After a lovely Mass at St Nicholas in Amsterdam a few weeks ago, Celia and I headed to Utrecht for lunch. I searched the internet webs and found that Dogma Hotdogbar was a place of interest which I felt compelled to investigate. After a confusing journey from the beautiful Utrecht Central train station to Voorstraat, we sat down for lunch. The below artwork on the wall was most amusing.
Celia ordered the below which was the ‘standard’ hotdog. I often think the original thing on the menu is the best and I was not wrong. I had only a small amount of this dish and it was quite excellent. The mesclun, a mixture of tender young gourmet salad greens contains combinations of salad leaves and herbs. This was quite sweet tasting which contrasted with the acidity of the pickle and smokiness of the excellent pork sausage. The crispy onions on the top were just marvellous.
As you can see from the below, I was quite excited to dig into my lovely BBQ beef hot dog. It was quite hard to eat on account of being so large. Also it was almost impossible to cut into pieces because these modern hot dogs tend to focus more on aesthetics then practicality (thanks, social media). In fact the owner jokes with me after I took the below that now I had my instagram picture, I could leave! I had a hearty chortle. The hot dog itself, once I managed to consume it, was sublime. the pulled pork coleslaw was unbelievable and the BBQ sauce was smoky enough and with sweetness to boot. Excellent.
Well this album has rather changed my life. I have been an admirer of Talking Heads for some time. Their albums Speaking in Tongues and Remain in Light were the soundtrack to my erasmus year in Rome. I can never listen to them and not think of the B line from Termini to San Paolo, where I went to university. However, their debut album 77 was a total revelation. Ahead of their time in an understatement. What David Byrne (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Frantz (drums), Tina Weymouth (bass), and Jerry Harrison (keyboards, guitar) and created is quite beyond this reviewer’s ambit of description. One can but try to explain this gem of an album.
Alongside its ingenuity, Talking Heads 77 also exists as a mere glimmer of potential, a fascinating prelude to a few of the most visionary albums ever recorded. Pitchfork
From the first notes of the first song this album transports you into the bizarre mind of David Byrne, who is still making musical history to this day. Uh-Oh, Love Comes to Town opens and descends into an a-typical Talking Heads Experience. Steel pans come out of nowhere. This track talks about the ardour of finding love in a high paced commercial environment in the stock broking world. It speaks to me for a number of reasons.
New Feeling is exactly that. There is excitement in the music which pulls you around, the music itself pulls back at points as though to express Byrne’s self doubt. Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison work together beautifully in parts of this track. Byrne’s vocals are almost like a broken accordion, which does not sound appealing but works very well in this context.
I wish I could meet, every one
I’ve ever met before
Meet them all over again
Bring them up to my room
Meet them all over again
Everyone’s up in my room
This is a new sound which is screaming out to be heard.
Tentative Decisions provides relief from the previous song. The arrangement is simple, almost military in parts. It speaks of the perils of taking a firm stance and then questioning the position one has taken. The breaks from the snare drums are quite ethereal, like one is floating through air. The piano at the end was quite unexpected.
Happy Day is not quite Perfect Day by Lou Reed (ho ho) but is still quite beautiful. 37 seconds in is a particular treat. The riffing is gorgeous while the vocals can be jarring at times. Who Is It? is a brief intermission track.
No Compassion has to be my highlight of the album.
In a world
Where people have problems
In this world
Where decisions are a way of life
Other people’s problems
They overwhelm my mind
They say compassion is a virtue
But I don’t have the time
If ever there was a song to describe my current exact mood this is the one. The riff is excellent, the exasperation is clear as day. The words are delivered in a poignant way “why are you in love with your problems, I think you’ve taken it a little too far. It’s not cool to have so many problems” – genius. I wonder who hurt David Byrne to the point of producing this track.
The Book I Read is another brilliant track. It’s about falling in love with an author. Great pace, great energy, the tale of an ambitious young New Yorker. The piano throughout is a triumph. The drums at the end are transcendent.
