Flicking through Penelope Brandage’s recent biography of Robert Frost (‘Frost on the Lobelias’, Random House, 2017) was surprised to discover the seminal poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, previously considered ‘finished’ in 1922 (and published in the volume New Hampshire, 1923), was actually the product of an earlier draft composed during a visit to Woodchuck Lodge, the summer residence of John Burroughs, shortly before the conservationist’s death in 1921.
Exhaustive research by Ms Brandage within the archives of the Burroughs Foundation has turned up a previously unrecorded letter from the poet to Burroughs’ young wife Clara Barrus, composed shortly after his stay at their Catskills home. Whilst primarily focussed on a number of rambles undertaken together in the hills above Roxbury, during which Robert and Clara ‘delved headwaters of the Beaverkill, through slavering crack and crevice furred’, the latter portion reflects upon the arduous journey Frost was compelled to endure following his weekend sojourn; to New York City, and a reading by the Dymock Poets (Ezra Pound, Edward Thomas, T.E. Hulme) at The Town Hall on 43rd Street. The deflating effect of several hours on the road stands in stark contrast to the poet’s eulogizing of his hostess’s ‘dumpling bosom, fresh briar-baked’, and the letter finishes with a short poem in postscript, clearly a draft of Frost’s later masterpiece. Once again, it seems, the life of the Catskill Mountains reveals itself to be the wellspring of creative genius.
Whose Subaru is this, we sing,
Parked up here by the Burger King?
He will not see us stopping here
For Whopper Meal and Poland Spring.
We’re driving with some prancing queer
From Williamsburg or somewhere near
Who didn’t want to take the bus
And drank our farmhouse dry of beer.
The dog found something in the grass
Which now is belching from its ass.
The kids are bored to fucking tears
Of Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass.
The car smells like a cheese fondue.
But I have loads of shit to do,
And miles to go before I poo,
And miles to go before I poo.
The new Table on Ten Autogrillt-shirt. Designed by Mark Ohe, made by Val Dudley. On pre-washed Hanes ComfortSoft in four sizes. $20 while stocks last.
On December 31st 2016 the staff of Table on Ten were cryogenically frozen in hermetically sealed pods and shot into outer space. By bending the time-space continuum, each was afforded a full-life on Planet H2T in the phlebotic region of the Crab Nebula, where society is organized according to tenets culled from the lyrics of Barry Manilow. Laura learned to sauté protoplotids in the ink of the flabberjubulus, while Inez had triplets with a blob of slime before inaugurating the Disco revival and taking holy orders. She walked out, tentacle in hand.
All in the space of two months.
But we’re back. Two gallons of green semi-gloss, a spanking new doorknob, some postcards from the kids (Qblib is teaching Slime as a Foreign Language on Gammaglobulin4) and we’re in the kitchen ready to go.
Right now, that is. Even as we write. Hours are as usual. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday daytimes. Pizza Night Friday and Saturday. And every Friday and Saturday ’til the sun peels the paint and the seat covers fade and the water moccasin dies.
Thursday – 9 to 3 Friday – 9 to 3 then 6 to 9 Saturday 4th March – 9 to 3 then 6 to 9 Sunday 5th March – 9 to 3
Come on down. The price is right. What’s your name?
It’s a Canterbury Tales thing. A whole mess of pilgrims shuffling round Europe, telling bawdy stories, looking to score fish and chips. There goes the Friar across the South Downs, seeking warm, flat beer, beguiling the Wife of Bath with the burr of his cassock. The Nun’s Priest’s sucking Spritz al bitter through a straw with the Summoner behind the bike sheds. Each new day sees them darkening the door of the Pardoner.
January 2016. Team Table is burrowing into the buttocks of the Olde World, plotting a course through England, Holland and Italy. A map of their meanderings recalls Caesar’s march through Gaul, with little loops over Schipol and Heathrow due to congestion. Along the way our Pilgrims are granted refuge, variously, in 16th century Englishtimber-framed houses, a Renaissance villa outside of Padua, a narrowboat on the Regents Canal, couple of ground floor apartments in Venice and Amsterdam and a little house in Culemborg. They play Pooh Sticks in the Hundred Acre Wood, climb Monte Pirio with Friulian wine and four glasses, commune with Petrarch’s mummified cat, pick hazelnuts, acorns and bayleaves, spill Campari in the canal at San Trovaso, find an open pharmacy at 7.30 on a Sunday evening in Abano Terme.
But lest anyone mistake this for recreation – fleeing the bony grip of Delaware County winter to swan around the Euganean Hills like Helena Bonham Carter heaving in a bodice – think again. Hard labour. Oscar Wilde breaking rocks in Reading Gaol. There was difficult food to be digested, strenuous parlor games; and relics to be sought out and brought home.
