Monday, June 29, 2009

A Final Week in Poetry-Related Creativity (For Now)

Alright. This should cap off the recent spate of poetry-related self-serving links.

Watch the video here.

(It's a shame that they included neither the poem that I read during my spiel (A father's day poem which featured "the bay sparkling / like the copper-wound strings / of an unlidded piano in a dusty track-lit den") nor the limerick that dude ordered (in the voice of his father, to his mother).)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

La Belle Province (II)

Where did I leave off? Well, it was Tuesday night in Montréal and we'd just finished our bagels, so next on the docket was Sarah's favorite ice cream place, the name of which eludes me. (Since Sarah's in Brazil now, I can't crib from her notes any more about things were exactly called.) Suffice it to say it was excellent, like everything else in Montréal. I don't know if I've said this in as many words yet: I have half a mind to learn French and move to Montréal, because it seems like a perfectly scaled cosmopolitan city. Everything about Montréal gave me this feeling. Part of this reaction is that it's summer; in winter, rather like in Scandinavia, it gets dark and brutally cold and the suicide rate goes sky high. But in spring, it's an immediately amazing city, and after a couple of days there I only feel like my appetite is whetted.

That Tuesday night was a kind of island-evening of Montréalness, actually: we were just in for the evening, returning to North Hatley after a CD-launch concert given by one of Sarah's father's friends, a Celtic flutist by the name of Dave Gossage. (Sarah's dad passed away three years ago; I wish I'd gotten to meet him, since he was by all accounts a unique guy. His varied friends, many of whom we intersected with in Montréal, attest to that.) The music, through a five-man band (flute, drums, bass, fiddle, guitar, if I'm remembering that right) was high-energy with jazz traces, actually, and none of the new-age associations I was expecting from Celtic flutery. I'm really a fan of any music with a down-home earnest folkishness to it, and that itch was most definitely scratched, most directly by way of the endearing audience hoedown the last number inspired.

Wednesday was a quieter day; Sarah had scheduled a morning checkup appointment with her hometown dentist, who found a cavity in one of her wisdom tooth and yanked the damn thing out right then. So we took it a little easy after that, which was just as well since it was a muted rainy day. In the afternoon we drove 20 minutes through the hilly country roads (and their overexuberant 80 kmph speed limits, which I was never uncautious enough to approach) to a nearby quarry town, where Sarah had the errand of looking into a headstone for her dad's grave plot; in the evening we had family dinner with Sarah's store-owning aunt, then later on watched a DVD of the ludicrous 2008 Liam Neeson action vehicle Taken, which Pierre had pirated off the Internet into a distended not-fit-to-the-TV-screen version. Although if you made a list of all the unrealistic things about Taken, visual distendedness wouldn't crack the top 15. We caught the third period of one of the Penguins/Hurricanes game after the movie; I didn't feel like a very good Pittsburgher, needing to be displaced into Canada before I actually watched a Penguins game this season.

Thursday it was back to Montréal (about 2 hours from North Hatley, so the yoyoing isn't so bad) and to the bed and breakfast there, owned by another friend of Sarah's father, a Belgian woman who also makes chocolates, two of which, cocoa-powdered and elegant, were sitting in the fridge for us alongside the breakfast items. We shopped along the neighborhood's long promenade, the name of which eludes me, fortuitously closed off for a street fair. I took Sarah to her favorite jewelry shop, for a funky lilypad-looking silver ring that's been drawing comments since; she took me into department stores, where she tells me how good I look in shirts that otherwise wouldn't have occurred to me. We had dinner at a Middle Eastern place with three or four more friends-via-father; were handed off, in fact, her dad's urn from one of them (according to plan, again; travel and school had put shifted much of Sarah's logistic legwork to this year). Sarah's dad, by all accounts, would have found it amusing and appropriate to travel urnwise to dinner at a place named after Rumi and then go on to the symphony, where no one batted an eyelash about our lugging in a large green-velvet-enclosed object, despite there having been a major bomb scare in the Metro system that afternoon. (Well, major in inconvenience; minor in substance.) The symphony concert was a fine one, featuring Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe in full, which is just about what you want Kent Nagano and the OSM to put on. Somewhere around the Danse Generale it must have started pouring buckets, because we got absolutely soaked with that afterwards trying to get picked up by one of Sarah's high-school friends. We proceeded to a bar that was hip enough that I felt a little awkward trying to dry off my shirt at the bathroom blow-dryer. But an Irish coffee and a beer soothe most ills.

Friday we had sandwiches for lunch with more friends-via-father at a longtime Jewish corned-beef institution on that same shopping avenue; actually, some of that shopping must have fallen on Friday, although I don't remember how much of it. I think Friday was when we fell into conversation in one store with the elderly Jewish-Hungarian salesman named Harry, who was immediately gregarious and related the geographical shape of his life story and rolled up his sleeve to show us the number tattooed there from whichever one of the camps. In any case I think we were in at least one department store. It was still raining a little.

Gray skies over Montréal, as seen from the large city park whose name eludes me

Montréal has a fine contemporary art museum, near the symphony hall at the Place des Arts (I remember this much: "plass day-ZAHR," not "plass day ARTS"); I believe that was more or less our last marquee stop in the city, before a somewhat hairy drive to the airport (city detour: sign, sign, sign . . . sign . . . uh, no more signs) to pick up Sarah's brother Alexander, who lives in Vancouver but flew into town from Baku, Azerbaijan, where he'd been for work (the running of remotely operated deep-water submarines). On the drive back to North Hatley we stopped for dinner at La Belle Province, a fast-food chain specializing in poutine, a characteristic Québecois dish consisting of cheese curds and thin gravy over french fries. Poutine is salty and delicious, although a particular prerequisite is that you like cheese curds. I'm still torn about whether to pronounce it "poo-TEEN," which is phoenetic, or "poo-TSIN," which is with the Québec accent in effect. (I mean, it's not like I say "Ahrn City" when I'm ordering a beer. For a couple of different reasons.)

