Like Ficarra and Requa’s 2011 comedy Crazy Stupid Love, Focus begins promisingly and bops along enjoyably for a while, only to run out of steam…
The artist Marie Haws in Vancouver was drawn into a blog I wrote about the legendary O'Rourke's Pub in Chicago, not so much by the prose as by the photograph I used, taken by my pal Jack Lane:
Marie returned to the photograph and again, finding depths in it, and was finally moved to paint this oil inspired by it:
The photo shows me at the front end of of the bar talking with the writer Tom Wolfe. Neither Jack nor I can identify the man on the left, or Mystery Woman on the right. I've been told that M.W. resembles my girlfriend in the 70s, but there are two problems with that: (1) Ingrid never smoked a day in her life, and (2) M.W. in the oil looks like her, but M.W. in the photo doesn't.
Of course, camera angle can be deceptive, so I will forward this to Ingrid and her four children and see what they think. Nothing would please me more than to find out who I have my arm around.
I am quite fond on this painting, the only one I have of myself. I do have a nearly life-size bronze bust, but lest you get the wrong impression, I didn't commission it or pay for it. I posed for the class project of an art student whose assignment was to make a recognizable sculpture of a recognizable person.
[ 4:14 p.m. Nov 21, e-mail from Jack Lane: Mystery man on left is Dick Flynn, a mate of mine from the ad days. He and I were having a quiet Sunday evening drink and discussing worldly matters when a stranger entered the nearly empty bar. Dick said, a bit excitedly, that it was Tom Wolfe. I glanced over and disagreed, pointing out that the stranger was not wearing a white suit. Dick, who had been Wolfe's neighbor in NYC, persisted and went over to verify his assessment. And indeed, he was right. The three of us had an hour or so of pleasant conversation until a horde of noisy re revelers descended upon us and the rest, as you know, is history. Jack ]
Marie has been a treasured regular on my blog almost from the beginning. She is known for (1) recklessly inserting so many URLs into her posts that they mostly end up trapped in the Spam filter, (2) inserting "*chuckle*" every once im a while, and (3) attempted assassination of her fellow blog posters with the astonishingchocolate cake recipe published below these three examples of her wonderful work:
Girl in the Coat - 24" x 36" oil on canvas
Tuscan hill-top vineyard, Italy - 24" x 108" oil on canvas
Chianti region, Italy - 20" x 26" oil on canvas
...and then, on Sunday morning, Marie Haws posted this comment:
I love that we've discovered the name of mystery guy; it's D*ck Flynn! For how perfect is that?! Was there ever a name more ironic and thus better suited to be in a painting showing Roger Ebert at O'Rourke's - than one shared in the blog the very same week he runs a "limerick contest"? Smile. I regard it as confirmation from the Gods that indeed, everything is connected.
And as noted, it all started with a journal entry and Roger's memories of a pub in the dodgy part of Chicago, a place no longer there but when it was, of questionable repute; an Irish pub called O'Rourke's. I just want to be comfortable, you know? I just want to sit down, enjoy a Kilkenny, chat with friends, maybe play a few rounds and pretend I don't suck at pool, while catching a nice buzz. I don't want to have to worry about how to pay a fancy coverage charge (insert really bad word!) or navigating past stupid yuppies to reach the bar - none of that crap.
And the very week Roger posted his journal entry about O'Rourke's, was the same week "I" discovered the fate of my favorite watering hole: the "Irish Heather". They'd moved across the street. Seems required upgrades to the building had forced the owner to choose the lesser of two evils: close his business for one year, or move. And this is partly what was lost because of it: the back room conservatory in a photo by Stephen Dyrgas.... Arguably THE most perfect spot to drink in Vancouver.
An alley runs behind the pub and covered in red bricks. They'd simply enclosed part of it to make an extra seating area. God, how I loved that place. So I was in full empathy mode, when Roger heaved a wistful sigh as he recollected the passing of one his favorite places, too! That's how I could relate even though I'd never been there. I knew O'Rourke's because I'd known the Heather. It too, was also in the dodgy part of town; smile.
For that reason, my emotional attachment to the place was immediate - and then I saw Jack Lane's photographs! And suddenly, my next painting! But I needed better reference, which is how I got a hold of Jack's B/W photos; I pestered Roger and he sent me some. And when I saw the alternate shot of him with Tom Wolfe... BINGO! Two guys in the middle of a conversation we can't hear, flanked either side by mysteries for being equally as ignorant of what they were thinking, too.
