Down and Out in Denver

Blake’s Book Nook, Vol. V

Posted in books by Blake on May 14, 2011

In this edition of the Book Nook, we are going to explore three books that have received insane amounts of hype over the past couple years, much of it undeserved, in my humble opinion.  Let’s call this Blake’s Book Nook: The Overrated Edition.  I generally avoid reading books that everyone else is reading.  Because I’m a snob. Two of these books, however, I read in different book groups and one I read while trapped in a vacation home, having finished the book I had brought with me.  So those are my excuses.

Let’s start with the biggest of them all, a book that has already been made into a movie it was so popular. Eat, Pray, Love is the type of book I never read. Not only because it is insanely popular, which means I will be embarrassed to be seen with it in public, but because it’s about some sort of ill-defined spirituality, which I do not possess and have no desire to investigate. This is the one I read because there was nothing else around. And I have this to say: Elizabeth Gilbert is definitely very funny, and she writes well. She’s particularly good at describing other cultures, like a witty and self-deprecating anthropologist. But I just did not care about any of the life-transforming business and the inward-looking, God-finding, self-loving forgiveness and general warm-feelingness that is, in the end, the point. This is to say that I was highly amused by Italy, bored stiff by India, and generally ready for things to be over by the time we got to Indonesia.

It is not, of course, Elizabeth Gilbert’s fault that her book became such a sensation. And it’s completely understandable how and why that happened: there are lots of unhappy people in this world who want to change their lives. Eat, Pray, Love is like a literary version of a TV before-and-after weight-loss show (and she’s smart enough to realize this, it seems to me). But in the end all that hype may have done her the slightest disservice (not that she minds, I’m sure) because no book could possibly live up to the hype that surrounds this one. In a word: overrated.

Next on our list is The Help, which you have seen in every airplane you have been on in the last year. It’s a big favorite with book clubs and I even voted for it to be read in an impromptu vacation book club that I was a member of, so fascinated was I by all the hype. It’s compelling, no question. I read it quickly and I definitely wanted to find out what would happen. I also liked all the principal characters, whom I thought were reasonably well-crafted. But I have a couple complaints:

The writing is clunky at times. The foreshadowing can be painfully obvious. One is well aware that when some new element is introduced it is there for a reason and is going to factor importantly down the road.

The use of various moments in history — Kennedy’s assassination, Bob Dylan on the radio — never really fit in with the overall narrative and felt remarkably forced.

One character is written entirely in some sort of Southern black dialect. And yet the Southern white characters are not written in dialect. The politics of a white woman writer taking on this voice aside, the inconsistency was jarring. If we’re going back in time to 1960s Mississippi, the white people talked differently too, no?

In terms of the overwhelming popularity of the book, it seems to me that this is a novel that allows white people who haven’t given race much thought to feel good about themselves for being on the right side, that is, the anti-racist, pro-maid side. It also presents race and racism in pretty stark terms: the white ladies in this novel are — with the exception of the protagonist, Skeeter, and another employer, Celia — by and large pretty awful. In other words, there’s not a lot of nuance, and it’s relatively easy for white readers not to feel implicated (“I don’t have a black maid whom I mistreat on a regular basis, so I guess this race issue isn’t about me…”).

I read recently that the author’s brother’s maid, whose name is Ablene Cooper, has filed a lawsuit against Stockett for appropriating her name and image without permission (one of the protagonists is named Aibileen Clark).  As Cooper puts it,”Ain’t too many Ablenes.”  Indeed.

Finally, Just Kids, a book I very much expected to like, but didn’t.  There are some moments of real poignancy here and some very deft turns of phrase, but I was also just bored stiff for most of it. Clearly Smith has led a really interesting life, but she’s just not a great writer. The great bulk of the book was a long series of “Then this happened. Then that happened. Then Robert did this. Then I did that.” And while there is a lot of reflection about art, there is very little on the subject of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, supposedly the purpose of writing the book. How and why did she stick with him — as a lover — through his gay hustling? What did she feel about this? She is by turns squeamish about his homosexuality and also fully accepting of everything he does. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either reaction but I’d like to hear a little more about them.

