All posts in April 2016

Why do Italian restaurants make such a big deal out of pepper?

pepper photo for blog

Why do they keep the pepper off in a sacred place? They make such a big deal out of it. The table has a little white porcelain holder with sachets of brown sugar, white sugar, fake sugar – two different types of fake sugar actually, and salt, and of course ominous in its absence, the star of Italian cuisine PEPPER!

If there was no salt and I asked for some, I would get my own salt cellar or a small dish with an unhealthy helping of that historically relevant powder. But if  I should ask for pepper, there would be a “one moment please” reply, and a disappearance into the back to procure the precious spice. It feels like we should almost genuflect when it is brought out, a large wooden phallic-shaped device is maneuvered above your food and the large knob at its head is turned two or three times, if you look hard some tiny motes of dark dust will have landed on the food, the waiter appears to be saying “surely that’s enough?” and you reply to his tacit expression “That’s good, thank you” even though I would like some more, the guilt is too great, I don’t want to be greedy do I?

But wait a second, it’s just pepper, it’s not truffle. It’s a big yoke with a dollar’s worth of pepper corns inside of it, I bet those sachets of fake sugar cost more. And at this rate of usage, it must last for a week. You can buy these pepper corns anywhere around here, with great ease. They aren’t sought out by special pigs in deep leaves at the base of a swollen tree!

When my sandwich arrives – a small spinach omelette type of thing in a heated croissant – it’s pretty good. This is an Italian café at the corner of 10th Street and First Avenue, it is run by real Italians and the latte is authentic with a rich brown coffee cream on the top – it sets me up for the European vibe of the sandwich, it’s small and I’m fine with that, not that hungry anyway this morning. My eyes immediately scan the table and the ominous absence of pepper only leads to its greater importance. I don’t want to annoy the waiter, it’s breakfast, it feels inappropriate to ask him to bring it out into the sun from its resting place to the sidewalk where I listen to two New York women bullshitting each over-affectionately, and with rap music pouring out of every car stopped at the traffic lights; it seems sacrilegious to bring the pepper out here, just for my breakfast. So I just eat the bloody thing as it is, all the while thinking that it’s good but could use a sharp flavor to cut through the buttery croissant and add colour to the neutral tasting eggs. And you know that the waiter is holding, it’s written all over his face, he’s like an undercover cop, you know he’s got the power, you know he’s got a gun behind there, he doesn’t need to show it. He will only produce it if he has to.

The two women finish their espressos and leave, they kiss and hug, one of them would be honoured to be involved in whatever it is that the other one was proudly proffering, they walk away.

Five minutes later one of them returns and orders my sandwich. The pepper remains in its sanctuary though, awaiting the evening worship.

Madama Butterfly

Met Opera House Madama Butterfly Pierce Turner Bloig

The flu came on Friday afternoon, my sister Bernie and her son Gareth arrived in New York on Sunday afternoon. We planned to prepare a nice Sunday roast for them as a New York welcoming. But I was a pale version of myself that day, the shivering had ceased, and the muscle pains, but I was limp and incapable of expending any energy. So we regrouped and decided to have a very New York delivery of pizza from Stromboli’s on the corner of St Marks Place. It was a good idea, and with a nice salad, we weren’t too glutenised. It was Gareth’s first visit to NY so he got a bit of a kick out of the large pie box sat in the middle of the table with its Italian motif.

On Wednesday we continued the Italian theme with an evening at the Met Opera House for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – I adore Giacomo Puccini’s orchestration, and we sat way up high where (cheap seats) I could watch the orchestra following the masterful direction of the conductor. Puccini had come from a musical family, they had dominated the area – Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca – where they lived for over 120 years, all church organists, one after another, and when Giacomo’s father died, his talented son was in line to do the same, but he was only six.

However, in his early twenties after going through the conservatory he did take over the organ for a while. As I said, I have always loved his work, but it’s been a while since I last witnessed one of his operas live. Many thoughts came to mind, firstly that the original Met had been built by the same man who created the church where I recorded my new album. Secondly, I could hear the organ in his orchestration, sometimes it sounded like a huge organ, with more moving parts of course. And then I thought about how I may have been sub-consciously seeking this while recording in the church, through the organ! It has such a human quality, with the wind blowing through its pipes, it can sound like flutes, or trumpets, or like a full ensemble.

