Sunday, November 13, 2011

Epochal Music, Mythic Film, Snowflake Food

This past weekend I had a night at the movies, a night at the Symphony, and an exceptional meal in the midst of one of my few forays into public transit.

On Saturday the 12th, I used my first tickets of this season's subscription to hear Louie Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto played by Horacio Gutiérrez, Dick Strauss's "Death & Transfiguration" tone poem, and Maury Ravel's decadent "La Valse," conducted by Japanese-German maestro Jun Märkl. I had heard Gutiérrez play a Rachmaninoff concerto a year or two ago, and knew he was terrific; I had never heard Maestro Märkl at work.

It was a great program, with Beethoven's popular E-flat fifth concerto displaying both masculine assertiveness and tender lyricism, the latter especially in the slow middle movement. The Strauss piece, written in the youth of its composer who, when dying at age 85, famously testified that death really was like he had written it, uses pure music to depict the struggle of someone who has "striven for high ideals" (i.e. the artist) to accept his impending mortality, rising to a glorious culmination and including themes that John Williams would plunder a century later (e.g. the love theme from Superman).

Finally, Ravel held his own at the end of the program with a ballet score (rejected by Sergei Diaghilev, to the composer's deep hurt) in which the Vienna waltzes (and perhaps the entire way of life) of the previous century were held up against the lens of Paris in 1920: a smooth, graceful, decadent motor whose belts have begun to slip. The waltz step becomes increasingly disjointed and jarred by rhythmic and harmonic disturbances until, at the very end, it collapses into chaotic savagery. Whether it's an indictment of a present world in which such events as World War I could take place, or of a past which for all its shining promise held the germs of such events, is hard to tell. But it isn't every day that a waltz gives you chills.

On Sunday, after coming home from church on the type of bright, blue, clear day that I value so much, I decided to take one of my long walks. The "stick" motivating me is that I need to get in better shape. The "carrot" was the movie house in Clayton, to which I have walked several times before. By time I got there, I was just on time to catch a screening of the movie Immortals, a loose adaptation of the Greek legend of Theseus, directed by a Bollywood veteran and featuring British actor Henry Cavill (late of TV's The Tudors) as the studly hero.

I remember spotting Cavill playing Edmund Dantes' son in the version of The Count of Monte Cristo that featured Jim Caviezel in the title role. I remember thinking then that a youth with such chiseled features, upright figure, intense presence, and perfect teeth must someday, inevitably, become a big star. But not having seen The Tudors myself, I have known nothing of Cavill since then, except (what every Harry Potter fan knew at the time) that he was rumored to be on the list to play Cedric Diggory but didn't get the part, and (what even I didn't notice until the end titles rolled, because I didn't recognize him) that he played a supporting role in Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

And now, behold a superstar in the making... I don't know what happened to the youth who made a generation of British schoolgirls wish to see him play Cedric Diggory, but those who see Immortals will see an action hero in a class to which Robert Pattinson could never aspire to belong. With a jaw that could slay thousands with one flash of his still-perfect teeth, a sunburn that can't have come easily to a Brit in his native habitat, and a charisma that makes every frame that he isn't in languish in relative dullness even when his character is covered with noisome filth from head to toe, Henry Cavill puts all tween vampires in the shade—including the one who plays Poseidon in this film.

His Theseus is a terrific hero, combining beach bum good looks with a run-straight-at-you-roaring-like-a-lion thing that could make him a terrifying guy to cross. He is supported by Stephen Dorff (a former vampire), John Hurt (a former wizard), Stephen McHattie (a former Romulan), Luke Evans (so recently a musketeer that both of his films are simultaneously playing), Mickey Rourke (like, duh), and loads of actors who seem to have been recruited for their ability to flex their abs impressively while vomiting lungfuls of blood. Expect lots of violence, blood, guts, decapitations, tongue-severings, castrations, etc., happening to mostly good-looking people, and a little hanky-panky with a Bollywood beauty who reveals enough to make up for the abs-and-blood stuff.

As I left the theater, thinking about whether I really wanted to walk all the way home, my streak of perfect timing continued as a bus pulled up right beside me. I hopped aboard, somehow managed to make exact change although I seldom carry hard currency on me, and collected a transfer ticket good through 7:00 p.m. when it was hardly 5:00. The bus driver very helpfully explained the route I needed to follow, and so I sat back and watched the sights of Washington University flow by—including the Gothic arch that is surely on the cover of the brochure, and a whole crowd of neo-baroque buildings overlooking Forest Park.

The bus dropped me off in front of a cafe that used to be the site of Talayna's pizzeria; from around the corner I caught a train (having to wait for only a few minutes at the Skinker Station, just long enough to realize I live with a skinker—my cat Tyrone having begun his pest-control career in Arizona where little beige lizards called skinks were as apt as mice to be caught invading your house). The train dropped me off, one stop later, a block south of the current site of Talayna's, and inspired by that coincidence, as well as the luxury of 90 minutes to go on my transfer ticket, I went into the restaurant and had dinner.

I have probably described Talayna's here before. It wasn't my first visit. But I had forgotten how exceptional their pizza is. So emphatically handmade that, like snowflakes, no two of its "New York style" crusts are identical in shape, they taste just how pizzas are meant to taste in the neighborhood of my brain that houses platonic ideals, and not at all as one would expect to taste in Saint Louis, where all pizzas seem to have evolved from the common ancestor of Imo's crispy, flat-crust, provel-cheese abomination. I had a "small" pepperoni-and-onion pizza at Talayna's and, although its warm crust of hand-tossed poorbread, its stretchy salty Mozzarrella cheese, and its rich seasonings evoked a sentimental memory of bygone pizzas, even glutton that I am I could not finish this pizza. And, alas, I didn't think I could take the leftovers with me, since I had another bus ride ahead of me.

I was crossing the street to get to the bus stop when I realized that the vehicle in front of which I was crossing was the bus I needed to catch. I ran to the bus stop, arriving just when the bus did, and enjoyed the last of my streak of perfect timing in a public transit system in which I have experienced waits of up to 45 minutes for a bus that I was expecting in no time flat. It was good to be home, not too excruciatingly footsore, enjoying memories of Immortals' ludicrously anachronistic armor, the gods' irritating habit of interfering in human battles as though to make the entertaining saga last longer, and the ambrosian pizza that Dionysus himself would have ordered if delivery hadn't been such a bitch.

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