Age before beauty

Look at these beauties in Annie’s photo. It’s been said that a photographer has three quarters of their work done for them when photographing something beautiful, be it a person or a sunrise. I tend to agree.

But there’s nothing wrong with that. Shooting and viewing an image of a lithe young thing is thrilling, inspiring, joyful. We see youth, we see perfection, we see sex come alive, and as we get older we see those things through different eyes, made so by our evolving perspective.

Photographing something or someone worn and aged can be a vastly different experience, as the photographer and as the viewer. Shooting an ancient wooden gate, for example, brought down to its most elemental self through decades of sun and wind and rain, can be spellbinding. So much texture, such detail, something different to be seen with each viewing.

Not to carelessly conflate this beautiful couple with an old gate; shooting older people is equally fascinating, for sometimes similar reasons. Look at the lines, the texture, the years of smiles and tears made manifest on the faces, all long gone away but at the same time vitally present on the very faces before us. Beauty can come in so many different ways, be it young or old, each with their callings, each potentially lacking something the other effortlessly possesses.

©Annie Leibovitz


With that, then, have a look at this wonderful portrait of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and have a read about the classic movie they made together a half-century ago. I’ve always had a thing for each of them — go figure — and they each look as stunning in their eighties as they did as exquisite young people.

For Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music Was Never “So Long, Farewell”

 Vanity Fair, March 2015

Triple-Chocolate Cheesecake


1½ C. very finely crushed chocolate cookie crumbs (about 30 Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers)

3 T. granulated sugar

½ t. ground cinnamon (optional)

¼ C. unsalted butter, melted


½ C. sour cream

2 t. pure vanilla extract

1 t. instant coffee granules or espresso powder

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, at room temperature

3 T. natural, unsweetened cocoa powder sifted if lumpy

¼ t. table salt

1¼ C. granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

(C.=cup ; T.=tablespoon ; t.=teaspoon)


Make the crust: Heat the oven to 400ºF. In a medium bowl stir together the cookie crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon (if using) until blended.

Drizzle with the melted butter and mix until well blended and the crumbs are evenly moist.

Dump the mixture into a 9-inch springform pan and press evenly onto the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of the pan (I use a straight-sided juice glass to get the corners and sides, but any flat-bottomed implement will do, or even your fingers covered in plastic wrap). Bake for 10 minutes and set on a wire rack to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300ºF.

Make the filling and bake: Mix the sour cream, vanilla, and coffee granules in a small bowl. Set aside and stir occasionally until the coffee dissolves.

Carefully melt the chocolate (double-boiler, or I just use a pan on the stovetop set to Low). Stir until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, cocoa powder, and salt until very smooth and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl and paddle frequently (and with each subsequent addition). Add the sugar and continue beating until well blended and smooth. Scrape the cooled chocolate into the bowl; beat until blended. Beat in the sour cream mixture until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until just blended. (Don’t over-beat the filling once the eggs have been added or the cheesecake will puff too much.) Pour the filling over the cooled crust, spread evenly, and smooth the top. Bake at 300ºF until the center barely jiggles when nudged; 50 to 60 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed, with a few little cracks around the edge. Let cool to room temperature on a rack and then refrigerate until well chilled, at least a few hours, or overnight for the best texture and flavor.

To serve: Unclasp the pan’s ring, remove it, and run a long, flat spatula under the bottom crust. Carefully work the spatula along the full bottom of the crust, then slide the entire cake onto a flat serving plate. To cut, run a thin knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and cut into slices, heating and wiping the knife as needed (the “hot knife through butter” metaphor works literally here.)

This is a very rich, dense cake. Chocoholics will levitate. If, however, it’s too rich for your or your guests’ comfort, serve it with fresh raspberries or strawberries, a simple sauce made from either of these berries, or even a small dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Modified slightly from a recipe in the March/April 2003 issue of Fine Cooking.

What We Have Here . . .


Communication (latin communicare):  the process of sharing information, knowledge or meaning.

