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119_withnail_originalYaldā:  the longest night of the year. On this night the Sun-God Mithra was born, he of the wide pastures, of the thousand ears, and of the myriad eyes. He emerged from the light from deep within the Alborz mountains and was equal to Ahura Mazda and Anahita. Our friend, Hamid, prepare a pot of fesenjan, serving it with crackling, saffroned tahdiq. We snack on green olives to protect against scorpions. A stainless-steel samovar puffs on the kitchen counter, offering water for bitter black tea. Hamid gives me an amber rock of sugar. Hold this in your cheek while you drink, he explains. It will sweeten the tea.  Our friend Jenn marvels at fresh quince. A pomegranate waits to be cracked open, the seeds as red as dawn. The last fruits of winter.

This year, Hamid’s boyfriend, Warren, invites friends with whom he used to live on a pagan commune on the outskirts of Philadelphia. They reminisce about midsummer bonfires and fertility rituals. Warren is now earning his Ph.D. in nursing; Scott and John are now a well-to-do gay power couple, an architect and schoolteacher, respectively. Everyone’s radical days seem far behind them; even the drugged and drunk Marwood, at the end of Withnail & I, cuts his hair and prepares to embark—seriously—on his career.

J___ proclaims himself the fire-tender for the evening. He has the build of a construction worker and keeps his hair pulled back into a ponytail, a spurt of plumage at the back of his head. Fueled by red wine, his voice grows larger as the evening wears on. What we need, J___ says, is a vertical fire. His big-hearted benevolence explodes. He stacks the logs into a pyramid teepee, and they’re soon blazing. The night is unseasonably warm—almost 50 degrees—and with the fire and the steam from the samovar and food, the room is a tub of embrocation.  How did the ancient Persians, gathering in the mountains to watch the miracle of dawn, vent their caves? J___ says, This reminds me of a sweat lodge, but I hope it isn’t the one in Arizona where three people died from heat stroke. The guru, James Arthur Ray, claimed that the dead “were having so much fun” in their out-of-body experiences that they didn’t want to return.

At the end of the evening, we gather in the living room. It’s a family tradition, Hamid explains, to make a wish for the new year and then to turn to a random poem by Hafez. The translations by Gertrude Bell—the woman who helped shape the borders of modern Iraq at the 1921 Cairo Conference—are prolix and convoluted, an remnant of Victorian imperialism; the translations by Daniel Ladinsky are cleaner and more sonorous. I throw pistachio shells onto the fire, where they spark and pop.

The subject tonight is love
And for tomorrow night too
As a matter of fact
I know of no better topic
For us to discuss
Until we all


A car salesman gave Matthew and me an exegesis on the origins of ska.  Ska, he said, originated in Jamaica in the 1960s.  This original wave of ska gave rise to rocksteady and, later, reggae.  From reggae, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, by cutting and looping master tapes, developed dub.   The second wave of ska, also known as the Two Tone Revolution, came in the late 70s in the UK, and blended punk elements into ska.  Dancing to ska was known as skanking.  The third wave emerged in the US, during the 1980s and 90s.  In Philadelphia, he said, there’s an annual Ska Blowout, which takes place at the Trocadero.  Do you skank? I asked him.  No, he said.   Matthew listened quietly.  All he wanted was a checkerboard front license plate for his new car, and I had said, Someone’s going to think you’re a rude boy.


The Harder They Come suggests that two things keep the poor in Jamaica from breaking out in open rebellion:  music and ganja.  In one scene, people pick through the refuse at the dump, triumphantly holding up a carton of eggs; then, in another, they dance at a club, losing themselves amongst the rhythm.  Still later, they smoke spliffs the size of a baby’s arm.  But these trades are controlled by the police and the military, and when the police cut access to them, the tide turns against Ivan, singer-turned-criminal, the film’s hero.


In Amsterdam, I was five miles into a 20-mile bike ride when I got a flat and had to walk my bike back to the rental station.  Tired, frustrated, I decided to go to a coffee shop later that evening.  There, I was presented with an extensive menu.  Each item had an accompanying picture, the buds and leaves in infinite variations of green, from silver-tipped and sage-like to a dark, dusky green.  I couldn’t decide:  harsh, grassy, smooth, velvety, graceful.  What was this, a wine bar?  Not to mention, I was giggly:  this was my first time!  I decided on a brownie with whipped cream, whereupon Matthew had half, because, after all, it still was a brownie.  We both fell asleep soon afterwards.


