Sunday, April 1, 2018

lion for easter

So for those of you who don't know, I typically try to predict whether or not March will actually go out like a lamb, and I usually make the call around the 15th ides of march, right?

Given that I can cheat my way through by waiting until the middle of the month, I'm typically pretty good at guessing, but this year, because Wednesday is no longer Prince Spaghetti Day in the Boston area, its Nor'easter Day, I blew it.

The bet I made this year is: If I'm right we'll have lamb for Easter. no brainer But if I'm wrong we'll have lion. Little did I know how difficult it would be to make good on this bet. Its really difficult to find lion meat, as it is (of course) illegal, but I did find a source on line you have to dig pretty deep and took a ride to Vermont yesterday to meet a guy who brought it over the border from Canada. Don't think its legal in Canada either, but I didn't ask a lot of questions. I won't say any more, as I'm sure that the guy I met with isn't looking for publicity.

So, one squishy package into a cooler in the trunk, and some last-minute advice to try juniper berries to help with the gaminess from my guy really, where the hell am I going to find those? and I'm off home to try and cook this stuff up. I've had it in a brine all night, with salt, peppercorns, vinegar, bayleaf, and rosemary (which I read on line is a pretty good substitute for juniper berries.)

It just went into the oven to slow roast for dinner, I'm going to deglaze the pan with gin, which is flavored with juniper berries! I hope it comes out good! In any case, I'm glad its April.

Happy Easter everyone!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

barbershop libraries

From their InstaGram (without permission)
Today I heard a story about Barbershop Books on public radio. Barbershop Books is the brainchild of Alvin Irby, a ex-kindergarten teacher, and stand-up comedian, who decided to do something about encouraging--inspiring, even--black boys to read. In an interview, Irvy made a point about the reading that is assigned in schools, that has always bothered me, the negative storylines in books assigned to young people to read. My kids understood the formula, and made jokes about it, before they finished elementary school, which runs through grade 6 in my town. Here's how they described the books they read, year after year: victim of Nazis, victim of racism, or victim of Nazis AND racism.

Irvy summed it up this way (I'm paraphrasing) What are the role models black boys read about in school? Old, dead, black men who's stories don't touch their lives, and that they can't relate to. Irvy has curated a select list of 15 books that he installs on a shelf somewhere in a participating barbershop. Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, and The Snowy Day.

These are books want to read, can relate to and are fun. The idea is to encourage reading, by making books available in a safe space. Irvy has chosen barbershops because they typically are home to men. Men interacting with one another in a comfortable, friendly, normal way. Young and old. Many of them father figures. Ingenious.

This is library.

Here's the mission, in their own words (used without permission):

"In an increasingly global and knowledge-based economy, poor reading skills among young black boys today will produce black men who are unprepared to compete in the workforce of tomorrow. Four key factors contribute to low reading proficiency among black boys: (1) limited access to engaging and age appropriate reading material; (2) lack of black men in black boys’ early reading experiences; (3) few culturally competent educators; and (4) schools that are unresponsive to black boys’ individual learning styles."

Visit Barbershop Books, and see for yourself. Kudos to Alvin Irby and Barbershop Books.


Tuesday, March 6, 2018

in like a lion

Lion and Lamb Eyes
I'm a little late getting my March calendar up this year, but figured I had to get with it with a big storm coming to the Northeast. Might be rain, might be a foot of snow, might be nothing. We won't know until tomorrow. Today was a bull, and tomorrow is a moose. Either one could be trouble, so we'll have to wait and see what happens.

Last year, March was so bad, I ended up changing the whole month to lion. I hope that's not the case this year. Enjoy!

Here's how it stacks up this year. yes, its the same every year, that's why we call it a tradition.

