Thursday, November 04, 2010

Fire on the ground

Missus RR and I recently drove to New England : Connecticut traffic was hellish. On the bright side, though peak had passed, trees in southern NE still burned with autumn fire. Sugar maples,missed here in the Yellow Tavern quadrant, are the core of the fire. They can be red , yellow, or bronze. Many white birches, too: we never see that type in VA.They stand out, leaves flicking a royal wave.

My brother was laid off last week. He worked for a family firm, spice makers (Bell Seasoning,etc.) and bartender's mixes; they do Tang, contract work for Kraft and others. Brother has been in high speed food production most of his working life, though he has an HVAC background and training . Our father lost his job at around this (50s) age; a knee jerk reaction of capitalism, perhaps?

My employer, scraping the bottom of the barrel looking for semi-warm bodies to staff our newest branch in Stafford county. asked me to work public desks in the youth area. I am having a blast: 65,000 books, all brand new, gotta love opening day collections! People get into librarianship for two reasons: the classification and organization geeks (very smart, too organized, sometimes poor 'monkey skills', fun; more on this someday, maybe) get their rush from codification; others want to be the synaptical point between patron and book. The spark one gets when one hands a child a book, something they wanted. Amazing, , the things one forgets over the years.

A public tip o' the hat to colleagues and pals who have been asking about the Shebeen and the state of health of us here in the cul. We are ok, thank you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Adding pages, losing ground.

Meatspace events and issues have been distracting,my apologies. An encounter, not finished, with the legal system (witness, not defendant); family beach vacation, always fun and relaxing; health hi-jinks. We missed a couple weeks of the veggie challenge, more lost ground.

On the bright side, actually finished a book. Diane Johnson's Into a Paris Quartier: Reine Margot's chapel and other haunts of St.-Germain, where Johnson lives half the year. Evocative and anecdotal, it would be interesting to use Google Street View neighborhood photographs for the electronic version. One could never get away with that in Germany....

Endpapers in sight is Serve the People: A stir-fried journey through China, by Jen Lin-Liu. I've enjoyed this fascinating narrative of a young food blogger getting her cooking certificate at a Chinese cooking school. Food centered adventures follow: seeking the source of dumplings;trailing an up-and-coming chef in a New Shanghai cuisine restaurant; working the noodle stall circuit; and finally, hutong (urban compounds based around a central courtyard) cooking : home. Lin-Liu , blogger, professional writer, and cooking school founder (Black Sesame Cooking School, Beijing) introduces us to many vivid characters in a rapidly changing land. Highly recommended. Waiting in the wings is another China-related title, The Man who Loved China:The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, by Simon Winchester. Years ago I read The Hermit of Peking, another story of a westerner living in the Middle Kingdom, so Winchester's work will continue that reading tangent.

I purchased it, along with Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy, at Beach Book Mart in Atlantic Beach, NC. Good prices, quirky selection,and located next to a puzzle and kite store, another annual stop. I usually can find something I cannot live without in both stores. Makes me feel good, which I needed after starting Anne Applebaum's Gulag, which sis-in-law, for some reason, brought to the beach.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

'Built to invade inferior nations':encounters with British machinery

Or so Bike magazine heralded, as the subtitle for the review of Triumph's Sprint GT. A bigger bike than needed, a tourer, but still, a Triumph. I prefer the atavistic (but not too) charm of the Bonneville.I found the magazine at a roadside cafe magazine stand on the way to Stratford upon Avon, and, lacking reading material with decent pictures,grabbed it. The announcement in huge type NORTON IS BACK was the clincher. Apparently they are revived and building . British motorcycle manufacturers (most notably Triumph,BSA, and Norton) have a complicated , entwined history. These sometimes quirky motorcycles are attractive examples of British machinery.

A simpler device was encountered in Stratford upon Avon . We were touring a cottage garden when I spotted a potato with large feathers around its circumference suspended on a string between two thin stakes. The wind would catch the feathers, and the spud would spin , and the feathers would presumaby scare away birds. Marvelous! A fascinatingly simple machine. and a clever solution to a problem.

Once the bus (no, coach, RR, must get the nomenclature right) fetched up on Windermere, there were two encounters with very different machinery. We were milling about waiting to board a ferry when I saw two teenage boys, about 15 or 16, readying their homemade raft. It was made from some plastic drums on which they had placed a very comfy looking love seat. Of course, I had to go over and check out their cobbled ( no,RR, bodged; this is Britain) rig. I asked who gets to go first, wished 'em luck, conversed briefly,then went about my business. I do not think the enthusiastic young men would have listened to an adult warning as to the (lack of) sea worthiness of their setup. I hope it turned out well for them, gotta admire their initiative. Rejoining the herd, I heard a distinctive sound of turbo props, buzzing not very high off the deck. It was a pair of RAF Shorts Tucano trainers, maybe 50 feet off the water,heading North. Several of these snappy trainers were seen throughout the day. This aviation geek's day was made later when a trio of aircraft flew over, albeit at a higher altitude. One was a Tucano, and the second was a Eurofighter Typhoon, pretty sharp for a kerosene burner. The third, I swear, was a Gloster Meteor. I am pretty good at aircraft ID, and the day was hazy, but that is my story and I'm stickin' to it. There must have been an airshow in the vicinity.

I encountered a piece of British machinery later with a more mundane function. After washing my hands I dried my hands using a Dyson Airblade. I have seen a Dyson air multiplier on sale in the States.It is a clever update of air movement technology replacing fan blades with airfoil technology. The Airblade, once one places one's hands in the machine, scrapes the moisture off the hands using a precleaned jet of air. Very quick and effective, no trying to find a place to wipe half dry hands after using this device. I swear, I was very thirsty after using the device. After using it, I jabbered about it to the Missus to the point of tedium, I'm sure.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Veggie challenge:Melons and 'maters!

Gathered at the market last weekend were melons, many;basil,bunches; onions, tomatoes, which have taken the place of beets in the onslaught; peppers, red and jalapeno. While there we picked up some NY strip steaks,eggs, and pasta from our friendly pasta dealer.

The temp was over a hundred Saturday , so we had the pasta , prosciutto, and melon salad that was such a hit earlier in the veg. challenge.I used an Ambrosia melon, one we cannot find in the grocery stores, as it is one of the frailer types :it does not travel well. The NY strip steaks were grilled on Sunday, accompanied by Swiss chard and a chimichurri sauce, a green sauce variant, utilizing previous purchases. Monday, we had more pasta. Tagliatelle with fresh corn pesto. A disaster, way too much starch and sugar. It was like a ball of school paste,nasty. Every once in a while, one gets away from me :).While rooting around in the veg bin the next day, always a veritable treasure hunt,I found leeks I had forgotten about.Someone at work had given the Missus a copy of J. Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking to give to me, so I made a leek quiche on Tuesday, with a wee green s'lad.

