Every now and then a Hunk of the Day is more than just a Hunk. Such is the case with today’s honoree, Mr. Matthew James Lister. An Olympic hopeful (in the Canoe Slalom) he’s also an openly-gay athlete and role model who is simply divine, inside and out.
If it were any other week, I’d have a major problem with all this groundhog talk. The rodent has never been good to me or my sweet potato vines, but since he didn’t see his shadow, I’m thanking his lack of vision and counting on an early spring. Holding faith in such folkloric tales is as foolish as courting crows for a game of chess, but I’m not averse to a little blind check mating. Now I’m mixing metaphors and making a mess of things, so let’s look back before I forget what already happened.
Gregory Maguire offered his enchanting take on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in the equally-wondrous ‘After Alice.’
The Delusional Grandeur Tour was in stationary status when the week began, but by the weekend it returned with this hint of the woods, and then the first installment of the ‘Red Riding Wood’ section, and its immediate follow-up.
A voice within me keeps repeating you, you, you…
A new fragrance for winter.
The doldrums of any winter, even a mild one, can only be broken up by certain jolts. A vacation, a good book, an amazing song, or a new fragrance. I’ve tried them all, but it’s the fragrance option that has always turned the winter around for me. On a recent trip to New York, I ambled about the gift shop at the Standard High Line and waited for my friend Chris to finish his look-see. At the time, I wasn’t scouting for a new cologne, but that’s always when you find a good one. I pulled the small square bottle of black from its shelf and opened the top. It was peppery and fresh, clean and light. A smoky underside fit into the border between fall and winter, and it was so instantly likable that I spritzed some on. (I’m a last-resort spritzer, in the event that I end up hating a scent, or if I might want to try one on later in the day. Entire vacation days can be ruined by a haphazard cologne try-out.)
This one was a safe choice. Perfume 11 by BLK DNM is unisex fragrance, named for its launch year of 2011, and it has some of my favorites in it, which is why I instantly loved it: black pepper, cardamom, musk, cedar, balsam fir, birch, amber and incense.
It begins in a soft way, and stays as such throughout its trajectory. Black pepper and incense are where it’s at, making this ideal for fall or winter. Despite its smokiness, it’s actually quite a clean fragrance, and that smoke will dissipate, leaving a woodiness that’s more than pleasant in these dimmer seasons.
Now for the super-secret, which the salesperson whispered almost apologetically to me in the cloistered confines of the shop: Perfume 11 by BLK DNM actually falls under the Levi company, which initially caused me to turn my nose up at the whole thing. “I can’t tell people I’m wearing Levi’s cologne!” I shrieked to my friend Chris. Yet another instance where I fell into the stupidity of labels and image over what is truly decent and enjoyable. At this point in our friendship, Chris wisely ignored the matter and moved on. I almost did the same, until a few weeks later, when I found myself pining and yearning for the elusive peppery scent and it was nowhere to be found online. Such exclusivity always lends things a bit more magic than they might inherently hold, but it also meant that no one else was likely to wear the scent in the environs of upstate New York. Chris was back at the Standard a few weeks later, so I asked him to procure a bottle, thus resolving the dilemma on a happy note.
He may play no part in today’s Super Bowl, but Tim Tebow long ago earned a place as Hunk of the Day, it just took a chunk of time to get me to agree to it. (I’ve always had a problem with his holier-than-thou virginity stance and religious posturing on the football field. You don’t see me bringing Madonna onto the 50 yard line do you? Oh wait…) Anyway, here is Mr. Tebow’s first bow as Hunk of the Day, just in time for his “awkward” interview with Ellen, in which he says he goes on many dates, as long as they’re the “right ones” – deftly, some might say fruitlessly, avoiding pronouns. No judgment on this blog. Well, not much.
It’s a song that features prominently in ‘Grey Gardens‘ but before that it was, and remains, a Cole Porter standard. Such a classic is in vogue for all seasons – as effervescent in summer as it is cozy and comforting in the winter. This is ‘Night and Day’ – illustrated by two photos from the vantage point of the Boston condo.