March 1 - Lion: Of course. Its in like a lion, right?
March 2 - Tiger: Up to 11-feet, and nearly 700 pounds!
March 3 - Bear: Oh my! Definitely polar bear this year.
March 4 - Shark: Everyone knows that shark week is not really a thing, right?
March 5 - Wolf: The Timber variety. They're coming back, baby!
March 6 - Bull: One word: Pamplona.
March 7 - Moose: Brake for moose, it could save your life.
March 8 - Eagle: Don't leave your pets outside... or your chickens.
March 9 - Scorpion: Step on it before it steps on you.
March 10 - Dingo: No, its not a stray dog.
March 11 - Hawk: Not hawkish. That's for scared people, pretending to be strong.
March 12 - Lynx: No honey, that's not a tom cat, don't feed it.
March 13 - Bat: Wanna put on your Batman suit, party on!
March 14 - Monkey: They're cute but can also throw poop! HBD Coleen!
March 15 - Snake: The Ides of March. Snakes are known for wisdom, and treachery.
March 16 - Ox: Hard working in a plodding kind of way.
March 17 - Elephant: Wise, big, powerful... gray.
March 18 - Raven: Nevermore.
March 19 - Stag: Power and compassion. Might make a good patronus.
March 20 - Crab: This one can sneak up on you. First day of spring!
March 21 - Goat: Stubborn and tough going.
March 22 - Horse: Strong and reliable. Sometimes crappy on the back end.
March 23 - Pig: Smart but messy; wear your boots today.
March 24 - Dog: Friendly and good-natured; take a walk.
March 25 - Dolphin: Fun and wet; bring an umbrella.
March 26 - Rooster: Get up early and wake the neighbors.
March 27 - Turtle: Muddy, but adorable; boots again.
March 28 - Toad: Similar to turtle, but a little squishier.
March 29 - Robin: I guess you could wear your Robin costume today. You cosplay nut!
March 30 - Rabbit: Roasted with rosemary and potatoes! HBD Kelton!
March 31 - Lamb: Mmm... arrosticini. Smells like spring!

According to one source I read "This phrase has its origins with the constellations Leo, the Lion, and Aries, the ram or lamb. It has to do with the relative positions of these constellations in the sky at the beginning and end of the month." Sounds like a stretch to me. My guess is it comes from someone making up a story to tell children around a fire, or something equally as mundane.

In any case, March is the month that brings us Spring, so it can't be all bad. But the weather might be.

Sheep eyes are weird. That's all I'm saying.

UPDATE: Happy Easter everyone! We made it, tho I was tempted to change this year to lion (or some other vicious beast) everyday. This March was one to remember. Wednesday was Nor'easter Day this month. Seems like we got one once a week all month, but it WAS sunny and warm yesterday, so lamb-like it was.



Saturday, March 3, 2018

piano shop

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank was apparently pretty popular when it came out in 2001. Its not a long book, 300 pages or so, and it traces the author's rediscovery of the piano. The sub-title: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier gives you a little more info on where Thad Carhart is coming from.

Carhart is an American living in Paris, with his family. Carhart spent years in Paris as a child with his own family, where he took piano lessons, and enjoyed playing the piano for himself, but was never interested in pursuing piano as a musician, and certainly not as a career. It was his childhood impression that once his teacher's learned that, they weren't as interested in teaching him. That may or may not be true, but he eventually left Paris and returned to the US, leaving his piano lessons behind.

As an adult, who has moved back to Paris with his wife and two school age children, Carhart steps into a piano shop in a quiet neighborhood on the Left Bank, and his love for the piano is reignited. What follows is Carhart's re-immersion into the world of pianos, their history, construction, maintenance, tuning, restoration, and differences. Carhart's decision to write about it, inspires his delving into the finer points of fine pianos, what makes a piano fine vs. what makes an inexpensive piano crummy (in most cases) and even leads to a visit to Fazioli Pianoforti.

I would imagine this book will strike a chord with pianists especially, which I am not, but I did enjoy Carhart's matter-of-fact style, and how he is able to share his love for these old, mysterious pieces of furniture. It was also nice to look inside the neighborhood life of Paris and some of its people. The descriptions of the people he meets and the friends he makes along the way are just as fun to read.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

d.o.d.o.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is some kind of joint venture by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. I've read a bunch of Neal Stephenson's stuff, but I don't know Nicole Galland. Its not clear to me whether these two met somewhere and decided to collaborate, or if their publisher or agents put them together. I have no idea how these things work.

DODO is obviously an acronym. The text is lousy with them, but that is--I guess, in some ways--the point. There isn’t too much I can get into without spoilers so I’ll keep my comments superficial. The story obviously follows the rise and fall of DODO and is focused on the original developers of DODO, which starts out as a small research project and grows to worldwide proportions over a few short years.