Why does anyone go to a pub? To drink? I suppose, but not me. I think it's where you go to drink a "conversation" too! And what's better than a conversation you can custom tailor - for never knowing what was actually being said? It's a blank page on which the viewer can write whatever they want! You can imagine all sorts of things! They could have been plotting a murder. What?! Don't look at me like that - it's Chicago. And two writers are in a bar. Enough said. :)
And so I loved that shot. It was sublime. Although... true; it does look like Roger's groping himself in the photo, but I took care of that and changed it for the painting. And I dropped Flynn's hand as well - as it kinda looks like he's trying to punch Tom Wolfe in the jaw. But all minor stuff and easily dealt with. It took longer to paint than I'd planned - chasing the rent can be distracting - but I eventually finished it.
Actually, Roger got to see it as a work in progress. I was sending him photos in cyber dispatches while bugging him about the spam filter and stuff. So he knew weeks in advance how things were coming along. And then the day finally arrived when it was dry and ready to go to Chicago. I couldn't afford the shipping and so he actually picked up the tab for his own present! How nice was that, eh? (As he didn't make me feel like a cheap basterd; chuckle!) What?! I have to pay the postage on my own GIFT?! Jeeesh, and that's so typically Canadian, I swear, you people..."
Smile; instead he just told me how much he loved it and Chaz too. And there you have it; that's the story of the painting and how it came to be. I love O'Rourke's vicariously so. I love how Roger's memories of the place, feel. I love the conversations I get to imagine and the ongoing mystery of smoking girl and that Flynn's name sounds the way it does. And that right now, my painting is inside Roger Ebert's house; the same critic who didn't like Harold and Maude. What's that got to do with anything..? Rubbing hands together with a glee. (Or maybe I'm just f-cking with ya; laugh!) One thing however is not in doubt; how sincerely flattered I was by this. It caught me totally by surprise when you suddenly asked for a few pictures and my death by chocolate recipe!
I thought you'd just show the painting to Chaz and the kids, maybe Tom Wolfe and there you go! Note: that's why it took me so long to write that post, the one I'd lost; I was actually at a loss for words! A rare moment that and I've moved past it now, as you can see. :)
@ Roger wrote: "I informed Marie that the ghosts of the O'Rourke's Crowd still haunt the Old Town Ale House to this day. The owner is Bruce Elliott, a regular in those days. Marie, who loves Venice, might agree that a master of the Italian Renaissance would have been drawn to the same subject, albeit expressed in a somewhat different style, in Bruce's own painting "The Strip-Searching of Rod Blagojevich."
Oh absolutely. Without a doubt. Those dudes totally loved a bit of unpleasant business. Caravaggio for example, would have done a lovely job of it. Or whoever painted the rape of the Sabines. A strip search would have been a walk in park, chuckle!
@ Marta Chiavacci wrote - "Marie is not only an amazingly talented artist, she's an even more amazing friend." Awww! What a nice thing to say, Marta! But I'm still gonna tease you about wearing FIVE inch heels. As that's insane and what real friends would do. Roger? Marta gave me my very first Bialetti! Her parents moved to Canada in the 50's from Lucca, near Florence. And several years ago, Marta ironically moved to Lucca to live there! She fell in love with her second cousin, whose got a house near the medieval city.
She kept her place in Vancouver though and routinely travels back and forth; currently, she's in town. And get this - Marta Chiavacci, a female born in Canada, moves to Italy, studies wine and ends up beating all the guys and becoming FISAR's sommelier of the year in 2007. That's right - I know an award-winning Sommelier. The girl I met in grade 7. Naturally, Marta gets to pick the wine whenever we go out to dinner, as otherwise, I buy wine based on how well designed the labels are. At the moment, she's in the process of setting up her own wine business; guided tours of vineyards with a sommelier.
Marta's interesting to know in her own right, but as a relocated Canadian, I get a close-up view of another country now too, through her dispatches about daily life in Italy. The truth of things. It's like having my very own reporter on the ground! And the story of how she got a driver's license in Italy, is a thing to behold. It takes days to tell, as it's that serpentine a journey through their bureaucracy. Chuckle! And now you've got one of my paintings too, joining the club with Marta. Awesome.
P.S. now watch, I'll die and suddenly those paintings will be worth a fortune!
Marie Haws' online gallery.
The blog entry that started all this, "A bar on North Avenue."
I informed Marie that the ghosts of the O'Rourke's Crowd still haunt the Old Town Ale House to this day. The owner is Bruce Elliott, a regular in those days. Marie, who loves Venice, might agree that a master of the Italian Renaissance would have been drawn to the same subject, albeit expressed in a somewhat different style, in Bruce's own painting "The Strip-Searching of Rod Blagojevich."
