Sunday, April 25, 2004

Prom last night in the restaurant, which meant an invasion of uncomfortably dressed young people. I had a party of twenty of them in a private room, all drinking Dr. Pepper and, once they figured out the radio, listening to hip-hop.

What struck me hardest was how nice they all were. And that age I was a sullen would-be-troublemaker (I didn't make weight for "thug"), but these kids were pleasant, polite insofar as they knew how to be, and cheerful. There was an equality of respect among them that was surprising, also. Despite dreadful claims one hears about schools these days, and my own memories, the conversation was led not by the prettiest or cruellest, but by the most charming, who was a plump girl dressed in blue. The gentlemen were uniform in looks (as they should be) and in an awkward chivalry to their dates which was really quite winning, even under the assumption that it was only a pre-emptive tactic in the late-night conflict over nine yards of taffeta and a back-seat.

They conversed on the usual high-school subjects, which meant an in-turning conversation of fractal complexity regarding relationships among each other, but also deviated to politics. An even left/right split to the group, which did not seem to cause trouble. Oh, and strapless is apparently the way to go, with gathered skirts. Gentlemen who had taken the trouble to rent the white dinner jacket ensemble were much admired.

It was odd to look on this prom, from the other side, so to speak. My own I remember poorly; a few details such as the rental shop getting the length of my pants right, but doubling the width, creating a billowy effect that was universally applauded as daring. Until I tripped. I believe the style has gone on to influence modern mores.

I do remember my date, of course, and those memories form part of the block which collectively creates gratitude toward anyone willing to interact with me as a teenager at all.

Of course, for them everything paled next to the lovely young woman or awkward, smiling young man sitting next to them. They will remember the dinner, I'm sure, and the dancing, and the conversations in the bathroom and afterwards, when they divide into three or four groups to go to various houses (those owned by understanding, absent, or deaf parents), and the inevitable fumbling at each other. But oddly, it's the person they'll remember most, almost romantically, despite all protestations. I wonder if this decency isn't the fundamental quality of youth, only occasionally and spectacularly perverted at times.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Well, I had meant to put up at least a couple more posts before leaving town, but affairs seem to have gotten the better of me. It didn't help that our internet chose not to work for two days. I'm hitting the road to Oregon tomorrow morning, to run the Illinois river, and begin my summer, my real life, as a raft guide. Readers who were with us last summer will remember that my computer access is very limited in the boating season, but I will do my best to post as opportunities arise. If you really miss me, well, come on a trip. I expect it to be an excellent season.
Parting at a Wine-shop in Nan-king

A wind, bringing willow-cotton, sweetens the shop,
And a girl from Wu, pouring wine, urges me to share it.
With my comrades of the city who are here to see me off;
And as each of them drains his cup, I say to him in parting,
Oh, go and ask this river running to the east
If it can travel farther than a friend's love!

--Li Po

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Worthy of mention-- a perverse New Mexico highway sign, observed on SR217. It managed to be at once entirely unhelpful, undeniably true, and ominously philosophic:
Event ahead.

Monday, April 12, 2004

What a lovely Easter Sunday we had! Enormous amounts of cheese and meat, since our Orthodox friends have been fasting all Lent, and good wine to go with it. In fact, we started mixing port and champagne, thinking ourselves ever so inventive, only to find that it's already a recognized cocktail. And one with a superior name, too: Nelson's Blood.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

He is risen!
You are Robin - quiet yet powerful
You are Robin! Still young and a bit unsure of
your abilities, nonetheless you are a force to
be reckoned with, a real hidden dragon.

Which Witch Hunter Robin Character Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

And yet, despite all my efforts, I can't burn people with my thoughts.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

My God: the Cockentrices are starting to seem almost mundane, compared with some of the other recipes to be found on Gode Cookery. They have a charming, if strange, page of Illusion Foods, food got up to look like other foods. Lent was apparently the justification for at least some of these creations; layered white and yellow almond paste inserted in a blown out eggshell would have been fun to know about six weeks ago (Canterbury Creme Eyroun, what?). But as clever as Nowmbyls of Muskyls, shellfish made into mock viscera, sound, I think I have better things to do with my muscles. But there's plenty more:
Furhes aus arbais-- Vegetarian "pepper roast" served with a hare's head made of bread.

