What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Nick Paumgarten is not like a piece by Dana Goodyear, and neither is like a piece by Ian Frazier. One could not mistake Finnegan for Friend, or Bilger for Lepore, or Collins for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

December 2, 2013 Issue

Calvin Trillin loves his noshing strolls. He’s been making the rounds for almost fifty years, blissfully filling his basket with Joe’s smokies, Blue Ribbon matzos, Russ & Daughters’ Nova Scotia salmon, Tanenbaum’s pumpernickel bagels, Ben’s homemade cream cheese with scallions, and many other delectable goodies. But, one by one, these tiny storefront specialty shops on the Lower East Side have been closing. One-stop shopping is taking over. Flux is all, and Trillin has had to alter his rituals, but not without lamentation. First, he wrote “The Lower East Side: A Sunday-Morning Tale” (The New Yorker, February 24, 1973), ruing Ben’s Dairy’s closing on Sundays. He writes,

I took it personally. My Sundays had been ruined. The satisfaction of capturing each of the ingredients for the perfect Nova Scotia and cream cheese on bagel was no more. The pleasure of a late breakfast that could be extended to include picking at the small bits of Nova Scotia left on the platter at three-thirty or four was gone. I felt like a baseball manager who, having finally polished a double-play combination to such brilliance that it provided the inspiration for the entire team, learns that the second baseman has decided to retire so that he can devote full time to his franchise estate-planning business.

Next, he wrote “The Magic Bagel” (The New Yorker, March 27, 2000), mourning the disappearance of Tanenbaum’s pumpernickel bagels. That loss hit him hard. He even wonders if it might’ve been responsible for his daughters moving out (“How was I to know that bagels can be instrumental in keeping families intact?”).

Now, in this week’s issue, his superb “Mozzarella Story” appears. It’s an elegy for Joe’s Dairy, maker of “a smoked mozzarella that – still soft and milky, unlike most smoked mozzarella – always came up from the basement in the afternoon.” After thirty-five years in business, Joe’s retail store has closed its doors. Trillin relishes Joe’s smokies. He writes:

Joe’s mozzarella was a bit smaller than a softball, with one end twisted into a sort of knob. I remember wondering, in desperate moments, if, using the knob as a handhold, I could stand right there at the counter and devour one of those balls of mozzarella, as if chomping away at a large and exceedingly juicy apple.

Trillin says he’s adapted to the loss. He’s found some other mozzarella shops to his liking, including an “old-fashioned latteria” on Grand Street. He’s readjusted his noshing strolls. But you can tell he deeply misses Joe’s. You can tell because he’s written this wonderful elegy, “Mozzarella Story,” recreating Joe’s Dairy for as long and for as many times as there may be readers.

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