People don’t write letters anymore. I don’t write letters anymore. Nobody writes letters anymore, I suspect, because not only do they involve too much effort in the production, but also do they take too long to produce a response. We’d like our communication instantaneous, here in the Jetsons future. Immediacy, please — we’re busy.

With all of the myriad ways we’ve created to communicate instantaneously; that is, to produce both our questions and our answers — our calls and responses — it seems to me that there has come to be something seriously broken in that binary: We call, but we don’t respond.

“Sorry I didn’t get back to you,” someone might say if pressed, “I was fill in the blank.” Out of town? So what. In a coma? Understandable. Too busy? What’s that stuff that comes out of the back of a horse again? It would have taken you ten seconds to respond, if you’d wanted to. The actual fill-in-the-blank, in a great many instances, is something along these lines: Sorry I didn’t get back to you. I was simply disinclined to do so. I didn’t feel like it. It didn’t matter enough to me.

We no longer communicate with. We don’t communicate to.  We communicate at people. We lob bunches of words and information at people, assuming they’ll be there to catch and act on them, somehow, and if we want a response right away, we sulk until we get it. When we are the lob-ee, however; when we’re the one’s being dumped on with the communication, and when that communication is simply not that important to us (never mind how important it might be to the lob-er), we blow it off. No “got it.” No “interesting, let me get back to you.” Not even a “phuckoff, you’re being ridiculous.” Simply…not…anything.

This isn’t about generational age, I don’t believe. I’ve experienced this with young and old both. I have a friend who’s often in the habit of sending me a text that obviously took a long time to thumb together; paragraphs. “How are you? I am fine. Great to see you. We must do that again sometime. Did I leave my thingie in your car? What are your thoughts on the movie we saw? Have you spoken to Izzy about the hit?” You’re kidding, right? Let me just pull my car over to the shoulder and spend the next seventeen minutes thumbing back to you, in order of points received. In realization of the great irony that this person used their phone — their telephone — to create that message, I’ll often assume that they are then still proximate to that phone and will attempt to call them back. “Oh,” they’ll say, “I just sent you a text.” There is something in their voice. They’re upset. They’re annoyed. It took them a long time to thumb that. They’re busy. “I know,” I’ll say,” that’s why I’m calling! I haven’t found your thingie, and Izzy was out of town.”

Once, not too long ago, I asked a colleague about his propensity to send detailed texts, instead of using the very same device to very easily make a phone call. “Yeah, but that would involve an actual conversation,” he replied, without a trace of irony or self-awareness. Yes, yes that’s true, it would. Unless you’re praying for voicemail, but God doesn’t usually work that way. Use your grown-up skills. Talk to the nice people. They’re not the same as the video-game people you shoot. They’re far more intricate, and usually less threatening.

It’s no secret that people hide behind technology in lieu of actual face-to-face discussion. Heck, even using the 20th century telephone was technology in place of presence. We all have known people who will say, by way of Devine excuse, “I just don’t like talking on the telephone.” Yes, I hear they’re working on the ones without electrified prongs, but meantime let’s just sort of struggle through it. Does the fact that they “don’t enjoy talking on the phone” mean they’ll go the extra bit and meet to talk face-to-face? Of course not. They’ll just tend not to communicate.

Once, I worked at the headquarters of a very large “Fortune 100” corporation. This corporation, as do all corporations, had spent millions of dollars on their email system, and their overwrought mailing lists were the stuff of legend. Have you ever tried to communicate with anyone, to any true effect, “over email?” Intentions are misread. Bosses are “cc’ed.” Asses are covered. Calls and responses, in a foreshadowing of the dawning Facebook, were endlessly copied and pasted in to still more emails, by way of response, by way of accountability, by way of refutation, by way of communication. A classic example of words being flung far and wide and very little being communicated.