Gefult pleter aus ayern-- Stuffed omelettes made into flowers.

Igel von mandel-- An almond hedgehog.

Oua Trutae Condita Vt Pisa Credantur-- Trout eggs prepared so that people think they are peas.

Yet we remain on fairly tame culinary ground. Incredible Foods, Solteties, & Entremets lists many dishes strange enough to have originated on other planets, or in some cases, perhaps in Hell. Imagine:
How to make roast hens in six different colors.

Coqz Heaumez-- A roast chicken, dressed in helmet, shield, and lance, rides upon a pig.

Jungen hirs horn-- Young deer antler soup.

Puddyng of purpaysse-- A recipe for porpoise haggis.

A Goose roasted [and served] alive [a most hasty, agitated meal, as Patrick O'Brian once put it].

"...into each pastry put three or four chicken quarters in which to plant the banners of France and of the lords who will be present..."

Redressed Peacocks which Seem Living; and How to Make them Breathe Fire through their Mouth.

To cook a Pigeon and make it be without bones.

To Make that Chicken Sing when it is dead and roasted.

To Make Two Pigeons of One.

A fish is cooked in 3 different ways: the tail is boiled, the middle is roasted, and the head is fried; the mouth is made to breathe flames.

That flesh may look bloody and full of Worms, and so be rejected By Smell-feasts [unwelcome guests].

Trojan Hog [which makes Tur-Duck-Hen seems woefully unambitious by comparison].
I am also reminded of Andrew Stuttaford's post some time back on archaic butchering terms:
"Each creature would not merely be carved — you had to rear a goose; spoil a hen; unlace a coney; untache a curlew; disfigure a peacock [quite apt, see above]; culpon a trout; and splatte a pike.”
I expect to find wonders, and today has certainly not disappointed.
We've at last found a new current pick, rather in the vein of the previous one: Fantastic Fish of the Middle Ages. The title says it all.

The home site of Fantastic Fish is not to be missed either: good- and often black-humoured medievalism, with an emphasis on food and lots of art. There is a laudable companion site to Fantastic Fish, viz. Mythical Plants of the Middle Ages. And don't you dare miss this photo of one of the strangest meals I've ever seen, the Cockentrice. And if that's not odd enough, here are two even odder Cockentrices. Get inspired, and start cooking something good for Easter!

Escluapius sayth. Coretz is a fisshe that hydeth hym in the depe of the water whan it rayneth / for yf he receiued any rayne, he sholde waxe blynde, and dye of it.

The Asshes of hym [Cancer the Creuyce] is gode to make white tethe / & to kepe the motes out of the clothes / it withdryueth byles, & heleth mangynes.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Further anti-Daylight Savings dialectic.

Full disclosure: I like Daylight Savings, as unnecessarily and arbitrarily cluttering daily life. I still miss intercalary days. They're the split infinitives of the lunar year!

I've just noticed that Blogger's clock has not made the switch to Daylight Savings. Ha!
Some sage advice, quite applicable to democracy, from Olaf the Peacock of Laxdæla Saga (Ch. 21):
"In my opinion, the counsel of fools is all the more dangerous the more of them there are."

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Andante has a very good article defending Western music's appropriation of Eastern musical language. I'm all in favour of opening the gates to foreign musical influences (I've got a long post on the subject in the works), and the notion that such artistic cross-pollination is a form of cultural imperialism is deeply offensive to me. Paul Mitchison debunks these absurdities quite well in his article, so I'll let you read it rather than plagiarizing his points. But I must remind the reader that such "cultural imperialism" produced (among other things) the loveliest flower of Romantic music, when Czech composers impregnated the Austrian forms with their native melodies and literary subjects. And when the anti-Orientalists claim that cross-cultural projects produce only "undistinguished melodramas spiced by intriguing melismas and mediocre town-band-style accompaniments", I must point out that that's a perfect description of Bellini's operas (which I like) and plenty of other enduring classical favourites; and that classical music in the 21st Century could (and does) do much worse, could in fact use quite a few more melodic, emotional works which audiences actually enjoy.

