Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Get Thee Behind Me, GRE

I think this cartoon gets to the the spirit of the GRE really well.

I know, shut up and keep studying.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Random Randomness

I think I've realized that when I am under a certain amount of stress I tend to revert to my childhood. I just noticed that the caption for the photos for the last post were written in sort of a show-and-tell way, and then, at some point, I put up Youtube videos of Bugs Bunny. I'm not sitting here eating a bowl of Sugar Smacks, but I feel like that might complete the package. Bugs Bunny was a large part of my childhood and I suppose one of my early heroes. He's really a wiseguy of the thirties mob mentality, and he actually takes on the mob in one episode. I can't remember what the name of the episode is, but it has the famous line from the mob boss who Bugs is tormenting, "shut up, shuttin' up." So maybe I turn to bugs for guidance, although I'm not ready to dress in drag to fool any crazed rabbit hunter just yet.

Do people do shout-outs anymore? I wonder if the term has been retired, like "Def," or "not." Well, if it hasn't, I would like to do a shout-out to Froshty, who helped me through my half-imagined editorial crises the other day. I have to remember that I'm not exactly in this alone, and that most of the people I know these days are published in some form or another. Froshty's help, and other war-stories from great people out there, have helped me get over my molehill/mountain syndrome and put me on course for the next crises in confidence.
By the way, read Froshty's blog. This is the person who taught us that the infuriating things in life are there to be laughed at and reviled (well, she and our father). No one does a better job at critiquing what technology has done to the English language, and this is coming from someone who uses this tech-language for her bread and butter. She can also tell a damn funny story.

So that's all I have for now, a brief post today. The week has gotten off to a decent start, and my next review should be out on Friday, hopefully gross-error free. I should be studying for the GRE between now and six o'clock class, but what the hell, I've got plenty of time--right? I will say this, I'm taking less credits this term than any other, but for some reason my book bag is always heavier than a bag of rocks you see on those documentaries about the gulags. I'm seriously afraid that I'm going to take somebody out one day by mistake. I was in a narrow corridor today with someone coming toward me and I had to lift the bag up over a rail which took an amazing amount of effort and threw me off balance. I caught myself just as I was about to knock someone behind me over. My right arm is starting to look like Popeye's on spinach while my left still looks like Little Orphan Annie's. End, semester, end.

And speaking of reverting to childhood, this weekend the whole family is getting together for my brother-in-law's ordination. Wish us luck.

Here is the new review with the correct name of the restaurant.

Monday, September 10, 2007


I don't know how I was led back to The Brothers Karamazov but I have found myself once again absorbed in Dostoevsky's last novel. I am reading Richard Pevear and Larrissa Volokhonski's translation whose first printing was in 1990. Pevear and Volokhonski are coming out with a new translation of War and Peace on October 16th, and if their translation brings Tolstoy alive like the Dostoevsky, I might have to reserve three months so I can devote all of my time to it. I suffer from ESRS (extremely slow reader syndrome).

I read The Brothers Karamazov many years ago from the translation by Constance Garnett, who was, until recently, arguably the gold standard in translation of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. How I wish I could read them in the original Russian, but possibly in another lifetime. I remember very little of the novel, vaguely recalling that there was a murder in a family of three sons. One part I remember, and this was why I was apprehensive about a re-read, was the long theological debates that take place in the monastery at the beginning of the novel. Reading this reminded me of wading through thick mud, but, at the time, I was patient enough to anticipate eventual plot development--possibly on page 456 or somewhere. Now that I'm a hundred pages into the re-read, the discussions don't seem that painful, possibly because I participate in/endure such discussions at the LLAC (little liberal arts college).

Mainly the argument is about the relationship between church and state. I won't go into the main theses surrounding the discussion, but there is a definite undertone of prevailing socialism being tauted by certain members in the debate. Now I see now how important this is to the introduction of the main characters in the novel, and, although it is still tough going at times, the discourse doesn't seem as long as I remember. I actually understand a great deal of it.

I'm also enjoying the development of the rogue father Fyodor Pavlovich, who is cringe-provokingly socially inept. Like an episode of Murder She Wrote, you get the idea that this guy is just begging for it. Also at stake are women and money, so there just has to be a grisly resolution at some point, and the tension is building toward a frantic, emotional, Russian climax.

Could it be the translation that makes this reading more compelling? I've got a copy of the Garnett translation here as well (sometimes I love working in a library) and I want to do a quick comparison to see how the language differs. At times the wording is identical, with the word "countenance" being replaced by "looks", but it seems that Pevear and Volokhonsky add depth to Dostoevsky's expressions. Here is a brief comparison of the same two sentences.

