My cat sniffs his new building in Manhattan, reading it like a newspaper. Smell is the sense that cats need most to feel secure. His whole body trembles on our front porch at the intensity of sirens, thunderstorms, garbage and icecream trucks. He only stops shaking when we cover one or two of his ears, and then he settles a little, flaring his nostrils with professorial discernment. He’s not distracted by a bumblebee thrashing over his head, or gangs of NYC sparrows (who are decisive percussionists, not drippy singer-songwriters – their fights over ants and trees are for real).
May in northern Manhattan is lively, gentler than August. All the senses swim in microtones, ambience, rhythms. In spite of – and because of – the latest nation-wide circus of jumping worms, murder hornets, monkey pox, abolition of trans rights and abortion care, book banning, drought, fire, and gun-slaughter, this city feeds all my senses. New York may be full of everything, but I find many people are listening attentively to our collective anxieties – so much is going wrong. A woman shouted fiercely in our uptown subway car, threatening to kick someone’s ass, and everyone stayed quiet, watchful. She eventually simmered down, a meticulous process for her, and by 14th St she had gathered herself.
I’m practicing, and also composing, around un-opened boxes, dust and suitcases, barely rooted in our new home. It’s an inelegant process. The pieces I’m writing have stories, tethered by wild elements. Writing has a certain distance right now because everything is unanchored. My latest composition Galanthea will be for theorbo and alto flute, in honor of guitarist Caroline Delume, for our August concert in Paris. Galanthea is an homage to the snowdrop in thermogenesis, as it thaws its way out of the snow at the end of Winter – all raw energy, hope and risk.
House renovations are taking forever, not helped by building material shortages in the pandemic. Cooking/composing can help keep a body assembled where it might give up. My favorite musicians and cooks are escape artists, creating new worlds of experience that care for guts and ears. When our fancy new oven Thor is finally plugged in, his baking will commence.
Here’s my recipe I made when we moved here. Rosemary for memory, salt for cells, sugar to make your blood surge over the borders, honey for contemplating trees, butter to remind you of what is enough, and flour to keep your shit glued together. Rosemary shortbread will stop you nittering in your own head. Make a lot of it, and keep it in the freezer to lure people you have missed since the locusts have descended.
2 cups flour
⅔ cup sugar
lots of fresh rosemary as you want, harvest + chop leaves
good salt to bring out the sweetness
1 cup butter
1 fat tablespoon of robust honey
Set the oven to 325 degrees F.
Melt the butter and honey, and mix with the sugar, salt, flour, and rosemary.
Combine well and roll into batons. wrap in parchment paper, and refrigerate to harden.
Take out to cut into ¼ inch thick slices, use the same parchment paper to assemble on a baking tray.
Bake for @ 25 minutes and hover to ensure a delicate brown.
Cool on a wire rack.
Put in your mouth.