"La Belle Province" used to be Québec's motto; it's stamped on old license plates, which you can generally find in the antiques shop that your girlfriend's mother operates out of her home. The motto is now "Je me souviens," or "I remember," which also sounds like a nicety but has some degree of French-nationalist signification or connotation.

Much of Saturday was spent looking forward to a massive dinner gathering of family and friends; that night I got to more or less run the table in terms of meeting Sarah's North Hatleyan relations. The weather finally permitting again, we found time for a Lac Massawippi swim in the afternoon (by "we" I mean me and Alexander and one of Sarah's younger cousins; Sarah just laughed at us from the dock); the water was approximately as cold as it appears in the picture below, if less steel-gray, but surprisingly refreshing once you got your head underwater. (I guess that's usually the moral of the story that a lake will communicate to you.) My feeling is that if you're right there on a lake, you've got to swim in it. Although, come to think of it, I don't recall exactly instigating that excursion.

It's not a vacation until you have shirtless photos of yourself you can put on the Internet.

And that was pretty much that! We got an early start on the drive home Sunday, since we weren't going home directly, but rather to Morristown, NJ, where my college friend Andrea was getting married. Over to Montréal again, basically, then south through the Adirondacks and southern upstate New York. Back someday soon, I hope!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Isolated Props to Michael Bay

In relation to all this discussion of jive-talking racist Transformers (by all rights, this should have been the subject of an eight-second cutaway gag on Family Guy, not something that actually exists in the world GOD DAMN YOU MICHAEL BAY) it blew my mind today to read that Michael Bay directed the classic "Aaron Burr" milk commercial. I never knew this, and since this commercial is quirky and charming, I'm all morally confused now.

Oh, oh, and here's another moral question! If two jive-talking racist Transformers are voiced by two different actors, and one actor is black and one actor is white, is one of the Transformers more racist than the other? Discuss.

Dana Stevens's review is pretty entertaining, by the way.

Kickle's Actual Cubicle

In honor of it being only Thursday somehow, here's a mini-project from yesteryear that I called "Semi-obscure Nintendo characters saying things I overheard at the office". It consists of NES screenshots and verbatim quotations that I heard around the workplace on one particular morning.

I wonder whether my gaming experience as a kid would have been enriched by knowing that Nintendo games from the late 80s would become an ironic / nostalgic vehicle for expressing vague dissatisfaction with my workday routine. I doubt it would have made it any easier to play all the way through "A Boy and his Blob" before we had to return it to the video rental place, though.

* * *

Meanwhile, a couple of years ago The Onion had a pretty brilliant treatment of the "It's only ___day" concept, mostly in terms of joking on the grammatical conventions of newspaper headlines. And who doesn't like joking on those?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Not-Really-A-Toy Story

With the release of Michael Bay's Transformers sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra due out later in the summer, the New York Times has put out this entertainment article that suggests there are a few other [Hasbro Toy Line]: [A Preposterously Self-Serious Subtitle] movies coagulating in the early part of the movie production pipeline:

Hasbro meanwhile is continuing to expand its presence in Hollywood. Last year it announced a deal with Universal in which at least four more of its best-known brands, including board games like Monopoly, Battleship and Candyland, would be turned into movies by industry heavyweights like Ridley Scott and Gore Verbinski.

I'm sure that many of these concepts are just spaghetti to be cooked and thrown at the wall to see what sticks, to use a familiar culinary cliche, and that probably only a small amount of that idea-pasta will be eaten by a major studio and pooped out onto the big screen. Yet I'm intrigued in particular by the sort of cinematic treatment that the Battleship brand would need in order to produce a movie that keeps up a high enough level of seafaring action while remaining recognizably tied to a board game in which two players take turns calling out grid coordinates to each other. I would recommend that such a film feature one or more of the following emotional peaks:

  • The Secretary of the Navy, played by Robert Duvall, stoically sinks his head in a Pentagon command center following a surprise naval attack and darkly intones, "Christ... You Russian bastards sank my battleship."
  • Tough-as-nails submarine captain Matthew McConaughey tries to keep control during a u-boat attack, exclaiming, "What row and column did they call out? I don't know those letter and number words! Everything's in German!"
  • Matthew Fox, a promising but hotheaded XO who takes command of a destroyer after his superior officer is killed in a torpedo attack, accidentally spills most of the red pegs down the seat belt hole in the back of his parents' Dodge Caravan.

I'd also be interested in seeing some level of evangelical Christian backlash if they do manage to put together a movie based on the Ouija board, since if I'm remembering my Teen Study Bible correctly that's right up there with Dungeons & Dragons among Satan's most successful incursions into the youth board game market.

Other than that, I would like to say that "an unnamed, unreleased Mattel toy monster that is being groomed for its own musical at Universal" has become my favorite noun phrase of the year, supplanting "debut suspense novel from a 14-year NFL place kicker and his Colorado pastor".