Bottom line: had this not been Patti Smith writing about Robert Mapplethorpe, and had I not been in a book group where we were discussing the book, I would never have finished it.

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Satchel’s on 6th

Posted in denver, food by Alastair on April 30, 2011

The asparagus salad from Satchel's on 6th

On a recent Thursday evening, Blake and I stopped by the newly opened Satchel’s on 6th. Thrilled to have another eating establishment opening within walking distance of home, we headed over to 6th and Gilpin. Satchel’s, which seats about 50, is outfitted with handsome tables constructed from beetle-kill pine, surprisingly comfortable metal red chairs, charming red brick walls, and a bar uniquely placed in the center of the space. The tight menu of about a dozen offerings features American comfort food… with a twist. After ordering our wine, Blake began his meal with Satchel’s take on the classic wedge… Blake likes his wedge. Nice big pieces of bacon, cherry tomato, some pickled onion, Roquefort, and a yoghurt dressing. I had a pretty amazing salad of asparagus, with shavings of country-style ham, a perfectly poached egg, and what appeared to be house made ricotta. Delish!

Satchel’s take on the wedge

Now, mind you, Satchel’s may have only  been open for a few days. And we thoroughly enjoyed our meals. More to come. Generally speaking, the service provided by the staff was attentive and informative; however, our server was perhaps a little less prepared    than one might like when making a first impression. She didn’t appear to be very knowledgable about many of the items on the menu we had asked about. Additionally, she basically alluded to not trying some items on the menu. This is a must in my experience! Especially for such a pared down menu. Back to the food!

Cured Artic Char

For his main course, Blake was brought the Cured Arctic Char. Mind you, he ordered the herbed Sole Gratinee. The mistake, which was quickly corrected, was to our advantage. We got to sample another dish and on the house! Who can complain!? When the Sole did arrive, Blake was very pleased. Melted leeks, Dijon, and baby potatoes gratinee of herbed sole. I think the melted leeks were the big hit of this dish. Perhaps most notable was that the Sole was a much bigger portion than the Char. Significantly so. It would have been considered a starter by some… and certainly was by Blake.

Sole Gratinee

While he enjoyed the Char, which was served with a cucumber salad that would have made my mother proud, I dug into my Short Rib Meatloaf. I’m a fan of short ribs. I’ve had them numerous times at Potager, tried them at P17, and I was really intrigued as to how one would make meatloaf out of it. A small log of tender beef was served with pot au feu vegetables and a smokey ketchup. I could not have been more pleased with my choice.

Short Rib Meatloaf

Blake and I are looking forward to stopping by again. I know I’m going to be asking my neighborhood gal pals to join me for Satchel’s “punch brunch” on one of those warm Saturday or Sundays, when bowls of liquid punch will be served!

Happy Birthday B-cycle!

Posted in denver by Blake on April 21, 2011

We here at DOD would like to wish our pals at Denver B-cycle a very happy first birthday.  Tomorrow, Earth Day, will mark their one-year anniversary.  B-cycle is throwing a little party for itself (RSVP here) at the Museum of Contemporary Art from 7pm to 10pm tomorrow night: New Belgium beer, food trucks (including Fat Sully’s!), b-cycle races, and music by local DJs.  Bicycle parking is, of course, available.

Happy Birthday B-cycle!

The ATL, y’all!

Posted in fashion, food, gays, travel by Blake on April 19, 2011

View of Piedmont Park from the 20th Floor

While Alastair was in New York for the weekend, I also flew East, but further South: to Atlanta to celebrate my Gentleman Friend’s birthday.  He’s from “the ATL,” as he calls it, and so we were able to stay at his parents’ apartment; they were conveniently out of town in Puerto Rico celebrating their anniversary.  The shot above was taken from the balcony of the GF’s parents’ apartment; they live in Midtown, overlooking Piedmont Park, which was devoted this past weekend to celebrating the Dogwood Festival.  Aside from the first night’s storms, we had perfect weather the entire time and a really fantastic time in Hotlanta.

