31 December 2006

it's a wonder I can think at all

for Christmas Sam got me a Nikon camera (love to take a pho-o-tograph) and as a result Paul and Art have been in my head for several days. that song is genius. it's about knowledge and seeing. it's about revolutions in perceptions of the world. and its datedness (Kodachrome) is now part of its import. remember when photos could be in colour? (I don't.) How about when HBO and MTV launched? What about your first Apple IIe? BASIC? Pong? electronically mailing friends across campus? it should be used as the kernel of all history/vision/perception lectures, except that none of today's current university students understand or appreciate the joys of the folk harmonising that Paul and Art pulled off. But I'd love to start a lecture with:

What is the connection here, between reading the writing on the wall--clearly a marker of adolescent toilet communication, the space where abstract insults and pick-up lines are traded--and Kodachrome? Is Simon happy about the shiny colours? The greens of summers? How does he communicate his cynicism? What does this tell us about the mood of mid-century popular consciousness? What is lost in the colour? How does nostalgia take shape here? And, why call upon his 'mama'? What kind of threat does she represent?

Ah. we can dream. meanwhile, my camera rocks. My portrait of an M&S mini christmas cake, below.

29 December 2006

Kate Fox, Watching the English

I just finished reading the above book, which I realise never made it into the blog list at the right but there you are. These things happen. It was recommended by several of our English friends as a good introduction to the behaviour and patterns of those raised in England.

Just to be clear once again, for those who haven't gotten it quite yet: we do not live in England. Wales. Different country, different language, different national history/heritage/pride. So the book was only of limited use for understanding our current surroundings, and indeed one of the interesting things was how much it did differ from our experiences in Wales.

I can highly recommend said text for any anglophile or frequent visitor to England who has observed various stereotypes (queueing, constantly saying 'sorry', self-deprecation) and wondered what was going on. Kate Fox is an anthropologist whose methods (like deliberately bumping into people for an afternoon and counting how many said 'sorry' to her) are as funny as many passages in the book (the English don't like revolutions, and so she articulates their 'protest' chant as: 'What do we want? GRADUAL CHANGE! When do we want it? IN DUE COURSE!' which I find hilarious. well, call-and-response just gets me).

She also details the minutiae of class distinctions, which are quite different from those in the US, needless to say. So it was fascinating. For example: folding your napkin neatly after a meal is considered 'common' as it implies that you might need/want to re-use it. to be properly upper class, you should crumple your napkin messily and leave it whereever. I find this intriguing.

We have also just experienced one of the other measures of class in both the US and the UK: the grocery store. Where you shop is as important as anything else for indicating class. Safeway--King Soopers--Albertsons was the order when we were growing up in suburban Denver, until the wave of organic/whole foods type places added a further upper category. In Minnesota you can go to Byerly's where the floors were carpeted and they hung chandeliers over the produce section. In PA and the NE it's Wegmans. (Blogged about this before here.) Other regions certainly have theirs, I'm sure.

Here in the UK it's Iceland--Lidl--Asda--Tesco--Sainsbury's--Waitrose--whole foods type places: Iceland carries only frozen stuff. hence the name. Asda is Walmart-owned. Say no more. Tesco, where we've been shopping, is more or less the middle class starting point. We just discovered, however, that Sainsbury's now delivers, and so we got our first Sainsbury's order this week. Very exciting. Over-designed packaging, new exotic dips, and generally you pay more for basically the same stuff. We do admit, however, that some of the items are, er, a bit better tasting than the Tesco equivalent. Does that make us elitists? Or are we merely justifying our striving for upper-class status by finding the food better at the one-tick-up store? Of course, if we were truly upper class we wouldn't care--crumpled napkin and all. we also probably wouldn't blog. Sigh. so much for striving.

24 December 2006

Mae hi'n niwlog!

indeed. with heathrow socked in by fog (due to lift today, hopefully) and Denver socked in by snow, we are somewhat proud of ourselves for the non-existent foresight that led to our decision to stay in our new house, nest, and relax this Christmas. because we are omniscient and can predict the weather. of course. what are the odds that LHR and DEN would be closed at the same time this year? well, the odds are one.

must make coffee and get in hot tub. happy Christmas eve!

21 December 2006

vielen dank

all my years of language study, slogging through college-level Sturm und Drang literature. all that work. not much fluency, sure. but a line on the ol' cv. and what am I using it for?
  • viewing Wagner's operatic oeuvre in the original, ohne subtitles?
  • reading Der Spiegel in the morning along with the other 8 international newspapers I read?
  • discussing the finer points of Goethe's aesthetics?
  • quibbling with Kaufmann's translation of Nietzsche?
No, no, no, and no. What am i doing with my german? Yep, you guessed it: buying shoes from on-line retailers! Filling up my Warenkorb in order to receive Stiefel and Schuhe in der Post. Ah. Deutsch. Ich liebe dich.

Gotta love the liberal arts. Brilliant. Wundervoll.