The premise is interesting, as you might expect from a Neal Stephenson story, but I'm not sure the story really comes off as well as some of his other endeavors. I don't have any frame of reference for Nicole Galland, so I can't comment on how it compares to other things she has written.* The story revolves, as I said, around the original developers of DODO, and as a young man and woman, thrown together in this crazy story, I could pretty quickly see that some kind of interest could develop between them, and as I expected, the sexual tension is pretty thick at times.

If I had to guess, I think the story may suffer a little bit from tropes: new project results in amazing scientific discovery, and isn't the government always showing up, talking about weaponization? Isn't there always an archetype cast-of-characters that shows up in a story like this too, like the tech geek, and the yes-man, and the alpha-type who wants to take over? It just felt like I've been here before, and even though these tropes were hung on an interesting story idea, they ended up covering over the interesting bits with their sameness.

I'll keep my eye out for the Neal Stephenson story, and as this may be probably is my first experience with Nicole Galland, she'll get the benefit of the doubt. Because I'm like that. If I had know ahead of time, I may have skipped this one.


* A quick look at Galland's website shows that she writes some historical fiction, perhaps similar to Stephenson's historical fiction. Is that the connection between the two authors and this story? I guess so. 


Saturday, January 27, 2018

word freak

I picked up Word Freak at a library book sale, thinking my wife would want to read it.

Nope.

Word Freak, with its ridiculously long sub-title; "Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players" is by Stefan Fatsis, the writer and author who you sometimes hear on NPR, talking about sports. It looks like Fatsis went looking into the world of competitive Scrabble, to get a better idea of the strange world he only saw glimpses of in pick-up games in the park, played by sketchy-looking folks with time clocks--a la chess.

After digging into this weird, obsessive, sub-culture, Fatsis found himself losing his objectivity. Yeah, he went down the rabbit hole.

Now I guess Fatsis would say that he never lost his objectivity, and I guess that's probably sort of true, but if he was there originally to simply report on competitive Scrabble as an interesting sub-culture, somewhat related to sports do sports writers report on chess and crap like that? then I think changing that intent, or allowing it to evolve, into more of a spectator/autobiographical story, has a little taint of rationalizing after your project has gone off the rails. Fatsis makes no bones about the fact that he pretty quickly became obsessed with the game, and is now, incidentally, one of the higher ranked competitive Scabble players in America.

Word Freak* traces Fatsis's trip down the rabbit hole, his struggles with the game, the obsessive studying of words and anagramming, and perhaps most interesting, is the history of Scrabble, and the personalities of the people who play competitively. It was an interesting romp.



* Hasbro, the new-ish Owner of Scrabble in the U.S. wouldn't allow the use of their trademarked board game in the title of Fatsis's book.

Friday, December 29, 2017

house of spies

House of Spies is another installment of the Gabriel Allon adventures, by Daniel Silva. My wife is a fan, and she bought this one in hardcover, so I grabbed it now that she is finished with it. This is a follow-up to Black Widow, which I read in September, just after she bought that one along with this one. After reading Black Widow, I needed to take a break from Silva; Widow seemed a little too heavy-handed for me. I'm happy to report that that is not the case with this one.

There are a couple of interesting tidbits in this story that I think are worth pointing out, and I don't think rise to the level of spoilers. If you'd rather not read anything about the content, you can skip to the next paragraph. Silva appears to have predicted Trump's statement about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. I don't follow politics enough to know if Trump said as much on the campaign trail or not, but there you have it. Second, Silva has also indicated that Israel--and possibly other countries--who work in conjunction with the US on counter-terrorism and counter-espionage projects, sometimes allow the US to take credit for the work that they or other countries may have done. This may be a plot twist only, or it may be Silva's personal belief or suspicion about the way things are done in the spy business. and American politics

Allon seems like a busy guy, and it appears that he continues to have trouble delegating as much as he should, perhaps, but that is a character trait we've come to understand about him. There are a few situations in this story that I had a hard time suspending disbelief over, and I think that it has come up in Allon stories before, namely, putting civilians in harms way. This device allows for some pretty dramatic situations, but I can't believe that an intelligence service would allows these situations to occur.