I recently started interacting with a service provider in another state. This person bills their services, as many increasingly do, as being completely on-line, Internet-based. People pay sometimes large amounts of money to take advantage of the knowledge and experience on offer, and as long as the provider is in either a mood or a mode to disseminate information, all’s well. Send an email with your own question, clarification, or idea, though? Nothing. Crickets. Perhaps they haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps they have but they’ll get back to me later. Perhaps there was something inappropriate in my deciding to initiate conversation first. Perhaps they were busy with other things. Regardless of their reason, though, I’m left in the dark. Is it in my spam folder? It’s been three days — did I accidentally delete their response? Maybe I’ll give it another week. How long is too long? The end result, after everything, is nothing. No response. No communication at all.

Picture the same scenario in person: You walk up to someone, you ask them a question, something appropriate, something salient to that particular relationship. Imagine them refusing to meet your gaze, and after a few minutes, while you’re waiting for a response, imagine that they simply walk away. Ridiculous. Probably hardly ever happens, in the real world. But online? Via text? Via email? It happens all the time. You’re left with nothing but a question mark, and no way to follow up.

Because the follow-up is worse. In this gizmo-based non-comminicative communication, there are no options I know of to address the issue. “Did you get my text?” “Did you get my email?” “Did you get my voicemail?” Those are all usually, and in this context understandably, polite versions of “why didn’t you get back to me?” Regardless of the situation, what I will normally find is that the person is offended that I’ve pressed them. Never mind how offended we might be that we were, in effect, completely and wholly blown-off. They are offended that we asked about it. We called them on it. We caught them being bad, and they resent us for it. Can I have my answer now that we’re talking? No. Now I’m mad at you.

I wish we’d grow out of it. I wish we’d all band together and refute the prognosticators who have long said that technology is making us childish, self-serving meatsacks and talk to one another like grown-ups, even just to prove them wrong, damned prognosticators. It takes no more than ten seconds to respond, using our gizmos, in even the most terse and basic of ways. Especially the “professionals” playing grown-up with the neat toys: People have entered in to this relationship respecting you. Have the sense of decency to at least behave, outwardly, as if you respect them, too. It takes so little effort.

Until then, please leave your name, number, and time you called, after the beep. If you’d like to leave a call-back number, press five now. If you’d like to send a fax, press six now. If you’d like to end this call, please hang up now. 

Merry Christmas — 2014


©Jeff Horner


I’m not one to say “Merry Christmas ‘To Those Who Celebrate’,” simply because I assume that last part is implied. The “to those who celebrate” part sounds like so much boilerplate legalese, like “void where prohibited,” or “the beverage you are about to enjoy is HOT!,” or “employees must wash hands.”

There’s too much of that bland emotionless ass-covering in 21st Century America, don’t you think? Christmas is what I celebrate, but I don’t hate Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or the Solstice, or Saturnalia, or any of the rest. They’re just not familiar to me. Christmas, to me, means joy, wonder, and togetherness and fun and new beginnings — it really does — and that’s what I mean to convey. So Joy, and Wonder, and Togetherness, and Fun, and New Beginnings, to everyone!

Autumn — Then & Now


©Jeff Horner



It’s Autumn. The air cools down, especially at night, the cool dry air bringing with it memories of football games, sweatshirts, cold noses and the coming holidays. Blankets are pulled up close in the dark when everyone sleeps. The leaves on the trees turn beautiful colors, and then they fall to the ground.

It’s an annual ritual. Families gather outdoors in long pants and jackets, maybe gloves, each with a rake in hand. Everyone takes a section, and then they begin to rake the leaves into piles. Slow work at first, but eventually progress is made, the lawn is cleared, and the piles are packed into bags or — if you’re lucky! — piled into special chimneys for burning.

Everyone’s cheeks are rosy from the afternoon’s exercise, their posture erect, their muscles flush. They’re ready to head inside and make some dinner! The air is filled with the smell of sweet smoke from fireplaces, of earth uncovered and of grass still green, of leaves and of cool fresh air.