To that end:
ARQUA PETRARCA OVEN MITT. The very item used by the Father of Humanism to wrangle lasagne al forno out of his toaster in 1369. Folklore has Petrarch spending long afternoons in the kitchen; recipe testing, weaving wreaths from olive branches, trying to rhyme loggia with ambrosia. These mitts would have spared him burned fingers; an important issue when you’ve got another 100 sonnets to compose to the object of your unconsummated love. Wear them and you too may feel ‘Thus possed to and fro / Al sterelees withinne a boot …’
$15 per mitt
BIALETTI DAMA STOVETOP ESPRESSO MAKER (from Venice). Designed by Pino Spagnolo, who brought soft curves to everything from speedboats to lemon squeezers. Locals claim it’s the best. Still makes coffee with ‘inimitable aroma and taste’, but adds a frisson of moda Italiana. Etched with the timeless phrase Omino con I Baffi which has something to do with mustaches, we’re not sure what.
SÄKERHETS TANDSTICKOR – forgive the absence of umlauts: your favorite Swedish matches are back in the big size only. If you want to burn shit, these are for you.
SANT’ ANTONIO CANDLES from Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padova. Strictly limited edition these, due to baggage allowance. Anthony of Padova is the Patron Saint of Lost Things. So if you have issues with car keys, sunglasses or spouses, you might want to grab one. The candles come from a spot close to the reliquary, where the desiccated tongue of St Anthony forever sits waiting to lick something. The Basilica is one of eight shrines recognized by the Holy See. By purchasing a candle you can knock it off the list, leaving only seven steps to Rapture
Managing July 4th weekend in this corner of Delaware County is like gathering powder on paper. Make a fold, lift both sides, everything shuffles to the crease. Humanity descends upon these blue remembered hills like the Wargs of Bolg. Everybody’s here. Elvis is spotted at Russell’s sharing Bea’s famous breakfast sandwich with Amelia Earhart and Glenn Miller.
Past experience suggests there’s no point greeting swarms of beaming locusts with a baguette and wheel of tilsit for sword and shield. These tiny urban Visigoths have teeth honed to rapiers on hand-massaged cavolo nero; a single, wanly-smiling couple can strip a tree in the time it takes to whisper ‘farm-to-table’.
In an effort not to see the Old Lady nibbled to her wishbone before Monday morning, strategists at Table on Ten have devised a cunning plan. For the greater part of the weekend La Stupenda will don a Commedia dell’Arte cloak and mask and operate under the mantle of an Italian snack bar.
Loose lips sink ships. So between you and me:
• Friday 3rd – 9 till 3, normal daytime menu. Playing possom, nothing up our sleeve.
• Friday 3rd – 6 till 9, Pizza Night.
• Saturday 4th, 9 till 11, normal breakfast menu.
• Saturday 4th at 11. Table on Ten disappears into the bathroom with an overstuffed PriceChopper bag and comes out as Bàcaro su Dieci. She keeps up this improbable pantomime until 3 pm, before slamming the doors, jumping into a lamé muumuu and barreling out the door like Joan Sutherland quivering like a trifle for fireworks.
• NO PIZZA NIGHT SATURDAY 4th.
• Sunday 5th, she repeats Saturday’s derring-do, with a faint whiff of cordite and some scorchmarks at the seams. There will be special appearances by OSMOS Magazine and Ugly Duckling Presse (more on this to follow).
Il Bacaro – simple unpretentious tavern serving small bites of food (cicchetti), wine (ombre) and the aperitivo Spritz con Cappelletti. At Su Dieci, varieties of crostini, panini piccoli and insalate will be founded on local ingredients with hints of Table on Ten’s usual menu: chicken liver mouse, ricotta, broccoli rabe, bacon, local mushrooms, spring onions, parsley, lacinato kale, prosciutto, greens, pork rillette, mozzarella, red rice, chicories, nettle pesto, our own focaccia, this, that, the other.
Small glasses of red, white and spritz will be sloshed over the counter by a perspiring human octopus. Il Polpo su Dieci.
Simple espresso drinks, sodas and water.
Customers will be encouraged to move around the trattoria and adjoining Campo Santa Inéz with plates full of small bites, peppering the air with near-cheek kisses and florid hand gestures. Convivial conversation, linen jackets, Panama hats and suppurating white pan-stick are all encouraged. When you’ve talked Visconti, Puccini and those damn lazy Greeks through mouthfuls of marinated pink oyster mushrooms, come on inside and get some more.
Lucky, this point in time and space Is chosen as my working-place, Where the sexy airs of summer, The bathing hours and the bare arms, The leisured drives through a land of farms Are good to a newcomer.
The tale begins on the fifth floor of a pre-war building overlooking the Arno with a view of San Miniato al Monte and the steps of Giardino Bardini; the family home of Elisabetta, an actress in her unplaceable 60’s. The rambling apartment inherits the easy grace of a woman who cut her style-chops in the twilight years of Pasolini and Visconti: family photographs in mismatched frames (naked children the colour of hazelnuts and shirtless men who look like Marcello Mastroianni on boats off Stromboli), the 70’s record player, Bill Evans albums, dubious abstract nudes (hung crookedly). And the classic cookbook Il Talismano della Felicità, its pages tanned to parchment, open on the counter to some indecipherable flurry of pictureless Italiano: like the best textbook you ever saw.