Overall House of Spies was fun and fast moving, and I'd rate it right up there with the rest of the series, and a little better than the last installment.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

seabiscuit

This paperback copy of Seabiscuit was given to me and my wife by a librarian who we both worked with on one of our projects. I was going through the book sale shelf at her library and didn't find anything, which she noticed, so she took me to the back to look through the boxes of books she had for the book sale. Seabiscuit came with her recommendation.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend was published in 2001, written by Laura Hillenbrand. I've had this one on the shelf for a while, and I just haven't gotten to it. Non-fiction is not my first choice, but I do enjoy the well written ones, and Hillenbrand delivered.

My knowledge of Seabiscuit as a racehorse is pretty limited to pop culture references, like Bugs Bunny cartoons, and old movies, where the name of the horse is used to refer to a great winning horse.* Things I didn't know about Seabiscuit, could fill a book, so that's what Hillenbrand did. I had no idea the country was so completely taken with this horse. Seabicuit had more inches of newspaper print nationwide than Roosevelt did! Its crazy. People piled onto trains, known as the Seabiscuit Express just to get to the track to see him run.

The story of his owner, trainer, and jockey is where the story really comes together. I explained to my wife as I read, that's its not really a story about the horse, although there is a lot to tell. What makes the story so interesting is the story of how these three men took a horse that many were ready to give up on, and turned him into the winning-est horse of the late 1930s. Its no wonder they made a movie from this story; the characters are larger than life.

You don't need to be a horse racing fan to enjoy this one. Good job Laura Hillenbrand.

Read this book.


* In "Confederate Honey" the narrator states that this story takes place in Kentucky in the year 1861 B. Sea. (Before Seabiscuit.) They don't play this one on TV, the racism is atrocious.
 

Friday, November 3, 2017

count of monte cristo ii

What a monster of a novel! Nearly 1500 pages of Victorian era melodrama. yeah, bring it on!

Alexandre Dumas, nice work, my pal.* You'd think by now, I'd have read everything this man has written, but alas. I guess I'll have to get busy. Dumas, often titled, père (father)--to distinguish him from his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils (son) who was also a writer--was a prolific writer, who often wrote serially, for publication in the newspaper. Its amazing to me that he could write this way, without an opportunity to re-visit earlier plot points, or edit at all, after it made its way out into the world.

I've read The Three Musketeers, but there are 3 sequels to that book alone, including The Man in the Iron Mask. I'm going to have to read that at some point. I just read that another novel was discovered in 2005, called The Knight of Sainte-Hermine; the English title is The Last Cavalier.

Near the end of the story, Monte Cristo says that he, like Satan, once thought himself equal to God, in that he could assume God's responsibilities to punish the wicked on earth. A presumption he eventually regrets, but I don't think he felt bad that he passed out the ass-kicking, I think it was the presumption that bothered him. That and a twinge of guilt for the innocents that got in the way.

As I said in an earlier post, this is, by far, the best story about revenge there is. Monte Cristo is high with it, along with the other substances his place in society made available to him, as my 9th grade teacher alluded to. Monte Cristo is cold, aloof and exacting in his revenge. But we see the tender, sorry side of him as well. Dumas walks that line very carefully with his character so we don't just dismiss him as a psychopath. When Monte Cristo grits his teeth and says to himself, they're going to pay for what they did to me and my family, we grit right along with him.

And its Monte Cristo's money that allows him to do what he does. He has so much, his fortune is almost a secondary character in the story; it plays a supporting roll, whose support never wavers for a moment.

I don't think I'm out of line when I say that I think Monte Cristo may be the best Dumas wrote, and I think Dumas may even agree with me. He named his home, outside of Paris, the château de Monte-Cristo, which has been restored and is now open to the public. clicky-click on the link. the place looks amazing Lastly, I think its worth pointing out that Dumas was not given a burial fitting of his talent, probably because of the color of his skin. In 2002, French President, Jacques Chirac, directed his body be moved from the cemetery at Villers-Cotterets to the Pantheon of Paris.




* You too, Auguste Maquet, who apparently helped plot and ghost write much of what Dumas produced.