Monday, September 28, 2009

things I know at age 43

* Ducks' motors are their feet. Their webbed feet. I am fairly sure I thought that there was some additional method of locomotion involved (where or what, I don't know), but a good six months of duck-watching has driven this fact home: it's the feet that move them in the water. Why did I think they had something else down there? Or nothing? I think it's because ducks are so top-heavy, so extremely over-balanced, like a huge mound of whipped cream on these little stilty bits. Didn't really seem possible that just feet were taking care of this, when it takes pretty big wings to make them fly. These funny-looking things dangling below the main duck fuselage. Feet. Birds swim with their feet.

* Arkansas is never where I feel it should be on the US map. Same with Wyoming (sometimes). And that whole east coast circle, where states are gathered into a tight knot on the coast (NJNYPAMDRI, etc.) is still very confusing to me and often seems wrong. There are magic places where I feel some states should be, which usually has to do with ranking them with other states, but that place never really exists. Geography is getting both more liquid and more firm as I age.

* The entire 1992 SWV album It's About Time (minus slow jams) is good, and not only that (who knew) actually had Pharrell and the Neptunes involved in production, which means they must have been in middle school at the time or something.

* Produce perfectionism serves no one, gets you nowhere. Let it go. As a lifelong quirky vegetable appreciator (picky eater...weirdo...whatever) I have traditionally been loathe, still--STILL--LOATHE--to go after fruits and veg the way I really want to. It's ridiculous. I would buy a pint of strawberries and the need to hull them perfectly, and in perfect time, meant that in the end I'd just pitch them cause I couldn't get it done. Forget produce perfectionism. If you don't save all your onion skins for stock--it's okay. If you can't compost (yet), because you live in a big urban box--it's okay. If you only like the tender inside stalks of celery--pitch the rest. It's fine. If you don't save your fennel fronds to chop as garni--it's okay. I am not sure where the foodie perfectionistic fervor with which I approached fruit and veg came from, but somewhere in the last year or so I realized it was nothing but trouble. Someday I will buy a rabbit and he can eat all my mistakes and wastefulness.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

de la Liz

I listened to 3 Feet High and Rising and De La Soul Is Dead so much I think they wore grooves in my cerebellum, but somehow I never did the same with Buhloone Mindstate. These days, though--and somewhat predictably, à la older/wiser--I am really enjoying getting to know this album. It is dense, thick with rewards when you spend time with it. A beautiful thing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

things have cycles

I'm trying to remember when I first became obsessed with Brahms' German Requiem. I think it was not long after college, by which time I had pretty much worn out my requiem reserves on Mozart; I would wander around Chicago playing the Von Karajan recording of the (Brahms) Requiem with Gundula Janowitz on me cassette Walkman (the nerdy lugubrious side of my personality will always out.) I went to the CSO specifically to hear it sometime in the mid-90s, only I can't remember now if it was Solti or Barenboim conducting (I think it was Barenboim, and he took it really slow. Too slow.) I will always remember watching the opening New York Philharmonic gala on PBS just after 9/11--when they substituted the Requiem at the last minute and nobody clapped afterward--which is still one of the odder and more intense musical experiences of my life. I felt like I had dreamt it. I've heard it on planes, in cabs...

Music has cycles, comes up in waves. And I am definitely back in a Deutsches Requiem cycle now, especially with the "Wie lieblich sind diene Wohnungen" movement. It started when someone I know (not well, but well enough to be all excited for them) in the Tanglewood Chorus was preparing to sing it at Kennedy's funeral. Then I heard it in church last week. Then I heard it in some kind of movie preview or something. Then today there was a loud truck horn outside (not at all an unusual occurrence) but what made me perk up was that it was a strong A♭, the first note (I think--I mean, I know it's the note, just not entirely sure it's A♭--I had to noodle around on GarageBand to find it) of the organ beginning in the "Wie Lieblich" segment. I could just hear it in my head.

The Requiem is an intense piece of music to be involved with. I think you have to kind of be careful. It's not just that it's sad, because it is triumphant also, but it is so intensely emotional that one can be not sure what to do next. Perfect and beautiful, too. Art hurts!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Julie & Julia

Qualifiers render criticism boring, if not meaningless, but I am wondering, having seen Julie & Julia, if I might not some day suddenly really like this film. Or something. Because my reaction to it was so thoroughly Eh (on the calibrated Ew/Meh/Eh/Yeah/Ooo! movie scale) that I was a little thrown and still don't really know if I can trust it. It's not due to a lack of interest in the subject matter--rather the opposite--which is why I expected to have a stronger reaction, of any kind, but the movie felt rather like the proverbial pablum of reviews. The things I didn't like about it were offset by its competency, but the overall effect was still eh. Not awful,

To wit: The day I went to see this I was in the mood to cry at a movie. It takes very little for me to do so--I can cry during previews. It wasn't that I was particularly sad or upset; sometimes you just rely on a movie to act as a drawing agent or poultice and release whatever feelings are bouncing against the surface. It feels good. However, nothing in this movie made me want to cry or even well up with tears against my will, which seems significant.