And the height of cultural arrogance is the anti-Orientalists' implication that other cultures are incapable of responding in kind. Japanese composer Shigeaki Saegusa has recently completed Jr. Butterfly, an operatic sequel to the Puccini. I can't vouch for the result (alas, I haven't heard his Chushingura opera), but it sounds like he's given a good deal of thought (read the article!) to the history of Japan's relationship with America, and presumably has infused the opera with the fruits of his meditation. (He has also visited Iraq recently, and has some intelligent observations on that issue.)

As for the opera's musicality, Saegusa remarked that it is definitely pleasant on the ears, which he believes is another essential factor for success.

"For the poet's narrations, I composed atonal music. For arias, I wrote sweet music so as to make a clear contrast. And I incorporate the very final part of the music from Madama Butterfly-- the music for the scene in which Butterfly kills herself-- into the introductive part of my opera as a sort of link (between the original opera and the new one). As a whole, my music is neither painful nor difficult, I assure you. If the music is difficult, no one would come again to my opera performances. I'd hate that," he said laughing.

Let's have more such projects, please. They may be hit-or-miss individually, but if composers persevere we'll see some winners.
I just found an excellent, amusing, edifying, and very eccentric article on what it would be like to write English with Chinese-style characters. It gives me a whole new appreciation of how a written language influences the way we think about a spoken one. (Hat tip:

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Camille Paglia lectures on the image. Included are long sections on the Stone Age, Byzantine icons (Jack, let us know what you think), and some wicked Aztec or Mixtec crystal skulls.

Link via Arts and Letters Daily.

If you are so inclined (rim shot), go here for an illustrated history of the folding chair. While they don't have the throne of Dagobert, it seems like a nice overview of the subject.
There are 10 kinds of people in this world. The ones who understand binary, and the ones who don't.

Hee! Well. I thought it was funny.

Monday, April 05, 2004

From Steve Bodio comes this link.

I travel a lot and one of my favorite destinations is through the so called Chernobyl "dead zone", which is 130kms from my home. Why my favorite? Because one can take long rides without encountering a single car or living soul. The people are gone now and nature is reasserting itself in blooming plants, woods and rippling lakes.

In places where roads have not been travelled by trucks or army vehicles, they are in the same condition they were 20 years ago - except for an occasional blade of grass that discovered a crack to spring through. Time does not ruin roads, so they may stay this way until they can be opened to normal traffic again........ a few centuries from now.

The pictures and commentary bring home the truth of the Chernobyl disaster more clearly than anything else I've seen.

I loathe Daylight Savings. I loathe it about as much as China's one time zone, for it's about as loathsome an idea. It is not 7:30 right now, as is apparent by a simple glance out the window. Even were I the sort to reap some kind of well-adjusted, suburban benefit from the change, I would find all the after-work poolside barbecues in the world but pitiful recompense for the hour of sleep I missed on Sunday morning.

What's really bugging me here? The denial of astronomical truth, that's what, the debasement of the celestial wonder which is the fount of mathematics and religion, and of our hope that the universe may be a well-ordered place, where time runs with sufficient regularity to be meaningful. We are free to have backyard barbecues in the daylight whenever we choose; but rather than modify our behavior to fullfill our wishes, rather than simply declare that we will open the shop an hour earlier, we prefer to inflict upon ourselves a massive deceit about the nature of reality. We cheat the puzzle by cavilling about definitions rather than changing our own thinking. If a rational man's watch always says noon when the sun is well shy of the zenith, he should discard that watch as hopelessly flawed.

Update:Yes, Jack, many other countries partake in this insanity, even places like Greenland and Norway, for whom it can hardly make much difference, and who you'd think would rather conceive a scheme (like setting the clock twelve hours ahead) to give themselves a little time in the dark.

