This week, to mark the upcoming Valentine’s Day celebration, part two of my three-part column of thematic playlist and menu choices will offer up selections that connect in some way to themes of romance and intimacy. However, I also want to recognize the fact that there are few things in life more irritating than two people who are genuinely in love. If you are part of that .03% of the world’s population to whom this applies at any given point in time (this is according to the roughly penciled calculations I’ve just made on the back of my tear-stained dive bar cocktail napkin), then that’s a truly wonderful thing, and I could not be more happy for the two of you. Just be sure to keep it to yourselves. The rest of the world is either searching for love, falling out of love, recovering from love, writing a country-and-western song, or simply wondering what the fuck just happened.
Sentimental ballads, like public displays of affection, just rub everybody’s face in it and make them want to pop your heart-shaped helium balloon. Besides, nobody needs suggestions for light-hearted love songs, anyway. If you find yourself head-over-idiomatic-heels, any tune you associate with the apple of your eye will stir feelings of longing and desire within your fevered breast, whether it be “Take My Breath Away,” or “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”.
Nope, what I am pushing your way with this idiosyncratic list are pieces of music that I believe evoke the more enigmatic and melancholy aspects of the capacious human heart.
With this in mind, my first suggested track this week is “Limestone & Fe,” by the Russian- born classical cellist Anastasia Kobekina, from her sonorous, recently released recording Venice. Like all the tracks on the record, this piece is a small musical jewel that succinctly conjures the mysterious, shadowy, and perhaps a tiny bit sinister, qualities (much like the nature of love itself) of that fabled and most romantic of cities. Draw the red velvet drapes, light some candles, and allow yourself to be swept away, alone or with another.
Suggested food pairing: I think something visceral and rich should fit the bill. Veal sweetbreads, maybe, or fresh squid ink pasta, served with an old world wine, such as a chianti or a barolo. Preferably enjoyed in a crumbling Venetian palazzo haunted by the ghost of a husband-poisoning 19th century Contessa, its gargoyles and lanterns reflected upon the swirling black waters of the Grand Canal.
Next, I offer up the song “Black Valentine,” by the ever-saucy, always delightful jazz / pop songstress Caro Emerald. It’s a sultry ode to secret, reckless love, the sort of song that evokes the smoke-filled cabarets of 1920s Montparnasse.
Suggested meal pairing: Hell, we’re in Paris! You can’t go wrong. I think I’ll order the duck confit, followed by crêpes suzette for dessert, and a tray of boulevardiers, maybe. The evening is young, after all, and we are so very beautiful.
Finally, I proffer for your consideration the torch song “One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)”. Crafted by the sterling songwriting partnership of Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen back in 1943, the song tells the tale of a heartbroken bar patron bending the ear of a (hopefully) sympathetic bartender, as they share the story of what went wrong in their failed relationship. It’s wry, haunting, and perfectly relatable for anyone who has found themselves forlorn and alone hard up on closing time. There have been many excellent takes on this jazz classic, not least by Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, but my favourite has to be the nuanced performance by the sublime Billie Holiday from Lady Sings the Blues.
Suggested meal pairing: The hour is late, and unfortunately the kitchen is closed. Happily, though, the honeymooning couple from Barcelona have finally left, and there is room on the stool beside me at the bar, and half a bowl of salty peanuts still left. Feel free to join me if you can.
At the very least, please visit me here next time, when I will be dishing up my final menu of musical and culinary suggestions, no reservation required. Next week: “Music and Food Suitable For the End of the World”.