and intuition that she needed. Up until that point, there was plenty to keep audiences wondering if she wasn’t about to slip back into oblivion. Signs included sitting in the dark listening to jazz and promiscuous sex. All that was missing was the alliterative speech. (Really you could make a drinking game out of most behavior on the show — impulse control, suicide attempts, alcoholism — take a shot every time someone exhibits DSM criteria!)


Even though previews of upcoming episodes show Estes learning that Carrie was right about Brody, it is still not clear if she’s ever really going to be able to get her security clearance back. It’s hard to believe there are not going to be Agency eyebrows raising each time her chin starts quivering. I suggest she get a job in the private sector. Contractors do all of America’s dirty work these days anyway.

So far this season, Claire Danes’ acting has continued to be a highlight. I was skeptical when the show began, but watching her question her judgment on the rooftop of the Beirut safe house and her defeat after being kicked out of the debriefing back at Langley headquarters, her raw vulnerability still impresses. And while some viewers may be worried about the believability of CIA operations as they have played out these past few episodes (Skype?!?), it seems par for the course given the Agency's real-life tactical operation success rate. For the first half of its existence, the main approach of the CIA was to either throw money at any con man claiming Communist intel or parachuting untrained student insurgents behind enemy lines.

Helen Schumacher is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here and here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her earlier reviews of Homeland here. She last wrote in these pages about recess.

"Sanguine (Please Say A Word)" - Jessica Bailiff (mp3)

"Your Ghost Is Not Enough (Be With Me)" - Jessica Bailiff (mp3)

Saturday
Oct132012

In Which We Land On Our Feet Again

All Move

by ELIZABETH MANOS

Landing on American soil, she put a little flower near the end of a bookcase. A gust of wind knocked it behind, where it would lay forever, irrecoverable. The bright lights were out in the sky. She said, to no one in particular, practicing, "It's a relief to be home."

They came to check on her not long after that. Their shoes were shaped like miniature tugboats, she thought. Who could take such people seriously?

"We're just concerned that you get settled," the taller one said. "It's nothing more than that."

She said, "That's all right I suppose."

"It's a lovely flat. It really is," he told her. "You'll like it here." He juggled an orange between his fingertips. "You know, Sam was with him, in his detail, for many years. How many was it?"

"More than a few," the smaller, more tightly wound agent said. Suddenly she felt like telling the truth. She said, "I sense you feel I hold some responsibility."

"Oh no," the taller one said. "We all know what he was like."

She thought again of his warm manner. He'd showed her a picture of a dandelion once. It was an optical illusion. If you looked at it a certain way it was a lion.

The following Tuesday she received a package. There was food for about a month, a good half of it breakfast cereal. It was one she would probably have eaten by choice. The next day it was a lawn chair in a separate box. It cost fifty dollars to ship. In the final box were some of his possessions - perhaps they thought the items belonged to her.

But no. She made a list of the items in case someone asked for it.

a password-protected laptop,
an oversized pocket calculator,
a copy of Troilus and Cressida,
a ring with initials she did not recognize,
a broken pair of eyeglasses,
three cufflinks,
and his deoderant.

The smell of it was not entirely unmasculine, and it gave her a sensation so incomplete she had to sit down.

In the days that followed, she repudiated the thought of things, making an exception for breakfast cereal. Holding what he used to own filled her with a fury she never recalled feeling before. That gave way, predictably, to a more dull emotion, partly (but not entirely) a chilling obsolescence mixed with a heightened state of alarm, which she could not fully name. Surely there were some existential states not defined by medical science.

She ate all of the cereal, and when she was done, more came.

The boy's mother visited her the following week. She had known nothing of the woman, who was too old to travel abroad. He had never mentioned her beyond the fact that he had a mother. She offered the greying woman the possessions of her son, but the woman would only take coffee in a mug she had brought with her.

The boy's mother said, "He told me that he cared very much for you. Did you already know that?"

She nodded.

"When he was four he almost died of a food allergy."

"What was he allergic to?"

"Pesto, I think," the boy's mother said. "We never really knew for certain. It could have been anything. I should have brought you flowers. It looks like a house of mirrors in here."

"They give the idea of space," she offered in response, and tried not to look on the outside as she felt on the inside.

It was not so much the knowledge of having had something, because that itself was no more tangible than the lion in the drawing. It is possible that she herself was the lion, but there is again, no evidence of that in the literature of the period. Symbolism had not yet advanced this far, she thought. There were developments which would alter the fabric of the world.

Elizabeth Manos is a writer living in Maryland.

"Wild Race" - Dr. Dog (mp3)

"Exit for Sale" - Dr. Dog (mp3)

The new EP from Dr. Dog is entitled Wild Race.