My previous two or three experiences there had been for conferences and I had mostly stuck to the conference hotel and its environs, getting lost amid all the streets named Peachtree (Atlanta could invest in a few more street names; they’re free!), but this time, with the GF in the role of Julie McCoy, I saw lots of the city I’d never seen before.  That first night we dined across the park at the Park Tavern, which was probably the worst of the many meals we ate out.  The Park Tavern is a combination of a bar specializing in beer on tap, burger joint, and sushi bar.  Filled to the brim with straight folks on the make.  It was all just a little bit loud, and the queso with which we began was of the creamy variety (not the kind I was recently introduced to by our Oklahoma Gal Pal, which is essentially just melted cheese on a plate and far preferable).  After braving the stormy weather, we headed to one of the neighborhood gay bars (the parents live, coincidentally, in the heart of the gays), Blake’s on the Park.  I was feeling right at home!

The next morning, after nursing my hangover with some Tivoed HGTV (I do miss TV sometimes) we headed to the Flying Biscuit for brunch. Love their name!  Filled with biscuits and a chicken sandwich with bacon and cheddar (I’m not much for breakfast food), our day was just beginning: a trip to the Georgia Aquarium.  Not only did we take in all the fishes and sharks, but the GF had bought us tickets for the dolphin show, “A T & T Dolphin Tales,” which had only debuted a couple weeks previously. Here’s the thing: the aquarium itself was very impressive and while the dolphins themselves were adorable and their tricks were fun, the show itself was pretty dumb.  They had turned it into a Disney-style musical with an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoatesque cape worn by some mythical ship captain who relied upon the dolphins to rescue him from a different evil ship captain.  Or something like that.  He sang about all of this drama and I got kind of confused. Thankfully we had saved the sea otters and Beluga whales for post-show, and they were adorable.  After that we needed to do some shopping.  The GF’s mother had suggested that we shop at Midtown’s “The Boy Next Door,” which seems to sell what my friends and I call “homosexual clothing”: lots of underwear and what the store itself calls “exciting summer swimwear.”  We went to Buckhead instead, home to two large malls. This is all I have to say about Buckhead’s malls: Alastair may be excited about the new H&M, but Atlanta has us beat.  There was a Vince and a Theory.  Be still my heart.

That night we dined at South City Kitchen.  Delicious.  Appetizers: fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and red pepper coulis; pork barbecue on a scallion hoecake with slaw.  Entrees: jambalaya and buttermilk fried chicken.  Dessert: banana pudding and pecan pie.  Desserts were not as great as everything else, but the meal itself was wonderful, including the GF’s “Country Thyme” lemonade: spiked lemonade with fresh thyme.  Our waitress, Autumn, was a little loopy, but very friendly.  And the neighbors at the next table, a flight attendant named Connie from Minnesota and her best gal pal joining her on a buddy pass, were delightful. While the GF was the only native (Autumn is from Connecticut), it was just southern hospitality and friendliness all around. (And, it must be said, just a wee bit of heartburn later that night, but well worth it.)

View of Atlanta through Botanical Gardens

But wait!  It wasn’t over.  There was still Sunday.  We had reservations at Watershed for brunch. And it, too, was scrumptious. Brainchild of Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, Watershed is located in lesbian-friendly Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta.  I had the shrimp and crab burger with fries and among the most delicious cole slaw I have ever tasted.  The GF got the sausage gravy with biscuits (that was the third meal in 24 hours in which he’d had biscuits; someone was missing his Southern home!).  We strolled around downtown Decatur, then toured Emory University, alma mater of the GF, and finally finished the afternoon with a walk through Atlanta’s Botanical Garden.  This must be said: while Denver’s Botanical Garden seems much smaller, it is also much more impressive and has, well, flowers.  And paths that lead somewhere instead of into what the GF called “traps”: seating areas devoid of flowers.  The ABG had just finished its “Atlanta Blooms” bulb extravaganza and was distinctly short on blooms of any sort.  A wee bit disappointing, but we hadn’t allotted it much time.