Don’t Worry About the Government is a sarcastic upbeat song about an optimistic person coming to New York and all the things they hope to do which they will not be able to do because of the government. It is both optimistic and pessimistic, without saying anything negative. The whole song has, to me, the spectre of government looming in the background threatening to stop him at every stage.
First Week / Last Week has an excellent lyric – “every appointment has been moved to last week”. Would that I could move my meetings to the past! I have an average of 25 meetings per week so can fully empathise. This song is quite harrowing, speaking of the dangers of overworking, which seems to be a theme in this album.
Now the song you have all been waiting for… Psycho Killer, que-ce que c’est? This song has historic links to killings in New York, though the band insist there was no such link. The song is a telling monologue of the inner thoughts of a serial killer.
The song was composed near the beginning of the band’s career and prototype versions were performed onstage as early as December 1975. When it was finally completed and released as a single in December 1977, “Psycho Killer” became instantly associated in popular culture with the contemporaneous Son of Sam serial killings. Although the band always insisted that the song had no inspiration from the notorious events, the single’s release date was “eerily timely” and marked by a “macabre synchronicity”. Wikipedia
Finally, Pulled Up. This is also a highlight for me. A high point in the album. The excited New Yorker has come full circle and achieved what he dreamed of. This is indeed what David Byrne went onto achieve, being a leading authority on music, theatre and cinematography. What a terrific success and fulfilling album this is. Listen to the guitars descending after “you pulled me up”. Just great.
Overall I have three main impressions: this is an album about new punks on the block looking to make a name for themselves. This album is written to encompass the fraught perils of being new on the scene and emerging as a band of note. IT is filled with possibilities and successes waiting to happen, a hopelessly hopeful album.
Is the French Dispatch Wes Anderson’s best film? I don’t think so. I enjoyed an evening at the Prince Charles Cinema in London which covered all of Wes’ films and advertisements up to and including The Grand Budapest. It was a delightful evening and helped me appreciate the full panoply of Wes’ genius. I feel at this stage that Wes has achieved everything he wants to cinematographically and is at the stage where he is having fun. The film is split into three distinctive chapters, none of which are really linked. It felt to me like a concise The Meaning of Life – itself a string of collected sketches with a vague almost superfluous backing direction.
Bill Murray as Arthur Howitzer Jr., the editor in chief of The French Dispatch
Tilda Swinton as writer J. K. L. Berensen
Owen Wilson as writer Herbsaint Sazerac
Adrien Brody as art dealer Julian Cadazio
Benicio Del Toro as Moses Rosenthaler, an imprisoned artist
Léa Seydoux as Rosenthaler’s prison guard and muse
Frances McDormand as journalist Lucinda Krementz
Timothée Chalamet as Zeffirelli, a student revolutionary
Lyna Khoudri as Juliette, a fellow student rebel
Jeffrey Wright as food journalist Roebuck Wright
The main premise of the film is that the editor of the French Dispatch, a newspaper, has died. His will contained a stipulation that the paper would be disbanded. Therefore the film shows how three journalists from the film put together articles for the final issue. The first ‘bit’ of this colourful triumvirate showed an enigmatic Owen Wilson, playing Herbsaint Sazerac, cycling around Ennui-sur-Blasé, a fictitious French town. He sets the scene for the film beautifully.
The movie takes the form of the magazine’s final issue, which features Howitzer’s obituary; a brief travelogue by a writer named Herbsaint Sazerac (Owen Wilson), which shows, in a thumbnail sketch, how the publication’s tone and substance has evolved; and three long feature articles. The features, each running about a half hour, catch the grand preoccupations and varied subjects of the magazine’s writers, and the combination of style and substance that marks their literary work—and Anderson’s cinema. New Yorker
The first element of the film is strong, telling the tale of an artist in a mental asylum making sensational art with his muse, one of the prison officers. Tilda Swinton narrates this part in admirable fashion, bringing her full weirdness. The performance reminded me of the sterling job she did as Mancunian train warden in Snowpiercer. She and Wes are indeed uniquely suited for one another.