20 December 2006


we've been in the new house since September, and it just this past week clicked over into feeling a bit like home. No, we don't have our stuff yet (2nd Jan! very exciting!) and no, it won't wholly feel like home until we have things like matching, high quality silverware, more than one kitchen knife, pictures on the wall, our lovely rugs, and books, books, books.

But it is still starting to feel that way. and it's in a way that reminds me of the way Data of Star Trek TNG describes his understanding of love and friendship:
As I experience certain sensory input patterns my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The inputs eventually are anticipated and even missed when absent.
this is how it works with home. I know the silhouette of the back of the garden now. the feeling of the bannister, the way the door closes. it's not completely imbued with 'us-ness' yet, but the inputs are beginning to be anticipated. for sure.

PS. miss TNG. sigh.

11 December 2006

Hero worship, or not

I've been reading a one-degree-of-separation blog recently, Frankly Frivolous, which is about all the TV you're watching--the stuff you admit to and the stuff you don't. And, as someone with certain, and admittedly sometimes arbitrary, standards for dialogue/writing/directing that often mean shows get the axe in ep 3 ("Dude. Where are we?" killed Lost for us, sadly), it's nice to be able to keep up with things via someone else's intelligent commentary.

And so I must respond to the Heroes discussion in FF's recent blog post. Don't get me wrong. Heroes is one of our guilty pleasure, fluff TV watches. We find it intriguing--sort of 4400 without the buddy-cop element and without the full 'verse worked out completely. I tend to like the show, although we both could do without Nikki's story-line entirely, thank you very much. If one treats it like a soap and fast-forwards through the bits you're not keen on, it works well.

But I have a problem with it, which is the same problem that Alias (also guilty pleasure, also fab, also yummy on many levels) had: Or-ee-en-tal-ism. That's right. "Eenja" the place where wisdom is had. Place of monsoons, umbrellas, kids playing football (except they'd be playing cricket if it were going all-out stereotype), white columns and huge mansions, small dark dusty academic offices (that look oddly like the same place as the NY apartment inhabited by the same character), sultry women in saris, protective mothers, everyone is a scientist, everyone wears fab Banana Republic-style flowy clothing (from before BR sold out and became Extra-Special-Gap)...At least in Heroes they play to the "better stereotypes" if there is such a thing. In Alias "Eenja" was one big confusing bazaar with veiled women and people scraping in the dirt in their oh-so-colourful sparkly garb. And so it's just annoying. Right down to the accent that Sendhil Ramamurthy takes on. It grates a little. Mr. Miyagi for the 00s.

I think the portrayal of Japan has similar elements, but Hiro is a much better character than Mohinder, and he doesn't have to do the cheeseball spiritual abstract voiceover stuff--Japan is a place of ritualised office calasthenics, manga, and cubicles with Star-Trek obsessed inhabitants hip to American culture, Japanese style. so there's orientalism there too, just a different flavour and with a different edge. Others more familiar with Japan and its popular image can help me in analysing that.

Heroes' Orientalism is the boring kind. The overt, in-your-face, why-oh-why kind. Because of this, it doesn't make me stop watching the show. It's just too overt to be truly offensive. Perhaps it's a signal that South Asia has finally made it onto the radar screen of mainstream America: it's not just China and Japan anymore. Welcome to the club.

06 December 2006

Powers No. 2

I'm still planning that post about Hot Tubs. Indeed, I have to confess: I'm now planning a whole series of hot tub posts - certain to bore every reader and potential reader out there. But that process cannot begin until there is some literal closure. (And, yes, that is the correct use of literal.)

Thus, I thought I'd say a few words about the Richard Powers book that I recently finished reading. The book, Prisoner's Dilemma, is not Powers' most recent novel. That title goes to The Echo Maker, so kindly gifted to us by Rebecca's mom - and heroically delivered to us by Mike. I won't read that book for a while, not because I'm not eager to do so, but because I'm just enough of an ascetic to intentionally self-ration my consumption of sentences written by the man. My little history of reading Powers runs like this:

Galatea 2.2
Freely available in the sabbatical home fiction (and cookbook) library where we lived in State College, and then recommended to us by Joely. I read it, and liked it a lot - thought it an amazing combination of compelling plot, with genuine philosophical insight, and some nice techy stuff thrown in as a bonus. Some passages and sentences were mind-blowing, so I knew the guy had great talent. Still, I wouldn't call it one of the best books I ever read.

The Time of Our Singing
Imagine my surprise, then, when I bought the only Powers book available at the State College Barnes and Noble (or was it Borders, who can even tell the difference). The book looked long, and I was planning to fly from State College to London, so I figured it was good value for the money. I spent most of January, while Rebecca was away in India, reading it. It's the only book that, when I finished the last of almost 700 pages, I immediately and instinctively (without considering what I was doing) turned back to the beginning and reread the first chapter. It's also the only book I ever read over which I cried repeatedly. About a week or two after finishing it, I came to the inevitable conclusion that it was the best book I had ever read.