A scant few blooms at the Botanical Gardens

Finally, that night we dined in Virginia Highlands, another very cute Atlanta neighborhood, at Panita Thai Kitchen.  This little Thai restaurant, which had created a front garden for itself out of tubs of plants and herbs, seemed to be run as a one-woman show: she cooked, she poured, she served, she chatted with her guests.  And it was really tasty.  The spices reminded me of Thailand more than most Thai food I’ve eaten in the U.S.  This tom yum goong had a kick!  And the GF loved his fresh ginger tea and chicken curry.

We retired early that night to finish our taxes after 2.5 days of sunny weather, delicious food, and lovely sights.  If I had been skeptical about Atlanta before (and I admit it, I had been), my doubts had been quelled.  The ATL is delightful. And people really do say “y’all” quite a bit.

Wednesday’s Links

Posted in wednesday's links by Alastair on April 13, 2011

The Facts of Life

  • It’s offical… Denver Pavilions announced this morning that H&M is opening a store in its downtown shopping center. An artist’s rendering comes with the announcement.
  • For the first time in years, a proposal that would have changed Colorado’s antiquated liquor laws made it to the floor on Monday, and promptly dried up.
  • My Oklahoma gal pal swears by her spaghetti with clams. The Denver Post’s Tucker Shaw shares this James Beard gem.
  • The cast of “The Facts of Life” reunite for the first time on camera since the series ended.
  • Westword’s Kendra Anderson offers up five burger-worthy wines for less than $20.
  • Speaking of wine, DAM Uncorked – one of the best wine tastings Denver has to offer – takes place this Friday at the Denver Art Museum with more than 300 wines to sample.
  • Logo’s “1 Girl, 5 Gays” has become a recent guilty pleasure.  The program – started by MTV (Canada) in late 2009 – features host Aliya Jasmine Sovani who sits down with a cast of five gay men to talk about taboo topics of love and sex.

Blake’s Book Nook, Vol. IV

Posted in books by Blake on April 9, 2011

I am one of those people who suffers from an ailment called Mitfordiana.  I am obsessed with the Mitfords, and this volume of Blake’s Book Nook is devoted to the recently published autobiography of Deborah Mitford, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, called Wait for Me! … Memoirs.

For those not in the know, a brief word first on the Mitfords, six sisters and one brother born into an aristocratic English family (their father was the 2nd Baron Redesdale) between 1904 and 1920: Nancy, Pamela, Tom, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. Perhaps best known now for the nominally fictitious and riotously funny portrayal of the family in eldest sister Nancy’s classic novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, the Mitfords were also famous in their own time, for these many reasons: Nancy was a successful novelist and biographer.  Diana, a great beauty, married and then divorced the heir to the Guinness fortune, leaving him for the Fascist leader Oswald Mosley (they were both imprisoned during World War II).  Unity became a devotee and friend of Hitler and shot herself in the head in a Munich park when England declared war on Germany (she lived for nine years afterwards). Jessica (called Decca by all), first eloped to the Spanish Civil War with her first husband (who later died in WW II), then became a Communist and moved to the United States, eventually writing the classic expose of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death.  Deborah, the youngest, married the second-in-line to the Dukedom of Devonshire; the first in line (married to Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, sister to JFK, et al) died in WW II and Deborah became the Duchess of Devonshire when her father-in-law died. Pamela, often called “the rural Mitford,” married and divorced a bisexual millionaire scientist and eventually ended up sharing her life with an Italian horsewoman.  And Tom, dashing man about town in his youth, died tragically young, also in World War II.

The Mitford sisters and brother with their parents

So with all that you can imagine why I, and millions of others over the years, have been avid consumers of the novels and memoirs and autobiographies and collected letters and movies that can only be described as the Mitford Industry.  Four of six sisters wrote books and Mary Lovell published a great group biography, The Sisters, in 2002.  Their letters to one another are also collected in The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, which is edited by Diana’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte Mosley (and which is next on my list of Mitford lore to consume). Other Mitford epistles are collected in many other volumes.

