Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roth Redux

We enjoyed another phenomenal chamber music concert with the Emerson String Quartet on Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Center. This time the theme was the Bohemian genius of Antonin Dvorak and Leos Janacek. The highlight was the Dvorak Piano Quintet, with the wife of the Emerson's cellist, David Finkel, filling in as pianist with only a week to spare. She, Wu Han, was sensational.

But the other thing that happened inevitably was an encounter with Philip Roth. Sometimes we think we're being stalked by him, but, of course, we know it's just that he loves chamber music as much as we do. After all that has happened between us I wasn't sure what to say to him, but he wasn't interested in talking to me particularly anyway. Instead, during the intermission he ignored me and greeted Karen with undiminished enthusiasm and began chatting her up amiably about the quality of the Janacek quartet we had just heard. He commented how much he likes Janacek and what a pity it is that it is played so rarely. Karen, who also enjoyed the Janacek enormously, nodded and smiled and continued talking with him about the Janacek for another three or four minutes. Suddenly, Roth was surrounded by a few of his fans and Karen and I retreated to the corner of the atrium, sipping our wine and munching on these fantastic cookies that they sell at Alice Tully Hall. Wanting to be as interesting as Roth to Karen but unable to think of anything to say, I pulled her aside and whispered:

"Aren't these amazing cookies?"

"Hmm," she said, finishing hers with a final gulp.

"I mean," I went on, "They're so chewy and nutty and chocolatey all at the same time. I'm not sure I have ever had a cookie quite as extraordinary as this."

"They are delicious," she responded as she looked around the room, seemingly desperate to find someone more interesting to talk to.

"And have you noticed what a great aftertaste they have. Some cookies leave you feeling dissatisfied, but these just keep getting better even after they are gone."

No response at all from Karen.

"Cookies are such a pleasure, you know, when they're really good. Truly an underestimated delight, something rare and kind of wonderful, you know what I mean."

Karen excused herself to go to the restroom and I continued to stand in the corner waiting for the intermission to end. As I headed back for my seat, I was rather surprised to see Karen once again in animated conversation with Roth. I heard something about the beauty of Prague, where they both had traveled at different times in their lives and then references to Dvorak, Janacek, and Vaclav Havel. They were really having quite a spirited and wide ranging conversation, but all I could think about was how great that cookie still tasted in my mouth.


  1. I can't speak for Karen, but I never tire of hearing about the cookies you've been eating.

  2. Which explains why I keep returning to this topic of such enduring interest.

  3. Enjoying your account of life in the CITY. Feel like I'm getting to know the terrain there without even setting foot. Loved, loved, loved your post about seeing Meryl Streep in the 100-seat theatre. Hope you'll relay any other Streep sightings. I'm confused, though -- has Roth really sued you, or is that a joke?

  4. Thank you, Kate. Really appreciate your enthusiastic response. All the stuff about Roth is entirely made up, except for the notable fact that EVERY time we go to a chamber music concert, we see him. Feels like he's a good friend, even though we have never spoken to him.