The first section, a portrait of a criminally insane artist (Benicio del Toro), is a sly pleasure, not least because it’s narrated by Tilda Swinton as arts correspondent JKL Berensen, a fabulously glamorous creature with buck teeth, a tangerine evening dress and the tantalising hint of a scandalous past. Guardian
The third element was a little contrived for me, telling the story of a chess loving, cheroot smoking student activist and his journey for some left wing ideal of other. In the process we get to see Timothée Chalamet in bed with Frances McDormand and other disturbing sights. There is a resplendent moment when he is on a motorbike with Lyna Khoudri, riding away, the lighting and slow motion of this film captures the beauty of juvenile freedom, likely based in ignorance, and the fresh untainted sheen of young love. A stirring moment which probably ranks as one of the high points of the film.
“The French Dispatch” contains an overwhelming and sumptuous profusion of details. This is true of its décor and costumes, its variety of narrative forms and techniques (live action, animation, split screens, flashbacks, and leaps ahead, among many others), its playful breaking of the dramatic frame with reflexive gestures and conspicuous stagecraft, its aphoristic and whiz-bang dialogue, and the range of its performances, which veer in a heartbeat from the outlandishly facetious to the painfully candid. New Yorker.
Finally, the third segment comprises “a food review turned heist thriller narrated by and starring Jeffrey Wright at his most mellifluous and charming (Guardian)”. This was the best part of the film, and I am not saying that only because I run a food ish blog. This was an exciting segment with rich sumptuous shots, with a mixture of live action and animation. The script was fantastic, the tension done perfectly, and the culinary direction was quite spectacular. This was all the more personal for the discussions of difficulties of being homosexual and black at the time the film was set, as well as the harrowing prospect of living in exile in Ennui, something Wright and the head chef Nescaffier (Steve Park) discuss towards the end of the segment.
Wright tells his story from the stage of a TV talk show (the host is played by Liev Schreiber, with a brilliant deadpan reserve), where he proves his “typographic memory” by reciting his article verbatim. It then gets dramatized onscreen, with Wright talking to the camera as the events unfold. New Yorker.
Overall, while I was dazzled by the visual artistry and delivery of this film, I can’t say it was my favourite Wes film. My favourite is, of course, the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. There were visual delights and monstrously strong elements in this film but it lacked a certain soul and direction. It was, as I have written, a pastiche of Wes-isms and an insightful journey into what an artist can achieve post-success.
When my folks brought me to Broadstairs, I searched for the best eatery. Please, Sir! came up as number one. My critic senses were tingling, I simply knew this was the place to go. What confirmed my opinion was that all those in attendance wanted to not eat there because of some bizarre attachment to eating with the sea in sight. See below how I was absolutely correct. I wagered with father that if this was not the best burger he had eaten in months I would pay for dinner in full as well as lunch. Deal.
Holy Steak patties, American cheese, pastrami, pickles & English mustard.
Yoikes. Please, Sir! were the first restaurant in Kent to do smash burgers, according to the owner Steve who was kind enough to explain us the concept of a smash burger and the fact that the restaurant chooses meat from the back of the cow rather than the front for maximal flavour, at the cost of fat content. This made for an exquisite burger. Originally made by putting the meat on horses and squishing it down while men were riding around, Pastrami is an interesting meat! It has flavour such as smoke, spicy black pepper, and the sweet citrus tang of coriander. Mixed with the lovely flavour of the patty and acidic pickle, this was a marriage made in heaven. Father told me it was indeed the best burger he had had in a considerable time, followed by a swift “damn it” under his breath. You see, good taste can be economical!
I opted for the Mighty which seems like an ordinary combination of standard burger ingredients and indeed it is, but the quality of the ingredients is the excellent part. See the thick cut bacon, thick goopy cheese and smashed burgers, with beautiful buns topped with sesame seeds. Just perfect. I have difficulty to describe the depth of flavour but I can assure you I finished with a satisfactory grunt.
Unbelievable Steak patties, American cheese, sriracha mayo, lettuce.
Finally Nick opted for the Unbelievable which very much lived up to its name. The flavour profile contains: sun-ripened chiles, garlic, sugar, salt, and vinegar, giving it a hot-sweet-sour-salty flavour. The combination of this with the beautiful beef, cheese and lettuce was just sublime with Nick who nodded in approbation.