Monday, June 22, 2009

News has a Kind of Cynically Calculated Propaganda Value

I'll hopefully have more to say about Rick Perlstein's fine social / political history of the sixties and early seventies, Nixonland, once I finish reading it. If for no other reason than that I've been reading a lot this year and not really putting any of my reactions to what I'm reading into words, which feels lazy and unproductive. But I've just gotten through the couple of pages that touch on Nixon's 1972 visit to China, which had me all enthused when I realized that topic was about to be mentioned -- "Hey! Nixon in China! I like that opera!"

One of the big thematic elements of John Adams' opera Nixon in China, as seems typical for Adams' dramatic projects, is personal experience -- wonderment, disorientation, nostalgia -- getting caught up in the present-tense sweep of history being made. Nixon is presented as a sentimental character, and though he's not presented without ambiguity, I'm struck by the difference between the rhapsodic first-act introduction that Adams and librettist Alice Goodman give to Nixon the character as he begins his visit and Perlstein's (not editorially neutral) description of the same scene:

On February 17th, after a departure ceremony that earned him a standing ovation from even confirmed political enemies, Marine One ferried the president to Andrews Air Force Base, where he boarded the presidential 727, renamed for the occasion with a subtle reelection message: Spirit of '76. He took three days in Guam to acclimate himself to Peking time, then landed in China at 11:30 a.m. local time -- 9:30 p.m. eastern standard time, his favorite hour for televised speeches. On the flight to Peking, he called in Haldeman to go over the choreography for his egress from the plane one last time -- "the key picture of the whole trip." A general's sensitivity to commanding time and space, a theater director's obsession with the pageantry: he wouldn't allow anything but perfection for the most important entrance in his life. Another detail of timing he chose February 17th to drop the largest one-day tonnage on South Vietnam since June of 1968, to send a message that whatever his gestures toward peace, he was still a man to be feared.

Apparently all of this happened while Nixon's White House was relentlessly dirty-tricking Ed Muskie's Democratic primary campaign. (And I suppose it could be noted as well that Chairman Mao, a somewhat more ambiguous though generally philosophical character in the opera, directly brought about the deaths of tens of millions of people.)

None of this should be taken to suggest that I won't be pilgrimaging to New York for the Met's production of Nixon during its 2010-11 season. But it does knock me out of harmonizing emotionally with that first scene of the opera, at least for the moment -- it seems to weaken the opera that much of that mystery of news that Adams and Goodman have Nixon singing about was crafted by the president and his aides for political effect. Throughout the opera its authors rather brazenly humanize, maybe whitewash, its subjects and I don't have an issue with that approach, but this cuts closer to the opera's grounding theme.

This would be the second nonfiction book I've read this year that, although it wasn't a reason for my reading the book, covers the subject matter of a John Adams opera. The first would be Richard Rhodes' titanic "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", which I picked up based on Jack's very favorable mention in the august pages of this very blog. It didn't deflate my feelings about the goings-on in Adams' Doctor Atomic, although the description of the bureaucratic groupthink and budgetary self-justification that locked in the plan to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- to say nothing of the description of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and its aftermath, in which Rhodes seems to finally let loose the full moral weight of twentieth-century history -- left me feeling that Doctor Atomic's focus on the weird exaltation of being on the cusp of discovery and history, while more than usually profound in operatic terms, is too small in the face of the subject matter. I suppose I could go for the trifecta (disregarding for the moment Adams' more recent and not-concerned-with-twentieth-century-political-history A Flowering Tree, which I haven't seen or heard) and read something factual about the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro, although I doubt I have enough regard for Alice Goodman's frequently abstract, too often impenetrable Death of Klinghoffer libretto to have a similar experience.

Too Cloudy to Notice the Solstice

Totally missed it this year. These longest days of '09 are mostly obscured with some combination of clouds and rain, and they have been, more on than off, for two weeks now. I can't quite countenance actually complaining about non-disastrous weather, but, you know, I'm just registering the observation. Maybe things will eventually clear up as the planet begins to tilt back to where it was.

Every time there's a solstice I'm reminded of Pete's suggested reconstruction of the calendar from a couple of years back. I guess I'm not great at noticing Warm New Year's, either, although the last couple of years I've generally been too busy mulling over turning almost 30.

This Week in Creativity

A strange vanity project, pointing out the steadily-accumulating pictures on the internet of me typing poems, but there's one here. Fourth picture down.

Some dude at the WLRN gigs also took video of me (and a couple of the other poets, as we were writing); if that surfaces on the web, then we'll really have something. These poem store things are pretty crazy. We've done four of them now this month--should be all for at least a little while--and writing all these poems on the spot on random topics (I knocked out a good one back on Thursday, requested by a trio of young people, about "Yeti, Jim Morrison, and a major love disappointment"--centered around a certain famous live recording of Morrison singing along with Jimi Hendrix and saying a variety of things, few of which are safe for work, but all of which is worth looking up someday, when you've got time to spare on the internet (it's safe to say that the song in question played some kind of influence on a certain subset of my college band Dirty Weekend's output)--that the kids seemed to enjoy. And another about someone's pet chihuahua--about pretending it was a helper dog and sneaking it into a hall of mirrors.

But the people really seem to like their poetry, from all of us writers. Maybe because they don't actually know what poetry is, and are shocked to have something produced for them on the spot like that. We got a lot of requests for Father's Day poems as well, which tend to lend themselves to more schlock than I'd like, but these too seemed to go over well (not as schlocky as Hallmark, at any rate).