Wednesday was a bad day at work and both our schedules were out of whack, so no cooking that night. My rehab support group dinner was held Thursday , a potluck dinner. I was responsible for making a meat dish, so I made a version of my mother's recipe for barbecue beans, which usually has a pound or so of ground beef in them. This was a cardiac group, so I used ground turkey instead, and it seemed to go well. There over 150 people (patients plus spouses or pals). Eating like that is interesting. It reminds me of the "dime a dip" church dinners my grandmother used to take us to in those long ago Vermont summers. Everyone brings their bestest dish to these occasions so one eats well. I had some tasty bites that night, and look forward to similar events later this year. I whittled down the tomato backlog on Friday, when I made baked shrimp with tomato and feta, served over orzo. Oregano from the deck planter was used in the dish. A dry riesling,rather than the previous sweeter 'reserve' riesling enjoyed earlier in the veg. challenge, accompanied.

Today, at market, in addition to the CSA, I manage to score a bug eatin' free range whole chicken for roasting. And more melons and 'maters.
*Photo looted from a church lady's blog.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Once more unto the beets! Wait, where'd they go?

Our half CSA share consisted of a bunch of basil,4 onions, a parsley bunch,3 tomatoes, a jalapeno pepper, a red pepper, a cucumber, swiss chard, and a lovely melon. We supplemented the yield with the following items: pasta (fettucine), lamb sausages with sage, a store bought roasted chicken (a bargain @ $3.99, plus it is still too hot to cook much inside), corn,and some prosciutto.

It continues to be hothothot, bad even for a Southern summer. The grass crunches underfoot. Our tomatoes, ostensibly watered by the neighbor kids, were not, so now are compost. I have been trying to serve light or grilled dinners to keep the heat down inside. This is what we had this week:

Saturday: Grilled lamb sausages, grilled corn on the cob. I left the silks and husks on two of the four ears, and husked the other two .I wanted to experiment with the caramelization of the natural sugars in the corn. I still prefer cooking them with the husks on: makes the air smell great. One ear was left over; I used it for Sunday, when we used the store bought chicken for our chicken tostadas. I put a base of fresh made guacamole on the tostada, put some chicken on that, then topped it with the salsa which included CSA tomatoes,onion, jalapeno,and the corn scraped from the cob saved from the previous evening. I was bad and made refried beans as a side, using the America's Test Kitchen recipe. Bad because it is all based on rendering salt pork, a staple here, makes my cardiologist do backflips. He would have approved of Monday's meal:I used a kilo of mussels, farm raised, tinier and sweeter than their wild cousins, on the fettucine. This and the previous recipe came from the latest issue of Cooking Light.

On Tuesday , I used some of the sweet melon, a couple ounces of prosciutto, and some baby spinach (subbing for the suddenly rare arugula) on 'bowtie' pasta, a nice light dinner for a hot Richmond evening. Felt like a wild man, so accompanied it with a Riesling Reserve, juuuust right. Wednesday, alas omysistersandbrothers, RR did not cook much, the Missus handled dinner.It was beans and hot dog casserole, though she did utilize a CSA onion and the red pepper. I could not leave well enough alone; prior to her arrival from work I made some fresh corn and basil cornbread to accompany. It is a good time of year to make this , with the ingredients so fresh and available: the recipe may be found on here. Thursday, RR dined alone, as the Missus had a work function to attend. I ate leftovers, or as Julia C. put it, 'feasting on remains'. You know me, dangerous when bored, so I used the CSA cuke and some tomatoes I bought at Olympus Farm on the way home from work to make gazpacho,using Jamie Oliver's recipe.We'll have that with the cornbread tonight. Years ago, we ate at one of Jose Andres' restaurants in DC, and I had the gazpacho. One of the best soups I ever had, it was a nigh on religious experience. Fresh, and one could taste each ingredient, unlike my poor muddy attempt. Something to strive for. Sublimity.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Please try not to touch"

Missus RR and I have returned from too short a trip to England, a re-visit of some areas for me, a fresh view for the Missus. We had a very pleasant dinner in Stratford-upon-Avon with Mr. and Mrs. BB. I was concerned, as we hit the ground with feet running. I expected my jet lagged self to jabber or otherwise do damage to the 'special relationship'. With the exception of one addled detail about AB's home town, it went well, and we had an excellent dinner and conversation.

A trip is more than landing on a grid coordinate. People, mixups, smells. Yeah, the smells first. The smell o'London today is better than 1973 in memory: less diesel these days. The Tube smells much the same, less smoke . Pubs are less smoky, trysting with Madame Nicotine outside is a swell worldwide tendency. Food was better than the first visit; I will have more details later. Clothes, menswear, still has a lean and hungry look: suits use less material than here,armholes are cut higher,yielding a narrower silhouette. Did see some sweet silhouettes: from the bus, a Spitfire, all primer, outside a hangar at a museum--there was also a Concorde on the runway. A Euro-fighter; a Meteor Mk 11 nightfighter, I swear; and a current RAF turbo trainer, black and zipping, over Windermere in formation. I was tedious about the Shorts plant there, I am sure.The title of today's update was lifted froma label on an exhibit at Wordsworth's cottage, so understated, bless their hearts. Lotsa sheep and,further north, Highland cattle. 23C, 72ish for us Fahrenheit users; rain in the 'drafty parallelogram' of RLS, Edinburgh. The Scots have been busy. Cookin' ,writin' and being good culcha' vulchas. Charlotte Sq. at the McDonald Roxburghe, we had a lovely oblong room, the doors and trim were curved. Daylight 'til late, we had dinner at The Tower, with a view of the rooftops of Edinburgh, St. Giles' spire stabbing the sky. Hit the Scottish National Gallery to look at some pictures, a lovely museum,perfect scale, a way station on the trek back to Charlotte Square.

More soon.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Mixed bag

A mixed bag today, much going on.

Firstly,my employer has taken the library's bookmobile off the road.A necessity, I am sure, given these fiscal times. For pure library service, there is nothing like loading up a 27 foot vehicle with books and extrovert staff ( a rarity in the field) and sending them out to the boonies to connect people and books. Our core service. I will have more on this topic later.

The veg challenge continues;unfortunately,dispatches will not be forthcoming for the next couple weeks while RR works on a highly anticipated project. He will have sketchy web access ; it will give us all a rest. Ditto the movie house of memory. I owe a screed on one of my all time fav-o-rites, The Wild Bunch. It deserves better than I can give to it at this time.

So: The Shebeen will be quiet for 2 weeks, good news to some. I leave it in the capable paws of Mr Finn, who most certainly does not blog. Talk to you soon.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"So remorseless a havoc": veg. challenge.3

The share picked up last Saturday contained lettuce, fennel, zephyr squash, beets, cukes, red potatoes and parsley. We bought squid ink pasta, sweet Italian sausage, ground beef, and eggs from bug-eatin' chickens from other vendors. Also acquired some 'V-8' gazpacho (lunch that blistering day, hot weather has set in)and a hosta plant for under the windsock. The hosta is not included in this week 's veg. challenge. The results:

Saturday: 'burgers, grilled;black olive pasta s'lad with dilly carrots, cuke, and onion. A Sam Adams Summer ale.