In a recent visit to Colorado, I noticed neon-green crosses advertising the dispensaries that had sprouted up across the state.  Then I remembered:  Oh, it’s medicinal now.  Our close friends, H. & J., have a grower’s license and grow a small crop in their yard.  J. didn’t sell but kept it for home use.  The trick, she told us, was to continually prune so that buds emerge.  Many people claim that cannabis elevates your consciousness, but I wonder:  does it sharpen the mind or blunt it?  Whom does it benefit in its structure of money and power?  Does it foment revolution or mollify it?  J. gave Matthew and me a Mason jar of homegrown — all-natural, organic — and a metal pipe with which to smoke it.  I hid it in my parents’ house, behind some books, like a teenager, rebellious and wicked, as if this were really something to get excited about.

Carla del Poggio’s eyes widen when the curtains open in Variety Lights.  It’s one of the oldest stories in showbiz, yes?  The dewy ingénue clawing her way to the top.  But who hasn’t harbored the dream of being a star, of making it big, even if it’s that brief moment while watching You Can’t Do That on Television:  I can do that.  I can say ‘I don’t know’ and get a bucket of slime poured onto my head.


Every year, for their final project, the high school seniors in the theater mounted a one-act play.  My final year, I was invited to play the Valet in No Exit.  I was never a full-on thespian — rather, I was someone who ate lunch in the theater room because my friends were in theater.  Still, I thought, Why not?  I put on a dark suit, white-powdered my face and drew black tarry streaks under my eyes, and memorized my lines.  There are two theories of acting:  that one can find one’s self in every character, or that one can find every character within one’s self.  For me, it was neither; the character I played was simply myself, speaking the lines the way I would have said them normally:  Silly questions, if you’ll pardon my saying so. Where’s the torture-chamber? That’s the first thing they ask, all of them.


At brunch recently in New York, my friend and I ogled our waiter:  he wore dark-rimmed glasses and had his hair in ringlets.  He seemed like a graduate student, studying something liberal artsy.  English, for example.  Or classics.  We had arrived in the bright-morning crush, and he graciously acceded to our useless requests.  More coffee?  A bit of honey, please?  Maybe he sensed us watching, the way a passer-by is dimly aware of being watched by window-side restaurant patrons.  But he left work before we finished our meal, carrying a Strand Books-branded messenger bag.  This cemented our conjectures further.  We asked the other server, a spunky blonde, what she knew of him.  “Oh, he’s an actor,” she said.  We asked our server what she did.  “Well,” she said, “I’m in acting too.”


A student told me that, for a summer job, he was auditioning for Sea World.  I didn’t know one had to audition for Sea World.  Yes, he said.  Since I don’t have any animal training, I can’t work with the animals.  But they have other shows and performances.  Does one even notice other humans at Sea World?  Who can compete with a school of dolphins, a killer whale?  I wish I’d known what I wanted to do with my life earlier, he told me.  He was a biochemical engineering major.  I didn’t discover acting until high school.  I wanted to tell him that I had had the exact opposite experience.  If I had asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ and he answered, ‘I don’t know,’ no slime would have fallen from the sky.  Acting is a calling as much as anything else, but know this, my young friend:  there will always be starry-eyed dreamers, and there will always be broken bulbs on Broadway.


Part of me will always be an adolescent boy.  The part that stands in stores, reading comic books until the proprietor yells, “Hey, this isn’t a library!”  The part that giggles at dick and fart jokes.  The part that sees the future as a vast, undisturbed plain at the end of Wheeling St. in suburban Aurora, long before the encroachment of warehouses and office parks.  The part that holds desire like a switchblade — awkwardly, blindly, secretly.

This is the part, too, that enjoys Kevin Smith movies.  At the comics convention that opens Chasing Amy, one grizzled vendor wears a ‘Fuck Marvel Comics’ t-shirt.

Marvel Comics once had a contest where readers could send in samples of their own work.  One could compete in the penciling, inking, coloring, lettering or writing categories, and the winners of each would collaborate on an issue of Spider-Man.