Even when he was excited and talking
irritably, his eyes did not follow
his mood, but betrayed something else,
sometimes quite incongruous with
what was passing.

Pevear and Volokhonsky:

Even when he was excited and talking irritably, his look, as it were, did
not obey his inner mood but expressed something else, sometimes not at all
corresponding to the present moment.

(sorry I can't go back from block quote mode, but F****** blogspot is being stubbornly inept today)

I love the use of commas in Dostoevsky. The placement of the words and the details contained in the clauses feed a rich image to me as a reader. The commas also do something for the pacing, which forces me to slow down, and take in the words individually, something I rarely do when reading any work. At this rate, how will I ever finish the book? It doesn't matter, this work has allowed me to find my groove in the right lane going five miles under the speed-limit and enjoying every bush and vista along the way.

I believe The Brothers Karmazov has a reputation as a difficult read. It may be so, but you've got to love a novel whose chapter titles bear declarations like this: "Why Is Such A Man Alive!", "One More Ruined Reputation," "Strain in the Drawing Room," "Strain in the Cottage," and "The Old Buffoon." All of the language in this novel is provocative and active, and if fiction is meant to be transformative, Dostoevsky is a master at taking this reader out of this world and into his.

Last night, at around 2am Booker woke me wanting to go out. I laid back down but I couldn't sleep. I had gone to bed early and now, in the middle of the night, I was wide awake. I puttered around the house a bit, checking to see if anyone from Indonesia was viewing my blog (they weren't) but finally I picked up The Brothers Karamazov and started reading. The inability to sleep is usually defined by too many things swirling around in my brain. Reading in this state rarely changes anything, except that I have a book in my hand that I can't concentrate on because of the Rolodex of anxieties flipping through my conscious. Last night reading worked, and Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, for all his faults, can be solely responsible for getting me out of myself and into his buffoonery, allowing the Rolodex to stop and sleep to overcome me. I woke up thanking Dostoevsky.

Extra: Here is a link to the article I wrote for the school paper. I'm doing restaurant reviews.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

For Your Next Dinner Party...

Warning: This post is about really gross food, so if you don't have a strong stomach, you may want to skip it.

Casu Marzu (a.k.a. maggot cheese), Sardinia, Italy

I’ve heard about this cheese twice in the past couple of weeks, once on NPR when they were interviewing a scientist in search of the world’s weirdest food, and again on a “disgusting things that people eat” TV show. Seeing the cheese in its maggot popping glory turned my stomach but strangely led me to the internet to gather more information.

Instead of regular cheese, which goes through a fermentation process for flavor, Casu Marzu is more a product of decomposition. The cheese goes through this process by the use of cheese fly larvae that eat the cheese and then secret the waste, making the cheese “softer and more flavorful.”

One of the hazards of eating Casu Marzu is the larvae, which can jump up to 15cm when disturbed. Consumers may be disturbed by the fact that their cheese is jumping and making a crackling sound. Often, connoisseurs refrigerate the cheese for hours before consumption so the larvae can become placid and less, well, jumpy.

There is another danger with eating the cheese. Human stomach acids cannot kill the larvae, so often the larvae remain in the digestive-tract, boring into the walls and causing intestinal lesions. It is no wonder that its home region of Sardinia banned it. Still the allure and rarity of the cheese has food-adventurers searching for black market varieties.

Kopi Luwak: The most expensive coffee in the world. Indonesia

Kopi means coffee in Indonesian. Luwak means civet, which is a small weasel-like creature. The reason this coffee bears the name of an Asian ferret is that the mammal is an important part of the manufacturing process. The animal eats the raw coffee beans, but only the soft outer part. According to one source, the digestive “juices” of the civet provide the coffee with a “unique” flavor. The process removes bitterness.

Kopi Luwak is rare, costing up to $600 a pound and $50 a cup. The quantities are much smaller than a regular cup of coffee and are served more like espresso. Looking to buy some of this? Talk to the Japanese, apparently they have cornered the market.

Taste testing conducted at Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee in London elicited smiles and compliments from one taster, until she found out how the coffee was made. She reportedly made a hurried exit. Others called the flavor “chocolaty with undertones of molasses and tobacco.”

Postscript: I found a photo of Kopi Luwak in its raw form, but it looked so disgusting that I spared any unfortunate web-surfers from it.

Addendum: I've got to hand it to the civet and the cheese-fly larvae, they really have us humans eating shit.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Patio Update

Okay, so here's what's going on with the patio. I'm still not sure of that word--patio. I'll just start calling it the backyard project.

This is the excavation-site as it stands today. Dug-out, and stones in production. It is taking a long time. Mixing 80lb bags of concrete by hand is a workout. But this is the way I want it done so it'll just have to be that way--apologies for all the contractions.