And, while I'm posting links about myself, here is a review of mini-comics semi-anthology that a piece I wrote (and my friend Nick drew) was included in (many of you will find yourselves buying one of these from me, I hope). "A funny concept..."! Hell yeah, I come up with funny concepts. Did I tell you the one about...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

La Belle Province (Interlude): Montréal Bagels

I didn't know till relatively recently that Montréal has something like the world's third-largest Jewish population; knowing this makes it less surprising that there is a distinct style of Montréal bagel. I've been eating these out of Sarah's freezer since December, and of course going to Montréal afforded us the chance to eat them fresher. Actually it's literally the first thing we did there.

There's an excellent Wikipedia entry on the Montréal bagel, explaining its character. They're boiled in honey water and then cooked in wood-fired ovens; they're sweeter and breadier than New York bagels.

Two famous Montréal bagel smithies are located close by in the same neighborhood. We meant to find St-Viateur Bagel (the brand favored by Sarah's grocery-store-owning aunt, and thus the family favorite) but found our way first to Fairmount Bagel. The counter girl at Fairmount reluctantly provided us enough of an idea about where to find St-Viateur (hint: it's on Rue St-Viateur), and meanwhile we bought up a bag of poppyseed bagels and some red pepper hummus, which we ate ravenously on the walk over, it being about 6 pm on a day we'd mostly been on the road from Québec.

At Fairmount Bagel you walk in and approach a counter, surrounded on other sides by glass-walled cases with stacks and stacks of bagels inside. St-Viateur Bagel has more of its operation on display, the gape of its bagel oven and the chute extending from it being right there to see. Doubling down, we ordered poppyseed bagels again, these being the ones still hot from being just cooked, and at them with the same red pepper hummus. Bagelry this blissful does not visit itself upon you many times in your life.

You would hope that someplace in New York, or at least the northeast, there would be some entrepreneurial bagelsmith to introduce the Montréal bagel, if only as a niche product, but all indications are that this is not so. Which is a real shame, as satisfying as New York's bagels are; and for a city famed for its diversity in all aspects, a loss, frankly. You can order batches of bagels online from St-Viateur, though they have to be in bulk and there's an unsurprising disclaimer about customs delays. I'm just going to stay dependent on Sarah for obtaining these periodically.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

La Belle Province (I)

A few weeks earlier in this fast-receding late springtime Sarah and I drove up into Québec, borrowing a '92 Corolla from her married friends Mike and Morgan (married in Connecticut -- go Connecticut) and taking I-91 through Vermont as far north as it will go. Virtually right on the other side of the US/Canada border is North Hatley, QC, an anglophone enclave of some 800 souls and a touristic scenery centered around the refreshing Lac Massawippi. Sarah's mother runs an antiques shop out of the house where she lives with her husband, Sarah's stepfather, Pierre; the family has been established in North Hatley since North Hatley was North Hatley (one of them did the establishing, in fact) and the surname is richly present throughout the town, most notably in possessive form on the front of the single grocery store, run by Sarah's aunt Joey. Sarah and I were in North Hatley for six of the nine nights we stayed in Québec, around jaunts to Québec City and Montréal.

Sarah's mother's house is a sight to behold, the house itself a couple notches less knickknacked up than the antiques store but still bursting out all over in crafts and decoration. Surfaces you could spend decades in a house without noticing are used for whatever they'll hold; the tops of the kitchen cabinets, for example, are the staging ground for a collection of pots and plates. (See also bathroom, right.) The kitchen cabinets themselves are painted with a vibrant art naïf townscape, Sarah's mom's other great skill. (You can see just a little bit of this online, at the website of the North Hatley library, which has some painting of hers. And you can see the antique shop in mind-bending panorama here.)

The front porch, if you can look closely, is completely packed with chairs and other furniture.
Gazebo in North Hatley.
Saturday morning we ran out garage saling (the late run; the good stuff antique-store-wise is apparently best laid hands on at 7 in the morning); Sarah's mom is as quick and efficient as you'd expect from someone who literally means business. We stopped at the local creamery for maple sugar ice cream and cheese curds and, a little later, at an old abandoned barn, Sarah's mom declaring that there's always rhubarb behind an old barn, tramping off into the high weeds around the corner, and emerging with an armful of huge stalks that she later that night transmuted into two of the most meltingly handsome pies I've ever had cause to reminisce about. Seriously, the tactile and tasty sensation of the pie lingers vividly between my teeth; I mourn, come to think of it, the day (inevitably soon) when it's not quite so.

Instant coffee and rhubarb pie makes an excellent breakfast.

Québec City!
Sunday we got on the road midmorning to Québec, where we'd booked a bed and breakfast. Québec's greatest charm pertains to its picturesqueness and peculiar topography, cliffs and boardwalk-staircases and pedestrian streets that would seem European if they weren't quite as intentionally touristy and the dominating sight of the Château Frontenac looming over the old walled city. Weather for our two days was clear but quite cold. Our room in the B&B was library-themed, lined with books many of which appeared to have belonged to the operator's late mother, an enterprising sociologist. We dined at the universally recommended but actually appalling and overpriced Le Continental and walked through enough Frontenac hallways to see what we were missing. Monday and Tuesday provided military, aesthetic, and governmental sightseeing: the Citadelle, the pleasingly proportioned Musée des Beaux-Arts, and the Maison d'Assemblée. I managed to buy a pretty good-looking suit off the rack at the midpriced Canadian department store Simon's: evidently they build their French Canadian men slender up there, and so all the store had to do was hem up the pant legs to their appropriate length. (This was not splurging, incidentally: we attended a wedding immediately after this trip and I really needed a new suit.) Our second dinner neatly obliterated memory of the first: if you go to Québec I will strongly recommend Les Fréres de la Côte, energetic and hearty and unpretentious. I will also recommend just getting a beer and fries on the boardwalk-staircases.