I wasn’t familiar enough with the Spider-Man storylines to attempt writing, but lettering I thought I could do.  It requires a steady hand, a ruler, a knack for identifying empty spaces in the frames where language and thought can take shape.  Having only one of the three, I didn’t enter.

Besides, I had already tried making comics.  In middle school, my friend Josh C. and I created a three-panel comic strip called “Froggy.”  But since I was inept at drawing, Froggy was nothing more than a three-toed, ambulatory lingam.  We did a traditional three-panel strip, commonly known as ‘the funnies’:  set-up, build, punchline.  And, being middle-schoolers, we moved quickly from existential crises regarding the inability to catch flies to dick and fart jokes.

Holden and Banky, the comic-creating duo of Chasing Amy, eventually separate, in part, because of Banky’s submerged feelings for Holden.  “Some doors should never be opened,” Banky says.

Josh and I were separated by the military’s propensity to ship away families to new bases.  He used to regaled me with stories of coming across his mother’s boyfriend, post flagrante delicto, walking around with his boner, howling “A-roo-ha-hoo!”


Yep, he said.

We had swim class together, and there weren’t enough stalls in the locker room to accommodate all the bashfulness.  Once, as we showered, Tim S. zipped in and mooned us, but more often, a line of damp boys formed a queue in front of the only stall in the bathroom.

Josh wielded his unabashed sexuality like a matador’s cape.  As I waited on the bench for the stall to open, trunks clinging and reeking of chlorine, he whipped off his shorts and slipped into his underwear.  Maybe he noticed me looking.  He asked, “Aren’t you changing?  Ashamed of your manhood?”

Well, yes and no.  Our bodies were still sprouting in unforeseen ways (some more than others).  We were no longer boys, but we couldn’t claim the mantle of men — not so long as we kept subsuming and covering our desires with bluster and indifference.

Josh knocked on the stall:  “Ready yet?”  But I wasn’t yet ready to open that door.

In the early 1980s, Madonna optioned American remake rights for Cleo from 5 to 7, and on a French television program years later, Agnès Varda compliments her, describing her as “a natural-born actress” and a “genius at adaptation.”  But the remake never happened.

If it had, Josh would have seen it.  Josh, my best friend, worshiped everything Madonna.  I enjoyed her music but was tepid on her films, whereas Josh owned all her albums and had seen all her movies — even surefire duds Shanghai Surprise and Body of Evidence. When Badlands played its heroic 45-minute marathon of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” Josh danced the entire duration, raising his arms Peron-style during the chorus.

The remake fell through, Madonna says, because Varda wanted to maintain a loose, improvisational style, but the studio demanded a script before they would fund the film.  Madonna says to Varda, “I should have done it the way you wanted to do it.”

For the two years I lived in D.C., Josh and I were inseparable.  He drove a powder-blue Crown Victoria, which he referred to as “the hoopty.”  We lived frugally and wildly, filling up on $1 Whopper Jrs. before wreaking mayhem at Soho Coffee, or Georgetown, or LBJ Park.  Freedom was a parachute, and the real world approached slowly, a dream growing moment by moment.


Josh and I had an ancillary friend, Nicky, who preferred the spelling “Nikki” because he that’s the way a star would have it.  ‘Nikki,’ short and chubby, with curly, dirty blonde hair, liked thin Lycra shirts that, when worn, stretched and became sheer.  I never heard him perform, but he always talked about working with this producer or that producer, and Josh and I humored him, equal parts teasing and exasperation.

At the turning point of Cleo from 5 to 7, Cleo sings “Cry of Love” in the presence of her composer and lyricist.  They appreciate her emotivity while attributing her tantrums and tears to her diva complex, never understanding the deeper currents and fears running beneath.  They might as well roll their eyes:  Women!

One warm evening, the Josh, Nicky and I were walking up 17th on our way to Cobalt, which had an Thursday night 80s dance party.  On the street was a fortune teller at a fold-out table.  Come on, they cajoled, get your palm read.  I relented.  For $5, the woman told me:  You work with computers.  Something with science or math.  I thought:  You’re only saying that because 1) I’m Asian and 2) because I don’t buy your bullshit.

Cleo from 5 to 7 starts with color footage of Cleo getting a tarot card reading.  Varda explains that the color indicates fiction:  trying to predict the future is fiction.  The black-and-white?  That’s reality.  That’s now.