This Friday morning, I took my family to the church to show them around. Madama Butterfly was still ringing through our ears when I sat at the organ and played an improvisation using an array of sounds, I was inspired, Puccini was in my heart. I believe that there is another album in this church. Madama Butterfly finally chased away the cobwebbed flu residue. Music has saved me once again.

If you are in New York maybe you can come share the love with us this Sunday 17th at the Harp 45th st and 3rd Avenue-6pm. It will be a special night I believe, after the Church and Puck Fair, there is magic in the air.

Love px

 

Forty dollar cup of coffee

N Y Skyline

The house is creaking like an old ship; I hear a woman’s voice that I don’t recognize in the apartment up above, she is talking to a higher-pitched male voice than the usual tenant who lives there. Could it be Airbnb or just visitors from out of town? It’s definitely someone who is experiencing new things to speak about, I can hear the relish in their voices. A truck beeps its reversal warning somewhere in the cavernous collection of random sounds that siren, shout and scrape out there in world behind this house. Even though that world back there – referred to as Alphabet City – has transformed from drug-addled poverty to upscale restaurants and valuable real estate, I still think of the front of the house as the place the important stuff happens. The front is where the numbered Avenues begin, First through Tenth, as opposed to A to D.

“Is that the phone?” My heart raises.

“Oh, it is the same ring but muffled, must be the next door phone.” Disappointed, I sink back into the mattress, wish the bell would ring or something; even the postman would be a lift. I never knew raindrops could be so loud, and the tick of that big old secondhand clock that we bought on the street, there goes a church bell, the hoo hoo of the turtle doves that come to our window to eat the flowers, a fire engine scream, a staccato truck brake, and the building never stops creaking! What the hell is that about? It seems to be groaning at the weather, it is a miserable grey wet day, very reminiscent of Ireland, the building seems to wince at every raindrop.

I’m lying in the bed on Monday morning with the flu. I went to the gym on Friday morning and worked a little harder than usual. Instead of just riding the bike for a half-hour aerobic I ran for 15 minutes too, at a fair pace. And then I did a little extra on a few of the weight yokes, came home, had a hot bath, and was feeling a bit sore. Thinking that it was because of the extra stuff at the gym, I dried off and sat on the bed to put on clean socks and felt the urge to just lie down for a second afterwards. About a half hour later I woke up feeling really sore, a bit confused, I dragged myself out of the bed “God I’ve got to get going, I’m wasting time here… I know! I’ll go across to the Italian café and get a latte to go, that way I’ll get some fresh air and some caffeine”. It was bizarre weather on Friday, the temperature soared to 78 degrees, so I put on a t-shirt and shorts. Boy, everything hurt; just lifting my leg to shove it into the shorts was a strain. I decided that I would take forty dollars with me for the coffee, on the way there I would amble past that Korean massage place and see if that bloke was in there, maybe I would get one of their half hour deals for $24.99. The bloke was the best, I had tried it before and got him by accident, he had been sitting behind the counter while the other ladies stood around, I talked to him because he seemed like he worked there, not knowing that they all did too. He worked on my shoulder knot and was getting somewhere when I heard a bloke come in and ask in a booming voice “Is the man here?” They answered in subservient broken English, next minute a woman’s voice is whispering furtively through a slit in the makeshift door behind me, he whispers back, and I can feel the hands change on my neck, I could hear the men talking in the reception as she continued the job with her small hands. That’s how I knew he was the best, he came back in five minutes and the hands changed again, and the difference was huge.

Once I got outside into the blaring sunshine, I felt that coffee was not an option and proceeded to the massage parlour. Mike was there they said (found out his name) and he came out from his lunch to sort me out. But when I left there I was even worse and was only barely able to walk home, I got in bed and my head was on fire, it dawned on me then, that I had the accursed flu.

So here I lie in my empty apartment, Clare is at work, the world is in school. Watching the television or reading gives me a headache, so I listen to my mind having a field day with my …. mind? Apparently I’m a complete fuck-up and no matter how good my new album is, no one will give a shit (according to it/me /him) I can usually shut the bugger up, but maybe that’s why we get the flu, so that he can a word in. Every inch of me hurts, even my hands! How fondly I remember last Thursday, of course I didn’t know how well off I was then. Where did I catch it? That ould one behind me at the gym sneezed countless times all over me and never covered her mouth, I even threw her a look, she looked puzzled, she was always a cantankerous prat, is this house sinking to the south? Can you get the flu from a sneeze? I’m falling asleep once again, zzzzzzzzzz