Our friend S. came for dinner on Sunday, and while we drank beer and ate almonds, J. showed him--on his MacBook--scenes from the great Russian film version of King Lear directed by Grigori Kozintsev with a score by Shostakovich. I myself did not watch, not even for a minute. Lear is too heartbreaking in English. Can you imagine what the Russians do with it? Break your heart and devour it.
We went to the table and ate penne with basil and roasted tomatoes. Our plates steamed; we ate slowly. I mentioned I had seen Peter Lorre's first film in America, "Mad Love." "Lorre had that eyebrow thing," I said, raising my eyebrows, twitching them. "But not as pronounced as in later films." Lorre is wonderfully creepy as the mad Dr. Orlac, who sews fresh hands, cut from an executed knife-thrower, onto the wrists of a concert pianist whose hands were crushed in a train wreck. S. told us there was a reference to Dr. Orlac in Malcolm Lowry's "Under the Volcano." I googled; up came the poster, which the hero of the novel sees in one of his drunken rambles.
We ate cauliflower and potatoes with scallions, olive oil, and spinach, the vegetables from Wilson farms, herby and pungent. I said I had been reading the recent biography of Flannery O'Connor. J. tried to find her on youtube, without success. She and the chicken she had supposedly trained to walk backward had been filmed by Pathe news when O'Connor was a child. I took the computer, googled away and in seconds found an audio of O'Connor giving a talk about the grotesque in fiction. It was eerie to hear her thick southern accent and sweet voice. A candle shed its wavering light; the windows were dark. She went on talking:
Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.
We listened to the end. I shut down the computer and we ate mango sorbet and shortbread. J. sang:
Mammy's little baby loves short'nin', short'nin',
Mammy's little baby loves short'nin' bread.
Three little chillun lying in bed,
Two of them sick, the other 'most dead.
Call for the doctor, the doctor said,
"Feed them chillun on shortnin' bread.
We were a little hysterical. The MacBook was a robot-like helper, our fourth guest. The great god Google had given us too much, and J. sounded like the black characters in Spike Lee's film "Bamboozled," who act like players in a minstrel show--grotesques!
Here is a photo of the study in which Flannery O'Connor wrote her great stories.