LIKE THE BEAT BEAT BEAT OF THE TOM-TOM WHEN THE JUNGLE SHADOWS FALL
LIKE THE TICK TICK TOCK OF THE STATELY CLOCK AS IT STANDS AGAINST THE WALL
LIKE THE DRIP DRIP DRIP OF THE RAINDROPS WHEN THE SUMMER SHOWER IS THROUGH
SO A VOICE WITHIN ME KEEPS REPEATING YOU, YOU, YOU
Aside from the ‘Grey Gardens’ soft spot I have, I also love this song for the brilliant multi-level meanings in the lyrics. The line between night and day is a tricky one – what a difference a day makes, indeed. Things somehow feel safer when the sun comes up, and at that time I think back on the darkness and sometimes I shudder.
NIGHT AND DAY, YOU ARE THE ONE, ONLY YOU BENEATH THE MOON OR UNDER THE SUN
WHETHER NEAR TO ME, OR FAR, IT’S NO MATTER DARLING WHERE YOU ARE, I THINK OF YOU
For many reasons, I feel safe in the condo, night and day, winter and summer, year after year. This song plays on the stereo in the morning or the evening, as a pot of tea starts whistling on the stove. A candle glows in front of the window. A book waits on the sofa, next to a soft blanket, and the world can be kept at bay for the duration of a night.
DAY AND NIGHT, NIGHT AND DAY, WHY IS IT SO THAT THIS LONGING FOR YOU FOLLOWS WHEREVER I GO
IN THE ROARING TRAFFIC’S BOOM, IN THE SILENCE OF MY LONELY ROOM I THINK OF YOU
DAY AND NIGHT, NIGHT AND DAY, UNDER THE HIDE OF ME
THERE’S AN OH SUCH A HUNGRY YEARNING BURNING INSIDE OF ME, AND THIS TORMENT WON’T BE THROUGH
UNTIL YOU LET ME SPEND MY LIFE MAKING LOVE TO YOU
DAY AND NIGHT, NIGHT AND DAY.
The one who dons the red cape is wanderer and warrior at once.
Cloaked in a blood-hued hood, a gleaming sword ensconced in folds of vermillion fabric, he trails the color of passion in his wake.
Surrounded by leaves and wood and water, but shielded from sky and sun, the realm is somewhere in-between heaven and hell. A purgatorial plane of prettiness, deceptively gentle, with poisonous flowers and slithering snakes, slowly descends to the sound of running water.
You cannot see it yet, it only mumbles vaguely in the distance, muffled by leafy undergrowth and lofty branches. The forest can hide a multitude of sins. Whole rivers of watery thieves drift through it, unheard and unseen.
On this day, the scarlet stranger stalks the winding foot path. What he seeks not even he knows, but some journeys are better when made without destination or goal. If you’re not looking for anything, you will never be disappointed. Still, something impels him onward. The path is a pretty one, the dappled sunlight shimmering somewhere ahead. Ever ahead, always forward, and by the time you look back you’ve forgotten from where you came.
Where field meets forest is an interesting place.
Presented with a choice, a line drawn in the land where the grass ends and the trees begin, the explorer is momentarily caught between two worlds. It’s a precarious position, coming from what you’ve known and approaching something unknown. (We always come from somewhere.)
In this case, the rise of a mostly-deciduous forest in the late spring is the unknown. A small meadow is where we’ve been.
At first it feels like a comfort.
Relief and respite from the beating sun.
A cooling balm within the leafy cloak of quietude.
Stands of ostrich and lady ferns line a path that beckons one deeper.
Touch-me-nots rise in mounds of celery green and undersides of silver.
Moss runs up the decaying bark of trees fallen long ago.
Here, at the forest’s edge, it is still light.
There is no hint of the darkness within.
Looking back, the field appears blindingly bright. Where once was a varied landscape of small meadow blooms and the early formation of grass seed heads, now seems like a single veneer of pale green, harsh in the eyes of one already grown accustomed to the forest light.
The path ahead is soft and cool, a welcome contrast from the brittle and the dry, and it slopes gently downward. Everything is pulling you down this path.
The forest quietly closes its verdant door.
For those brave souls who have the courage to get naked and go their own way, I usually like to do an extensive write-up honoring them in some way as Hunk of the Day or some other celebratory-type post. In the case of Donnie Rust and his first Hunk of the Day honor, I’ve decided to let him speak (well, sing) for himself. Known as The Naked Busker, he gets quite a bit across in a single song. Listen to his ‘Scrapbook’ below.