Some thoughts:

* Stated, Not Shown is bad, but Stated and Shown = worse. The movie felt like sort of a Julia Child primer, which is fine, but many themes felt overemphasized, then shown, then described and commented on again (usually by Julie P). The easiest and worst example would probably be the last line--"I love you, Julia"--uttered by Julie at Julia's kitchen in the Smithsonian. (Really? She loves her? No way, never woulda guessed that from the title.) Or Child's height: this was an extremely significant thing to know about her, but it's approached from what feels like an outsider point of view (for instance, the way her sister talks about it) and pushed over and over. Or the dinner party where the Childs talk about meeting in was rather like a narrative piece of fiction at times, rather than first-person talk. I don't know, maybe being familiar with the basic facts of Child's life didn't make me a target for this film (i.e., I'm being a snob), but surely that shouldn't have made it as uninteresting as it felt?

* Nora Ephron has a lot of food knowledge, but I felt like she pushed it aside for this film, as she did Child's and Powell's. There is a lot of food appreciation, but the food interaction was kind of sketchy, despite the beautiful visuals. If the power in Powell's story lies in the real cooking journey she was on, then I wanted to see it: how did she really bone the duck (not make just the first cut); what was it really like to have to shop/cook so many dishes; what did she have to make over and over. What the movie shows you are a lot of little ends of food arcs: she (or Child) has just finished making this something or other, and here's what happens. There is a sort of bland sitcom feel to the structure. No tooth to it. I think that might have something to do with how much the film was trying to cover, but it's also a decision about how Ephron is choosing to interact with her audience.

* This movie polished up to a fine point the problem with a lot of drama these days, which is that the tools of visual storytelling have mostly to do with computers. Somebody types something...looks quizzical...looks hesitant...looks resolved...hits enter...yes! Something's happened! Only it hasn't, really. There is a lot of "She hits ENTER" stage direction in this film. It's boring. There is sooo much footage shot from computer POV of Powell (Amy Adams). Why that was chosen over cooking imagery I don't know except for the fact that I think this film is really about publishing. Not food, not writing: publishing. The strongest points and biggest stories in both Js' lives in this film were about 1) blogging, and 2) Child's eventual publishing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (last shot of the movie, I think). The blogging part of the story, especially, was spelled out in incredibly unnecessary detail, a conceit that had no real momentum past the two-hour running time.

* I am such an old queen: fairly sure that I clapped my hand to my chest and said "Oooo girl" with a little hiss when I saw Amanda Hesser playing Amanda Hesser in the Amanda Hesser scene. And I was guessing (incorrectly) Frances Sternhagen would play an older Judith Jones, despite having the wrong nose; she has the right WASPy pedigree.

* I could be reading this wrong, but is there not a great deal of Noel Riley Fitch's biography of Child in this movie? Didn't see it credited. Child was the publickest public figure ever, so perhaps it's not the point, but a few times I felt that some of what was being described onscreen had to do with ideas from that book.

* The art direction is pretty great in this film. They obviously got a lot of the details right, and it was weird to see (have to use this word here) iconic Child moments--like their nude bathtub postcard--being recreated real-time. Stanley Tucci is good. His and Streep's scenes feel like they have real traction. I am glad that they didn't make him mousy-bald-short, since Paul Child had a kind of macho feel to his looks. And I'm happy to say that Ephron's over-use of American Songbook standards is easing up. But still. I dunno.

I have a simple test for whether or not I liked a film: does it wax or wane? After, I mean. Am I thinking about it still, or forgetting it. Are some of the seeds it planted sprouting, or is the ground fallow. This one...a waner. So far.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Best euphemism for We're Always Snooping Into Your Internet Usage: Amazon's product suggestions labeled "Inspired by Your Browsing History." Yick.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I am in dire need of some decent reading copies of my favorite books. The paperback copies of some of my favorites are ridiculous: falling apart, in limp brownish pieces, fluttering out of my bookcase when I go hunting. I wanted to reread Busman's Honeymoon the other day and was forced to do sneaky Look Inside! things on Amazon to print out the missing first 12 pages (I took screen grabs--you can't print them out directly--and cropped them). I have filled in the reading copy gap for some writers with good contemporary softbound editions (like the Moyer Bell versions of Mapp & Lucia) or not-too-valuable/expensive hardbound, but some contemporary editions are kind of off-putting aesthetically, plus the older editions can be better.