The "DEATH BY CHOCOLATE" Recipe
8 oz high-quality bitter sweet chocolate (Valhrona is best!)
2/3 cup of butter
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/3 cup of sour cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/4 cup dark rich Dutch cocoa
1/2 cup of flour
1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
8 oz of bitter sweet chocolate (again, BEST you can find.)
1/2 cup of heavy cream (in Canada, in the dairy section next to the milk, you can find a pint of whipping cream. Americans call THAT heavy cream.)
Inside of the cake:
Raspberry liquor (or use a brandy)
1/4 cup of Raspberry Jam (or buy some fresh Raspberries and mash them up in a bowl and add 2 tbs of sugar (in case they're a bit tart) and use that - I do, tastes fresher!
In a heavy bottom pan or double-boiler, melt the chocolate and butter on low heat. While that's melting, combine the eggs and the white & brown sugars together, on medium speed in a mixer until somewhat light; you want the sugar to dissolve and not be sandy.
Check the chocolate. Melted? Remove from heat and stir. Set aside to cool a bit (you can use the fridge.) Once cool to the touch, pour melted chocolate in with the eggs and sugar and turn on the mixer for a few minutes to incorporate everything before you add the next ingredients...
To that, now add the flour, dark Dutch coco, salt, baking powder, sour cream, vanilla. Start on low speed then you can go a bit faster, and mix everything up, etc.
Preheat oven to 350F. Get a 9" wide, by 3 inches deep springform pan. Remove bottom from pan, wrap it with tinfoil, put it back in the springform. Lightly spray the bottom and insides with a cooking oil spray - or use some melted margarine and a brush etc.
Note: I always set a springform pan on a cookie tray in case there's any leakage, but you can also wrap the outside with more foil. Pour batter into Springform pan. Bake for 40 - 50 min. Test it with a toothpick at the 40 min mark etc. Done? Take it out, let it cool a bit before removing the top of the springform from the bottom.
Get your Raspberry jam ready. NOTE: if you don't want raspberry seeds, pass the berries through a strainer over a small bowl (mash them through it etc.) Add the liquor etc.
Once the cake is completely cool, trim the top. Use a thin, serrated knife. You don't need to remove the center bit. The top edge tend to be hardest and higher than the middle - so getting rid of that helps level things off. *DO NOT throw away what you cut off it case you need it, later.
Make the ganache: and make your life easier too, use a double-boiler. Most people don't own professional grade pots ($150 each!) Put chocolate and cream in a doubler-boiler and stir on low heat. Once melted, turn off heat.
You need to cut the cake in half now. I have a better way to do it than is shown in the video below.
Get some toothpicks (4 will do it) and stick them around the sides of the cake, half-way up. Get a LONG sewing thread - a light color so you can see it. Wrap it around the cake and "above" each of toothpicks (they help keep the thread from slipping down as you make sure it's positioned correctly. Tie your thread and slowly but steadily pull the ends. The thread will slice perfectly through the middle of the cake as you go etc. A trick I learned from a dessert chef. :)
Pull out the toothpicks, but stick 2 back in, on the sides: one in the top layer, another further down but right below it. This will help you when assembling the layers; a point of reference.
Get a serving plate for the cake. You're going to transfer the TOP layer onto that.
Note: I took the lid from an ice cream bucket last year, and with an exacto knife, cut the rim off. It made a plastic circle. You can also use the glass from an 8x10 picture frame, if you like. Point is, this method tends to NOT break the cake for better supporting the entire weight of it as you move it over.
The Top layer is now the bottom layer - and if the center looks too low, build it up with some of the stuff you'd previously cut off. Pour Raspberry Jam onto the cake; spread it around. Get the ganache. Pour less than 1/2 onto the cake, spread that around too.
Get the bottom layer of the cake now. Flip it over, and place it on top of the layer with the jam and ganache. Match the toothpicks up; then pull them out. Remove the metal bottom and the tinfoil. You have a cake with a perfectly, flawless top!
Heat the ganache back up, you're going to POUR the remaining glaze over the entire assembled cake. Use a long, wide spatula to help guide the chocolate ganache along and around the sides etc. Don't have one? Use the longest, widest knife you own. Use a less pointy knife for the sides.
Clean any mess around the cake, and et voila; you're done. Unless you want to decorate it too, based on what you see in the video.
Attention Helpless Males: step-by-step video instructions -
And last but not least -
How to make a chocolate cake in a crock-pot:
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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