Sunday: Sweet Italian sausage grilled; cheese and herb stuffed squash blossoms , ahem,coated and quick fried in peanut oil;remains of the pasta s'lad.Must say, blossoms came out smokin' after requiring diligent cleaning .

RR's remorseless havoc against beets resumed Monday evening, with Red Flannel Hash. A traditional Yankee way to use up leftovers. Joy of Cooking 's recipe was more eccentric than Morash's Victory Garden Cookbook, so I used the latter's recipe. Slapped up the gorgeous yolked , deep tight and colorful, henfruit over the beet laden hash. a nice 'breakfast at dinner' dish.

The late season lettuce formed the core of the meal on Tuesday. Mixed in parsley, tomato, hard boiled eggs, just a wee bit o' bacon, a few shrimp and the lime vinaigrette.

Wednesday: Mexican. We ate at our local Jaliscan joint. Alas, no veg slaughtered for that meal.

Still hot, back to the grill on Thursday. Fished the pork medallions out of the freezer the previous evening; slapped them into the lime vinaigrette Thursday late morning. Made up a pineapple and parsley salsa for the pork. Used the cast iron skillet on the grill, a quick saute of the pig.Remains of potatoes done with onions, squash cooked with the other tomato. a very light and lovely white wine.

Tonight at the Plan B Cafe we will have squid ink pasta, tossed wth the lightest olive oil, lemon,herbs, and shrimp. Beet and fennel s'lad with honey. The beets are Chioggia, with their red/white/red/white pattern;should be weird.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Movie House of Memory:Myth, Motion, and Honor Blackman!

Doodles of Corinthian helmets peppered my school notebook; my vote for a identifying nickname for RR's Jr. high (The Spartans) was used. RR was ready to see Jason and the Argonauts . Ray Harryhausen's models moved, unlike the static shelf sitters young RR built.

"Dimensional stop-motion animation" was created by Willis O'Brien, best known for King Kong, (the original). Tedious work: build a model; pose the model;take the shot, move the Hydra, Harpy, or army of the dead sown from teeth; move it again. Repeat many times.Ray Harryhausen created many dynamic creatures in his movies. They demand the big screen .Their power holds up well; I recently watched Jason after many years. The skeletons fighting Jason and two companions sequence took four months to film, each tiny shield of the army of the dead bearing a picture of a previous Harryhausen creation. Unlike modern CGI, Harryhausen's creations have weight (thank you, Burly Man!) and do not violate kinesiologic principles.

Harryhausen monkeyed with the myth ; to a young RR pagan theologic quibbles did not matter.The Hydra,looted from Hercules' story (played by a manly Nigel Green) was a cool effect,though Talos chasing Herc and Hylas impressed the most. And the ship, the Argos, with a statue of Hera,Honor Blackman looking swell, guiding the argonauts' way. RR has also seen the Sinbad movies with Harryhausen's work on the big screen, as well as his science fiction creations on television;Jason and his brave crew are the favorites of memory.
Next, a different work : The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah's masterpiece.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The beet goes on: veg. challenge, week 2

Que tal, pals? I am typing this on Missus RR's netbook;talk about the small print. One must do.....

The CSA consisted of beets,patty pan squash,parsley,chard,lettuce and scallions. While @ the market, I also scored some knobby onions,peas and mint,as well as herbed pasta and beef.

Saturday:free range beef,squash, and knobby onion kebabs, over rice pilaf. Gotta watch the free range stuff on the grill, goes south fast. The kebabs did not, though it was near run thing.

Sunday's meal was the pasta, pancetta, and peas in a creamy sauce. I learned something from the Missus: she had never had fresh peas before.

I found a leek, still viable, in the veg. bin Monday.I used Jamie Oliver's recipe for chicken (in this case, 3 thighs I had on hand)with leek, thyme, wine,and pancetta,roasted. Served it with parsleyed rice, so some of the CSA was used.

Tuesday evening found us at a niece's graduation;alas, no veg. that evening.

The lettuce and two roasted beets served as a base for Wednesday night's salad. I marinated some shrimp ( get 'em while you can folks, don't even get me started ) in a ginger and sesame marinade.There are more beets, omybrothersandsisters,they are gathering for a final assault. I will fix their little red wagon making a Yankee dish, red flannel hash. Although a wacky version can be found in the usually helpful Joy of Cooking , I will be using Marian Morash's recipe from her Victory Garden Cookbook. Her book is a valuable ally in the struggle with the veg world.

Thursday night RR made a swiss chard and almond sauce to go with the wide Amish noodles on hand. There are three components to the dish: the pasta, natch; the swiss chard, boiled briefly ,then sauteed with garlic and pepperoncino; finally,a pesto (mint is used with the basil , per recipe).All components are combined in the sauce pan. Texas toast accompanied the dish. The recipe is based on a Lydia Bastianich recipe, and was very tasty.Strangely, she uses just the leaves, ostensibly discarding the stems. Seems wasteful in an Italian recipe. Fear not, gentle reader: RR chopped them and is going to saute them severely, making a sauce with mushrooms and wine.

The pattypans remain, enigmatic on the counter.Their destiny is to be stuffed, I think.Further uses of beets after the hash will be in a beet, fennel, and honey salad. After that, RR may have to take the beet by the root as it were, and make borscht. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

" I have no mouth, and I must scream"

We lost power yet again where I live in lower Uzbekistan, VA the other day. Just for 2 minutes, while They replaced hamsters in the wheel of The Grid, or whatever They did; enough to put The Machine at home into so far permanent "Power Saver mode". So I am stealing 2 minutes of machine time @ work to let you know this, and that The Shebeen will back Real Soon Now, as they say in IT support.

The title above is a Harlan Ellison short story, one of 12 'most reprinted in the English language', according to an online source. Oh? And what are the other 11? Why 12?

Gotta go; 'til then, regards.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Monday movie house : eyes, ears, and memory

A change-up pitch this week. Rather than speaking of specific titles, I'd like to talk generalities.For the most part, RR relies on visual memories,still good. When setting up the list of titles to discuss, one came to mind which is very far back.One sequence has stuck in my mind all these years. When discussing this phenomenon with my brother, he too had a sequence from a different film which is still vivid.My brother's lapel grabber is the people sinking in the sand sequence in the original Invaders from Mars, and the subsequent thing on the back of their necks controlling them. RR's film (NO, this one is definitely a movie, not a film) is a worse movie than RR has been presenting here: Puss 'n Boots. Not a cartoon, folks; live action,one with real actors playing the human parts, and a wee actor dressed up in a cat suit as the title character. Very creepy.The sequence RR remembers does not help: a human sorcerer,drunk, is convinced to change himself into an animal by Puss; he turns into a mouse, runs across the floor, and is promptly gobbled by the cat. Whoah. Never saw the movie again.RR has tracked it down, and there is a story behind it.