French-Canadian brewskis.
(If my grasp of three-week old place-name detail seems out of character to you, incidentally, you are correct. Sarah took notes in her journal.)

Wednesday evening we left Québec, and I'll leave the second half of the week and description of the extraordinarily enticing city of Montréal for another half-narrative. I miss vacationing.

Kind of Bloom

"Stately, plump Buck Mulligan ... Yes." --James Joyce
I know when I let this stuff slide till after work on the West Coast there's not much of the day left to acknowledge for most of our humble readership, but: Happy returns of the Bloomsday to one and all. Once more I pledge to get my commemorative Bloomsday comic back up on the Internet at some point.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Boy, That Pete Guy Sure is Cool, Isn't He?

I know what you've been thinking: "You know what of mild interest needs? More pictures of Pete hocking poems on the sidewalk."

Well, supply and demand, people, supply and demand:

Pete, with friends Scott and Dave,
selling poems at the Miami Public Library

All those people in the background are there for the poetry.

We've actually got two more "Poem Depots" coming up this week, both at events for WLRN on NPR here in Miami. Apparently, we've been featured in their radio adver-blurbs all week (I say apparently because I don't listen to NPR--frankly, I'm uncomfortable participating in anything NPR-related, but you know, gotta do what's best for the collective). We're actually slowly making a little bit of bank, which goes to producing our homemade journals, and probably next some t-shirts (I'm part of the collective's t-shirt sub-committee; we've made our preliminary designs and are now looking for a designer/artist to make it look less shitty).

Can't be a collective without a t-shirt.

And if you're curious what exactly it is that people are lining up to buy at our events (the collective wrote nearly 50 poems this past Saturday night), here's a picture of a poem I wrote on demand, but which was never picked up by its commisioner:

My "Milkcrate" don't bring any boys to the yard.

Why Can't Our Rectangle Be More Like Their Rectangle?

Okay, this, from the Onion, is brilliant. I think the phrase "entertainment rectangles" deserves to have staying power.

Curve Ball Deferred to, One Hopes, a Better Year

I had it in mind to see the Altoona Curve playing in Connecticut this year (missed them last year) but they scheduled a rainy week to pull into New Britain; willing girlfriend + friends to drive with were mooted by the kind of cold drizzle that will depress a midweek minor league game's attendance into the high double digits. The Curve, for the record, were swept by the Rock Cats; actually they're the worst team in their league, an unsurprising but still ungood sign for the Pirates' low-wattage farm system. I wouldn't have minded seeing the Wednesday game, in which Danny Moskos acquitted himself pretty well (for someone who's not Matt Wieters, at least) and Jose Tabata had two at-bats before reaggravating a bad hamstring. That was a game that started at 10:30 in the morning, though. Who goes to a double-A game at 10:30 in the morning?

One more reason Dejan Kovacevic's Pirates blog is so indispensable is its daily recapping of the system's minor league games. In addition, say, to worrying about Brandon Moss underperforming, you can now worry about Gorkys Hernandez underperforming, too. 'Course the Buccos are only three games under .500 at the moment, which is pretty good, considering.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bandwagoning on Ice

Our friend Nick is up in Newport, Rhode Island, now (through next spring, at the Navy Surface Warfare College up there) and so I took the train up there on Friday evening at his invitation to watch game 7 of the Stanley Cup, along with Doug, who lives not far away elsewhere in Rhode Island. It's the first Penguins game I watched start to finish this year, or in the last two or three years at least, and shameless bandwagoning or not I know something like a good hockey game when I see one, and that one was fantastic. Although your team winning the Stanley Cup will effectively elevate the excitement level, too. I really should try to watch more hockey next year.

Nick cooked this amazing New England style soup (two kinds of Portuguese sausage, chicken, kale, minced potatoes) and we had beer and nachos and hung out till 2 in the morning talking around a fire pit in his back yard after the game. Nick is renting a small house so as to be out of the way of summer traffic; it's got a nice yard. He's exactly a mile from the head of the Cliff Walk trail in Newport and I ran up a decent sunburn walking that with him on Saturday afternoon.

If you want another item to file in the City of Champions file, the Economist magazine ranked Pittsburgh as the most liveable city in the USA this week, too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summertime; Living Easy

On account of the General Fiscal Freakout Aught-Nine the office interns this summer aren't being paid; first thoughts were about whether this would affect the quality of summer intern, but the more notable shift is in the economic background of summer intern, not particularly relevant unless you're playing chess on the patio on Monday and a bunch of summer interns are also out there at the same table gabbing away. If you are a summer intern, and the conversation turns to, say, cars, here are some suggested anecdotes to share:
1. What you named your jeep; what you named your boyfriend’s jeep
2. How you had an Audi but you wrecked it, so then you had a jeep but you wrecked that too, so now you have something else
3. How your boyfriend’s dad is an auto dealer and so your boyfriend always shows up at parties with amazing cars and says you can drive them even though you’ve all been drinking
4. How your boyfriend actually knows about the stuff inside cars but you're mostly like “ooh, convertible!”
5. How your boyfriend’s frat parking lot is funny, because half of them have like new cars and the other half have really amazing old cars their parents stopped using
6. How Volvos are really safe but if you’re going to have a great car you should have one that’s not like the one your parents have
7. How your parents said you could have any car you wanted, but not the one they had, because they’re the type of parents who want to have the best car in the family
8. Did you know Jay Leno has like a huge garage full of cars, and there are people whose whole job is to take care of Jay Leno’s cars? How funny would that look on your resume?
9. How you'd rather own a bunch of houses than a bunch of cars
That conversation should last you twenty or thirty minutes, but if you have extra time you can talk about clothes or how much you hate Blair on Gossip Girls or how Daniel Craig is too old to be hot or how you retook the SATs because you told yourself you were going to get a 1570. This has the look of a lo-o-ong summer on the patio.