A few years later, Josh sent me a CD.  We’d begun our long separation and estrangement — our lives now in black and white.  I don’t know where he lives today.  He included a note:  “You are one of the lucky people in the world to own this rarity!”  It was Nikki’s demo CD, a splash of past color for lives going forward in real-time.

Sometimes after we’ve left a place, Matthew will pat his pockets and exclaim, “I’ve lost my keys (or wallet, or checkbook)!”  For a few minutes, he panics, but he always calms down when he finds the misplaced item, usually in an overlooked pocket.  The agitation is probably not good for his heart.

When I realize I’ve lost something, I give it up as gone forever.

Not far from our exit on I-95 (but still too far to turn back if one of us has forgotten something), a billboard displays the current Powerball jackpot in bright yellow letters, like a digital clock.  Every Thursday and Sunday, the number goes up or down.  I’ve never see the change, but I wonder if it’s like those train station announcement boards which flutter through every number until it reaches the correct one.

We tell ourselves, If the jackpot gets above $100 million, we’ll buy a ticket.  We repeat this as the number reaches 115, 132, 150, each time forgetting about the previous promise to buy a ticket.

When the newspaper runs stories about lottery winners, the winners’ material circumstances (truck driver, single mom, elderly widow living in a trailer) are always mentioned.  The winner inevitably thanks God.  In Le Million, when Michel strikes it rich, he doesn’t thank a higher power.  Instead, he dances with his neighbors in a long serpentine around his studio.

The losers are too numerous to warrant their own stories.  Some commentators call lotteries a regressive tax.  It’s the poor who buy tickets, and those funds funnel their way into government coffers.  Less charitable commentators call lotteries a tax on the stupid,but those commentators usually aren’t truck drivers, single moms, or elderly widows living in trailers.

When the Houston lottery reached a pharaonic two hundred thirty-seven million, some of Matthew’s colleagues at the Museum of Fine Arts formed a pool.  Everyone who put in a dollar would get part of the split.  (This is how we know that Michel is the virtuous one; when it’s unclear whether he or Prosper holds the winning ticket, he offers to split the winnings.  Prosper says no way.)

Over 80 people joined the Houston pool.  The organizer, an older African-American security guard, made a multi-page photocopy of all the tickets.  On the day of the drawing (perky announcer, ping-pong balls guided by the airburst of God), we flipped through the sheets, striking out page after page.

Given astronomical odds, buying 80 tickets is statistically indistinguishable from buying one.

Buying one ticket, however, is a 100% improvement versus buying none.  When Powerball recently reached 160 million, I stopped into by the newsstand near the University of Delaware and bought a ticket:  my chance to link hands with my creditors, to sing “Le Million!” 160 times.

I didn’t lose the ticket.  Matthew placed it in the hands of the bronze Buddha in the living room.  In a minor act of sacrilege, I lit a cone of incense and prayed for a winner.  That week, on the billboard, the number went up again.  No one wins.

Towards the end of The Testament of Orpheus, two children feed autographs of two “intellectuals in love” into the mouths of a three-headed statue.  Cégeste, the resurrected poet from Orpheus, explains that the statue is an “instant-celebrity machine” that guarantees “fame for anyone in a minute or two.”

“Beyond that,” he continues, “of course, it becomes more difficult.”

After devouring the autographs, the machine spews forth long strips of paper:  “novels, poems, songs and so forth,” Cégeste says.  “It stops until it’s fed by new autograph hunters.”

In the room that Matthew and I refer to as the ‘library,’ I have more than 100 signed books stashed in a corner unit that we bought off the street.  Back home, in Colorado, I have about 300 more.  I’ve been to readings where the bookstore staff handed out tickets for signings that went into the high four-hundreds.  I’ve been to readings where I felt the need to act extra-enthusiastic to make up for the vacant seats around me.

I’ve recruited friends to wait with me when the line proctor for Salman Rushdie announced, Only five books per person.  I’ve chased Orhan Pamuk down the National Mall after ending up on the wrong end of his cut-short signing line.  I’ve stood behind the rare-books dealers wheeling book-laden luggage with them, pulling out ARCs and foreign editions, first-editions with dust jackets lovingly Mylared — Signature only, they say.