In the republic of taste, property is theft; and this was one of those crystalline amalgams of poise, weight and beauty that can drive a person to burglary. But you can’t just run off with somebody’s book: that’d be rude, right? Also, it’s fucking huge. Plan B involved a quick sortie around the internet, a late-50’s edition languishing a few hundred feet away in a Santa Croce antiquarian bookshop. Bit of deft mousework and the deed was done: we’d plucked a magic bean from Elisabetta’s stalk to take home and bury in Bloomville’s flinty soil. With love and water it will germinate into La Dolce Vita on the Delaware.
Once home, Il Talismano succumbed to the fate of stuff that seems an absolute imperative when the amber light is refracting off the Duomo, but slightly less so when somebody locked the cat in the bedroom for four days and your tempurpedic smells like the triage at the Humane Society. It took a few days for our resident half-Italian/half-Scottish Ingrid Bergman – Paola Ambrosi de Magistris (try that on a half-litre of lambrusco) – to stumble upon an old letter whilst thumbing through the pages. On Air Mail vellum, yellowed with age, hand-typed on official Foreign Service letterhead, it’s a recipe from the book – Cinghiale in Agrodolce alla Romana – translated into English with personal annotations from the correspondent: substituting bacon for smoked ham, celery seed for celery.
Sweet and sour wild boar, Roman style. The writer – Mary Jernegan – signs off with a footnote: ‘this is a classic Italian recipe, from people who love to hunt and eat well … wish I were there to help cook and eat it!’. Seems the book was a gift from somebody connected to the US Embassy in Rome, probably around the time of publication (1957). The letter suggests a diplomatic blend of official and personal: wife to wife, maybe? Well … we don’t personally hunt (maybe spear the occasional mushroom) but plenty of good people here do. And we eat well. And while we don’t have wild boars snouting our forests (at least not of that spelling), we have plenty of local, barely domesticated pork. So why not celebrate the appearance of this wormhole to a different dimension; fulfill Mary Jernegan’s wish to help cook and eat the meal by making it, right here, right now, 4300 miles and how ever many years from where the impulse originated? Ride the space-time continuum, squeeze the universe into a ball.
But the question remains; who was Mary Jernegan, our guide to all things agrodolce?
In 1955, John Durnford Jernegan – a career US diplomat – was assigned the post of Minister-Counselor at the American Embassy in Rome, under Clare Boothe Luce (first ever US woman ambassador and author of The Women). Jernegan’s previous service included spells in Mexico, Tunisia and Spain (during the Spanish Civil War); but, most notably, he served in Iran during WWII, where he would have been present at the 1943 Tehran Conference attended by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. This meeting – the first ever between Stalin and Roosevelt – initiated tripartite commitment to simultaneous 1944 offensives against Nazi Germany (the Normandy landings) and forged the template for Soviet domination of post-war Eastern Europe; the satellite states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, East Germany. The Cold War and Berlin Wall. Thus Jernegan was quietly – repeatedly – present at meridian of world history. It was whilst serving in Iran that he met Mary Margaret Brownrigg, 11 years his junior, the future Mrs Mary Jernegan and author of our letter.
A brief glimpse into the lives of John and Mary Jernegan constitutes a peek behind the curtain of mid-century Graham Greene-style diplomacy. The balance of world power was undergoing seismic changes and these people were at the eye of the hurricane, struggling to retain discreet good manners and politesse against a background of chaos and blood-letting. Kingdoms were vanishing, dynasties crumbling, empires collapsing. The Middle East in particular was a shitstorm of lurid immolation: republican coups d’état in Egypt and Syria, civil war in Jordan and Lebanon, a CIA-backed coup in Iran. And then in 1958, a particularly grisly revolution in Iraq, involving the execution of the Royal Family and the Crown Prince’s mutilated body being dragged through the streets of Baghdad and strung up outside the Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister escaped dressed as a woman. This was the Theatre of Blood into which John and Mary Jernegan were inserted, first US Ambassadorial family to Abd al-Karim Qasim’s fledgling Republic of Iraq. The descriptions of crafts bazaars and people falling into the ponds at parties in the embassy gardens are in stark contrast to the harsh realities of history being enacted beyond the compound walls. The Jernegans remained in Baghdad until their expulsion in 1962, when the Kennedy Administration objected to Qasim claiming the Sheikhdom of Kuwait as de facto territory of Iraq – a gesture eerily similar to the one three decades later that precipitated the first Bush-era Iraq War. A US-backed coup (involving poisoned handkerchiefs and other Kennedy-era goofiness) endorsed Qasim’s assassination, installing the Ba’athist regime which ultimately sanctioned the twenty-seven year reign of Saddam Hussein. Two wars, eight years of US occupation and the rise of the Islamic State brings us to the present. But Mary Jernegan was right there in the crucible of the past.
And though her husband died in 1980, Mary Jernegan may still be alive, in her 90’s, living in California. More than half a century of febrile history has elapsed since she sat at a typewriter in Rome and translated the recipe which now sits on our kitchen table in upstate New York. The same table that will soon be set for Cinghiale in Agrodolce alla Romana,along with friends, gelato alla nocciola and (at the letter’s suggestion) several bottles of good red wine.