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Valentine’s Day, 2017

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Feb 07, 2017
Category: Beyond Classification

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In my novel, Married Sex: A Love Story, there’s a separation. As it’s getting resolved, the wife sends her husband an email with a Joni Mitchell lyric from Blue.

Blue, here is a shell for you
Inside you’ll hear a sigh
A foggy lullaby
There is your song from me.

It prompts this reaction:

“A foggy lullaby” — it wasn’t late, but I wanted to go to bed, to imagine Blair’s good night kiss, the day’s last declaration of love, her breath warm in my ear. In the dark, I’d remember all the nights behind us and hope for the ones ahead. I’d recall cool sheets in summer, hiding under the duvet in winter, my hand massaging her shoulders as foreplay, her hair streaming across the pillow as she slept.

Love takes many forms. For some, the dream gift is an autographed Tom Brady jersey (to buy it from Amazon for $999, click here. For an unsigned jersey at $119, click here.)

This year, I imagine many will be making a statement in honor or memory of loved ones. Some obvious suggestions: Planned Parenthood and The Center for Reproductive Rights and the NAACP and the ACLU and The Southern Poverty Law Center, Moms Clean Air Force, Human Rights Watch, The Innocence Project, and Reach Out and Read and a food bank, any food bank.

The best gifts, for me, are beyond price. A hand-written note. A meal you cook. A favor. A gesture. Something that says gratitude, caring, and the ultimate: recognition and acceptance. Like the last lines of “i carry your heart with me” by e.e. cummings.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

In that tender spirit (and in some less tender spirits)….

LOVE STORIES

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story takes the idea of postponed romance to an astonishing extreme. As the novel begins, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, now 81, has been married to Fermina Daza, 72, for more than half a century. He tries to rescue a bird in a tree, falls and dies. His wife feels “an irresistible longing to begin life with him all over again so they could say what they had left unsaid and do everything right that they had done badly.” Among the mourners is Florentino Ariza. He is the last to leave. And he has a shocking announcement — an announcement he has waited half a century to make: “a vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”

A Sport and a Pastime
“She cannot be satisfied. She will not let him alone. She removes her clothes and calls to him. Once that night and twice the next morning he complies and in the faint darkness between lies awake, the lights of Dijon faint on the ceiling, the boulevards still. It’s a bitter night. Flats of rain are passing. Heavy drops ring in the gutter outside their window, but they are in a dovecote, they are pigeons between the eaves. The rain is falling all around them. Deep in feathers, breathing softly, they lie.”

FOR THE ESTHETE

Quattro Parole Italian Notecards and Envelopes
Louise Fili’s box of a dozen note cards and envelopes that are just as distinctive. “Quattro Parole Italiane” is the idea. Four Italian words: ciao (hello), auguri (greetings), grazie (thank you) and prego (with pleasure). Why are these cards so striking? It’s not the words, which are refreshingly ordinary, but the typography, which is dramatic and different and, at the same time, nostalgic and familiar, taking you back to visits to small towns in Italy.

Bryan Ferry
Lust and longing are so intense here they redline into love. Obsessive love. Love on two bottles of Krug and maybe a puff of Mendocino’s best. Love that jets you out of this vale of struggle and anxiety into elegance and glory.


Levels of the Game
John McPhee’s account of a single match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner in the semifinals at the U.S. Open in Forest Hills may be the best book ever written about tennis. It certainly has drama. Ashe was not just the Jackie Robinson of tennis; when he emerged in the 1960s, he was the only African-American player of note in America. Graebner was a dentist’s son and a ringer for Clark Kent. In 146 pages, you’re inside the game and inside the player’s heads at the same time as you get a revelatory portrait of a sport — and a nation — in transition.

Miles Davis: Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud
The soundtrack to Louis Malle’s first feature film. Miles: “Since it was about a murder and was supposed to be a suspense movie, I used this old, gloomy, dark building where I had the musicians play. I thought it would give the music atmosphere, and it did.”

NASTY WOMEN

Georgia: A novel of Georgia O’Keeffe
O’Keeffe was the most famous female American artist of the last century — and the most written about. This is a fresh take: It starts with the importance of a good story and a killer bod. To a degree that may shock purists, this is a book about Branding and Marketing, the first two commandments of success in the art world and our world. And then it’s a book about a talent so fierce it crushed pretty much everything in its path — a rare story of artistic triumph.