The Mitford sisters (minus Deborah)

The latest is the memoir by Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, which she calls Wait for Me! because she was the youngest and always being left behind.  This needs to be said right off the bat: she doesn’t write as well as her sisters, at least Nancy and Decca, who did most of the writing.  She is best when she’s describing her upbringing, but even then she relies on the published words of those sisters from time to time.  By the final third of the book, it’s become a long list of events and celebrated people whom she’s entertained and it gets both a little confusing and a little boring. As Janet Maslin noted in her review in the Sunday Times in December, when you get to a paragraph that begins with “Poultry has been important to me since childhood,” you know you’ve reached the end. All that said, however, it’s fascinating to hear her take on her sisters and their famous disputes with one another, to understand how one family produced a Communist, a Fascist, and a Nazi-sympathizer, as well as a Duchess.  She’s also eloquent on the subject of English country houses, especially the ones that come with titles and what happens to such a house when the title and house pass from one generation to the next and the death duties of 80% of its value will bankrupt it entirely.  The answer (what she and her husband did with Chatsworth): sell and donate the greatest artistic treasures, open the house to the public, and run it like a business, writing charming books about it all the while.

In the end, while Wait for Me! is not the best of the volumes on the Mitfords (fiction or non), it’s still about the Mitfords and that’s good enough for me.  Novices should probably start with Nancy’s novels, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate (usually bound and sold together; they are sequels) or Decca’s memoir, Hons and Rebels.  And enjoy!

This Weekend

Posted in art, bars, denver, design, entertainment, food, music by Alastair on April 8, 2011

Earthquake & Tsunami Relief Poster Show

There are some pretty amazing things happening this weekend. In addition to the suggestions of the dance/design variety provided by the folks at Fancy Tiger, you can Shake your Buddha this evening at MCA Denver from 7:30 – 9:30 pm. There are three openings on Saturday evening: The previously mentioned Grand Opening of the I Heart Denver Store, an Earthquake & Tsunami Relief Poster show to be held at Super Ordinary Gallery located in the RINO Art District, and a few blocks away the opening of Love Letters, “a graphic exploration of the duality of love through typography, symbolism and pop culture” at CREMA Coffee House.

These last two events are part of RiNo’s Second Saturday. And, according to Westword’s Susan Froyd, there will be live music, food trucks, and a number of other gallery open houses and openings in the area.

Get out, bring your checkbook, and have fun this weekend!

Wednesday’s Links

Posted in wednesday's links by Alastair on April 6, 2011

The I Heart Denver Store Supports Denver's Creative Economy

  • According to the T Magazine Web site, the red trouser has been flying quietly under the radar and is about to reach “critical mass.” Not interested in bucking the trend? Then stop by the newly expanded Fancy Tiger on South Broadway and pick up a pair, today.
  • Rachel Zoe had her baby, Skyler Morrison.
  • The new I HEART DENVER store will feature goods from all-local artists and designers from Denver. Don’t miss the grand opening on April 9th from 6 to 9 pm at Denver Pavilions Level 2.
  • Who doesn’t love a good burger? Cafe Society’s Laura Shunk offers up Denver’s five best burgers.
  • Leona (aka Alastair’s Pacific Northwest gal pal): “So what is up with Tracks winning all the Ultimate Queen contests on Drag Race? Does Loca have a stranglehold on the social media up in there or what?” You decide.
  • This week’s house porn brought to you by Rysia Suchecka of NBBJ and Heliotrope Architects.
  • The oft-criticized AT&T will deploy fiber-optic connections to about 400 cell sites in the Denver area in an effort to upgrade its Colorado wireless network. Not that I have anything to complain about.
  • This recipe made for a terrific dinner Monday evening.

Baby, I Was Born This Way

Posted in entertainment, music by Alastair on April 5, 2011

Oh, Brad!

Posted in gays, tv by Alastair on March 31, 2011

Let me count the ways…

When news came that my pretend boyfriend Brad Goreski was leaving Bravo’s Rachel Zoe Project, I was upset. Sooooooooo upset. How could he do this to me? Well, I just about went bananas this afternoon when I learned that the former assistant to celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe has branched out and is building a business for himself – and has landed his own TV show on Bravo! Do you die?! I DIE. Tentatively entitled It’s a Brad Brad World, the series follows him as he starts his own business and tries to manage his personal life at the same time.

If you haven’t seen the sexy shirtless pics, taken by celeb shutterbug Terry Richardson, check them out here and here.