Soundtracks stand out or work quietly in the background, with lesser impact than visuals. I peg my interest to the viewing (and hearing) of El Cid, at the South Shore Plaza Twin Drive-In. An excellent soundtrack. So were the early (Dr. No, et al)James Bond soundtracks: RR still owns the 33 1/3rpm recordings of them.The soundtracks of memory which really caught my ear are those of Ennio Morricone, in the C.Eastwood 'Italian' westerns. His sound style matched director Sergio Leone's visual style.I have the orginal recordings, plus Yo Yo Ma playing these and other Morricone titles on CD. Morricone has an affinity for the cello.RR has also enjoyed Morricone's soundtracks from later films: his taut score for John Carpenter's The Thing, as well as The Mission and The Untouchables. He is still working, I believe.Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky, seen on a semi-big screen in a dingy hall at college, has sequences where the soundtrack was written first, with the film shot to the score. It works nicely, if one enjoys Eisenstein and/or Prokofiev as RR does; so nicely, it is reported that William Walton's music for Henry V replicates the technique in spots. I cannot confirm, as I have only seen it on the small screen.No film stands out in my memory solely on the basis of sound; a few stand out for lack of sound, even though they are 'talkies', such as Tod Browning's Dracula. The combination of sound and sight strenghtens the memory of the film.

Next time, less pointy headed stuff, as RR recalls the magic of Ray Harryhausen in Jason and the Argonauts.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Cookin' Fool: Veggie challenge , Week One.

Gentle reader: Tool Shed Thursdays will return after the CSA season.This section will discuss the meals we've had from our weekly veg share.

Missus RR and RR have a half CSA (community supported agriculture)share of vegetables withFrog Bottom Farm. We get a weekly allotment of vegetables, depending on what is in season, from May to October. A colleague started a share last year, and kindly let us pick it up when she and her husband were out of town. We are trying it this year. Everybody wins with the deal.

Last weekend was the first week of it. Saturday found us in brain frying heat, picking up our share. Two kinds of squash (zucchini and zephyr), beets (with edible greens), rainbow chard, lettuce, baby turnips and most intriguingly, garlic scapes. I had not heard of scapes before.The challenge was on: for RR, exuberant tyro cook, not to waste any of these beauties. RR hates waste, particularly with food.

Here is what RR made with the CSA share.
Saturday: Blistering hot, so made a salad utilizing the lettuce, and added grilled salmon with maple syrup and mustard glaze. Grade B amber with its depth of flavor is best for cooking, save the good stuff for other uses. Thank you, Charlotte, for bringing the Vermont maple syrup to us from the fatherland.
Sunday: Not a CSA veg dinner; I used the black olive pasta we bought at the booth of Bombolini pasta.A couple days before, I made a grilled plum tomato, goat cheese, black olive and basil side dish. There was some left, so I buzzed it in the food processor and made a sauce from it. The dish was well received.
Monday: I used a recipe from Lydia Bastianich for the dish: zucchini with anchovies and capers. Sounds iffy, but it worked.Young zucchini can be bland, and needs jazzing up. I used both the zucchini and the zephyr squash. As to the protein: Martin's had a two-fer-one deal on pork tenderloins, so I used Michael Chiarello's seared tenderloin with cocoa spice rub. Came out swell.
Tuesday: The Missus had a work meeting, and I had a geek meeting, so dinner was not a CSA meal.
Wednesday: Used the garlic scapes in a frittata with spinach from a recipe found here. I tasted a piece of scape and saw why the recipe has one sauteing it for five minutes before adding the egg mixture:tough and bitter. The cooking softens both those aspects. I diced the chard stems and leaves,cooked up a handful of onion, threw in a diced red pepper and chard stems, then after five minutes or so threw in the leaves. When they were tender I added a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, stirred and served it. A meatless dish: the Missus remarked on carnivore RR doing without meat.

That's ok.Tomorrow I am planning on using the free range pork sausage we bought at yet another booth. RR will puree the baby turnips, and serve the greens on the side to accompany the pork.

Then there are the beets. I'm thinking a beet risotto to accompany the pork tenderloin we have left. Other suggestions or recommendations? Saturday, it's once more unto the breech omysistersandbrothers, and I see scallions in our future. I'm thinking Chinese scallion pancakes,accompanying Ruth Young's sizzling salt and pepper shrimp, which, lacking a wok, RR has made before on the grill in his beloved cast iron skillet. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Movie house of memory: The General.

Rabbiting away in the home office last week, I happened to turn on the radio. "Performance Today" was playing on the local NPR outlet. The host announced they would be broadcasting from the Spoleto USA festival, an annual occurrence in Charleston, South Carolina. Missus RR and I have attended this festival on one of our visits to that lovely city; we had a great time. There are many opportunites to see and hear diverse entertainment.We saw an Indonesian shadow puppet show, heard some excellent music, and your correspondent had an upclose and potentially expensive encounter with modern art. We also saw The General, Buster Keaton's 1926 film, which was playing on a big screen at a church, with improvised organ accompaniment.

How appropriate! A film based on a true incident of the Civil War, playing in a town and state that figured highly in that conflict. Charleston holds the record for an American city being shelled, and South Carolina was the first on and last off the secession bandwagon.Politics are still rough and tumble in the Palmetto state. This was not the first time I bumped into Buster. I had seen him in bit parts in Beach Blanket Bingo and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Those were definitely not Keaton films. The General is, and is arguably his masterpiece. The trouble for some is it is not a comedy.

Keaton's comedy was very physical;gags executed with precise timing and blocking.While physical, Keaton played likeable characters; Chaplin's little tramp, on the other hand, could be a mean little man. Never Buster.His most famous stunt occurs in Steamboat Bill, Jr. : he is standing in the street, facing the camera, when the entire front facade of the house he is standing in front of falls over him, with Keaton being saved from death by the precise placement of a window. In The General, while still a very physical performance, there are few laughs.Keaton is an engineer in Georgia whose two loves of his life, his engine and his girlfriend, are taken by Yankee soldiers in a raid. He takes another engine, Texas, if memory serves, and sets out to get them back. Along the way he executes some physical stunts, very dangerous stuff on a moving train, and there are battle scenes where people die. The film did not do well at the box office because the laughs were not there. Because the audiences stayed away and the cost of the film was so high,the studio never let Keaton have the level of control over production he had with this and his earlier films. Keaton, a train buff, was a stickler for detail. When the Texas wrecks, it is really wrecking, folks.

The audience that muggy night was behind Buster all the way as he put one over on the Yankees. They actually hissed at the Yankees once or twice; never heard a live audience hiss before. It was a night where everything clicked into place, like a well planned stunt. The film, the venue, and the accompanist all contributed to create a sort of magic. This rarely happens, and I appreciated being able to participate.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Tool shed Thursday: three knives.

Years ago, my future mother-in-law gave me a Swiss Army knife, the camper model. It has 2 blades, an awl, a saw blade which I have used once, two openers, one for bottles, the other one, reminiscent of the military P-38, opens cans. Those two blades have wide and narrow screw blade tips, respectively. Also included are a useless tweezer, and a frequently disappearing toothpick. The last one is deep in the bowels of the driver's seat mechanism in my car. It also has a corkscrew, perhaps the most used part. It has become my default cork remover, even in the kitchen. Why bother rummaging for one of several 'screws when there is one an arm's length away? My knife has become second nature, like my bottle of nitroglycerin. It is in my pocket all the time, except for rehab. If I am wearing work clothes, it is there; if I am wearing a suit, it is there. Tucked deep inside the checked suitcase,it travelled to Italy. Came in handy once or twice. People are sometimes surprised when I am wearing a suit and someone needs one of its functions and I bring out the knife. "You can take him outta the working class, you cannot take the working class outta him".

The second knife today has only one blade, but it's a pip. It is a Forschner Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef's knife. It is my go-to knife in the kitchen, used daily. It holds an edge well;it needs honing less frequently than my 7" Wusthof Santoku knife. The second advantage of the Victorinox is Fibrox,the material the handle is made of. Very non slip, even wet or oily. Finally, the clincher for me was the price. Amazon was selling it for $25.00 yesterday. A great value for an excellent knife.

The knife in the photo is a mystery. It was given to me by my father; he called it a "wrong way knife". And it is. It can only be held in the right hand, as it is designed to cut, no, pare, on the pull stroke. Obviously home made, I'm thinking American Indian or Inuit because of the handle, and the way it works. The blade was originally wider.The first 1.5" of the blade has been ground into a working edge. The rest of the blade is also sharp, but not cut to the same angle.There is a tight curl at the tip. The blade maker's name is stamped just above where the tang enters the handle. A loup would help to discern the maker's name (maybe Sheffield: I see an "..ield" and an "Eng.." below it),truncated when the blade was ground a couple millimeters narrower. The handle is bone,with two rivets through the bone and tang. It is still a sturdy fit. Is it a flensing knife? Nah, the curl at the tip would snag. I googled the heck out of it, and was frequently led to the familiar two handled draw knife of woodworkers. This knife has a very specific task, unknown to me.It would be good for carving a cavity in a flat surface, and that is about it. Any ideas or theories would be appreciated.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Movie house of memory:Vincent Price in "Last Man on Earth".

Vincent Price had a three stage career spanning over 180 films, plus television appearances. The first, 'almost leading man' stage, from 1938 through the mid-fifties, was mainstream, with notable exceptions like 'The Invisible Man Returns". The second stage , running from roughly 1958 to 1965 was his 'horror' phase; the third, 'rebirth' or camp' stage, lasted from the two horrible sounding 'Dr. Goldfoot' films to his two tons of fun 'Dr. Phibes' films. The capstone of this stage was his appearance in "Edward Scissorhands",three years before his death in 1993.

I discovered Price in his second phase,lucky kid, with the delicious Roger Corman Poe adaptations and the eeriest version of Richard Matheson's novel, I am Legend.This version is The Last Man on Earth ,from 1964. A plague kills nearly everyone, except Price's character, and as we discover ,others. Everyone else is turned into vampiric creatures, shunning light, garlic, and mirrors. Price spends his nights inside, making stakes for these creatures; during the day he impales as many as possible. Dull days for him, a great show for the kids in the audience. It was filmed in black and white,a favorite film stock which lent credence to the eeriness of the film (no, RR, movie), and the 'last person on earth' conceit was fascinating to me. Shrinks would probably have a field day with that.

I do not remember any great production values to Last Man on Earth, just the pathos Price brought to the role. Price did psychologically tortured individuals very well, along with oily or urbane characters.He will appear again in the movie house of memory. I have not seen this title since 1964;I have seen one of the two remakes, Omega Man(1971), starring Charlton Heston. It is in Technicolor, and Heston brings a different energy to the role.I have not seen the 2007 I am Legend.

Next up: Buster Keaton's 1926 The General.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tool shed Thursday: Fokker!

Today is tool shed Thursday. Let me leave the shebeen in the capable hands of Mr. Finn, and let's step out back to the shed. That car? It is an Allard, and belongs to Mr. Finn. Think a roller skate with a big engine: I do not see what he sees in it, he looks like a bear on a tricycle driving it.Mr. Finn has been around for years and years. When I was young I asked him how old he was. "Older than dirt, young master." He can be cryptic, our Mr. Finn.

Ah, here we are. A few pointers about the shed. Firstly, you see it is o, 12' x 18' on the outside. Do not be dismayed when we go inside and it looks larger. Mr. Finn built the shed. I asked for a lifesaving service style boat house, and he built this. Secondly, you may see things you do not recognize: best policy is not to touch 'em. We'll open both doors. Careful, almost lost your footing; most people do, once they step inside.See what I mean about the interior size? Mr. Finn created a tesseract, a cube which looks small on the outside but is multi-dimensional inside. Comes in handy; how else could I store a longship, a Ford Model T, a Dodge Power Wagon; a New Holland baler,a Chesapeake Bay skipjack,a make and break engine,and an Indian motorcycle which once belonged to my grandfather? There's his picture on the wall over the treadle lathe. There are 3 generations of shop accumulations in here. Here we are, I moved this week's tool closer to the doors. Grab a corner of the tarp and help me remove it, please; we'll roll her outside. The rear lifts easily, she is lighter than she looks. Easy, there we go. What is it? This is a Fokker Dr.1, prime example of a tool having a reputation all out of scale with it's capabilities. I told my reader I'd yap about triplanes;no time like the present.

Blame the British for developing them:the first triplane was built by A.V. Roe in 1909/1910.The Shuttleworth Collection has a flying replica. When the war started the firm of (Sir) Tommy Sopwith, another pioneer,began work on a triplane design which was introduced with some success over the front in 1917. Less than 150 were built; those few (especially B Flight,No. 10 squadron, RNAS) were so effective the German high command thought they should get themselves a triplane. Several firms, among them Albatros and Pfalz, built prototypes. The design of Anthony Fokker was chosen for production, even though 10 Pfalz Dr.1s were sent to the front. Two of Fokker's prototypes, designated F.1, were issued to the two leading lights of the German Air Service: Rittmeister Baron Manfred Von Richthofen and Leutnant Werner Voss. Two very different but effective pilots. Richthofen was a calculating hunter: flying was a means to an end, bagging game. When commanding his Jasta, he forbade his pilots to do acrobatics. Voss was not a good administrator; he was a 'natural' if reckless pilot, and a tinkerer. Many a time one could find him at the hangar, working alongside his mechanics.Richthofen, Junker to the bone, did not mingle. The Dr.1 had two things going for it: it was light and could climb quickly. Secondly, the design of the wings and that torquey radial engine made it very maneuverable in the hands of the right pilot. The Dr. 1, with its Obereusel engine, was underpowered. Pilots of Voss' Jasta 10 offered infantry soldiers a bottle of champagne for every Le Rhone engine (French) they would bring in. An additional 10 horsepower was gained, small gain but every bit helps. Voss' aircraft had a Le Rhone mounted the day he was shot down. Reports of the British pilots that day ( Voss took on 7 Se5's of No. 56 squadron, amongst them six aces) say Voss made the tripe do things no aircraft was supposed to do. He would hit right rudder, and do a flat turn; before spinning out, he hit the opposite rudder to regain control. No banking turns that evening. He put bullets into every aircraft opposing him, before numbers prevailed.

On the 30th of October, 1917, Leutnant Heinrich Gontermann, Staffelfuhrer of Jasta 15 was test flying his new production Dr. 1above his airfield when one of the top wing's ailerons flew off,fabric began peeling, followed by catastrophic failure of the top wing. The 39 victory ace died of his injuries from the subsequent crash 2 days later. Thus was exposed another fault of the triplane:bad quality control. Later numbers of the 'plane had reinforcements built into the wing; the problem continued intermittently. This put a damper on pilots' enthusiasm for the kite. Production of the triplane never exceeded 350 aircraft;small, even for hand built production. Over 1000 Albatros D.III and the later D.V, backbone of the Air Service, were built. Even Albatri had wing problems: looking at photos of late D.Va's one sometimes sees a small reinforcemnt piece on each wing's V-strut. Odd. The Fokker Dr.1 was a gorgeous aircraft, especially when photographed in the air. It all meant nothing if the top wing fell off.

There you have it, our first tool, proving a tool is only effective as the hand which wields it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movie house of memory: Vikings!

The rhythmic clapping resonates inside these walls, which are hard and glossy as coal: Come-on!Start-the-show!Come-on! Start-the-show! The screen is a dim page spread out before us, white and silent.The film has broken, or a bulb has burned out. It was difficult, even for us,old fans who've always been at the movies (haven't we?)to tell which before the darkness swept in. T. Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow.

Welcome to the movie house of memory. It is the Cameo, a favorite haunt: a place which still exists, if in a less pleasing configuration. The time span is 1964-1979-ish, though some dates will fall outside this span. I am there with my brother,mebbe some pals. Not all the films were seen at the Cameo: some were seen in lesser places,some in venues with an eerie link to life.A few, sadly, were not seen on the big screen at all. Place is important in memories,and I will establish the context of place and film.

Kids, noisy not unruly, boil through the entrance doors and descend on the concession stand in a lobby cleverly designed to look like a parlor. Home: more upscale than my home, but that is not important. Behind the ticket taker, through more doors, is where we want to be; in the dark, waiting for the asbestos curtain to part, darkness to cover us,and the vision on the screen to be revealed.The place reeks of popcorn, still a favorite smell. We settle in, middle of the row is good. The house lights dim, and the magic begins. It is 1964, and the feature is The Longships.

Directed by Jack Cardiff, one of the great cinematographers, it is a quest story. Richard Widmark, Viking, loses his ship and crew in a maelstrom, and is washed ashore more dead than alive. Byzantine monks find him and nurse him back to health. While there the monks are telling a story with tiny stones, mosaics.It is the story of the 'Voice of the World', a bell taller than three men and made of gold. Cut to a market in an unamed North African city. The authorities hear Rolfe (Widmark) telling the story of the bell, and he is taken to the chieftain, Sidney Poitier, island lilt still in his voice. It just so happens Aly Mansuh is obsessed with finding the bell. Rolfe escapes, washes up months later at home in Scandinavia, just in time for the festivities marking the delivery of the king's funeral ship, built by Rolfes's father. Oskar Homolka has a great time playing Krok, his father. Lionel Jeffries, another seasoned character actor, has a wee role, as does Gordon Jackson. Since Krok is now bust at the expense of making this very nice long ship for the king, his sons steal it and go to find the bell. Again, the ship gets wrecked in the maelstrom, though Rolfe's crew survives, only to be captured by Mansuh, still obsessed, again. The quest is on!

Heady stuff for a twelve year old boy. I must admit, as I have not seen it since that day in 1964, to renting it from Netflix to see how well it stood the test of time. Very well. The opening storm and wreck is done with models, according to my adult eye, and there are some plot dropouts (did Rolfe swim from N Africa to Scandinavia?). So what. Richard Widmark, whom I have never been a fan of, does an adequate job.Exotic climes, highly functional yet aesthetic naval architecture (you'll soon hear more about dragon ships), and a good story make up for the minimal shortcomings. Plus it has the cool Mare of Steel.

Here is an interesting coincidence: Jack Cardiff, director of this film, served as cinematographer on The Vikings (1958), which I have seen (on the big screen, probably at a drive in with my family), though obviously later than its release date.This title stars Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis ostensibly brothers, but really not, and Ernest Borgnine, cheerfully chewing the scenery as their father. I remember Borgnine jumping into a pit of ravening wolves or dogs, Saxons made him do it, and Douglas losing an eye to a bird attack. One of these days I will pay a return visit to this title.

Much to the Missus' dismay, I have made many return visits to the last Viking title, The 13th Warrior. Any time I get the old Ishmael knocking-hats-off-people-with-a-snowball feeling I pop this title into the dvd player.I saw this one at a megaplex;later,I bought the dvd, I was so en-tranced.Based on Michael Crichton's The Eaters of the Dead,it is a re-telling of a favorite of mine, Beowulf. Beowulf films are a sub-genre of Viking films, as Beowulf takes place in the transitional time of conversion from pagan to Christian. "This is the old way, you shall not see this again", a Norseman tells Ahmad Ibn Fahdlan, capably played by Antonio Banderas at the height of his action hero-dom, as they watch a late Norse king being burned on his ship. "Eben", as the band he now belongs to as the 13th warrior calls him, pledged to rid Hrothgar of his bane, the Wendela. Directed by John McTiernan, experienced and comfortable with the action genre, the film sticks closely to Crichton's story, twists and all. Very satisfactory.

The house lights come up and we shuffle to the door, images of longships and great deeds etched in our minds. After the matinee, we step blinking into the daylight of 'real' life. What did these films do for me? They piqued a lifelong interest in Northmen and their ships, and gave me some pleasant memories.

Next at the movie house of memory: Vincent Price in glorious black and white in The Last Man on Earth.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


A hearty Shebeen welcome to a new follower, crrltech.

Sorry, have not had much to say for myself.The Shebeen, except for a light dusting and moving around of the bottles, has been quiet. I have even neglected my reading.I suspect timewasters like Facebook and Spider Solitaire.

Le'see, rehab has been progressing, though a couple cardiac colleagues have Gone West. People do not show up and, not knowing the protocol, I do not ask. An obit. sometimes appears on the bulletin board or door, and my unvoiced queries are answered. So it goes.

As to the blog, your 'umble correspondent has had a rare idea.Inspired by my co-worker and fellow blogger, "Burly Man", I will try themed days. Mondays will be movie day, where I will jabber about memorable, some not very good, films and movies I have seen. Thursday will be "Tool Shed Day": I'll monkey with tools from wrong way knives and Louisville Sluggers to V-6 (or Allison or LeRhone) engines. Might have a food day too,we shall see. I will suppress my 'sub-sub librarian' tendencies and rely on minimal research, working from (sometimes limited) experience,gut,and sieve-like memory.

The trouble starts next Monday. Suggestions and comments always welcome.

Photo: Hunter S Thompson wasting a perfectly good typewriter.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Easiest Pull, eh Sergeant?

A fellow veteran I knew and worked with has Gone West. It was not a good ending: guns and booze.

Always a bad mix, Sergeant, even for the 'stable'. But when it was The Time, aesthetics be damned, damn you all, something along those lines was it, Sergeant? HST had the bad taste to do it while talking to his Missus on the 'phone, a final manipulation. You were alone and in that one step up from a hootch you lived in, not a better place. Hell is other people or oneself sometimes, Sergeant.

I knew something was up when last I saw you, standing in the break room doorway just looking, no words where we usually had some.Every man has his limit, and I could tell, could smell,you had reached yours. You grilled me on heart attacks before; you were a medic once, you knew this stuff. You sat and conversed like a reasonable man, but reason not the need , eh, Sergeant? That was before the final slip to bottom , a bottom I have no knowledge of, what snakes were there? Like those in Panama, Sergeant? Panama: another time and place.You had a mission, Sergeant, is that what held you together? I know the feeling. Damn you. Bless you; too late, innit Sergeant? RIP.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's the Germans

"No it's the Germans," her friend with rolled blonde fringes under a checked kerchief doing some monster routine here, raising her hands at Slothrop,"coming to get him, they especially love fat, plump Americans..." Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon.

Natch, love, 'tis the food, all the food we have here. Corn, 'taters, and pig; The Three Sisters, lobsters (way back, after a storm they would be piled 2 feet high on the beach,hence,'poor people's food'), elk, bison, and boar. The great thing living in the mixing bowl are the food influences. German-Americans are the largest immigrant group in America. One would hardly notice around here, as there are few German restaurants and food ways. Chicken fried steak, one of the three food groups of Texas, is a derivative of weiner schnitzel . Excellent chicken fried steak can be had in Fredericksburg Texas, not in Fredericksburg Virginia. Many Germans settled there, few here.

When I was a kid, riding back from a gun show with my father and his pal, we would stop at a German restaurant,Gundlach's Hofbrauhaus, now gone. There I had my first taste of German food. I enjoyed it. I am partial to the 'sour' part of the palate (surprise!), and all that cabbage was a wee pile o' heaven for me. And 'tater pancakes, oh my, I was in! Years later, the Missus and I were on our annual family beach vacation on the Outer Banks, and we stopped at a nearby brewery and pub featuring German food. It's a huge place with decent beer and, of course, a 'shoppe' to enhance the revenue stream.

Imagine the delight and surprise when, on a motoring tour of New England last year, a former colleague of the Missus took us to Morse's, in the boonies o' Maine. We ate there and brought some 'kraut home; I had to ration the stuff. If any of y'all ever get to Maine, a visit to Morse's is highly recommended. We will go back the next time we are up that way.

The local weekly rag,high school sports and tractor ads,takes five minutes to read. I read their Irish sport pages and reply to a blockheaded editorial once in a while. An ad for the Parkway restaurant caught my eye, telling readers they featured German food. We went there one Saturday night.The place does not have much ambiance: not important if the food is decent. I had the jagerschnitzel, and it was tasty. We will have to go back to sample the rest of their entrees.

I have spent a cumulative total of eight hours in the real Germany, and have expressed interest in travelling there someday. I would like to see what has been done with Berlin and to try the food. Always the food.

Friday, February 19, 2010

As crazy as it got: hand me the tranquilizer gun

A program the Missus was watching the other night had a segment on these....people who paint themselves blue and run around in the woods, with pointy ears (and tails, RR, can't forget the tails!), talking like the creatures in Avatar. Free. No one with tranquilizer guns in pursuit.

Growing up, the weirdest thing on the radar were the Polar Bears: you know, those fellers, half lit maybe, who jump into the ocean for a swim. On New Year's Day. That was as crazy as it got. Sure, we had philatelists, train (or plane) guys, and Pynchon fans (guilty on 3 out of 4, yer honor) but they were 'mostly harmless'. Then George Lucas comes out with Star Wars: all bets are off, the clown car is here! People started dressing like wookies, and worse : Star Trek fans thought it was safe to leave their parent's basement where they lived, blinking in the light of day. It was ok to wear Spock ears, even to work! They were the tip of the weirdness schwerpunkt. Comic book fans and their conventions were the second wave. Comic books are not written for kids anymore. You can't hand a kid a comic book these days and worry about 'rotting their mind' as my parents did. O no. The 'super' heroes are angst ridden nutcases, 'bout as bad as the 'villains' , I am told. Children do not understand what is going on in them. The fans (adults, who should know better) hold crummy little conventions, dressing up and making nuisances of themselves. Now, with the inter-web, there goes the neighborhood: the digi-village has thousands of new idiots, sucking up bandwidth. They are everywhere, like cockroaches.

Back in the day, these people would have been culled from the herd. The harsh Darwinism of the schoolyard would have nipped any of this extreme dorkiness in the bud. But now we have them and other pernicious enthusiasms. Drum circles, taken from Native Americans, subverted into New Age rubbish ; graphic novels (even graphic non-fiction), all the rage in libraries, lowering IQs nationwide; Klingon weddings (see photo above), oyeah, and re-enactors. You know, people who dress up Napoleonic, Roman, American Civil War, World War I (!?), any war or period. These guys opened the flood gates for Renaissance Fairs and such and it has been downhill ever since. Never mind the Society for Creative Anachronism, founded in 1966 from a Medieval Studies department. This is what these people go to school for, so they can dress up like Midden Mary, without the dung?

You ask,"Why get in a swivet about these people, RR?". See, life in America is weird and stupid enough these days with Sarah 'abandon hope ye who enter I do not have opposable thumbs and I am happy' Palin slouching around, massive cuts in education budgets, and runaway partisanism; we do not need the daily jolt of this weirdness. America has never been too high on the cultural vine, and this kind of foolishness just exacerbates the problem.

Friday, February 12, 2010

On the eve of the Hunger Moon

The Indians had names for each month's full moon; to some this month is the Full Hunger Moon. Harsh weather conditions and heavy snow made hunting difficult. Supplies of The Three Sisters , dried for the winter, were dwindling.

It is different now in America. One can eat 24 hours a day if one has the money. Not necessarily well, if the number of obese children I see is any indication: that is another rant. Americans, with notable exceptions like the Donner party, those first winters in Jamestown and Plymouth, and certain Rebel cities during the Civil War have not had experience with the other side of plenty: scarcity. When I stumbled across Patience Gray's unique memoir, Honey From a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany,Catalonia, The Cyclades and Apulia , it was a Zen smack in the head. Welcome to Stone Age and Bronze Age food ways, where "the supply of food is conditioned by the seasons".

Gray came to write this book when she and her companion The Sculptor (Norman Mommens), seeking marble, lived in the places of the title. Because they lived with not amongst Tuscans, Catalonians, etc. , they showed her what was available to eat in their rough countryside. These people read landscapes, not books. They showed Gray the good weeds, mushrooms, and shellfish, mostly. She was, after all, still an outsider. Gray includes many recipes amongst her flinty prose. There is even a recipe for fox. Pig ("winter saviour of mankind") recipes abound, and, being the countryside, 'everything but the squeal' is used. Gray recognized how 'doing without' increases the value of what one has; it is the basic idea of this unique and wonderful book.

*Photo from Persephone Books*

Monday, February 08, 2010

Landmarks,or, 'this is the way it is'

The calendar in the man cave tells me tomorrow is the anniversary of the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal island in 1943. Or what was left of them: the 'canal was a harsh education for both sides. By the time they left, the Japanese were eating grass and each other. They called it 'Starvation Island'. The Americans were just a bit better off.....

When I was young, I read a book from my local library: Guadalcanal Diary, by Richard Tregaskis. It covers just a few weeks, August to September, 1942. It was published in 1943, so it's tone prob has to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Even so, it is still in print, and still read by the military. That book is one of the "Landmark Books" series, published by Random House in the 'fifties and 'sixties; Bennet Cerf was the series editor. The authors he chose (or dragooned into it) wrote some cracking non-fiction, perfect to capture the imagination of young history buffs. C.S. Forester on the Barbary pirates, Sterling North on Abe Lincoln, and John Gunther on Alexander the Great, to name a few. These books showed me what good writing was, and that history, contrary to some of my classmates opinions, was not boring stuff. Later on, the series was expanded to 'World Landmarks', with books on Genghis Khan, etc. They are still available; I see they are big amongst homeschoolers. An entry on a website which sells the books tells us The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt "dips briefly into some evolutionary babbling but recovers nicely". O, homeschooling is another screed altogether....

My employer bought, back when we could buy books, Richard B. Frank's Guadalcanal:The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. It is an 800 pp doorstop, though it reads quickly and is very well written. I read it years ago."Definitive" is not a hyperbolic adjective. Frank includes everyone, from the brass out on the ships to Marine riflemen ( The US Army did not get there until later in the campaign.) on the line. I took two impressions from those 800 pages. The Japanese were not the sole enemy: the landscape was also deadly. Guadalcanal is not Bali Hai. It was a fetid hellhole, full of tropical diseases our medicos had never heard of, even with the experience in the Philippines back in the '90s and Panama in the 'oughts. Shoot, there were salt water crocs which would eat the unwary. Then there was the American attitude which never fails to get us in trouble. "These Japs might be big stuff in their co-prosperity sphere, we can handle these monkeys, no problem." The Marines had horrible casualty rates. Combat casualties were just the beginning. Malaria, fevers, and other tropical maladies felled a disproportionate number; the doctors might as well have been shaking rattles and uttering incantations, they had few clues to what was going on. A cut could be fatal. Marines went insane out there in the jungle. The Corps had grabbed Marines where they could, even bringing in surviving "China Marines", who had had servants. The majority, wherever they came from, were strangers to adverse conditions. Some who survived the 'canal were shipped back stateside, re-habbed, and formed the cadres to instruct new 'boots' on life in the jungle. They scared the bejesus outta those kids who were to fight across the Pacific, and guess what? There were more statistically 'normal' psychological casualty rates, not the spike seen early on. Why? Because they were told this is the way it is; they went in expecting it to be bad.
And it was.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A mixed, if ripe, bag

The vet warned me: "Do not spill this, it smells like ferret."
"What does ferret smell like?"
Easing off the cap, she waves the wee bottle under my nose, like a saucy red.
"Holy smokes, that's Mustelidae, alright."
The Missus, despite my warnings, had to yank off the cap; now the kitchen smells like a mink farm. I think fire will be the only recourse...

There is a novel about the sense of smell : Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, translated from the German. It takes place in pre-revolutionary France, and is about a creature named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille,"one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages". He was born to a fishwife in Paris, and he had no scent at all: no baby smell, nothing. He has a gift, though: a gift of a perfect nose, able to discern the smallest components of a scent, especially perfume. Once he grows up, he becomes a serial killer so he can extract a personal scent. Pretty wild stuff.

My brother used to work for SB Thomas, a baking company that makes English muffins, pita bread ("Know what pita means, Scott? Pain in the a**"! Apparently, a tricky process involving air..), and other bread products. I used to enjoy my brief visits to the plant, as the smell of cooking bread brought memories back, memories of bread baking in our house. Scent is a great trigger. I found a bottle of English Leather, an aftershave big in the late sixties and seventies ("All my men wear English Leather, or they wear nothing at all"), in a box in the guest bath. One whiff and I was on the way-back machine, back to those heady stylin' days. Further rummaging (in another room) yielded a can that held 'Balkan Sobranie', my favorite pipe tobacco (Latakia gives it that tar smell) when I used the stuff.

Talk about memories. I am having great fun re-acquainting myself with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I last read him in my early twenties for a seminar on he and Wordsworth . One of my prized possessions is a rock from Skiddaw. The recent cold snap has made me dig out my Everyman Coleridge and his masterpiece "Frost at Midnight", amongst others. His words warm me. It is interesting to approach authors at different stages of one's life (except for Thomas Wolfe: that is another screed ). The passage of years has yielded publication of STC's 'Notebooks' . They are chock full of aphoristic scribblings,proposed writings (STC had many plans which did not come to fruition), etc. which illustrate the depth and power of STC's mind.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Out of true" moments

OC it may be, I have to have sharp pencils before I start rabbiting away, even when the bulk of my work is done on the computer. I dislike a dull pencil when a sharpener is an armlength away. First pencil grinds away, too long a time. Second, the same. The points are unevenly sharpened, with more lead/graphite showing on one side than the other. I remember what Henry Petroski said in his book on the pencil: the lead is off center, out of true....Is this another sign of the Decline of the West? Lazy manufacturing processes, or is my 'lectric sharpener going rogue?

We lost "Doc" from rehab over the holidays. Charlie, who has been attending rehab for over ten years, told me Doc had Gone West. I did not know Doc well: we exchanged greetings. He was over 80, carried an O2 bottle around through rehab. Gotta admire those old guys, they press on with a minimum of fuss.

C. Aubrey Smith, team captain of the Hollywood Cricket Club, looks like a fellow who would do little fussing. Caught him in von Sternberg's Scarlet Empress last night. A fascinating film: I had never seen it, I am ashamed to say. Sets by Hans Dreier (thank you, IMDB! ), who got his start in Germany and worked on over 500 films, were gorgeous, as were the uncredited (Travis Banton )costumes. Freakish sculpture by Peter Ballbusch lent a creepy feeling to the interiors. And of course, there was Marlene, Josef's little pal since Der Blaue Engel; beautifully shot by Bert Glennon the cinematographer, though with von Sternberg's rep as an early auteur, I'd say he had a thing or two to do with some of those shots. Sam Jaffe, in his screen debut, was cast as the half-wit heir to the throne. The film is a beautiful depiction of an out of true royal court.