It's also amusing to note the situation in Arizona. The state does not observe Daylight Savings time; the Navajo reservation, which spans a huge amount of Arizona's territory, does; the Hopi reservation, which sits inside the Navajo, does not; and the Navajos even have a small inholding inside the Hopi territory. Thus, if one drives Hwys 89 and 264, from Page, AZ to Gallup, NM, in the summer, he would legally undergo six time changes in a 4-5 hour drive. Which is ludicrous, which is my entire point.

Good malapropism, recently overheard:
"When I was that age, I wouldn't have trusted me with a ten foot pole."
I wouldn't trust him with one today.
If this is true, there's serious trouble in Iraq. Here's the same link. As InstaPundit says, no one else seems to be reporting this yet.

UPDATE: This started just as we surrounded Fallujah? Fox News makes it seem less widespread.

UPDATE II: and now it's a quagmire. That's the most hopeful sign yet.

UPDATE III: I'm having some trouble with the link, so here's the most relevant section:

A coup d’etat is taking place in Iraq a the moment. Al-Shu’la, Al-Hurria, Thawra (Sadr city), and Kadhimiya (all Shi’ite neighbourhoods in Baghdad) have been declared liberated from occupation. Looting has already started at some places downtown, a friend of mine just returned from Sadun street and he says Al-Mahdi militiamen are breaking stores and clinics open and also at Tahrir square just across the river from the Green Zone. News from other cities in the south indicate that Sadr followers (tens of thousands of them) have taken over IP stations and governorate buildings in Kufa, Nassiriya, Ammara, Kut, and Basrah. Al-Jazeera says that policemen in these cities have sided with the Shia insurgents, which doesn’t come as a surprise to me since a large portion of the police forces in these areas were recruited from Shi’ite militias and we have talked about that ages ago. And it looks like this move has been planned a long time ago.

No one knows what is happening in the capital right now. Power has been cut off in my neighbourhood since the afternoon, and I can only hear helicopters, massive explosions, and continuous shooting nearby. The streets are empty, someone told us half an hour ago that Al-Mahdi are trying to take over our neighbourhood and are being met by resistance from Sunni hardliners. Doors are locked, and AK-47’s are being loaded and put close by in case they are needed. The phone keeps ringing frantically. Baghdadis are horrified and everyone seems to have made up their mind to stay home tomorrow until the situation is clear.

I'm a little slow to post this, but here are some very nice pictures of Claritas Fossae. On Mars, you know. Where apparently the presence of methane in the atmosphere has been confirmed. Here's why that's so cool:

Methane, unless it is continuously produced by a source, only survives in the Martian atmosphere for a few hundreds of years because it quickly oxidises to form water and carbon dioxide, both present in the Martian atmosphere. So, there must be a mechanism that refills the atmosphere with methane.

"The first thing to understand is how exactly the methane is distributed in the Martian atmosphere," says Vittorio Formisano, Principal Investigator for the PFS instrument. "Since the methane presence is so small, we need to take more measurements. Only then will we have enough data to make a statistical analysis and understand whether there are regions of the atmosphere where methane is more concentrated."

Once this is done, scientists will try to establish a link between the planet-wide distribution of methane and possible atmospheric or surface processes that may produce it. "Based on our experience on Earth, the methane production could be linked to volcanic or hydro-thermal activity on Mars. The High Resolution Stereo camera (HRSC) on Mars Express could help us identify visible activity, if it exists, on the surface of the planet", continues Formisano. Clearly, if it was the case, this would imply a very important consequence, as present volcanic activity had never been detected so far on Mars.

The possibility they're keeping sotto voce, is, of course, that of a biological source (as Dave Barry once put it, 'one-celled acts of flatulence'). It's in the 'snowball in hell' category, but then, so is, say, life on earth. Or even, say, a snowball in hell (registration required, the buffle-headed nodcocks!). Not that one improbable occurence means anything about another. But frankly, it's looking more and more like we need to go there.

It can't just be robots that explore space. It has to be people.