Overall this was a stunning establishment. The milk shakes were also a thing of profound beauty which I recommend, the Kinder Bueno White being the best, I believe. Really lives up to Steve’s description. Do go if you are in Broadstairs!
It may surprise you to know that I did not have a good time in Bristol. I had cycled 100 miles to get there and was not in the best shape having to do a full working day the following day as well as an hour presentation to dozens of people. No matter! La Grotta was highly rated and from the descriptions looked like the sort of place I might enjoy a hearty Italian meal. This was absolutely the case. And to top it off it is in the centre of Bristol.
To begin I had a lovely arrancino. This is a cone of rice, with tomato sauce, breaded and invariably with a glob of molten mozzarella in the centre. This after a long cycle and seemingly longer walk from Montpelier to Bristol centre was just right. This is a staple of Sicilian cuisine but is eaten across Italy, and indeed in Bristol. The one at the Grotta was no exception. It was exactly what I hoped it would be. The sauce mingling well with the coagulated rice, held together by a lovely thin crust of the bread crumbs which was not too thick.
Although the crust was good, I am afraid to say La Grotta could have done better on the margherita pizza test. They have, as you can see, used grated cheese instead of sliced mozzarella… and there is a distinctive green sweet leaf missing from the top. The best margherita pizza have a few pieces of basil scattered about just after the cooking is finished. This was not the case here. In this instance I was so ravenous that it did not much matter. The dough was good, nice and thin and even, cooked through with no soggy bits, which was ace.
Also, ever keen to be green, I had some rather buttery garlic broccoli with the meal, this helped counterbalance the relatively unhealthy carb overload of the pizza!
Overall I had a good time, I was well attended to, and the waiter was as keen a cyclist as me which was a big plus.
Welcome to another edition of Five Favourites where I share some excellent album covers which have brought me some measure of joy over the last few weeks. See below your fixe for November.
Fleetwood Mac – English Rose (1969)
An absolutely extraordinary cover. Of course this drag esque figure of a woman is the antithesis of an English Rose and is more reminiscent of one of Dr Evil’s goons in the first Austin Powers movie (“That’s a man, baby!”). But still, you have to admire the confidence Fleetwood Mac must have had to publish this in 1969.
Queen – News of the World (1977)
On the subject of frightening covers, see above this terrifying cover of a wonderful Queen album. The idea of a giant robot carrying the members of Queen, in full regalia, is just excellent. In fact, it is so scary that Family Guy included it in their episode Killer Queen. Brian used it to torture Stewie, who was deathly afraid of the cover!
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica (1969)
By this point I suppose you believe this month’s covers are All Hallows Eve based, and subconsciously I may have chosen these to reflect the horror of my present mood. However I find that I write best when stimulated, by all extremes of emotion. Trout Master Replica is called at once (by proper Music Men (TM) who can appreciate such works) a masterpiece and a cursed album. I have not yet understood the attraction to this strange band but am always willing to be proven wrong. What a very strange album this is, but absolutely worth seeing.
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
I suppose this is quite similar to the first cover in some ways. They were contemporaneous. This is supposedly one of the best albums ever made but I don’t see it. In fact I’m minded to think the opposite but this is a matter of my current taste. I need to listen with open ears and make an objective decision – but when does one have the time to open their minds? Anyway, this is quote something, a shocking and nauseating meld of colours and emotions which leaves one open mouthed, shall we say?
Grace Jones – Slave to the Rhythm (1985)
I have hinted at this album cover in the inaugural Five Favourites in March but not written about it directly. Of course those of you in the know will remember this won AOTY in 2019, and I was so overwhelmed that I could not talk about it. The cover is something of a work of art for me. I read in Grace’s memoirs, ‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’, that Jean Paul Goude designed this cover to mimic the face Grace made at the moment she gave birth to their son Paulo Goude. It’s quite extraordinary and equally frightening. I have a framed sketch of this on my wall. Just sensational.