There Are Days When It Becomes Very Clear Why the Three-Martini Lunch Was Invented

I have more things to do today than I have time to do them, and they are all supposed to be top priority. I’ve been told I’m being assigned three new books to develop with a new author, on top of all my other new books that need editing, some of which are quite a few months behind schedule. And as soon as my lunch break is over I will be taking time out of my day to give a couple of interviews, because that’s top priority, too.

(To be fair, the new books are all with the same author, so they will by necessity be dealt with one at a time. But still.)

I’m drinking a large iced tea at Peet’s while I work on my blog, but something a bit stronger would go down well right at the moment. Oh well.

The Gold Scab

Dave and I were at the de Young Museum on Sunday afternoon. I haven’t been there more than once or twice in my life, and probably not in well over a decade; Dave, on the other hand, has been there many times throughout his life (he grew up in the Bay Area), and he’s familiar with a lot of the collection.

I could only vaguely remember anything in the museum, and it was a bit of a shock to me to come across an oil painting by Whistler that I didn’t remember ever seeing before and couldn’t remember knowing anything about, The Gold Scab. But when I pointed it out to Dave, it turned out the painting was an old acquaintance for him.

I was surprised at myself for not knowing about this painting. Whistler is one of my favorite painters, and his Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C., is one of my favorite places. Whistler painted the room for his patron Frederick Leyland, but as the work progressed, the two men quarreled increasingly bitterly over it, and over how much Leyland should pay Whistler for it. Even after they’d finally agreed on a fee, Leyland shaved shillings off it as a deliberate insult. They never reconciled after that.

Arrangement in Black: Portrait of F. R. Leyland, by James Whistler The banner at the top of this blog is adapted from the mural Whistler painted on one wall of the room. The peacock on the left represents Whistler himself, and it is fleering at the peacock on the right, who represents Leyland. Leyland’s peacock has silver shillings in among its gold breast feathers, has silver shillings in place of eyes in its tail feathers, and is standing on a pile of gold coins and silver shillings. (The whole wild story is both sad and funny, and the loss of Leyland’s patronage was a self-inflicted blow to Whistler’s finances that he never recovered from.)

As I said, I couldn’t remember having even heard of The Gold Scab before, though I checked my books when I got back home and it’s definitely mentioned; I’d just forgotten it. But I immediately recognized the painting as a cruel caricature of Leyland — the fact that he looks like a man in a peacock suit decorated with gold coins is an obvious giveaway to anyone who knows the story of the Peacock Room, and I remembered what the man looked like from Whistler’s full-length portrait of him. Evidently Whistler wasn’t content with having painted his contempt for Leyland on the man’s own dining room wall, but had to produce an additional three oil paintings mocking him, of which only this one is known to have survived.


On Sunday Dave and I spent the afternoon at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and then saw the new animated movie Up in the evening.

Up is a lot of fun, with great animation, good characters, a lot of pleasant sentiment without getting gooey, and a wonderfully ridiculous story. The main character is a cranky old man, the kind who sits on his porch and yells at people to get away from his property, and yet the way the story is set up, ten minutes into the movie and you are completely on his side. The other central character is an irritatingly helpful kid in a Boy-Scout-like group called the Wilderness Explorers, and one of the many sweet touches in this movie is that Russell is drawn as Asian and not a word is ever said about it.

Dave tells me that the movie is also a fanboy’s delight, containing all kinds of references to much-admired animated movies from Pinocchio to Howl’s Moving Castle. I didn’t catch much of that.

I cared for the second half of the movie, though, less than the first half. From the point where one character is revealed to be a stock archvillain of the Evil Mastermind genre, the movie becomes a rescue adventure culminating in a way-over-the-top action sequence that is partly meant to be exciting and partly meant to be tongue-in-cheek. It seems like every movie of this sort has to lead to one of these and they’re all trying to top each other and I’ve grown kind of tired of the pattern.