Balthus, Poirot, Strudel, and Rakka

by Daniel A. Kaufman

A beautiful documentary about David Suchet’s remarkable portrayal of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for 25 years.

A thoughtful, articulate essay on Balthus that is exactly the sort of thing we need more of in today’s rush to “cleanse” history of its “problematic” artists and works.

The late Jerry Fodor on Kripke, Putnam, modality, and the arc of analytic philosophy.

Rakka, an intense, incredibly crafted science fiction short film.

The best easiest pasta recipe you’ve ever made. I was actually quite astonished at how good it came out.  Fresh basil is an absolute necessity though.

A blog commemorating Old Yorkville, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, when Manhattan still had bona fide ethnic neighborhoods.  It was full of Hungarian, Czech, and German restaurants, bakeries, and butcher shops.  I remember it well, growing up.

Left out, but mentioned in the comments is what was the greatest strudel shop ever, Mrs. Herbst…


and the incomparable Hungarian restaurant, Mocca, where you could get a three-course prix-fixe lunch for under 15$ as recently as the 1990’s.








13 responses to “Balthus, Poirot, Strudel, and Rakka”

  1. DW

    I’m a big fan of the Serious Eats team and I’ve adopted several of their techniques as well as making their recipes. Their Food Lab investigations are always interesting reading even for dishes I’d never make. My favorite red sauce is based on another of Kenji’s projects and recipe:

    This slow baked sauce is really excellent, but I have no desire to have the oven on all day long during the summer, so I won’t make it again till fall. In the meantime, I’ll certainly try Kenji’s cherry tomato sauce. It looks ideal for summer.

    Dan, I wanted to tell you that I enjoyed your recent Bloggingheads with Massimo. Those pieces you published here on EA had left me puzzled about your views on several issues, but after you talked it through with Massimo, a lot of that got cleared up. So it was a good discussion.

    You also mentioned awhile back that you were interested in doing a program at some point on the origins of abstraction in American and European art. I hope that is still in the works. I was thinking about that topic when I saw an exhibition last week at the de Young in San Francisco called “Cult of the Machine” that was focused on American Precisionism. I didn’t know that much about the movement so I thought it was a great show.

    It was also a stark contrast to a show I saw in 2015 at the de Young called “Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition” which reassembled some of the works on the centennial of that Exposition. The European pieces were the sort of early 20th Century works that I was expecting. But the American contributions seemed mostly very derivative of 1870’s Impressionism. Like these American artists didn’t see themselves as anything more than craftsmen making comfortable decorations for the homes of the well off and didn’t mind copying French styles from more than a generation earlier.

    What a change from that timidity to the boldness of the Precisionist who had the confidence to explore the strange new urban industrial landscapes with a new distinctive style of their own.

  2. I have seen that documentary on Suchet’s Poirot. Unlike many great performers in serial adaptations of existing fictional characters, he seems not to have worried whether he was getting “typecast.”

    The Poirot series, like many nostalgia-driven mystery shows of the past 30 years (Brett’s Holmes, Phillip Marlow, Nero Wolfe), tended to grow weaker as it went along. Nonetheless its version of “Murder on the Orient Express” far outshines either of the two bloated theatrical versions.

  3. I thought Poirot remained strong, through the end of the original ensemble –i.e. with Hastings, Japp, and Miss Lemon — which was a good 8 or 9 seasons.

    Also love the Peter Wimsey tv adaptations. Dorothy Sayers is my favorite, with Christie being a very close second.