I know the case for robots: cheap, safe, we can learn all the essential information we need from them. All possible benefits to science, medicine, etc. are available this way; we need only gather, sort, and utilize it from the safety of our Earth-bound couches. I think that this argument is absurd.

The essence of travel is not the labelled souvenirs we bring home. It is the irreducible experience of the place itself. And what could be more unimaginable than to leave our own planet, to cross nothing! miles of nothing! and arrive on a new globe to explore.

We seem to think that the essence of a thing is what we need it to be. We reduce it to mass, chemical content, velocity--numbers that we claim define it. We've lost the experience of the Other.

Think of the first man to ride a horse. How can we? It's a feat beyond anything we can comprehend. The first man to look at this great Other thing, and think, I can be one with that. I can work together with it. And we will be stronger that way. This is a horse:

'Do you give the horse his might?
Do you clothe his neck with thunder?
Do you make him leap like the locust?
His majestic snorting is terrible.
He paws in the valley, and exults in his strength;
He goes out to meet the weapons.
He laughs at fear, and is not dismayed....
With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground;
He cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet.
(Job 39:19-24)

Or the first man to look at an eagle, and think, I can hunt alongside this. I can fly with her. We can circle and stoop together. The most exciting thing about Eagle Dreams is that it conveys that sense of astonishment.

The magnitude of these dreams and of this presumption is astounding.

Nowadays, we drive cars, which remain, even at their most recalcitrant, our own creation. They are not Other to us the way those beasts must have seemed, far out of our reach in their speed and ferocity. If we need to fly, it is not a cause of rejoicing, but the knowledge that we are in for long waits, in one place and then another, and that the ground below will look very much as it always does.

I don't mean to belittle our accomplishments. But they are often for our convenience, and seldom for our growth. We are surrounded by things (I am typing on one now!) which do what we tell them to. We have lost the sense of an Other, an Essence that will not be shaped by us without shaping us as well, and with it we have lost our sense of self. Without something beyond ourselves, we cannot know our boundaries.

And we begin to think that nothing has an Essence, beyond that which we choose to give it. We reduce it, as above. And the eventual result is that we reduce ourselves, and turn inwards. We desire nothing more than remaining as we are, comfortable, and life becomes the only thing we value. The virtues which preserve it are the only ones which interest us. We forget that we possess our comforts because of men who chose to be uncomfortable. They were not content to remain in the little fire-lit circle of known things.

All of which is to say, it is time for us to step outside again. Out into the deepest darkness, to cross it, and to step onto another world. And those who go there will say, "It's indescribable." And they will be right. Because it will be something outside of us, and, because it is outside us, it will enlarge us when we meet it.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

"Neither pardon nor forget."
Hello Hawai'ian fencers! I haven't much to say, since I've neglected my foil most shamefully, but I would recommend a double disengage, reversing the direction after the first. If your opponent isn't given to circular parries, that is. If he is, just keep going.

Hmm. More advice...well, Patton wrote this poem about his previous incarnations' battles, and he was a fencer. Maybe there's some tips in there.

And now for something completely different.

I have a dead-end job which I enjoy. It's not daisho pizza delivery, but it's challenging, in a social-skills kind of way, and I'm around wine and food constantly, which is not a Bad, and the money is definitely a Good. But three years of it, on and off, have left me little to learn about it, and I was getting fed up. Of course, rather than do anything about this situation, I allowed myself to get more and more frustrated as the universe did nothing to meet my expectations. Yesterday was the closest I've ever been to dropping a customer with the bat we keep behind the bar and leaving.

So, the universe wasn't meeting my expectations, which was annoying. What vexes me even more, though, is that later that afternoon it did. Last night was my first shift as floor manager, and this next week I'll be in charge of re-vamping the wine list. Which means tastings, oh dear oh my whatever shall I do. I know exactly what I'll do: I will get pleasantly toasted and talk about wine with people, thus fulfilling one of my constant short-term ambitions. I've become a sort of part-time manager/part-time sommelier/waiter, with new challenges which I actually find interesting. I like wine (and gin and port and vodka forth. You get the idea). I'm ecstatic to be dealing with it regularly.

