Giving umami a bad name

Hell is not always other people. Sometimes it’s breaking away in late afternoon on a prime Saturday to get to a performance downtown at 6 o’clock, only to find that the music by a friend of a friend actually starts at 8 and some bullshit cookbook seminar precedes it. Since the tickets were nonrefundable, my consort insisted we at least give the bullshit a chance, so we walked in just as a pedant was droning her way through a presentation on how recipes could actually be read as poetry. Not by her, of course. She stumbled and bumbled through half a dozen as if she had never seen her texts before, even asking for help on pronouncing words both English and Italian. I felt bad when I realized how miserable she looked by the end, but I felt worse for us — if you’re going to engage in performance art, do what performers do: rehearse. Oh, and if there is one occasion when a bra is essential, it’s in a small space in bright lights with a captive audience. I kept getting distracted as the nipples in the clingy top grazed the tabletop. And she was standing at the time.

Of course it went on. And on, with a presentation on a starving-artist cookbook project with a “highlight reel” that ran an hour and 43 minutes. Luckily, the woman who droned that introduction showed only a few segments. And once again I had to say: If you’re going to make videos, could you at least learn to focus? The best piece was on a sculptor of sorts who works with animal carcasses and also makes a Jell-O terrine with a flashlight embedded in it. She switched it on just before unmolding, the camera zoomed in and . . . a bright blur filled the screen. Afterward the moderator suggested everyone in the room share starving-artist stories and volunteered that she had a hundred of them. What I said walking in I really meant as we walked out: Pulling my own teeth would be a less excruciating option. We fled to Lucky Strike, hooked up with our friend by accident and came back for the music. Boozy drinks were handed out afterward, and they even got that wrong. If you want to stage a fiasco festival, at least marinate the guests first.