  4. EJ: From your days in NY, do you remember Old Yorkville?

  5. Dan,
    no, we were on the West side, 93rd and Broadway, then 3rd and 14th, just up from the Bowery, and hung out in the Villages (East and Greenwich) and Soho. My biggest memories (given my interests at the time) are meeting Robert Quine in a record store and a brief talk about Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” compilations;; seeing Johnny Ramone walking down the street with the redhead that he seduced away from Joey (and looking mighty guilty about it)); an argument with David Byrne about his inclusion of horns on “Love Comes to a Building on Fire” ( he was right, of course); performances by Big Joe Williams, Lightning Hopkins, and Charlie Mingus; brushing against Lou Reed in the Subway (not as nasty as sometimes reported, but not very nice); Jimmy Breslin giving me money for a train and admonishing me “do this for someone else” which I have always tried to live up to; and of course many memories of CBGBs, some golden (Blondie, Talking Heads, Ramones, Television, all playing on the floor, rather than the stage, the Damned playing on that stage….); and some so horrifying that I’d rather not talk about them (I will only say that I am perfectly happy that Lester Bangs is dead, and it’s only unfortunate he can’t die twice).

    I also remember wonderful Pizza, and hotdogs, wonderful Indian food found in basements at the cheapest prices imaginable. The Greek restaurants (always called “American Restaurants”). Visits to the Met; readings by Ginsberg at St. Marks; and some of the worst off-Broadway plays ever written.

    Gosh h, it was a hell of a time.

  6. The Met is very close to what was then Old Yorkville. Upper East side. While my parents live on Long Island, they also keep an apartment up on 87th street and Park Ave, so I was on the upper east side in the late 70s through the 80s. Walk down to second avenue between 86 and 70 and you just had one German, Czech, and Hungarian restaurant after another. Not to mention amazing places like Mrs. Herbst’s strudel.

  7. I think that what young people need to understand is that the purpose of their early years is generating the memories they will have in their old age.

    They won’t, of course. It’s comical, actually. In our youth, we ought to prepare for our later age. But in our youth, given that we are young, all we can do is waste away our present – and suffer the consequences.

    Human life is a cruel joke. But it is a joke. Dan, I once quoted Montaigne (quoting Cicero), “to philosophize is to learn how to die,” and you wrote back that you didn’t know what that meant.

    Get to 63, with a prognosis of (at best) 5 years, and ask that question again.

    Our memories are all we have of us.

    And, as you rightly insist, our children.

    I have no children that I know of.

  8. I loved the Finney version of “Orient Express” when it first came out.

    The Suchet version had Poirot feeling morally compromised at the end, which is not in the book.

    That initially annoyed me, but I realise that it is more consistent with ‘Curtain’

  9. Dammit, the secret of my only claim to fame, my recipe for pasta sauce, is disclosed.

    For a slightly more subtle version, put in the garlic and the basil leaves straight from the beginning, a crudo. A good quality can of peeled tomatoes put through a food mill works fine too (and has, in a certain sense, a better consistency).

    I always leave it to the guest to add the Parmigiano. I have one of those beautifully designed Alessi cheese graters that needs a manual to use. It’s always fun if someone drops the cheese or the grater on the pasta.

    Re. Fodor: I find this “all possible worlds” thing one of the most bizarre ideas in philosophy.
    I think I can vaguely understand the meaning of the expression “all worlds in which water is H2O”.
    But “in all possible worlds water is H2O”?
    I haven’t got the foggiest what “all possible worlds” are, and even less what the word “water” means in those worlds.

    I know this is going to painful for a New Yorker, but the best strudel ever was made by Bloch in the city of Ghent in Belgium. The place is closed now, I think. Bloch was an Alsatian jew and a very grumpy character, but his strudel … (and his kugelhopf …) were second to none.

  10. Dan, just wanted to say sorry for my cryptic sob-story reply here. I had had a difficult week, and your question concerning my memories of NYC brought out a flood of memories, some of which were difficult to deal wit.

    I did mention my punk rock memories, because I know you have some interest in these; and that was the principle reason for my being in NYC. Which is why we didn’t get to the East side much, as it was to some extent like most other cities I’d been to.

    I never did get to Mrs. Herbst’s. In fact, there’s so much of the Metropolitan area I wish I had been old enough to search out and appreciate now.

  11. Rich Thompson

    Can absolutely vouch for the pasta recipe. It’s really wonderful, and yes, all about the basil.

  12. You actually made it?!

  13. Rich Thompson

    Yeah a year or so ago, and then several times after that. Someone else had recommended the recipe to me.