Fortunately it was cloudy and about 60 degrees today, conditions for an intern-free chess game.

Also, think about the construction of this sentence:
“So my friend and I lived in this big place with six roommates. She and I are normal people, but everyone else was from various Spanish countries.”
Don't think about it too hard, though.

I should mention that the two interns in my department are perfectly fine. I think our particular area of work tends to draw out modest, nerdy types.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Oregon, Not-Coast to Coast

Rockaway Beach, originally uploaded by nateborr.

You may notice a difference in color palate between this photo from my weekend and Jack's pictures from his -- my weekend with Kyle at Rockaway Beach didn't have a lot of those leafy greens and sky blues, instead featuring cool temperatures, brisk winds, and a smattering of rain early on. But Oregon doesn't have the kind of coast where you want to get in the water under normal, non-workday-freakout circumstances anyway (it is among other things consistently called the "coast", not the "beach") and I like the scenery for all the reasons I like Rembrandt landscapes. One must get back to one's brooding Dutch roots now and then.

We did have a fantastic little trip out to Rockaway. We stayed in a beach house owned by my landlord for some 30 years that he built up from a shack into a cozy bungalow, charmingly decorated with pig-themed paraphernalia that his wife doesn't allow in their primary residence. Grilling was done -- on Friday night, despite misting rain and initially uncooperative charcoal briquets, beef tenderloin and asparagus; on Saturday night, veggie burgers with habit-forming cheese plus eggplant and fennel. Kyle's sister and her boyfriend came out on Saturday, which we all mostly spent eating an unholy amount of decent Mexican food in town and then, after walking back up the beach to the cabin, drinking wine and doing a puzzle of a sort of creepy-looking cat. After they left on Sunday Kyle and I cleaned up, walked the beach again (whence this photo, plus a couple others up on the Flickr account now), then drove a bit north to eat Dungeness crabs at a place alongside Nehalem Bay before looping south-east-north back to Dundee. Good times; I think it's hard to go to a beach house without trying to compute (1) exactly how much money you would need to have in order to do nothing more than live modestly at a beach house, and (2) the minimum time needed to make exactly that amount of money. Though I'll settle for a weekend jaunt now and again.

Monday, June 08, 2009

How to Make Salad for Dinner (Monday Version)

1. Thaw frozen pasta sauce.
2. Put water for pasta on to boil.
3. Get pasta from cupboard.
3a. Do I even have pasta?
3b. Ah, nuts.
4. Make salad for dinner.

The Tuesday-through-Sunday version of these instructions, called "How to Make Pasta for Dinner", involves actually walking to the grocery store two blocks from my apartment.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Storm King Saturday Shindig

You couldn't have dialed up a better sunny early-summer day than yesterday for picnicking at Storm King and doing a long round of sculpture-seeing. Great group of people, over a dozen total: makes for good mingling. Sarah's brother and his family were there (we went to the Bronx Zoo with them about a month ago, so I was seeing them for the second time) so we had the added energy of helping wrangle three young kids. The artist Maya Lin has a newly opened earthwork installation in the far corner of the park (waves of grassy ridges that echo the mountain shapes on the horizon: fun) and apparently she herself was there that day, although only some in our group saw her.

Great field trip, and one that seems a day later like one that'll be memorable for a long time. Your rolling experiential hills, though pleasing enough in themselves, benefit from the occasional modern sculpture planted atop them, metaphorically speaking.

My friend Andy had several of us over to his apartment in Danbury afterwards, for some balcony-sitting and pizza consumption and watching the second period of Game 5 of the Penguins/Red Wings championship (the only complete period of Penguins hockey I've watched this year, and I'm sure just about the worst complete period of Penguins hockey this year), so it really was a complete and satisfying Saturday.

Above: Calder in sunshine. Below, left to right: Sarah, Calder in sunshine, Sarah's friend Emily.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Blogging is Giving is a Responsibility

This is pretty random, but here's a page with a list of metaphors from George Lakoff and his semantic categorizing self (of the kind featured in Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Though (alright! the first Pinker reference of the second thousand blog posts)). Just the language of these, beyond the fact that as usual, I take such categories of metaphors as a better point of view of metaphors than any of those porffered by literary theory, take for instance:

Self-initiated Change Of State Is Self-propelled Motion

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Farewell To Sports Nates

Right now the Penguins are looking to fight their way up from a 2-1 series deficit in the NHL championship and the Steelers get to be the President of football for a few more months but, in rather big news for the armpit of Pittsburgh pro sports, the Pirates have apparently traded center fielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves for pitching prospects. It was nice to see him more or less scrap his way into the starting lineup (plus an All-Star Game and a Gold Glove last season) and I'm sad to see him go. Rooting for the Pirates has of course been a dismal affair for the past decade and half and these days it basically means hoping that the franchise's talent evaluation has perked up substantially after a recent change in executive management. So let's hope that the beans they traded the latest cow for at least sprout within the next couple of years. Part of me thinks that if this turns into a pitcher who won't get Snelled every outing in 2011 then it may all be worth it, especially if McLouth replacement / top Pirates prospect Andrew McCutchen works out. A different, more accurate part of me just shrugs and wishes McLouth well, despite an unfaded dislike of the Braves since they bested the Bucs in 1992 in their last playoff appearance / winning season / whiff of any prospect of success.