Now this is the tree in question. It is a maple that dominates this expanse of turf and it's a mean-spirited bastard. But we have maintained a truce for a spell, and the worst part is over, the war of the roots. To me, after all the root-canal work I did on it, it looks like it stands up a little straighter.
These are the slate slabs that were down before the project started. I washed some off to see if I could use them as part of the scheme but they looked butt-ugly down in the dirt. I want to use them because they are awesome, and I'm thinking of a walkway around the right side of my house.

This is the last root I dug out. I was expecting to work on leveling that day, but I discovered this instead. It took me half-an-hour to extract it, and when I was working my neighbor came by and wondered what I was doing. I must have looked like a Scottish blackguard in the indigenous rain forest as I explained the project. She asks about it now, which is good, the more people who ask, the more I'll keep going, because of my fear of public shame. So, keep asking about the multi-month backyard project.

Oh, and speaking of roots, here is the extent of them.
This is what one of the paving stones look like.

This wheel-barrow is pissed at me. I mix the concrete in here and it's about to fall over. I need to tighten its bolts and get it fit again. It works well.

And of course, what would a piece about outdoor activity be without this guy. He is wondering what is happening to his puppyhood.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Flight Night

I try not to repeat on my Youtube sidebar feature, but tonight is the finale of the HBO series Flight of the Conchords so I'm going to feature them again for a few days. I love the band and the videos, but the show also does a great job with supporting characters such as Mel, Murry and Dave. I also hope that the semi-professional actor, Ben, shows up again next season. I'm assuming there will be a next season.

I'm obsessed with this song by The New Pornographers
All the Old Showstoppers

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Pete and Ian--New Uploads

Pete, my guitar playing compatriot, has moved to New Zealand. Here are two tracks we recorded last spring.

I Shall be Released

Big River

These are both cover-songs, so i hope BMI doesn't freeze my assets.

Great Rooms, Dogs and Books

There is a term that gets used more and more, and it is starting to grate on my nerves a little. People, in these strange days of modern housing, love to refer to their "great rooms." For some reason this term seems unbelievably pretentious to me. What used to be called a living room or a den is now called something that hearkens back to the middle-ages. To me this adds to the general feeling that Americans want to view themselves as modern day nobility. A great room?C'mon. Why don't you just call it a big space where the contractor could save money by not having to build any expensive extra walls. I often hear things like this, "yes, we just had to buy the house because of the 450 square foot great room." What are you planning to do, host a renaissance fair? Fly radio controlled airplanes in it? Set up a beach volleyball court? It always amazes me when I enter someones great room and find it sparsely furnished and soulless. I had a friend, a really good friend by the way but one who believed in the power of material worth. His great room contained three items besides the built-in fireplace, or should I say hearth. One was a practice putting green, another a sofa, and the center-piece was a life-sized cut-out of Michael Jordon. The room had no depth at all even though it was very big. In contrast, the bedrooms of this house were tiny, smaller than my smallest guest room.

This came about I believe with the emergence of subdivision housing and later with the McMansion industry. When I was a kid, if we didn't have a number of rooms to escape to when annoying siblings or mothers with a to-do list were threatening our piece of mind, we would have killed each other. Don't get me wrong, clutter and darkness makes me uncomfortable as well, and one things these rooms usually have going for them is abundance of light. It's just the use of the term great room that causes me the most problems. If you tell me you have a great room, when I visit, you better greet me sitting on a throne with court jesters and damsels strewn about. If not, I'll just go back to my house with its damaged porch, its half-finished patio, and its very serviceable mead-hall.

By the way, here is a shot of my "pretty-good room."

I also want to add this. Four years ago I had just left my job of eleven years and was seriously floundering, wondering what I was going to do next. Two great things happened during this time. I was given my dog Booker as a present from my parents, and I read one of my favorite books of all time Life of Pi. These two events would have significance for a number of reasons, and funnily enough both the book and the dog are located in reaching distance as I write this. For those of you who have had puppys you know what the first year can be like with chewing and other fun side-effects of unmitigated cuteness. Well, when Booker was small, nothing was off limits for chewing, and things with my smell on it were particularly popular targets. Shoes, telephones, remote controls, couches, chairs, and practically anything else I had touched were usually found mauled on the back-porch.

So I came home one day during the time when I was reading Life of Pi and found this:

I've kept this copy and view it fondly now, but at the time I was pretty pissed. Now I see it as a souvenir of a different time in my life, one that I've worked hard to steer away from. Both Booker and the book are representative of a time when I caught my breath, gained a loyal companion, and rediscovered the power of good fiction.