Book dealers have a financial incentive to have their books signed.  My modest collection, on the other hand, would yield only a meager retirement account.  When asked if I want my books personalized, I waffle mentally before answering, Sure — not that I intend ever to sell my books.

Paul Bloom, in How Pleasure Works, suggests that, on a basic, cognitive level, people “assume that things in the world — including other people — have invisible essences that make them what they are.”  Works of art, in particular, have an essence that is “rooted in an appreciation of the human history underlying its creation.”  A painter signs his work to validate it; the signature embodies this essence of the work.

When I gave Matthew an inscribed copy of Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution, he was speechless.  He, of course, had already read it many times, but the fact that, at some point, Arendt had touched this book, held it, rendered him speechless.  Her essence now mingled with his.

There’s an old canard about how certain African tribes ban cameras because they believe that photographs can capture their souls.  Is this any different than the baseball memorabilia collector who believes that part of Joe DiMaggio resides in his glove?  Does he smell DiMaggio’s sweat in the creases of the leather?  If the collector slips his hand into the glove, does he taint DiMaggio’s essence or does DiMaggio’s essence infuse his hand?

I am a lepidopterist, pinning an author’s name into his own work.

Death, in Orpheus, is an aristocrat.  She drives a black Rolls-Royce and cruises outside the Café Poete for young, handsome poets.   When she finds one to her liking, she runs him down to invite him to her decrepit villa, where she puts him to work, reciting aphorisms into a shortwave radio.  She watches Orpheus in the dark with unblinking, lidless eyes.  When he finally embraces her, and she embraces him back.  She moves through time and space via mirrors.  As her manservant Heurtebise explains, “Look at yourself in a mirror all your life, and you’ll see death at work, like bees in a hive of glass.”

In Tanith Lee’s “Elle Est Trois (La Mort),” Death takes on three forms:  the Thief, the Butcher, and the Seductress.  Under these guises, she stalks bohemian artists — friends, patrons of the same café — living in 19th Century Paris.  It’s La Bohème with gore.  Death sings the aria.

For The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman posits Death as a black-cloaked entity, a chess-player with a deadpan sense of humor.  In this form, he doesn’t crack a smile until he appears in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.

Neil Gaiman, in his Sandman series, pictures Death as a Goth-punk girl, with spiky hair and Egyptian eye make-up.  Her skin is pale, keeping with tradition, and she wears a black tank top.  A silver ankh hangs around her neck.  She has pets:  two goldfish.  Sometimes, on particularly strenuous cases, she wears leg warmers.

In Aurora, Colorado, Elisabeth was a year behind me in high school.  She was an adoptee from Laos, and she had severe eczema on her hands which turned them white and scaly, curled into claws.  When she stretched her fingers, raw pink flesh peeked out from between the scales.  I don’t recall shaking her hand, but I remember giving her hugs.  She wrote me my first year of college, talking about how excited she was to graduate high school and go to college, where life would spread out before her, a hotel hallway with innumerable doors to open.  I learned later, through a mutual friend, that death came for her at her birthday party.  A guest brought a snack that either contained peanuts or had come into contact with peanuts, and she went into anaphylactic shock.  Here, death is — what?  A cookie?  A slice of cake?  Would death in this form be any more or less ridiculous?  Would I have had a chance to respond to Elisabeth’s letter?

We give death a form in order to understand her.   If, we think, death can be personified, then we can put our arms around her.  She won’t appear so fearsome.  We can reason with her; we can make her fall in love with us, and she’ll turn back time, a film played in reverse, figures in the background stepping backwards, trying to un-remember the Tartarean landscape through which they pass.

It’s not her finality that they fear; it’s her abstraction.

I:  The wounded hand or the scars of the poet

The image of a writer typing until his fingers bleed is, I’m afraid, a fabrication attributable, perhaps, to Bryan Adams.

II:  Do the walls have ears?

Next door lives Jimmy, who has Tourette’s.  Sometimes, late at night, he screams, and the screams penetrate our shared wall, and it almost sounds as if the wall is screaming.  The walls say, Ahh!  Jimmy!, an unbroken howl, as if they had done something unspeakable.  In the mornings, Jimmy nods and say hello, and the walls stay silent about the previous night.