It’s Autumn. The air cools down, especially at night, the cool dry air bringing with it memories of football games, sweatshirts, cold noses, and the coming holidays. The heat is turned up using an App on a Smartphone, connected by WiFi to the thermostat on the wall three feet away. The leaves on the trees turn beautiful colors, and then they fall to the ground.

It’s an annual ritual. Families gather in front of their individual devices in different rooms of the house. Members of ethnic minorities employed by lawn services tumble out of old trucks, wearing matching logo’ed coats. They strap large gasoline-powered blowing machines to their backs, start them up with a jarring tug, and begin to walk slowly across the strangers’ lawn, shoulders round and sloped, backs stooped, their ears covered with plastic “hearing protection” mandated by years of crossfire litigation. Slowly the leaves are corralled into piles. The sounds of their machines reach for miles — literally for miles — and the mingling of one machine’s whine with another’s does nothing to soften their effect on the entire neighborhood.

The family, inside, oblivious to anything that’s going on outdoors, orders a pizza with cheese in the crust, cheese on the top, and then more crust with sauce as a “side.” To quench their unearned thirst, they drink liquified sugar. The air is filled with the smell of internal combustion engines burning gasoline.

Manhattan After Sandy — 10/31/12


© Jeff Horner

Just got back from a last foray into Lower Manhattan. It’s so otherworldly down there, a classic case of “life imitating art.” I think it would be the more beautiful if it weren’t so tragic, or at least so emblematic of tragedy.

I’ve been down there the last three nights, taking a different route each time. Never, have I seen so many stars in the New York sky. Each time the dead traffic signals begin around 33rd Street or so, until you realize the Avenues are still lit but the cross streets are wholly dark, both street and building. At first it’s odd to find yourself among others who automatically stop at crossing signals (if anyone in NY ever actually stops for them) that are cold dead. Down to 23rd Street there is intermittent light, but below that the whole area is dark, dark, dark. Yet everywhere – everywhere, without exception – there are people. Sometimes it’s an individual approaching and passing you by, other times it’s a group of people at a dark corner.
The first night after the hurricane, Tuesday night, cars were still allowed on the road unqualified, and the cars combined with the taxis and the squad cars made for ridiculous road traffic, the headlights the only source of light. Restaurants and delis had their doors and windows open and were selling their food on the street, for reduced prices or for free, trying to get rid of it that first 24 hours before it started to go bad. As I sank below 14th Street, two separate groups approached me and asked me if I was “from the light,” which added to the sci-fi movie feeling. “When does the light begin,” asked another, people floating up to where they’d heard there was still power. I was repeatedly struck by the feeling that I was sinking underwater, in a sense, the further down Manhattan I walked. The light from “above” faded quickly, and there was no moon that first night. People were illuminated either by their cell phones or by little LED flashlights, which appeared for all the world like those impossibly deep and invisible sea creatures who carry their own small, eerie light source with them, surrounded by black.I had stopped to help as a volunteer in Union Square at first, but after the first hour I broke away and explored the dark on my own. Here traffic thinned on the Avenues, and on the cross streets there were blocks with no street traffic at all, each with the occasional quiet pedestrian or group, making their way some place or another. Each night – even last night, Halloween – I noticed how quiet it was. No reveling, no screaming punks, no shouting across the streets. It was just the entire of Lower Manhattan, walking slowly and talking quietly among themselves.The smell was continual, and it wasn’t bad, at least not at that point. There was the smell of the earth and of earthworms, of boxwood and of the occasional fireplace fire from some of the older buildings and restaurants, and the almost out-of-place smell of freshly-split wood, coming from fallen limbs and downed branches everywhere. I had the sense that I had really moved back in time, trite as it sounds, and that I was standing on the very streets of Manhattan in 1912, or in 1882, or such. There was the utter nighttime darkness, the quiet foot traffic in front of brownstones on the street, and the flickering of candlelight, be it directly in the windows or deep inside the rooms, emanating orange and dim. All that was really missing was the sound of horses’ hooves on cobblestone and the illusion would have been complete. Floating on my lips was the quiet phrase that I later heard coming from so many mouths, quietly: “So weird.”