The Delusional Grandeur Tour Book is about to reach its meaty midsection – the ‘Red Riding Wood’ portion that forms the centerpiece of the whole affair. This is the part from which the cover art was selected. It’s a twist on Little Red Riding Hood, setting the fairy tale on its head and lending it a darkness and menace that goes beyond the original storyboard idea.
This red cape hides a sword in its crimson folds, shrouding a warrior intent on burning the past and cutting a vicious swath through the brush of the future. But that’s still a bit ahead. For now, the cape is just a pretty accent, the sword a fanciful accessory. The most epic of journeys sometimes begin with the silliest of trifles.
A Look Back at Previous Tour Book Entries:
In a sport where just about everyone gets overshadowed by Michael Phelps (with the possible exception of flashy Speedo-spotlight-hog Ryan Lochte) Brendan Hansen’s swimming achievements may have gone unfairly unnoticed. Perhaps this Hunk of the Day honor will go some way toward changing that. Mr. Hansen holds a more-than-impressive twenty-five medals in major international competition, including the Olympics. While upstate New York battles plunging winter temps, there are guys somewhere suiting up in their Speedos and preparing for the next Olympic Games this summer. Hold the thought… and the eggplant.
A Once and Future Tour Stop: alone for a brief spell at the Standard High Line, I step into the exposed shower set-up and wait for the water to get warm. Even with the sheer curtain drawn, a little bit of New York can peep in, but I have mustered the fortitude to remove the robe, and so I stand there in the tiny rivulets of liquid pouring forth from above. The Delusional Grandeur Tour has arrived in the city, and I’m preparing for an evening of dinner theater and debauchery with my pal Chris. A hot time in the brisk city, as I continue to battle a calamitous cough. The show must go on.
After a bout of hesitancy, I remember Judy Garland. Yes, that Judy. As I disrobe, I think of a story that has been relayed here and by others, of her waiting in the wings of the Palace Theatre in New York, just before she was set to go on. She would physically pump her arms, gearing herself up to face the sold-out crowd. Even though the thunderous applause was from adoration and love, she had trouble facing such a sold-out sea of people.
I face no such crowd, no such love, but sometimes it’s a struggle to face just a few. Strangers or acquaintances, family or friends, it’s not always easy, no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve pretended to be.
On this night, however, I muster all the make-believe I can manage, for on this final tour it’s all that I have left. It’s all I’ve ever had, and on the wings of this misguided and misbegotten belief, I must soar. Just because you have to invent your own legend, doesn’t mean it won’t one day come true. Not quite there yet, I still pretend.
As I shut the water off, I notice that the evening has arrived. The bright blue of the sky has deepened into a bolder shade, becoming richer even as the city lights blink on. Below, shadows swiftly dodge cars, and tree branches sway in a burgeoning breeze. As the day goes to sleep, the city begins to stir.
There’s a literary wonderland that is conjured whenever Gregory Maguire releases a new book, and that wonderland is a literal thing in his latest work ‘After Alice’ – his enchantingly twisted take on Alice’s own Wonderland. Rather than give away any juicy plot-points or spoil any secrets with a shaky synopsis, I’ll simply highlight my favorite passage, the one that spoke most deeply to me, and the one that echoes the sentiments of certain folks who love books and try valiantly to share that love with others.
Only, sometimes, in the text of a book here and there, we tap the page with a finger and say, “This is what my lost days were like. Something like this.” But even as we turn to the fellow in the bed beside us to say, “Yes, this passage here,” whatever it is we recognized has already disguised itself, changed in that split instant. There is no hope that our companion can see what we, just for a moment, saw anew and hailed with a startled, glad heart. Literary pleasure, and a sense of recognition and identification, real though they are, burn off like alcohol in the flame of the next heated moment.” ~ Gregory Maguire, ‘After Alice’
Many are the books I’ve read and tried to press into the minds of others, and many are the unread books that friends have routinely and quietly ignored when I’ve brought them to their attention. Far from making me feel less alone, most great books leave me feeling an acute sense of loneliness – in the unshared resonance or recognition of some carefully-crafted passage of remarkable beauty, or some thread of a theme that they have no interest in pursuing. In reading a book that speaks to me, I mostly find friends and family falling by the wayside, and my only companion along the way being the author, ever unknown to me. I remain even more unknown to her or him.