But...I really was hoping to stalk out of the restaurant in a huff, never to return. Oh well, there's not a manager who's lasted three months in the past two years. Maybe something bad will happen to me, too. Fingers crossed!

Friday, April 02, 2004

I had long suspected, but have now, through intense experimentation, rigourously proved it:
Der Vogelfänger is the perfect morning shower song.
Peculiar posted some time back on Eagle Dreams, and, on the theory that you can't get enough positive reinforcement, I thought I'd add a comment or two.

I read Eagle Dreams on my honeymoon, which ought to give you some idea how fascinating it is. It's like science-fiction, except for the fiction part--the birds are as alien as any extra-terrestrial. I found my stomach muscles tightening with excitement during the recounting of hunting with the eagles. And the book is unrelentingly informative and charming. Just wait 'til you learn what the word "Steve" means to his companions.

I had the good fortune to visit Mr. Bodio at his home some time ago. Someone described his study as Merlin's cave, from The Once and Future King, which is perfect, if Merlin had taken up hunting. Books cover every available inch, after which the unavailable inches are forced into double service, holding oddities of all imaginable genera. Beetles, wood-pecker and penguin skulls, a print of Genghis Khan on a hunting expedition, and small leather contraptions like harnesses which make one think that he must have a chariot drawn by raptors, like some Eastern European folk-tale. (It was later explained to me that the hoods had something to do with falconry). It very much was a wizard's workshop, and just the sort of space I'd like to spend hours in. Birds inside the house and out, dogs as odd as griffins, antique shotguns and an executioner's sword.

Eagle Dreams is exactly like that study: full of peculiarities which catch the attention immediately, each with a story to it, even if the eagles are the central figures. Following Mr. Bodio in his obsession means following him in his literary wanderings, too--any reader can easily come away with a list of twenty books or so that they now must read.

I mentioned above that my stomach muscles tightened while I read, and that's true of any of Mr. Bodio's books: they have a visceral quality which says that no matter how dream-like this landscape seems, no matter how far-off this story takes place, it was real, it happened like this, and this is how it felt to be riding with Kazakh eagle falconers.

So. Go get it. If we're lucky, he'll write more.

(And if you can, find a copy of A Rage for Falcons, which will introduce you to profession? addiction? of falconry.)

Thursday, April 01, 2004

My, it's a slow day on the ski hill. I just ran some rather contrived errands on the mountain, and encountered the head of ski patrol hiding in the boulders, dressed in a chipmunk suit, attempting to frighten passing employees. What else have we got do?

Anyhow, here's something I'm sure you all saw coming. I really liked the form and content of those Japanese poems, so here are some more contest entries, four centuries too late:

The snow blooms in the sunshine
Into whorls and sepals of crystals
Which are melting very quickly.
Downstream in Tesuque someone's
Probably starting a garden.

Our mogul competition
Was hardly the Olympics,
But was enormous fun.
Skis and skiers scattered the snow
Like wind-strewn petals.

Snow is unfreezing,
Mountain roads are unfurling;
Soon the rivers will blossom with water.
Not too warm yet in Idaho,
But the thimbleberries feel the sun.

The Japanese poetry contest which I mentioned below was original recorded on a merrily illustrated scroll. Unfortunately, I can't find any of the illustrations for the poems I quoted, but here are a couple of samples.
It's made my day to learn (via the Volokh Conspiracy) that there are still some slayers out there:
MAROTINU DE SUS, Romania- ...Toma Petre's relatives pulled his body from the grave, ripped out his heart, burned it to ashes, mixed it with water and drank it...

Villagers here aren't up in arms about the undead - they're pretty common - but they are outraged that the police are involved in a simple vampire slaying. After all, vampire slaying is an accepted, though hidden, bit of national heritage, even if illegal.

It's certainly a little eccentric, but the Romanians seem to be slaying in good, well-meaning earnest. I'm glad they are. And indeed, why should the Romanian police, of all people, be trusted to make such calls?
"If they're right, he was already dead. If we're right, we killed a vampire and saved three lives. ... Is that so wrong?"