Saturday, June 24, 2017

notebooks of don rigoberto

I picked up the The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto at a library book sale. This novel by Mario Vargas Llosa—translated by Edith Grossman—is slightly surreal, and sexy enough to be called erotica. I haven’t read Mario Vargas Llosa before, but a search online about him confirms that this seems to be his style. A sort of positive or reaffirming look at the value of fantasy and a sense of adventure in adult sexual relationships.

Perhaps Don Rigoberto represents the author’s alter ego, or maybe even his avatar, as he makes his way through his notebooks each evening in his well healed home on the edge of the ocean at the outskirts of Lima. Rigoberto has sexual fantasies, but they are all about his wife. Some that they act out together.

Rigoberto is a well off, middle aged insurance company employee, who has been with the company long enough to be able to live very comfortably. He fills his house with works of art, but only a certain number. When he acquires a new piece, he has to decide which one goes to make room. This self-imposed discipline gives him pleasure, even if that pleasure is mixed with the pain of letting go of a piece of art he once chose to display in his home. 

Rigoberto also works hard on his theory of life, and uses this strict  set of rules to live by, and shows no patience for those who don't understand him. Going so far as to write letters to people that he sees as living their lives as an antithesis to his own beliefs. These letters are included complete in the text, read from Rigoberto's notebooks. He never sends them, because the recipient would be to stupid, to blind, to pigheaded to understand what he means, so he writes them to relieve himself of the pent up feelings, and doesn't send them.

The Notebooks is pretty dense, relentless, dedicated, and sexy. But it took a while to get through, and t was often difficult to tell where reality and fantasy met, but I'm sure that's the idea.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

united states of beer

First off, thanks so much to the folks in Erving, who were nice enough to bring this book for us to help celebrate my office's 20th anniversary. The book came with a wonderful bottle of beer for us all to enjoy as well.

The United States of Beer, sub-titled: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink, is by Dane Huckelbridge, and is a follow-up to his previous endeavor, Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit. I think that he learned a lot about beer, doing his research for his bourbon book, and luckily for us, he decided to turn that research into this fun little book about America's beer history.

For the uninitiated, bourbon and beer are related; The first step in making whiskey, is to make beer (without the hops) and then distill it. Beer is therefore whiskey's daddy. It also predates the development of whiskey by millennia. Seems like a good place to start any history project, but just how closely beer is intertwined in the history of this nation is remarkable. But its as simple as one of the first (of many) take-away facts from this book: 

TAKE-AWAY FACT 1: People couldn't drink the water, it wasn't clean in most of Europe. What people drank--men, women, children--is beer. All day, every day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At home, and at work.

For centuries.

Huckelbridge walks us through the history of the nation from New England, to the South, to the Mid-west, to the coast. Each of the regions begins with its history, and importantly, where the predominant immigrants come from, and the beer styles they brought with them. Huckelbridge describes the traditional European beer, and its own history, and then the version the new American make for themselves when they arrive, working with what they have.

TAKE-AWAY FACT 2: American versions of European beers were (and are) often very different from their beery ancestors, because the conditions, and ingredients in America are not the same as they were in the countries of origin. 

By the time we get to the Mid-west, America has been around for a while, and the Germanic folks who began to move into the Mid-west brought lager beers with them, and eventually the lighter, crisper Pilsner style beers. But these beers were not (NOT) the pale, yellow, watery beers that are the standard American Big Beer company products we have today. So you know what that means...

TAKE-AWAY FACT 3: American pale lager used to be deep, rich, and flavorful. We ended up with yellow, watery American beer--produced, by the way, by some of the same companies that originally produce those better beers--due to mass marketing, and cost cutting to stay in business through prohibition.

There are lots more, and obviously, the changes to the standard American lager happened slowly, and Huckelbridge walks us through it all, ending with the history of beer making on the west coast, and how a small company in San Francisco kicked off the rebirth of American microbrews in the mid 1960s.

Read this book, while drinking a beer.