Top of the Lake
In 1993, Jane Campion got an Academy Award nomination as Best Director — only one other woman has ever been nominated — for “The Piano.” (She won for Best Original Screenplay.) At Cannes that year, she was the first female filmmaker to receive the Palme D’Or. This series is set around Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island. Some of “The Lord of the Rings” was filmed here; this area’s all about grand, mythic scale. Set against stunning and wild nature, we find the fictional town of Lake Top. Here we find a women’s commune. A female cop. A missing girl. And, of course, men…

LUXURY

Great Houses, Modern Aristocrats
When we tell our family stories, most of us can’t go back more than three or four generations before we’re talking about an ancestor who crossed an ocean. Not so the owners of England’s legendary “piles.” Just consider the cover of “Great Houses Modern Aristocrats” — the young couple on the cover are Nicholas and Dinah Ashley-Cooper (and son Anthony), the 12th Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury, seated in the library of St. Giles House in Dorset, under a portrait of the first Earl. Great photos, but what kept me going through house after house — there are 16 — are the stories of the owners.

Diptyque candles
Janis Joplin said, “What you settle for is who you are.” Her implicit point: Don’t settle.The Diptyque candle, though not cheap, lasts much longer than most other candles — between 50-60 hours. Once it fills a room with scent, you can blow it out and the room will continue to be gently perfumed for hours. And when it’s burned out, you’ve got a vase for short-stemmed flowers.

HOT STUFF

Nam Prik Asian Chili Hot Sauce
The next Sriracha? Erick Yi left banking when he invented Nam Prik, an Asian chili sauce that was both spicy and sweet. He launched it at farmer’s markets in LA, and was soon as popular as Adele. Deservedly: Nam Prik (pronounced: nam-preek, literally “fluid chili”) isn’t like all the other smartly-labeled sauces you see on grocery shelves.

Etta James
She lived hard, loved and lost and paid the price for everything she got and a lot she didn’t.

Otis Redding
Otis Redding was one of those Olympians who are fantastically good at everything. He could shout. He could dance. He had a straightforward, honest, high-testosterone presence — he was, as one of his hits had it, a “love man.” Watching footage of him performing is a revelation. The Rolling Stones drove teenagers into spasms; Otis’s female fans were adult. They’d had sex, known love, experienced heartbreak. Who wrote the book of love? This man.

PRACTICAL BUT STYLISH

The Filson Briefcase
In a sea of products that look good but quickly fall apart, the Filson briefcase is so well designed and so well made it could be the last briefcase you’ll ever buy. Expensive, but a bargain. You’ll be thanked every day for decades.

Timex Easy Reader Watch
So you didn’t go to Jared. Esquire Magazine: “The simple retro face looks cooler than some watches that cost six times as much.” Spend what you save on something excessive.

Palomino Blackwing Pencils
John Steinbeck wrote with a Blackwing. Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Quincy Jones used Blackwings for scores. Chuck Jones drew cartoon figures with Blackwings. Because the graphite stayed sharp, but not so sharp it ripped paper. Because the Blackwing delivered a soft, smooth writing experience. Because it fit comfortably in your hand, as if the pencil knew what you wanted to say or draw.

GUYS

Johnny U
Taking nothing away from Tom Brady, but on December 28, 1958, when the Colts played the New York Giants, a national television audience discovered what Baltimore fans already knew. The game was a nailbiter that went into overtime. “John told us, ‘We’re going to go right down the field and score,’” Alan Ameche recalled. “No doubt about it. You could feel the confidence.” And they did. When it was over, an unemotional Unitas turned and walked off the field. That was, it is said, the game that put professional football on the map, the game that made celebrities out of quarterbacks.

Travel Humidor
This small (9 x 6 x 4.5 inches), light (1 pound), inexpensive ($19.95) travel humidor holds 10 to 12 cigars and keeps them in smoke-me-now condition. It’s well-made: real wood, with strong magnets built into the hinges to keep the lid tightly closed. For infrequent cigar smokers, this could easily take the place of a larger, more expensive humidor.

Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans
In the early 1960s, Henry Ford II decided to build Ford’s market outside of the United States by kicking ass in European competition. His idea: buy Ferrari. And he had a deal — almost. When it fell apart, he had a rival and a mission: beat Ferrari at Le Mans. The odds against Ford were ridiculous. An American-built car had not won a major European race since 1921. Ford would have to build the most technologically advanced racing car in history…

The Tender Bar
J.R. Moehringer’s father, a noted disc jockey, was out of his mother’s life before J.R. was old enough to remember that he was ever around. His mother, suddenly poor, moves into her family’s house in Manhasset, Long Island. In that house: J.R.’s mother, grandmother, aunt and five female cousins. Also in that house: Uncle Charlie, a bartender at Dickens, a Manhasset establishment beloved by locals who appreciate liquor in quantity— "every third drink free" — and strong opinions, served with a twist. A boy needs a father. If he doesn’t have one, he needs some kind of man in his life. Or men, because it can indeed take a village.

Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea
Jaimal Yogis dives into Buddhism. The reading. Sitting. The monastery life, at Thich Nhat Hanh’s retreat in France, in India, in California. He lives simply; drugs and alcohol fall away. He gains some wisdom. He becomes artful as a surfer. The joy of his book is its lightness. There are great surfer stories and great Buddhism stories. There are false starts and unexpected breakthroughs, charm and wit to spare

IRONIC

Anne Taintor Coffee Mugs & More
When the Small Person buys a t-shirt, it is the quintessential expression of 14-year-old attitude (“National Sarcasm Society: Like we need your support.”) So I wasn’t surprised when she gave her mother an inexpensive coffee mug with art of a l940s mom holding a perfect toddler and the words “Parenting… when messing up your own life isn’t enough” or, for my birthday, gave me a mug with “World’s Best Grandpa” on it. These ceramic gloss finish coffee mug are the handiwork of Anne Taintor, who combines Retro advertising images with snarky captions. Choose from 17 mugs, including “If It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Can I Go Home Now,” “Why Yes, I Am Overqualified,” “The Paleo Diet…. Isn’t That What Killed The Dinosaurs,” and “Martinis…they’re not just for breakfast anymore.”

Mitch Hedberg
“An escalator can never break — it can only become stairs.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend. I just know a girl who would be really mad if she heard me say that.”
“When someone hands you a flyer, it’s like he’s saying, ‘Here, you throw this away.’”
“I order a club sandwich all the time, but I’m not even a member.”
“When I was a kid, I lay in my twin bed, wondering where my brother was.”
“Do you think that when a guy got the idea for a bong that a black light popped on?”
“Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read.”
“I have no problem not listening to The Temptations.”
“I’m sick of following my dreams. I’m just gonna ask where they’re going and hook up with them later.”

Maybe You Touched Your Genitals Liquid Hand Soap
What do you do in a casino when you don’t gamble and you’re with a gang of kids? You go to the gift shop. At Caesars Palace I found liquid hand soaps and sanitizers — especially “Maybe You Touched Your Genitals” Hand Soap, which features an attractive woman in a crisp white blouse and a neighborly smile shaking hands with a man in a suit.

BODY AND BRAIN

Mental Clarity
I take it. I feel less of the hysteria and desperation that used to afflict me when I didn’t get my way. And the main thing: The idea factory is working overtime. Does it really work? Even if it’s only a placebo, yes. And when the tablets are gone, the container’s cool.

Kneipp Bath Oils
In 1886, Sebastian Kneipp wrote a bestselling book, “My Water Cure.” Pproducts followed. Pure, of course. Bath oils, of course, used in water at exact temperatures — Kneipp was so German — in baths that lasted no more than 20 minutes. Each has a specific purpose, though we, being Americans, choose whatever colored bottle appeals that day. Eucalyptus bath oil “relieves physical fatigue.” Juniper bath oil “counters stress.” Lavender oil “soothes the skin and restores calm.”

Proraso Shaving Cream
Proraso was formulated by a venerable company in Florence in 1948. More often than not, the man who used it dispensed a small amount in a bowl and applied it with a brush. That’s no longer common, but don’t let the absence of a shaving ritual stop you. The ingredients remain unchanged. All natural, of course.