Hunk of the Day Valerio Pino started off as a model for Valentino in that fashion bastion of Milan, but since then has branched out into the usual avenues for the beautiful and creative. Dancer, model, TV presenter, choreographer and dance teacher, he embodies the very definition of Renaissance man. For our purposes, it’s the modeling and the photographs that matter most here.
One of my favorite dishes in winter is a steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho. It’s like a spicy hug from a pocket of paradise. Usually, I leave the making of it to the pros, but decent Vietnamese restaurants are not a dime a dozen in upstate New York (hence frequent trips to Boston – and yes, I have made at least one trip solely for the purpose of procuring pho).
During a quiet weekend, while feeling slightly under-the-weather, I decided to be brave and try my hand at the broth, though naysayers had warned it was a tricky one. I didn’t find it to be such – it’s more about the long simmer time (6 to 10 hours) that gives it a bad cooking name. I happen to love long simmer times, so this was perfect for a chilly weekend project. What follows is my modified recipe and method. Purists will likely scoff at the many shortcuts and anomalies, but fuck ‘em, this shit was good.
- 3 pounds beef soup bones
- 1 onion, sliced
- 5 slices fresh ginger
- 3 pods star anise
- Dash cinnamon
- 2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 4 quarts water
- 2 cans beef stock
- 1 (8 ounce) package dried rice noodles
- 1 1/2 pounds beef top sirloin, thinly sliced (or pounded into very thin slices)
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onion
- 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
- 1 bunch Thai basil
- 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce (optional)
- 1/4 cup chili-garlic sauce (such as Sriracha) (optional)
Many recipes called for roasting the beef bones and onion beforehand, but I’m a one pot, Andy-clean-up kind of guy, so I didn’t want to rev up the oven and ruin a baking sheet. Instead, I gave up that smoky stuff for a more intense broth in other ways, starting with the addition of 2 cans of beef broth to the 4 quarts of water. I also sprinkled a dash of cinnamon into the mix (it goes so well with the star anise) to add one more note of flavor. This is supposed to be a pungent and spicy dish.
The process was relatively simply: boil the bones in the water and stock for about three hours. Add the onion, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and fish sauce and simmer for about six hours more. Obviously this can be adjusted for reality, but this is the best time-frame from which to elicit the most flavor (of course you can go longer if desired – you may have to add more water along the way so it doesn’t boil down too much).
Separately, soak the rice noodles in lukewarm water for about an hour. They should be malleable, yet somewhat firm (they will feel underdone even after an hour, but don’t worry because the boiling broth will finish the process beautifully).
As you near the end of the simmer period, add the green onion and cilantro to the broth (I also reserved a small bunch of cilantro for additional garnish later on). Traditionally, and if you have an excellent and reliable butcher, you would put the thin meat slices into the bowl and let the broth do the cooking. Failing such a supply, I dropped the meat into the broth on the stove and let it boil for a bit. (I’ll sacrifice some tenderness for safety when Price Chopper is involved.)
To plate up, drop a decent helping of the noodles into a large bowl. Spoon in the simmering broth until it covers them well, along with several pieces of beef. This will finish cooking the noodles nicely, and then it will be time for the real magic to begin.
As if after my own heart, it’s the accessories that really make this dish special – and if there’s one thing you can’t forego when having pho it’s this collection of fresh ingredients. In a restaurant, you’ll usually be served the dish of amendments first, piled high with bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime wedges and little bowls of hoisin and Sriracha. These accoutrements are vital for such a richly-flavored broth, lending a vivid contrast to the flavor at hand.
I simply tear the basil apart with my hands and drop it into the broth, along with a handful of sprouts. A few squeezes of lime is enough to spruce up the surface, then I stir in some hoisin and Sriracha. For my home-grown version, I tore up the additional cilantro since I love it so much. The end result was decent enough – and an almost-authentic approximation of the pho I’d only had at restaurants.
I’m not always great in the kitchen, but sometimes I’m pretty damn good. This was one of those happy times, and this is a dish I’ll make again.
Ryan Tongia, the Hunk of the Day, is a professional rugby player (and occasional model for certain casual runway shows) who plays rugby union in New Zealand. Mr. Tongia was born May 31, 1990 which is practically obscene, given that Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ was just riding the top of the charts at the time. As the world turns…