When Rebecca returned from India, I told her nothing about my perspective on the book; I simply handed it to her and said 'you must read this'. I said nothing to her while she read it, or when she was finished. About a week or so after her finishing, I asked what she thought of it. Her response: 'I think it's the best book I've ever read'.

Thus began our further journey through Powers Land, aided by finding most of his older novels used at Powell's later that summer.

The Gold Bug Variations
This is written on the same grand scale as the above book. It's massive, it's phenomenal, and it's an incredible feat. But it just doesn't quite pull it off. It's a fabulous book, but it misses the mark of genius. (Oh, and it finally made me understand - I think - something about DNA.)

Operation Wandering Soul
This is, by far I'd say, Powers' darkest novel, and it's not like he's normally all about light joyous gaiety. Everything artistic in ER was stolen from this book. It gives this incredible picture of the 80's - it's even funny in a way - and it has some of the best-written passages of any of his works. Still, it's a bit too depressing for my tastes. (And as you'll see below, I don't have a hypersensitivy to depressing works.)

This book centres on a protagonist dying of cancer and going through chemo; still, it's much lighter than the previous book. And it's totally gripping; and it's hopeful in its own way; and it 'gets' small-town America in the most amazing way. Brilliant book, probably tied for third on top Powers list.

Plowing the Dark
Virtual Reality, historical events, and a love story - what more could one want. A lot like Galatea, but deeper and richer and more intoxicating. Tied for third.

That brings me to the book I just finished, but I've about run out of steam. Prisoner's Dilemma is, above all, a story about family. It manages to tell that story while also talking, literally, about the Prisoner's Dilemma. It's also about hope and imagination, and even though this book too is about death, it's one of his most optimistic works. This text started off slowly for me, but it 'pulled it all together' - and this is the magic trick that Powers is always trying to pull off - so captivatingly and compellingly in the end, that it really took my breath away. It's his best short novel by far, I think, and his second best work overall.

I'd tell you to read it, of course, but it's rather obvious, isn't it, that I'm telling you to read them all.

03 December 2006

the root question...

I've posted before, of course, on beets. obviously. we had thanksgiving last week and thus fell behind in our studious consumption of the organic veg delivery. and then we got another bag-o-veg, including (and I do not exaggerate here) a 35 lb cantaloup squash pumpkin thing from the 19th century. because things were bigger then. (note how there's no scale on that picture from 1867?) How we got it home is a mystery to me. faced with more parsnips, carrots, swedes, pumpkin, leeks, and onion than we seem capable of eating I swing into proactive mode:
  • step one: adapt Indian potato curry recipe to swedes. eat for three days in a row. success.
  • step two: take all of the apples, core, stuff with butter, spices, and other yummy things, and make baked apples. success.
  • step three:given that we also overestimated our cheese consumption, we have several blocks of cheddar in the fridge. beets+parsnips+leeks+cheddar=yum. based on various 'au gratin' recipes on-line, I made the following. not at all weight watchers. not at all vegan. but, aside from the inevitable side dish of beef, vegetarian. (it's what's for dinner, remember?)
Rebecca's beet & parsnip au gratin
wash immense amounts of mud and earth off of root veg. seems that someone buried them in the earth prior to delivering them to me. odd.

wrap in foil and bake beets and parsnips for 2ish hours in a 180/350 degree oven until they are very much done

you can store them for later; at least let cool a bit

slice them into 1/4" round slices and layer them in alternating layers in a casserole dish (parsnips, beets. parsnips, beets. I made pretty pink and white pattern on the top. you can too.)

in a heavy saucepan sautee 2 leeks, sliced into rounds, including green bits. add a couple minced/mashed garlic cloves as well.

once the leeks are wilted and happy, add two tablespoons flour (or cornmeal--the only flour like thing I had around--worked well), stir around for a bit to coat the leeks. then add about 1/2 c water and mix--should be kind of like a runny-paste-o-leeks at this point. add in about 2ish c whole milk (I'm sure cream is better. didn't have any in the fridge)--let it get warm, then add about 2.5 c. grated cheese or more--I used white cheddars--a mix from the West country and Ireland. Nothing like diversity. Indeed. nothing like diversity.

add some pepper and dried thyme (2 teaspoons?), let the cheese melt into the sauce. don't let it boil. it's mostly milk.

pour cheese sauce over the beets and parsnips. grate some (or a lot of) cheese on top. bake, covered in foil, for 30 minutes or so at 180/350.

mm. cheese. beets. pretty pink and white and green. enjoy.

01 December 2006


In case you hadn't noticed (I hadn't), the online quiz phenomenon seems to have mutated a bit. I ran across this one about 'American accents' the other day, on a blog that was discussing how ridiculous Americans are for thinking they have 'no accent'. From previous posts, you know I both agree with this specific claim (about the ridiculousness) and also find the general discussion interesting.

However, I was not expecting these results:

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Boston

You definitely have a Boston accent, even if you think you don't. Of course, that doesn't mean you are from the Boston area, you may also be from New Hampshire or Maine.

The West

The Midland

North Central

The Northeast

The Inland North


The South

What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes