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.