© Jeff Horner

I made my way over to the Lower East Side to check on the relative of a friend, and by then the loss of power must have been affecting cell tower or repeaters, because phone service was nonexistent. Also, normally anywhere in New York, when you browse for nearby Wi-Fi networks you get a long list, but now there were none at all. It was the same everywhere, east side and west. A few hours later I decided to head back up into the light, but I went back last night with a camera. I had no tripod, so I was reduced to using the pointed tips of wrought-iron fence posts, parked cars, bicycles or garbage cans, or sometimes trying to stand impossibly still for the exposure, but I was never really able to get a proper nighttime shot of the dead landmarks normally blazing with light. One of my favorite buildings in New York is the Met Life tower, an enormous stone building with a huge clock on each face standing at 23rd and Lex, and is normally almost blinding in the night sky over Madison Square Park, shining bone-white in the night. It’s a ghost in the darkness now, lit last night at least by the waning moon above. I went back briefly again tonight, ostensibly my last night in New York, just to experience it again.
But I and so many others up here are so fortunate not to have lost more than some time to Sandy and her aftermath. I’ve met many people up here who have simply checked in to a hotel as a group, briefly, to shower and charge their phones, or to come to their Midtown offices to work before going home to the dark. They’re scared. The first night held an excitement and a relief that physical damage in Manhattan wasn’t any worse, and a sense that we had all experienced something historic together. Last night was Halloween, and the first break in the clouds. By tonight, the novelty is beginning to wear off. I’ll be glad finally to get on a plane tomorrow, and to wonder from the sky how long it’ll take before anything like normal returns here.


© Jeff Horner

Living in the Woods


© Jeff Horner


He walked and walked and walked in the amniotic moonlight. Emerging from the woods, he came upon six houses, each with a television inside, each with an air conditioner screaming in the night.

So he took the moonlight, and the fireflies, and the owlsounds, and the frognoise, and went back into the woods where it was peaceful, and went home.

At the Gym

So I’m at the gym, doing my regular gym thing (gymitty-gym, gymitty-gym). Moving to the treadmill, I zoned out watching a baseball game. About 15 minutes later, a woman straight out of the Jane Fonda ’80s walked to a machine, wearing new shoes, tight peach-colored shorts, a blousy multi-colored shirt of sorts, and an actual matching headband. I expected her to sport a single long feather earring as well, so 1983 was she.

Eventually I turned my attention back to the game and my own cardio. But a few minutes later, all attention was drawn back to Sheena Easton, who was obviously unfamiliar with the machine, probably with treadmills in general. She had amped it up past walking speed, and was attempting to keep up with a sort of ungainly trot. Confused, she kept her thumb pressed on the “Increase Speed” button, and her trot turned into a desperate, flat-footed run. “Wam-wam-wam-wam-wam-wam-wam!” went her new tennies on the treadmill, until finally she volunteered a short of embarrassed “help”. No one responded, so she shouted “HELP!!”. A number of us began to move towards her, calling instructions as we approached. “Hit the BIG RED STOP BUTTON!!” I shouted, and someone else said “Just step off to the side!”. Not knowing what the heck either of us were talking about, though, she stumbled, and then she went DOWN.

I mean, her feet flew up behind her, she stared briefly at the ground from a horizontal position, and then hit the treadmill nearly face-first. Since the thing was running at full speed, it immediately threw her back and off, her feet hitting the padded wall behind her. Friends, she hit that wall so hard that it actually knocked her pants down. All the way down.

She ended up being fine, a little bruised and hugely embarrassed. The medics came, an assistant helped her with her shorts, the crowd dispersed. Since I knew she was fine after all, I have to confess I laughed long and hard all the way home. Let’s be careful out there.

Choose Something Like A Star by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Choose Something Like A Star
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud-
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to the wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says, ‘I burn.’
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use Language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.