III:  The snowball fight

In Colorado, the snow is wholly unsuitable.  It’s crisp and powdery, impossible to pack together.  The balls disintegrate in your mittens, and if you manage to get one to cohere, upon contact, it evaporates, a whiff of ice, a halo, a cloud.  On the East Coast, however, the snow is wet and slushy, as if it had already partially melted on the way down.  It clings to branches and cements itself to the sidewalks and will, overnight, in a feat of treachery, turn to ice.  The crystals are and thick and gristly.  The snow tastes of salt and metal; in other words, like war.

IV:  The profanation of the host

Jean Cocteau, speaking before a 1932 screening of his film:  “One can’t tell the story of film like this.  I could give you my own interpretation.  I could say: the solitude of the poet is so great, he lives out his own creations, so vividly that the mouth of one of his creations is imprinted on his hand like a wound; that he loves this mouth, that he loves himself, in other words; that he wakes up in the morning with this mouth against him like a chance acquaintance; that he tries to get rid of it, that he gets rid of it, on a dead statue; that this statue comes to life; that it takes its revenge; that I sends him off into terrible adventures.  I could tell you that the snowball fight represents the poet’s childhood and that when he plays the card game with his Glory, with his Destiny, he cheats by drawing from his childhood instead of from within himself.  I could tell you that afterwards, when he has tried to create a terrestrial glory for himself, he falls into that ‘mortal tedium of immortality’ that one always dreams of when in front of famous tombs.  I’d be right to tell you all that, but I’d also be wrong, for it would be a text written after the images.”

This is Orpheus, who, with a glance over his shoulder, sees the image of Eurydice, now fading from view, now disappearing back into darkness.


Tonight was the harvest moon — what the Vietnamese celebrate as Tết Trung Tu.  When I was young, the signs of Tết Trung Tu were unmistakable:  the invasion of mooncake containers at Asian supermarkets, gold foil banners hung across doorways, increased visits to the Vietnamese Buddhist temple.  When my family had our post-temple bowl of phở, out past the lot crammed with awkward Vietnamese parking jobs, the lion dancers (mostly students from a nearby tae kwon do academy) did their thing, undulating, thrusting, flicking the switch to make the lion’s Tammy Faye Baker-like eyes blink.

My sister told me about celebrating Tết Trung Tu back in Vietnam:  she and my brother made their own paper lanterns.  There were none of these pre-made ones, she said.  After dark, they paraded with the other children, lanterns tied to the end of a stick, a little piece of captured fire.

Last year, Matthew and I bought our lanterns (not home-made, alas) from two eager young girls fundraising for some Asian community center in Philadelphia’s Chinatown — I’m not sure which, since I’m a bad Asian.  The lanterns were mounted to chopsticks, and each had a tealight taped to its interior.  They were cheap, of course, but as they dangled off the edge of our porch, they insisted on their own beauty.

By 7:30, the moon’s glow had spread behind the houses across the street, a soft phosphorescence, like a jellyfish’s.  We sat on the brick stoop.  I made tea.  Matthew reviewed notes for tomorrow’s class.  Neighbors returned home and parallel parked.  We waved to them, and Matthew called to them by name, but if they saw our lanterns, they said nothing; maybe from where they were, the lanterns’ colorful aureoles couldn’t compete with the devouring streetlamp in front of our house.

As we sat, we shared a mooncake.  Buying them was almost a Pavlovian response:  Oh, look, September.  Mooncake time.  We bought two boxes:  one was a tin with the picture of what looked like a fancy hotel lobby; the other was a box lined with cloth, each mooncake in its own tin adorned with a kitschy portrait of a Chinese courtesan.  We skipped the green tea flavor, the mixed nuts, the pumpkin paste, and the red bean in favor of pure lotus paste.  (No salted egg yolks, however; Matthew finds them gross.)

And then we saw the moon.  We may have missed its low-to-the-horizon ruddiness, but when it appeared, full and bright, it seemed to have sprung from nothingness.  We blew out the lanterns and carried in our teacups.  I went upstairs to watch Autumn Sonata.

It’s said that Tết Trung Tu is a celebration for children.  Parents who have been too busy harvesting crops to play with their children use the festivities as proof of their affection.  Maybe Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman could have used some mooncake time:  tea; glowing lights; a warm, silent evening; a stray gray cat, strutting along the porch, demanding nothing more than a little attention.