Raymond Chandler has been a particularly difficult writer to find good used/old copies, in my experience. Too popular. And too valuable when they are old--contributes to the expensive old edition/cheap reprint phenom. Some of the old/reprinted versions are awful aesthetically too, though--more than that. The absolute worst cover I have for any book, period (other than the tampon-commercial covers for some Anthony Powells and the dustjacket for the 70s reissue of Mapp & Lucia) is this cover of The Long Goodbye. Too hilarious. I think this is supposed to be Earl, the crazy kinky cowboy, but why there's huge cobra there or whatever, I don't know. (Is there a snake in the book? Is this just supposed to be all Evil n shit?) And if that building is supposed to be Dr. Verrenger's then it looks a little more like the Golden Door. Plus--Earl! Heh! Why Earl? The whole effect is very Hunter S. Thompson + Tom of Finland + Rockford Files, not to mention misses entirely what the book is about, with all its intense elegiac mood. You can almost see some freelance illustrator being given a list of stuff, picking "cowboy," then spending days coming up with something that's just kinda wrong.

I actually quite enjoy awful book covers on some level, the way I enjoy awful blurbs that make it clear nobody read past the first chapter. They're kind of fun. Bad book design is pretty much just as fascinating as good. But oh I need a better copy of this book.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Pipe down kid, the old man's hung*

Pausing a moment to cluck appreciatively over my new salt cellar, which is really a sugar bowl from the old *Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. It's part of a sugar bowl/creamer set made from classic battered hotel silver, very heavy in the hand. Too fabulous.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hah! Fucking love this (from the Onion; click on last sentence for article):

Next Tarantino Movie An Homage To Beloved Tarantino Movies Of Director's Youth

MADRID—While attending a European press junket Monday for his film Inglourious Basterds, director Quentin Tarantino announced that his next project, Jack Rabbit Slim, will go into production this fall, and will be an homage to his favorite director and screenwriter of all time: Quentin Tarantino.

"I've been a Tarantino fan for as long as I can remember," said Tarantino, who repeatedly referred to his hero as "The Master"...

Saturday, September 05, 2009

"I didn't recognize it without the cheese," said my waiter.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I am going to try to use a blog post not using the word I. Nope, can't do it.

cinematic education, part whatever

Everyone has gaps in their movie-watching. My gaps are particularly embarrassing at times, due to a complete aversion to scariness, violence or gore, and a disinterest in anything computer-generated, sci-fi, or based in alternate reality or on comic books, which covers about 85% of most films made these days. And I'm picky. And I re-watch films. And (not cool to admit) my tolerance for aggressively unhappy cramped films is pretty low these days. And my ass doesn't fit in the Siskel Center's seats. I have a decent film education, including parents with much better and wide-ranging taste than mine, but oh the gaps.

Try having a conversation in 2009 if you've never seen The Matrix (for instance). Or have seen Star Wars only twice in your life, including once when it first came out and you were eleven. Or never saw the Lord of the Rings trilogy; or rather, saw only the second one at the old Village Theater on Sheridan Road, alternately bored and scared by the mice scuttling around near the screen. Or can't really watch Tarantino films, but don't really want to, either. This is a very tip-of-iceberg thing to put out there (there are other reasons for my gaps), but whatever. They're there.

I am pretty good at covering the gaps, and not just out of a desire to hide my ignorance, when I care to do so. Not having read a book or seen a movie has never stopped me from talking about it--writing a paper about it--giving it thumbs up/down--referencing it. I'm inclined that way, although I think we are all professional cultural magpies these days anyhow. We are all lists of favorites, conglomerations of cultural is easy to pretend you know about something, because basically you do. Even if you don't.

However, I also like embracing my ignorance. I enjoy the power in "I don't know," "I've never seen that," or "What's The Godfather about again?" I especially can enjoy being honest about those films that you feel like you've seen and may have seen bits and pieces of a million times but haven't really seen.

In that spirit, I have a friend whose biggest gaps tend to be the opposite of mine (basically he doesn't do pre-1968), so we are trading lists of Must-Sees. He has to watch these ten films:
All About Eve (1950)
The Apartment (1960)
Brief Encounter (1946)
The Crowd (1928)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
The Fallen Idol (1948)
House of Games (1987)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

And I have to see these:
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Bottle Rocket (1996)
The Insider (1999)
Gattaca (1997)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
RKO 281 (1999)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Se7en (1995)
Unbreakable (2000)
Zero Effect (1998)

Note: I know these lists are somewhat unbalanced. But the point is I haven't seen the ten films on my friend's list. I want to push myself out of my comfort zone. So I'm just going to watch them. No long justifications for our choices using the word "seminal" or "important"; just watch them. The fact that my remote doesn't work helps, because all I can do is put a DVD in and hit Play, then go sit down and watch it. There's no pause, no subtitles, no slowing down or speeding up.

Will report more as I'm further in my 10!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

3-1/2 years of the Cahiers

It's our 3.5 year birthday here:
1,225 days of blogging,
averaging one post every 2/3 days. Not too bad. Long may scribblings thrive! In aeternum floreant!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

(From an old Doonesbury cartoon touting
Nerd-Care™ skin lotion: "Now available in pale,
whiter shade of pale, and new minty green")
How is it that the word vagina became ascendant? Versus vulva, I mean? Is it like a Betamax/VCR thing? So often when people say 'vagina' they really mean 'vulva.' I am curious how 'vagina' won out (have some theories). Perhaps some lobbyist money changed hands somewhere along the way.