Cultural Items in Brief

Like Nate I really enjoyed the new Star Trek movie, which I thought was the most purely enjoyable non-Pixar movie I've seen in probably several years. I think they really hit it out of the park for casual Trek fans like us (i.e. watched and liked the old movies, at least the even-numbered ones, and the occasional TV episode): the perfect blend of homage and self-standing entertainment. Also, who didn't love the full-orchestra arrangement of the original TV theme song bursting out over the end credits?

Several Thursdays ago Sarah and I went to a benefit concert on campus starring Rufus Wainwright (the actual benefit aspect of it I admit I gathered in only in a terribly glib fashion, either as a "gay benefit" or an "AIDS benefit" or "possibly both") but the main point is that Rufus Wainwright, who everyone I know who has expressed an opinion on the matter thinks is really pretty good, is really pretty good. We also snuck in a bottle of wine, which was also really pretty good. (The wine is why I remember this was on a Thursday, because the subsequent godawful Friday at work also has stayed in my memory.) The concert was at Woolsey Hall, the main orchestra hall on campus, which seems like a strange decision of venue and one that engendered its typical acoustic bemuddlement.

Wainwright has a nimble, well-pitched voice with a wide, characterful range, and he writes songs that use it well. I'm not a particular connoisseur of songsmithing, but as usual I find the melodies more inspiring than the lyrics. His opening number, the minor-key anti-anthem of sorts "Going to a Town," turned out to be my favorite offering of the night; I like the way it slickly employs a couple of snappy melodic catches reminiscent of old patriotic songs, while maintaining an alienated, faux-minimalist pulse behind it. (Wainwright can basically only play quarter notes on either the piano or the guitar, it appears; this did start to wear a bit as the concert went on; he didn't have a backup band.) I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that this is an anti-prohibition-on-gay-marriage number, but I forget where. You can listen to it on YouTube, though I find the video itself unwatchably overwrought.

I read Death of a Salesman back in high school but hadn't seen it performed before a couple of weeks ago, when the formidable Yale Repertory Theatre brought in Charles S. Dutton to offer a booming, affecting Willy Loman. I don't know my theater actors, but he lived in the role exceptionally powerfully; I remember reading Willy Loman as an insipid, borderline unsympathetic character, but Dutton made him look convincingly like someone who was charismatic enough to have successfully faked an appearance of success through his life, and his mental-fugue scenes were chilling. The cast was all-African-American, which provided more seamless an adaptation than you might expect; the racial aspect really wasn't the point. There's a review in the NY Times that's somewhat cooler to the production than I am.

Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) is short and strong enough that I'll let you eventually read it yourself, but I did want to briefly recommend it. The story is set in colonial Peru and is sketched with a dry, deliberately antique narrative voice: effective and also fascinating, since Wilder had never been to Peru and (as described in the afterword in the HarperCollins paperback edition I read) synthesized the local color and sensibility from 18th-century graduate school readings in Spanish Inquisition history and classical French literature. Interesting and, really, reassuring to consider authenticity and "write what you know" as surmountable obstacles.

There's finally a recording out of Unsuk Chin's Violin Concerto, thanks to Viviane Hagner, Kent Nagano, and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. The piece won the '04 Grawemeyer Award and casts a spell: the CD sounds amazing (I've listened to it on the Naxos Music Library), probably better than in acoustic reality. Chin studied with Ligeti and her concerto takes something of his sensibility, while simultaneously bringing it closer to mainstream European modernism and brightening it with more consonance. Very, very good stuff.

On account of not watching the teevee I'm not going to watch much Conan O'Brien even in the Tonight Show slot. But I did look up the opening bit on The Internet yesterday and I admit I found it pretty amusing. I'd link to it here but I just realized that video of his 2000 Harvard graduation speech is online now, so just watch that instead.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

1001 Posts

I think it's worth noting the milestone that we've just rolled the blogodometer over to 1,000 mildly interesting posts over the past, what, two-point-something years. This acknowledgment probably could have appeared in the thousandth post itself but it seems that Jack and I put up prospective 999ers at about the same time. Fitting enough, I guess; I'm pretty used to being tied with Jack for stuff, like birthrights.

Yo, Brother, There Art Thou

So as Pete alluded to a little while ago I've been doing a pretty good impression of someone who got eaten by bears in Yosemite a couple of weeks ago. By which I mean not posting since that time. But bears didn't eat anybody on that trip at all and since then I've mostly been at a loss for personal computer time for a panoply of valid and not-valid reasons, not least of which being that I've been in a constant state of almost-but-not-quite getting around to finally sorting through the digital snapshots I took of Yosemite to upload the actually decent ones to the Internet and then totally be able to blog a couple of sentences about the epic landscape and thoroughly enjoyable car-camping experience. Since then I've had a busy and reasonably productive Memorial Day weekend, spent with the girlfriend spring-cleaning certain areas of my apartment and putting together shelving from the area Ikea, which was surprisingly not slammed by holiday shoppers; spent a lot of evenings and one weekend at my girlfriend's newish, borderline rural, as yet Internet-less apartment in the heart of the Willamette Valley's wine country; watched work commitments eat a few select evenings this week and last, in what I visualize for some reason as a sort of Cookie Monster way where my calendar gets messily broken up into large foam-core fragments but not actually swallowed; and torching a bunch of remaining, usable moments by reading Rick Perlstein's "Nixonland" while trying to escape the feeling that I should be doing something more valuable from a personal management POV than pleasure reading, or alternatively by playing Tecmo Baseball on a Nintendo emulator with the sound off while talking to Kyle on the phone. Somewhere in there she and I watched the new Star Trek movie too; geeky good fun.

Did I even earn my Personal Management merit badge back in my heady Boy Scout days? Did any of us other than Pete, the resident Eagle Scout?

I'm thinking I should make more of an effort to just extemporaneously write what I'm thinking about into the blog, true to the medium, rather than trying to compose sentences and things. Which I'm decent but pretty slow at.

Anyway, this post doesn't have much of a point beyond its mere existence. My next two weeknights will be strategically interrupted by business calls to India (which, at 12.5 hours ahead from Pacific Daylight Time is more or less exactly the other side of the world, chronologically speaking) and the weekend is slated to be a computer-less one on the coast, using a free weekend at my landlord's Rockaway Beach house that I won as a door prize at last year's tenant pot luck. That is almost the only thing I have ever won. Though at work I did just win a Niketown gift certificate for climbing more flights of stairs during the month of May than anyone else who works on the 18th floor, declared as sort of a lark by a couple of the managers since my group just relocated up there from the 14th floor -- which at least is the only remotely, and I do mean really remotely, athletic thing I have ever won -- early on I decided that I should go ahead and win by a lot since it was in fact not athletic at all, but in fact could be brute-forced with time and youthfully robust lower-body joints, both of which I basically have. In fact I wound up ahead of the second-place person by something like 500 flights of steps, and I think my hamstrings are shapelier now too. Score. I like going up and down the stairs at the office anyway; it clears the head. I also won a calculator somehow at math camp when I was in second grade, which obviously is back in non-athletic territory.

And... that is all I've got for now.

Back from Québec

Like Nate I'll have more trip photographs soon, but I had a great time in Québec (note the correct accent mark; someone already noted that I used the wrong one in my comment on Pete's last post) and I'll say broadly that it's a great place to visit. And I am really tempted now to learn French and move to Montréal.

Above: the scenic city of Québec, with tourist.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Beer!? How did you know?

My brief excursion to Dogfishhead's brewpub over the weekend was mostly successful. It's a nice place; a bit yuppie-ish, but that's to be expected, and the 12 DFH beers on draft makes up for it somewhat. For you folks that have been to Portland, its comparable to the Bridgeport Ale House (at least insofar as I went there a lot, always saying "Yuppies be damned, I like this beer on cask").

Miami is basically beer hell. There are microbrews that get distributed down here (including some Dogfishhead), but they're expensive, never on draft, and certainly never on cask. So maybe not beer hell, or at any rate just an outer ring of beer hell. My now many months long habit of not drinking in non-social settings is really only possible because it is so easy to not enjoy beer in Miami; that is, in Portland, where you can drink delicious craft brews for a couple bucks a pint every day, it's impossible not to keep it as a primary hobby, whereas in Miami since so much of my beer consumption has been turned over to macro-swill (mostly Miller High Life--the official beer of my MFA program) the impulse to enjoy life is greatly muted.

Visiting DFH's brewpub, then, while a fun vacation, was also a harsh reminder of how Miami is a city not designed with my personal interests in mind (getting around with a bicycle during the wet season (and now also hurricane season) has further strengthened my already steady grumbling about Miami (though the people in Miami are much more beautiful than the people in Delaware, I will give it that)). Not surprisingly, my favorite beer at DFH was the offering they had on cask (mildly interested devotees will recall CaskQuest2K7 from February-April of 2007); what can I say, I'm a sucker for warm, flat beer. This was their 75 Minute IPA, which is a blend of the 60 and 90 minute IPAs primed with honey before a secondary fermentation. Tasty. Other than a pint of the 90 minute (still one of the great beers in the world--speaking of beers-of-the-world, I've also been reminded recently of the absence of Jever from my life in this first non-Berlin summer in a couple years), I tried a couple of their (DFH's) special beers, or ones I hadn't had before. One was the Pale India Ale, which tasted like liquid papadum (I'm not sure if it was good or not; I had it with my meal, which worked out for the best 'cause all the spices in the beer went well with my veggie burger), and the other was the Black & Blue, made with a boatload of blackberries and blueberries, and tasting as such.

Maybe it's just all the High Life I've been drinking, but my thought on both the India spice and the B&B was that they had too much flavor. It's not all the High Life; that's DFH's schtick, making these gorged beers. It works great with the IPAs because they're just amping up the hops, and the hop thing is a lot of fun, and the beer still tastes like beer. As I think about it, maybe I'm just a purist, with the sort of conservative, traditionalist taste that can often be evinced by radical leftists (I often claim that, in a perfect world (that is, one without capitalism) I'd be a conservative). I support the side of DFH that digs up ancient recipes and makes them. That's a cool gimmick. But there's no reason for a beer to taste as much like blueberries as that Black & Blue did.

The brewpub also has a distillery. So I tried their gin. It was gross. Too bad. Anchor Brewing(/Distilling) has been distributing some of their liquors for a year or two now, and their gin, Junipero is really good. The West Coast is the better of the two Coasts. I had hope to get in a 120 minute IPA as well, but, if you do the math, you can see that that would've been somewhat untenable, despite being transported by cabs, and something that connects Reheboth Delaware with Dewey Delaware, called the "jolly trolley." If I lived down the street from Dogfishhead, I'd mostly just drink the cask all the time, but that'll be the case if I ever live down the street from a place with a cask at all again, but that's part of beer tourism, you've gotta try everything can, rather than just pick something you like and just have that.